Some thoughts on Mark 4:35-41

In Mark chapter 4, Mark recounts a day of Jesus telling stories to a number of people on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. When evening came, Jesus told his disciples to cross to the other side. So, leaving the crowds behind, the disciples and Jesus set out in a boat, and other boats went with them. A great storm blew up, with furious winds and waves so large they began breaking into the boat, threatening to swamp it.

Jesus, meanwhile, was asleep on a cushion in the back of the boat.

If you were reading this passage, which is only a few verses long, you would discover very quickly that all ends well. In fact, most Bibles have a heading for this passage that is something like “Jesus Calms the Storm,” so you know the outcome before you even begin reading.

The disciples, however, did not know the ending. All they knew was that, because of Jesus’ instructions, they were out in the middle of the sea in a terrible storm that was filling their not-so-large boat with water, and they react in the same way as many other biblical characters, whose “hard times” left them uncertain and sorrowful and doubting. Unlike many other biblical characters, though, the disciples’ ordeal did not last very long. (A couple months ago I wrote a post about how waiting and suffering are often compressed in Scriptural accounts; ten seconds of reading, and we’re through months/years/decades of struggle. We have to identify with the characters—we have to take time ourselves—in order to gain a clearer sense of the story.) To identify with the disciples in this story, though, we don’t need to imagine the toll of a long stretch of time; we need to imagine the panic of a perfectly good situation suddenly gone terribly wrong.

As I read this story over and over, what caught my attention was this: the disciples were exactly where they were supposed to be. They’d followed Jesus’ directions; he was there with them; they hadn’t left him behind to follow their own whims. They’d made no bad decision or been foolish or rash. They were right where Jesus wanted and told them to be.

But they still encountered a storm.

A great storm, one with howling winds and waves tall enough to menace above the sides of their boat like monsters and then crash down upon them. A storm strong enough that even the seasoned fishermen among them feared for their lives.

Have you ever felt like that? Have you ever done exactly what you thought Jesus was telling you to do and then found yourself in the middle of a storm? Did you start to wonder if you’d done something wrong? Misheard his voice? Wandered off on your own path? Failed to do something right?

My brother-in-law recently suggested to me that perhaps Jesus knew the storm was coming and was actually leading the disciples into a test of their faith.

Could be. Could be that he wanted the disciples’ faith in him to stretch to cosmic proportion—beyond physical healings to authority over the sky and sea.

Could also not be. Jesus, self-limited as he was in humanness, might not have known the storm was coming. Perhaps he just went out on the boat with the disciples knowing he needed rest and in full assurance that no matter what happened, God would be right there caring for them.

We don’t know which is the case. All we know is that when the disciples woke Jesus, asking him, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?” Jesus got up and told the wind and the waves to be still. And after the storm stopped–immediately!–he turned to the disciples and asked, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?”

And then the disciples were really afraid and they said to each other, “Who is this, that even the wind and the waves obey him!”

The boat, the disciples, and Jesus reached the other side of the Sea of Galilee with no ill effects. Not all our storms end this way, with every person accounted for, with no lasting injuries or loss. Some storms take years, even a lifetime, to recover from. Some storms don’t end. Some storms are of our own making, and regret compounds our pain.

But, no matter the circumstances of your particular storm, we can know that God has good for us–“best” for us–in the middle of the tempest. God is not spiteful; God does not have an awful sense of humor; God is not conducting a faith experiment for research purposes; God is not plopping us in the midst of it like numbered lab rats. Rather God, who calls His people the apple of His eye, wants us to find that He has provided an eye in the center of the squall specifically planned for each of us. He has for us the certainty that—even when all evidence points to the contrary—we are seen and known and loved and cared for.

We are much like the disciples. The best, in their opinion, was a trouble-free trip across the sea. For the landlubbers among them, the best was probably their feet touching solid ground on the other side after a smooth crossing.

But God, as we are told, sees things very differently. And in God’s view, our presence in His eye is His absolute best for us.

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How we grow

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artwork and photography by Em

About 20 minutes into one of my favorite workout videos, the trainer asks, “Are you out of breath? Hurting? Remember, you started this video so you would get a good workout—and those things are part of it. You chose to do this. It’s supposed to be hard. It’s how you grow.”

