Tuesday, July 1, 2014

It Takes Gratitude to Keep a Connection

Have you ever stopped to think about what (precisely) keeps you consistently connected to some people, while others fall by the wayside of your life? I think I always just assumed that connections are maintained or broken through simple realities such as peace or conflict, and presence or absence. Those assumptions kind of flew out the window for me today while I was driving with my daughter to Target.
We were talking about someone precious to us who's been through a really rough time lately. My daughter remarked that our dear one always seems the closest to us at the times when she expresses gratitude and appreciation for us, and seems the most disconnected from us when the gratitude fades away. I thought that was a profound observation for a 14 year old. 
Yet, it's true, isn't it? The more gratitude we feel toward someone, the more connected we feel to them. Of course, it's obvious that when we experience conflict or disappointment with someone, gratitude isn't really the first thing that comes to mind. That realization started me thinking about how it is that we tend to solve problems and stay connected with some people but not others. It seems to me that gratitude plays a major role in our choices to maintain close connections with people.
When we fall into conflicts and run low on gratitude that is the beginning of disconnection. Conflicts draw our attention toward whatever has offended or disappointed us, and away from cultivating gratitude. It doesn't take long for gaps to develop, and relationships to begin falling apart.
However, if we take a cue from the apostle, Paul, we are likely to find a way to hurt less and heal more. In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul says, "I do not cease to give thanks for you." He minimizes the opportunity for conflicts and disappointments to do substantial damage to his relationship with the Ephesians by thanking God for them—remembering them in his prayers. Since we have  evidence throughout the New Testament that Paul lived a life of prolific prayer, we can safely say that when Paul says, "I do not cease to give thanks for you" he's not inflating the truth.

Paul's heart of gratitude, and his practice of prayer, served to protect and grow his relationships with people in the church at Ehpesus. He communicates with them, and not only expresses his gratitude for the Ephesians, but also blesses them (Eph. 1:3) and instructs them throughout his letter. Paul is invested. These people were given to Paul in trust by God, and so he felt appropriately responsible to cultivate the relationship. He followed through with his calling.

So…what about us? Do we follow through with God's call upon our lives—His commandment to love others—and keep a hedge of protection around our relationships through gratitude and prayer? Think about a conflicted relationship in your life. What would happen if you decided to pray gratefully for the person/people without ceasing, even if the most you could initially feel gratitude for is God's opportunity to develop character and obedience in you through the conflict? What if you started these ceaseless prayers by calling for God's blessing over the person or people with whom you are in conflict?

I have tried this exercise myself, and it works to reveal my heart and shift the focus away from the conflict and toward my own flaws. More than that, it works to help me feel more connected to people and more willing to do my part in protecting the relationship. At times when I've thrown my hands up in the air, walked away, and not come back with a heart to settle the problem amicably, I have also stopped praying and blessing people. I have lost my gratitude, and ultimately my relationship. In sum, I've been disobedient. 
However, when I've actively and consistently prayed for and blessed someone who has offended or disappointed me, the relationship may be rocked, but it remains in tact. Not only that, but the relationship heals and grows stronger. It's not rocket science, and it's not a secret. 
When we follow God's design for love and relationship with people we experience fewer disconnections, and greater personal peace. I mean, it stands to reason that conflicts solved through obedience to God in prayer, and in gratitude, will lead to more peaceful lives. It really doesn't make sense to live any other way.

Monday, June 23, 2014

"Don't Dis' Me, Man!" - Have We Become Pathological Name-Callers?

In the years since psychology and psychiatry have gained respect and public acceptance, the Western world, in particular, has incorporated many diagnostic terms into everyday vocabulary. In contemporary America, you probably cannot go a day in normal conversation without someone self-disclosing—if only jokingly—about their ADD, ADHD, or even "schizo" behaviors. There probably isn't a cocktail party in any major city where someone isn't naming someone else as a "manic" or "clinical" or <fill in the blank> over a martini.  

Frankly, I'm at the point where I want to shout, "ENOUGH ALREADY!" 

I mean, isn't about time we all stop playing armchair mental health professional, and start talking about ourselves and others more…kindly…more…human-ly? 

If our deepest ways of understanding one another have to come from a professional manual that exists to define and catalog mental and emotional disorders, doesn't that seem…I dunno…kind of…sick? Obsessive? Pathological…? 