I appreciate that reminder every single time I do that particular video, not so much for the purpose of the workout, but for life. The first time I did that workout, I was deep in thought about the struggles resulting from our recent move into the city: each of our kids needed close friendships, and all of us were dealing with the loss of our close-knit community in our old home in Chicago’s western suburbs. When the trainer said those words: “It’s supposed to be hard; this is how you grow,” my head snapped up. It was a Holy Spirit message, delivered through my Fit by Kit workout. Crazy!
It’s a message the kids and I often discuss. We knew this move wouldn’t be easy for them. “Easy/comfortable” would have been staying just where we were. But God was stirring our hearts, and in all my prayers for my children (some of them rather panicky pleas), God kept telling me, “I have them.” I knew God didn’t mean that all would be easy and smooth for them, but that God knows the very best for them, knows how to stretch each of them, how to nurture hidden gifts, how to draw them into his boundless, intimate love and fill them with a real, deep, practical love for all people—all people. He knows how to embolden them with his love so they can go anywhere, do anything, and work with anyone. This is far more important than their comfort, or even their “success.”
Yet sometimes it’s hard to remember this ultimate goal in the middle of all that’s new and unfamiliar, in the loneliness that is part of forming new friendships, in the feeling slightly out of place in many situations. In the middle of all that, there are times when a return to what is comfortable and known is quite tempting.
One of my children and I are also prone to another temptation related to this: we determine God’s plan by how much we feel we are accomplishing. “I just don’t feel like we’re making a real difference,” this child told me just a few days ago. “Other than the little neighbor boys coming over, what else do we do to help in our neighborhood?”
I’ve learned (through personal experience) this kind of thinking can be a trap. When we think God’s will is all about what we do; when we see the work as ours rather than God’s; when we need visible, quick, substantial results as validation that what we are doing is indeed God-sanctioned, then we are not thinking rightly.
So I told this child, “I’m not sure the primary goal was ever about us making a difference. Yes, we moved here to join the efforts already being done in this community, but we moved here knowing the greatest change would be in us. We moved here so God would open our eyes and ears and deepen our hearts. We’re assuming that as he does this, he is also preparing us for involvement, but the change in us is a huge part of His work. Have you grown since we’ve moved here? Have you learned anything?”
She nodded. She has grown. I have, too. We all have. We still are. And we’ve got a whole lot of growing left to do, a whole lot of learning still to learn.
And it’s hard. At times we’re breathing heavy. We’re a little sore and achy.
But, in the words of trainer Kit Rich, this is why we came.
As I thought about and wrote this post, the Spirit brought to my mind friends and family members who are going through truly difficult situations. Some of these cannot be avoided (grief, health issues); others were stepped into (caring for a relative, pursuing a distant child, continuing to fight an addiction). No matter how much or little choice was involved at the initial entry into the situation, each one requires continual choice as to how the situation will be faced. Yes, it’s hard. Yes, it hurts. But if we keep pressing into Jesus through the situation, our relationship with him will grow fuller, deeper. This is why he came; this is why he called us to follow. And he was clear about the nature of this call; his description was clear: it was no quick stroll in the park but a hilly marathon on rough terrain. It was a call to self-sacrifice, to the way of the cross, to the way Jesus lived. We answered this call; we chose to take up our crosses and follow Jesus. Let’s not grow weary in the middle of it. 
For this is how we grow.

the Love

As the presidential election results came in last night, one of my sons watched with a Mexican flag wrapped around him. He did this in support of his Mexican-American friends. He did this because he loves them, because he doesn’t want them to be seen as second-class citizens, because he doesn’t want them to live in fear for those among them who are undocumented—like some of their parents.

My husband teared up this morning as he got ready to go in and teach his Latino-American and African-American students. “What do I tell my kids?” he said. “A lot of them have been really scared about this. What do I say?”

A few weeks ago when Trump made comments about African Americans in inner-city neighborhoods living in “hell” and how “stop and frisk” would be a possible solution, my children wanted to know what that meant. Then they asked, “Who would they stop? Our neighbors? On the street?”

They knew it probably wouldn’t be their white dad getting frisked on the way home. The gentleman across the street, though, the one they wave to every day and tell where they’re going and how they’re doing—he might.

A couple weeks ago, an ad popped up of a mother whose son has autism. She was offended by Donald Trump’s hand-flapping gesture. She said something like this: “My son isn’t welcome in Trump’s world. I don’t agree with much of Clinton’s stances, but I can’t vote for him.”

_________ isn’t welcome in Trump’s world. You can fill in the blank with a lot of words, all of them representing human beings, generally marginalized, without much voice. I couldn’t vote for him either.

I know some people reading this would say that my husband and I have filled our children’s heads with a lot of soft, pie-in-the-sky ideology.

But in the course of the evening, one of my older son’s friends—who would identify as a Christian—posted a pro-Trump slogan on social media and followed it with the hashtag “#build that wall.”

My son, tears in his eyes, asked me, “Mom, where’s the love?”

Oh, I’m glad for that heart.

Where is the love?

I understand that some at this point—were this a dialogue—would refer to love for the unborn.

And I get that. I really do, but I also wonder this: if we can’t love those right in front of us, those that some in the majority might see as “not-like-me, might-be-taking-my-tax-dollars” folks, then any love for the unborn, who are easy to love because we’re not changing their diapers and footing their bills, seems a little suspect.

And, I might add, what also seems suspect is that Trump has some sense of love and justice for the unborn.

The electoral college just elected a businessman whose entire career is based on success for himself regardless of the cost to others; a man who sees women as little more than sexual objects; a man who seems to view most others as beneath him (and that’s almost automatic if you have a different skin color or ethnicity than his); a man who wants a return to good old days—days when almost all white churches supported or tolerated racial injustice of many kinds.

I don’t think small government and lower taxes were worth that much.

I know I’m simplifying this—that so many will say there were other issues, but I fail to see the biblical, ethical, righteous concern in many of them. I find a lot of “rights” involved, and I struggle with this because I don’t find my rights touted in Scripture, and I do find a lot of statements about standing up for others when they’re oppressed.

At one point this morning, my children gathered around me in the kitchen, “What do we do?”

“We remember who we are,” I told them. “As Americans, President-elect Trump will be our president, but we are not Americans first. We are followers of Jesus. He is our King, and we live first and foremost as his followers, as his citizens. We will love Him, and we will love our neighbors, and when we need to stand with and for them, we will.”

Fear driving out love

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Photo and lettering by Emily (daughter). If you like what you see, visit her Etsy shop LetteringbyEm to see if you’d like to order a piece. 

I have tried to stay out of the current political storm for a couple of reasons. First, I don’t know a whole lot, so I don’t see much point in my making a less than fully informed comment. Second, I simply don’t want to add to the division, and I’ve got friends on both sides.

And it’s these “sides” that are getting to me.

You see, I’m taking a Jesus and the Gospels class right now, and we’re looking at Jesus’ message and life and how he didn’t fit into any of the political camps among the Jews of his day. He wasn’t a seize-back-control/power militant; he wasn’t a “maintain differences” but work-the-system guy; and he wasn’t a separatist who withdrew from politics and society completely.

He said things like the Sermon on the Mount and taught people to pray for God’s kingdom to come, for his will to be done on earth. He told stories about crossing ethnic divides and putting ourselves out to love our neighbors, and he ate with “sinners” and outcasts.

He didn’t fit into anybody’s mold. As soon as someone tried to make him a member of their camp, he said something that made it clear he wasn’t.

But he wasn’t a maverick, just out to find his own way, different simply to be different. He was adamant about that. He was actually following orders. He was doing his Father’s will, doing it all the way to the cross.

And Jesus encouraged his followers to do the same. “Take up your cross and follow me,” he said, in his invitation to a cruciform, God- and others-focused life.

N. T. Wright wrote this about Jesus’ call: “Jesus was summoning his hearers to give up their whole way of life, their national and social agendas, and to trust him for a different agenda, a different set of goals.”*

I don’t think Jesus is summoning us today to anything less than this.

Now I don’t want to simplify the political complexities of the United States. I don’t want to make it seem as if we shouldn’t have opinions or discussions about the current campaign and issues.

But I’m seeing a lot of anger on Facebook and Twitter, and behind the anger I see fear. There’s fear that the world ahead will not look anything like the world of the past—and there’s fear that it will look far too much like the past. There’s a fear of lost power, lost say and influence and majority control. There’s a fear that our agendas and goals might be set aside.

And this makes me think of this verse: Perfect love drives out fear.**

I know sentences are not like mathematical equations. You cannot simply flip the two sides of that sentence around and have it mean exactly the same thing. But I’ve wondered if many of us Christians have let “Fear drive out perfect love.”

When we fear (and anger is often, I believe, a result of fear), it is a sign of a lack of trust. Somewhere deep down we are not trusting in the perfect love of God. We are trusting in something else, something less certain, something other than God.

And why?

Because deep down I think we know God’s agenda and goals do not match up with our own. His agenda and goals are not about our safety and comfort; His agenda and goals are not about Christianity retaining power in our political and economic systems. They are not about America being seen as a great nation.

His end goal is that the will of God be done on earth as it is in heaven, that Christ reign as King, and God be worshiped by all.

And while he promises that all of the workings toward this goal will result in our good, he doesn’t promise that this good won’t also involve discomfort and danger and tribulation for us. In fact, he promises the opposite.

But that is perfect love: love that is perfect not only in character but also in foresight. It knows the good end and understands what trouble along the way is necessary for that end result.

This is the perfect love that can drive out fear.

But we must trust this Perfect Love.

We must trust this God.

Where does our hope lie?

If it depends on a candidate or a party or a human agenda, we will fear, and love will be driven out.

But if we trust in the perfect love of God, fear will be driven out.

We will know we are loved.

We will live without fear.

We will love…

Without fear.

 

*from The Challenge of Jesus: Rediscovering Who Jesus Was and Is. Here’s a link to a recent Christianity Today article in which Mike Bird, author of What Christians Ought to Believe, interviews N. T. (Tom) Wright about his latest book, The Day the Revolution Began.

**Please follow the link to see this verse in context (I John 4:8). I have to admit I am taking the verse a bit out of context, as the fear it is talking about specifically is fear of God’s judgment. But in our modern, Western world, I feel we have swung so much to the other side of who/what we fear, that we must acknowledge that misplaced fear, remind ourselves that God is the one we SHOULD fear–and then take great comfort from this verse.

Announcement and teaching

it is wellHi everyone, it’s been awhile since I posted. It’s been a little crazier than usual around here, as our family has been praying about and anticipating a move this summer. The decision was just made final this week, and we’ll be heading just about 25 miles to the east to live in the city limits of Chicago. Specifics beyond that aren’t set (well, other than that husband Dave will be teaching at a charter school downtown–that’s a huge answer to prayer!), but we’re waiting to see how God leads.