Seriously, how does persistently calling someone a "case" or "co-dependent" or "OCD" help us to treat people with Christ-like humility and kindness? 

This world is a red-hot mess. People get hurt out there—really banged up. Is this the best we can do, as the people of God? We break out our label-makers, like Martha Stewart, and go around assuring that everyone knows who we think is bi-polar or personality disordered...? Dude, really? 

Think about it. Our friends hear us calling one another by "clinical" names. People share what we say about others. (That, incidentally, is called gossip…just sayin'.) If that's how we roll, then what happens when we fall into conflict with people? Do we check their label and start with the dis'…? 

Cool it with the clinical and the Haterade, peeps. If you call yourself a Christian, you can't be down with that. 

Word up

Ephesians 4:29

English Standard Version (ESV)
29 Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.

You get me? Knock it off! 

Explain to me—please, I'm all ears—how slapping on labels and walking off all confident in your "professional" Dx (that's how the professionals write "diagnosis") builds anyone up or gives grace to those who hear. Ya. I thought so. You can't.

You didn't ask for my non-professional opinion, but here it is anyway…

Stick with The Golden Rule. "Give to everyone who begs from you, and from one who takes away your goods do not demand them back. 31 And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them" (Luke 6:30-31). 

If you think someone needs professional help, guide them there…gently. Kindly. If you can't, pray and seek someone who can. But put down your little label maker and chill, for heaven's sake! Who died and left you Freud? 

And don't just leave the broken, wounded people you encounter to go around wearing their labels and searching for hope. No one says you have to "fix" them, but you can be nice. You can be an encourager. 

Yo, and one more thing…

If you really can't get yourself to the place where you stop with the name-calling (because that's what it is) and start with the edifying (because that's what it ain't) you can be rock solid that there's a whole pipeline of folks who have your page marked in the manual. They onto you.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Galatians 5:22-25

New Living Translation (NLT)
22 But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things! 24 Those who belong to Christ Jesus have nailed the passions and desires of their sinful nature to his cross and crucified them there. 25 Since we are living by the Spirit, let us follow the Spirit’s leading in every part of our lives.

Growing in Grace Means Growing Healthy Fruit: 
There's no room for bad seeds

How we grow in grace often depends on what seeds we sow. Growing the fruits of the Spirit means cultivating healthy fruits from a good garden. If we plant good seeds, and cultivate our lives as good places where people thrive among us, the harvest of grace is great. If we plant old, tired seeds we'll limit our yield and probably cause the people and places around us to become distressed and withered.

Most of us have a lot of old habits shoved into the drawers and boxes of our lives, or neatly hung and arranged by occasion for later use—perhaps even stashed away in a vault for emergencies. Nothing wrong with that. Not all of our old habits are bad. Some of them become tried and true practices that never lose effectiveness, i.e. being grateful, taking care of our health, being kind to others. Habits like these are all keepers.

However, when we enter new seasons in our lives, which inevitably lead to new people, passions, and problems, many old habits are no longer serviceable. They become bad seeds. In fact, we may well find that these habits are entirely destructive. They often rob new seasons of good fruit. Some new seasons are traumatic and unsettling. They leave us broken and bruised on the inside. We develop coping skills that are briefly effective and tolerable for getting us through a crisis, but—left in place as habits—our bad seeds begin having corrosive effects upon our lives.

I came from a family that had the cruelest joke. They marked dramatic shifts in my life by my birthday. "If it's Anne's birthday," they'd say, "then it must be moving day." For YEARS, my birthday's convenient summer timing made it the "just right" occasion for my mother to move us either in or out of my grandparents comfortable home. (The out was never a welcome change.) Every once in a while we would even do it in between…right around Christmas. Sigh.

Each time, I would have to gather up my things (or simply come home and find they had been gathered for me) unpack them into the latest new life, and start over, all while avoiding conflict with my mother, and keeping silent…no complaints allowed. I'd learned from a very early age that crying, complaining, or questioning inevitably led to truly dangerous tirades. These were rife with long, hard winds of abusive words, and irrational, violent outbursts that resulted in things like bruises, cut lips, abrasions, clumps of hair falling out…and tears that would keep the horrors coming until some distraction called her fury to an end. All of this was to say nothing of the abuses I suffered as an even younger child at my father's hands. For much of my childhood, I learned how to keep my complaints to myself. I learned the safety of silence.