In the meantime, I’d like to share a teaching that I gave at our women’s Bible study a couple weeks ago. It was written during one of the most uncertain times of this journey of moving (though I know there are more to come!). I’ve done an audio of it as well; it’s about 25 minutes in length and you can find it just below this paragraph. This is far longer than my usual posts, and I apologize for that.

“I AM the Way”

Our teaching topic today is Jesus’ “I Am the Way” statement. I’ve been thinking about that statement for weeks now, so the collect that was prayed at the beginning of the service this past Sunday jumped out at me. I’d like to pray it over us today as we look at Jesus as the Way for us.

Almighty God, whom truly to know is everlasting life: Grant us so perfectly to know your Son Jesus Christ to be the way, the truth, and the life, that we may steadfastly follow his steps in the way that leads to eternal life; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Before we get into talking ABOUT the passage, let’s read it together. This is John 13:31-14:10, some of Jesus’ last words to his disciples before he was betrayed. (Follow the link above to read the passage on Bible Gateway.)

In John 14:6, Jesus said, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” This morning we’re looking at the first noun in Jesus’ statement: “Jesus is the Way,” and exploring what that means for us, both in terms of salvation but also for our daily lives, for the step-by-step journeys we are all on. I’m “preaching” to myself this morning. That is usually the case when I teach—God always makes it very personal, but this is one that has been intensely applicable to me right now, and I’ve been praying that the journey I’m on and what I’m learning of Jesus being the Way for me in it will be of real use to you as well.

For about a year now, my husband and I have felt a pull to move to the inner city, with my husband sensing a specific draw to urban education. We’ve sought discernment about this urge, we’ve gathered people to pray with us, we’ve gotten counsel, and my husband has applied for a couple of jobs in inner-city Chicago schools. I won’t bore you with the process that has followed, but it has been very much a 3-steps-forward, 2-steps-back kind of journey, and both jobs are still possibilities even though it’s now almost May—and in the educational world, that’s getting late! Meanwhile as I’ve sensed the Lord’s leading, I’ve fought fears of “If this happens, what about school for my kids? Won’t they all have closed their enrollment? What about housing? How will we sell our house and find someplace to live in that short of time? What neighborhood?” It’s gotten to the point that I realize that if God actually opens doors and makes this happen, it truly is miraculous because I’ve got no control over it.

So, with all this swirling around in the background of my life, I began to prepare for this teaching. One of the things we do to prepare is to work our way through a set of pre-sermon questions, and one of the questions is this: “How is this passage supposed to make you feel?”

I laughed out loud when I read that question because, honestly, I identified in many ways with the disciples. I’m asking some questions that sound really similar to theirs. “Where are you leading? What is going on? Is your way for us here or there? Can you please just make the way clear?”

So, just like the disciples in the passage, I was feeling confused. I was identifying more with their feelings than with what Jesus was saying. But then I had to look at the question again, because it doesn’t ask, “How does this passage make you feel?” It hadn’t asked me how I actually felt when reading the passage but instead asked how the passage was supposed to make me feel—and that was entirely different, because the intent of this passage is hope! It’s an incredibly hopeful passage, full of eternal belonging and promises of home.

But I, just like the disciples, needed to see it differently. I needed a different perspective on Jesus being the Way. I needed a different understanding of the way.

We, here in 2016, know that verse 31 is speaking of Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection; he’s speaking of our salvation. Then, in verse 33 he is referring to his ascension and in 34 to the new resurrection life his followers will live. These are huge, eternity-changing events!

And after he says all these monumental things, Peter asks, “Where are you going?”

Peter missed the salvation; he missed the new life of love, and he focused on Jesus leaving. I get that! Peter missed all the other stuff because Jesus just said something that threatened Peter’s imagined way of life. “What? You’re leaving? That can’t happen! We’ve got plans! You’re our leader!” Peter, along with probably all the other disciples, had his sights set on something other than God, something other than God’s purposes. They couldn’t see anything other than their own purposes. Peter was still expecting Jesus to establish an earthly kingdom, to restore Israel to glory, and Peter was wanting a significant part in this restoration. Now please understand I’m not putting Peter down for this. He wanted to be Jesus’ right-hand man, the one known for being completely supportive. He wanted to be the rock that Jesus had called him.

None of these things are bad, but they were what Peter wanted. Peter wasn’t asking what God wanted. He wasn’t looking to the Father, as Jesus always was. In chapter 14 we see the same tendencies in Thomas and Philip. Thomas, in verse 5, said, “We don’t know where you’re going.” He, too, has his eyes somewhere OTHER than God. And that’s when Jesus points him—all of them—back to God, telling him that the way Jesus is going is ALWAYS to the Father and then Jesus makes the I Am statement that He is the complete and only way to the Father,

And before I smack my forehead and say, “C’mon, guys, don’t you get it?” I have to realize I do the same thing. I formulate my own plans, and I get my eyes off the Father. I forget that HE is my ultimate goal, my complete belonging. I, too, form a plan that seems right to me, one in which I know my place and feel settled and secure, and when God does something or says something that upsets my plan—or suggests that’s not His plan, then I’m just like Peter. “What?”

And when I do this, it’s like I’m walking through an open field with my eyes on the ground, making my own way—forgetting my way doesn’t lead to the Father. I forget to look up at the Father and keep looking up, so I also forget that in him I am home.

This looking, this Father-gaze—this Father-fixation, you could say—is only possible through Jesus. He made a Way, the only Way possible, between us and the Father. Through his death and resurrection he wiped out all the sin and evil that was between us so we can see the Father and know his loving face and feel his arms around us. So we can know that in the Father’s love, we are home. We belong. In and through Jesus, we are brought to our true home with him and the Father. That home is our ultimate destination.

And this Destination influences the journey to it, and this is another meaning to Jesus being the Way. He is not only the destination, He is the way of the Father. Jesus perfectly lived this way of the Father. He revealed it to us in both his words and actions. In the Gospels, he said, over and over, in many different ways, that his eyes were on the Father. And that determined how he lived. He wasn’t trying to please others or himself—just the Father. And this is the kind of life, the kind of way to which Jesus is referring in John 13:34-35. He tells his disciples—he tells us—Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. Earlier in this chapter he’d given them a very concrete example of this when he washed their feet and told them to do the same. Bishop Stewart spoke of this call to love in the sermon this past Sunday. He told us we are called to choose a life of costly love, sacrificial love—that is the Christian life. That is the life Jesus lived, the life that revealed the Father to us, that showed us the Father’s way. And it is also the life we are to live. We are called to service, to other-focused lives.

And here is where I get a little stuck–in a couple of different ways: first, HOW do I do that? I’m selfish by nature. How do I live a life of sacrificial love when I am unable to do that? Second, how do we know exactly which direction this life of sacrificial life should take? For example, in my particular situation right now, we have a lot of good choices, and all of them—including the choice of staying in our current situation—involve costly love and service. I don’t think there’s ONE right choice. I think God could and would use all of them, but we still are faced with a choice, and that can be overwhelming.

I see this in my head kind of like a Google map with the middle part missing. It’s as if I’m looking at the map, and two dots are flashing on it. One dot is the “You are here” dot; it’s our current location. The other dot is the “destination” dot. The map behind the “You are here” dot is filled in, in a lot of detail. We can look back on our journey and see a few of its twists and turns and kind of how it got us to the point we’re at. The other dot, the destination dot, is labeled “eternal home,” “eternal life with the Father,” and around the dot are all these wonderful descriptors like “full satisfaction in Christ,” “freedom from all selfishness,” “completeness,” “wholeness,” “belonging,” “everlasting peace and love.”

So I have the ultimate destination dot and I have the current location dot, but the map in between isn’t filled in. It’s blank, so I don’t know the path between the two dots.

Now, so far I have talked about two “ways” that Jesus is the Way. The first is that Jesus is our destination, our ultimate home with the Father, and the second is Jesus as our example, showing us the Way of the Father—full of sacrificial love.

Those are two wonderful and essential understandings of Jesus being the Way, but I need more! If I only have those two dots—the current location and the ultimate destination—and then the example of Jesus, that still leaves me with big blank space in my map. HOW do I walk your way? I ask. Which direction do I take? How do I know? Am I just supposed to choose the way that looks hardest each time? What if I don’t? What if I choose the easier way and then feel guilty? (Some of us get stuck in that trap, don’t we? You know who you are!) We say, Lord, I’m lost in the in-between place. I’m stuck!

This is where the third understanding of the Way brings hope to my heart. Jesus is the Destination; he is the way of the Father—and he is the way to the Father. He is the path beneath my feet as well as my guide and companion on the journey; He holds my hand as we walk together; he carries me in the difficult parts; he is before me and behind me and beside me. He is in me.

In this passage in John, the disciples couldn’t see this yet. Their vision was still clouded. They didn’t understand; they weren’t saying, “Lord, we get it; You’re completing our eternal salvation with your death and resurrection.” No, they were still looking for an earthly kingdom and still hoping for some recognition and honor in it—but regardless of their clouded perspective, they had this one hugely important thing right: Jesus was their life! They’d walked with him for three years, and they didn’t want that to end. They’d journeyed with him. They’d looked to him for where they were going to go and how they would be fed and where they would sleep at night. And now he was talking about leaving them. I would have asked the same question. I still do!

And Jesus says to me, to us, exactly what he said to them. Please look with me at John 14:16-19, 26-27. (The link will take you to John 14:16-27 in the NIV.)

 

Jesus didn’t leave the disciples as orphans. He doesn’t leave us either. We are not vainly trying to make our way to the Father, hopelessly striving in our own strength to live as Christ did. No, He gave us His Spirit. “You will see me,” he promised. “You are not alone on the way. I will come to you. Because I live, you also will live.”

So the Spirit guides us through the blank space between the current location dot and the destination dot on the map. This doesn’t mean we get to punch the “list navigation steps” button and see all the twists and turns laid out. No. Often the Spirit reveals only one step in front of us; though at other times the Spirit settles us in a sweet spot for a time. Sometimes the way is full of trouble and hardship. Sometimes we seem stuck—with the way in front covered in fog. We’re not sure where to step.

But no matter what the journey is like, we’re not doing it alone. And that makes all the difference.

As my family has been in this journey of ambiguity—which Pastor Matt calls “a darn good story,” (because he’s not the one living it! J) the Lord keeps reminding me of this truth in a lot of ways. There was the time when Father Kevin stood up after the sermon a few weeks back and said, “I sense there are some here who are in a smog of confusion”—actually, I don’t remember if he said it just like that, but being who he is, I can see him picking words like that—and my husband and I looked at each other and just nodded—and then went and sought prayer. There was the Good Friday service, when I knelt at the cross, full of uncertainty for my children in this possible move, and I heard the Lord say, “I have them. They’re mine.” And then when I shared that moment with my two daughters at the Holy Week reflection service a couple weeks later, my younger daughter’s eyes got wide and she said, “Mom, he told me the same thing when I was at the cross that night. He said, ‘Maddie, I have you.’”

In just the right moments, when my doubts are crowding in, God elbows them out of the way and says, “Look at me instead.” He did this earlier this week when I was meeting with a young mom friend and she said, “God gave me an image while I was praying and I think I’m supposed to share it with you.” And though her vision didn’t give specific direction—it was of a woman lying paralyzed at the feet of Jesus and then being raised by him into courage and strength and service—it encouraged me and renewed my hope. The Lord has done this again and again in this process.

And when I keep my eyes on the Father, when I remember that the Spirit is with and in me, then I also remember I don’t need to worry about the navigation steps. I don’t need to know them. He will reveal what needs to be revealed, when it needs to be revealed. I don’t need to be troubled or afraid. Jesus has made the way for me to be home in the Father, to belong to him. That will be fully realized in eternity, but it’s also a resurrection reality right now. I can live, now, at home in the Father, belonging to him. That is most important—that’s the BIG thing—so I can trust him for everything else, for this journey right now.

You can, too, no matter what your “current location” looks like, no matter what the step in front of you looks like, no matter if you feel paralyzed or overwhelmed or bored or lost or sad or anxious in your “current location.” In these past few months, my husband and I have prayed the prayers for dedication and guidance and quiet confidence over and over. Sometimes we pray them back-to-back, asking for our hearts to be prepared for service, asking for direction and then asking that we would be reminded that our place of belonging is in God. I’ve combined the elements of these prayers into one that I’d like to pray for all of us right now.

Father God, through Jesus we have our home and belonging with you. By the might of your Spirit, lift us, we pray, to your presence, where we may be still and know that through Christ, you are our God, you are our Father. As our Father, please help us to follow the way Christ revealed. Draw our hearts to you, guide our minds, fill our imaginations, and control our wills so that we may be wholly yours, utterly dedicated to you. Then use us, we pray, for your glory and the welfare of your people. And Lord, when we are uncertain of the way, give us the grace to ask you for guidance. May the Spirit save us from all false choices and lead us on your straight path. Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

After ten pages of trying to encapsulate ATONEMENT…

coffee and kindle

coffee and Kindle–really good friends when writing papers! The beautiful mug was made for me by my Em! Love it!

Alternate title: A bad poem attempting to do what ten pages did not! 

Justification, reconciliation, substitution, payment, victory, sacrifice, ransom, freedom, satisfaction…

Too many words!

Yet not enough.

Words enough to fill books upon books,

Yet still not enough to fully explain the how—

The what, even!

Well, it’s understandable—

Paul himself spoke in metaphor

And mixed them like disparate ingredients in a stew—

Trying to convey the whole with parts—

With the whole being the best meal ever,

Filling, enlivening, comforting…

Hmm, I, too, just used metaphor,

bringing in yet another in an attempt to wrap my mind around

the atonement, that definition-defying word,

the At-One-Ment of those so very much at odds:

God and creation,

Beginning in harmony,

And then not—

With the fault being wholly NOT God’s.

In the great gulf between: sin, death, evil,

Impossible for creation to bridge.

So crossed instead by the injured party,

(Oh, terrible pun–yet true!)

The birth, the life, the death, the resurrection of God-made-flesh,

And the far off was brought near.

At-One-Ment was accomplished!

How?

Through the death of Christ, we say.

But, really, how? How? How did that death make one again what had been so seriously separated into two?

Oh dear,

We resort to metaphors once again,

Each one expressing just a part. Only a part

Of a glorious, beautiful, magnificent whole.

BIG—encompassing all of humanity, past, present, future.

The entirety of creation as well.

Yet small, too.

For I, one among billions, a speck in the universe,

I am At-One with the Holy One.

And you, fellow speck, you can be, too!

Incredible.

He in me. I in him.

He in you. You in him.

We—you, me, we two—AT-ONE as well!

We all—creation days one through six—

At One!

Could there be a more amazing mystery? A mystery worked through mystery!

“For God so loved…”

Ah, the need to understand momentarily set aside,

I rest,

Grateful.

To open the heart

sunset in woods

the woods at sunset

…He knew all people… He knew what was in man [in their hearts—in the very core of their being}.

I was drawn back to that verse from John 2 again and again last week when I was still in Scotland. I assumed it was related to the ministry we were involved in, but I also felt there was something in it for me personally—something significant for me. But I didn’t know what.

We returned to the States, and I plunged back into my normal life, which is oh, so good but can also feel oh, so scattered.

And my transition back was rough.

Our normally chaotic but happy household felt a little edgy, and I couldn’t figure out why. I felt edgy myself and walked through each day tense, just waiting for the next small trigger. I tried to “fix” it, but the grumpiness—which was largely my grumpiness—got deeper with each passing day.

Thursday morning I planned to go to my church’s women’s Gathering. I looked forward to some forced reflection time.

Margie taught on the phrase “I am the Alpha and the Omega,” focusing on the completion God works in each of our lives as well as the completion He will work in all of His creation. Following the teaching, she instructed us to get in small groups and share a gap we were trying to fill by ourselves. I looked at my group members and said, “I’m trying to make it all work right in my household. I’ve taken on the responsibility for everyone’s happiness and I’m trying to make everyone get along.”

I grimaced. “It’s not working.”

PJ and Chai

my youngest and the dog on the frozen pond

Another woman shared that she had a loved one she was unable to forgive, and the third woman in our group shared that she was struggling with shame over past sin. As we prayed for each other, the word “heart” came up again and again.

We stumble around in the dark in the cluttered mess of our hearts.

The roots of our bitterness and brokenness and shame are hidden in the depths of our hearts, and we can’t discover them.

But to You, Lord, nothing is hidden. Your light shines in our hearts, and You see all. You don’t deal only with the symptoms of our sin and brokenness; You go right to the source.

I remembered the verse from John 2, and with it another image came to my mind, of a heart locked tight, barred and shut with complex mechanisms and powerful deadbolts.

It was my heart.

It seemed strange to me that I could return from a time of focused ministry and sweet dependence on God and almost immediately shut up my heart, but it’s what I’d done. It was as if I’d said, “Lord, I needed your help for all that, but for this, my normal, ordinary life—I got it!”

Slam.

And now that I’d shut the door and shot the bolts and twirled the combination lock—and then realized I’d been very, very wrong—I couldn’t figure out how to undo it all.

Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in…

But the opening was beyond me. I needed the Lord not only to knock but even to unlock my heart.

Come in, Lord! Come in!

No door stands in his way when we cry out.

I will come in and eat with (you),

and (you) will eat with Me.

His promises are good.

And they are sure.

What I need

mads eye

This is daughter Em’s work–she took this shot of her younger sister’s eye as part of her digital photo final exam. No relation to this post–just wanted to share.

I dabbled in studying the Trinity this past fall. I learned much, but learned more than anything that I’d merely left the shore to sit in a rowboat on the ocean’s surface in order to peer into the depths. I was able to see further into the water from the boat than I had on land but was also able to see that beneath me were fathoms upon fathoms of mystery and beauty.

I realized I could spend my life studying the Trinity and still be snorkeling in the shallows.

Yet even the shallows are amazingly wonderful! The very idea of a three-in-one God, a God who is three persons distinct yet sharing the same essence, so full of love for one another that this love overflows into and onto creation…

Is incredible, simply incredible.

As I read about and marveled at the Trinity, a conversation from a couple years ago kept coming back to me. I’d never forgotten this conversation because it made me uncomfortable. I left it feeling I’d said the wrong thing, but my studies of the Trinity gave me insight into why I said what I did.

My doorbell rang one day while the kids were at school, and I opened my door to find two women who wanted to tell me about their faith. They were both older than I, and even though I didn’t invite them in because they seemed a little nervous of the dog, I found myself wanting to fetch a chair for the older of the two, a woman older than my mother. We began with what we agreed on, and our talk was cordial. But then I asked them about Jesus. “What do you believe about him?”

Distress built in me as the older woman talked about a mere human who’d simply been so incredibly good that he was, so to speak, “adopted” by God. God’s son? Yes. But was he God’s eternal Son, ONE with the Father and the Spirit, of the same essence? No.

I am not “good” in these situations. Scripture references, logic, and reasoning—all these flee, chased out by passion and fear. My brain scrambles to put together a clear plan, or to follow one of several I thought of after previous conversations like this one, but all I can do is send up a plea for help.

So, with these two beautiful women standing in front of me, brushing aside every question I had about Jesus being one with the Father, about Jesus being the Word that was in the beginning with God, I prayed. Holy Spirit, please come.

What came was not what I’d hoped for—a list of Scripture references clearly laid out. No, what came was sorrow. These women were unnecessarily trapped; they’d placed their hope in a lie. If Jesus was human only, if his death was accepted only because he’d lived a perfect life before it…

…then his sacrifice would have only made the way clear for himself, not for me, nor for these women. He would be no more than an example—“Look at him; do it exactly this way!”—an example we are incapable of duplicating.

I asked more questions, but the distress grew until it burst out of me: “But if Jesus wasn’t God, He couldn’t help me! I don’t want a human savior; what good would that do? I need God Himself to save me! No one else could!”

The rest of the conversation was still cordial, but they didn’t stay long after my comment. I told them I would love for them to come back, but I haven’t seen them again.

This is the conversation I kept remembering as I read about the Trinity this fall. I realized the longing I’d felt was not simply for a divine Savior. It was bigger, wider, deeper. It was for a Triune God who has such an excess of love within the Father, Son, and Spirit relationship that this love cannot help but overflow. It was a longing for a God who also longs for me; who deeply desires to restore the broken relationship with his creation and did this very thing through the Son; who draws us by the Spirit into true relationship with God, with neighbor.

May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of our God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit abide with us, now and forever.

Neighbors in suburbia

I was having one of my “Why here?” mornings, when I am fed up with suburbia and longing to be in ministry elsewhere—a small town, inner city, overseas…

Without examination, this built, and I saw everything around me with a snarky eye. It came to a head at a four-way stop not far from our house. “Get a move on,” I inwardly muttered at the man across the intersection who had clearly arrived before me and yet still hadn’t moved. FINALLY he turned, and I saw through the car’s side window that the driver was a neighbor who lives across the street and a couple doors down from my family. His wife died only a few months ago.

My anger dropped and I received a moment of empathy, a tiny bit of his sorrow knocking off my cynicism and settling in my heart. I followed his car up the hill and then watched as he turned into our local cemetery.

That broke me, and I cried out, “I’m so sorry, Lord. So sorry.”

Why here?

I don’t know completely.

But we ARE here.

And rather than ask Christ, like the Pharisee in Luke 10 did, “And who is my neighbor?”, I need to ask instead to be a neighbor, not only to those in the sex trade, to refugees and immigrants, to those without Christ in foreign countries, to the widow and orphan and oppressed BUT ALSO to the well-dressed, well-fed, well-educated suburbanites all around me.

I often pray Matthew 22:37-39 over my children:“‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.'” And when I do, I don’t specify which neighbors they’re supposed to love. I leave that up to God. 

I’m still learning to do the same for myself.

“Which…proved himself a neighbor?” (Jesus asked).

“The one who showed pity and mercy to him,” (he answered)

And Jesus said… “Go and do likewise.”

the truth that keeps me out of the cave of despair

My body returned from Scotland last Thursday night. It has taken my mind longer to return. It was ready right away to be with my kids, to celebrate PJ’s 9th birthday (how is it possible that my YOUNGEST is in his last year of single digits?), and ease back into the cycle of cooking/washing/straightening. My grey matter was clearly not up for all the other parts of my normal life—i.e. meetings/appointments/a packed schedule—because I didn’t even realize I’d missed a significant meeting at church on Monday evening till I checked my email later that night and saw a note from the team leader wondering about my absence.
My mind moved—in one short minute—from gradual re-entry to high alert.
And into guilt, too, of course.
How? How could I have so completely forgotten a meeting I’d been very excited about only a month before? How could I have gone an entire weekend without checking my full schedule for this week?
So complete was my plunge into alert mode that I was unable to sleep. At 2 a.m. I finally slipped from bed to read in the bathroom, hoping my mind would shut off. It didn’t work. I returned to bed, but no sleep came. I prayed, working my way through the phrases of the Lord’s Prayer, but I kept circling around to guilt and then to the busy-ness of the week ahead.
“Oh, Lord, help me to get past this and rest,” I asked, and my understanding of my guilt and frustration began to shift. I realized what was really eating at me was concern for how I would be perceived by the other members of the team, was embarrassment, was shame at having to admit I’d simply forgotten. This self-preservation and focus was what was keeping me awake.
Still, even though I could name my issue, sleep never came. I finally got up, went upstairs, and found my younger three already awake in the living room. “Can you pray for me?” I asked them. I explained my missing the meeting, my lack of sleep.
“Of course,” they said. Maddie prayed that I would have peace and strength for the day; Jake—who is quite familiar with guilt—prayed I would not be “down in the dumps, would not live in the cave of despair.” (I’m not being imaginative; those were his exact words!)
It was such a good wake-up call (pardon the pun!). As the day went on, I found myself grateful for two seemingly paradoxical reminders: 1. I am NOT as free as I sometimes think I am from guilt, perfectionism, and people pleasing. I am still in the process of being set free and that’s okay; and 2. In Christ, I AM free. He accomplished my freedom, and He is at work in me—and HE is greater than my sin! He will triumph!
I am grateful the second truth is far deeper.
“And I am convinced and sure of this very thing, that He Who began a good work in you will continue until the day of Jesus Christ [right up to the time of His return], developing [that good work] and perfecting and bringing it to full completion in you. Philippians 1:6, Amplified Bible