Even my well-meaning grandmother promoted silence as a safety measure. Since my mother would be gone for days, and (at least once) even weeks at a time, my grandmother looked to silence as the gateway to peace when my mother was at home. Not wanting to lose her youngest daughter, but trying to protect me, my grandmother decided that silence was the way to keep her blood pressure and nitroglycerin pills to a minimum, and my safety to the maximum. When she'd see my mother ramping up into an angry episode she'd pull me aside and whisper, "Just don't say anything. Shut up. She'll leave soon and we'll have peace and quiet." My grandfather, often at work and seldom at home for the worst of my mother's rages, would just shake his head and half mutter/half chuckle, saying of my mother, "That girl could disturb a high mass!" as he walked away. So, as long as my grandparents were around to diffuse things by encouraging my silence, I could escape most of the blasts with just a few slaps and some yelling.

Yet, not speaking my complaints didn't mean making peace with them. Instead, I learned to purge in order to start over—first my things, like souvenirs from good times at the old place, or yearbooks from the old school…and later my food. My once reliable habit of silence in the face of change was also a habit of silence in the face of abuse, and later a habit of silence in handling many of my other problems. I learned to "take one on the chin for the team" in order to control the madness. Of course, nothing could have been more counter-productive and dangerous for me in later seasons of problem solving. My silence stopped creating safety for me, or anyone else.

When seasons changed in my later years, and the problems of life grew more complex, silence no longer afforded me peace. In fact, silence became the great fertilizer of a bitter root in me that grew (unexpectedly, even to me) my own outbursts of hateful words, and  stirred me to have hot-tempered responses to conflicts—cutting people to the quick, and then cutting them off to restore the silence. With even the smallest hint of conflict, I'd set my face like flint and move on with very little gratitude, if any, for any kindness that had been shown me. I had virtually no grace for others. I completely shut down.

Later in life, I came to realize that silence can be two faced. While silence was the very good habit that allowed me to listen attentively and pick up on crucial nuances and details—a skill that has served me well in life as a teacher and encourager—it also drove me to alienate people, put out a lot of mixed messages, or sometimes stew too long, think too much, and ultimately lose my temper. Not so great.

I've had to spend my the better part of my adult years, in each of its seasons, ferreting out the hiding places and poor practices of unhealthy silence, replacing them with a voice, and then training that voice to speak properly. It's not always easy, but I do it. I make a lot of mistakes. I fall down backward sometimes when an unfamiliar crisis reveals a few more bad seeds, but I keep learning to seek after ways of making grace, love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control the centerpieces of my life. A spirit of forgiveness and reconciliation has been the natural outcropping of my best efforts, and the missing element of my worst failures.

What about you? If you look closely at conflicts in your life, are there old habits directing your responses to new seasons? How are these old habits working out for you? It's easy to blame others for not understanding you, or for not taking your cues and adapting to your new needs and preferences, but there comes a point when you may want to consider that your old habits are the greatest common factor in many of your conflicts and limitations. It may be time to plant some new seeds. 

The more you get rid of the bad seeds and sow the good ones, the less likely you'll be to throw away, or push away, good people and a good life. Your life will be a good place for others to grow up alongside you. Plant the fruits of the Spirit. Cultivate a good garden. You'll find that you, and the people around you, will grow in grace and peace.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Love Is Not for Cowards

In his philosophical and theological study of love titled The Four Loves, author, C.S. Lewis, has this to say about the risks we take in endeavoring to love and be loved, 

     To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.

Part of what is so interesting in Lewis' point is the irony of how we tend to view vulnerability as a mark of weakness when, in reality, vulnerability takes great courage and a commitment of honor. Vulnerability as weakness is certainly true in nature. The vulnerable creatures—the ones that foolishly reveal themselves by walking alone—are typically the ones that are devoured when some opportunistic predator takes notice. 

The sickly, the small, the frail, the lonely, the wounded, and the elderly zebras are frequently lunch for the lions, and there is a sense in which that fact is also true among human beings. Those who reveal themselves to be limping along somehow, those who are the weakest and most alone in the world, are very often gobbled up by the predatory people roaming among us. Still, God has provided a system of protection through His command to love one another. We just fail to use it.

Perhaps our collective "buy in" to a Darwinian view of the world has cost us our critical understanding of the substantial ways that we are different from the animals. If we view our chief end as a matter of survival, then it stands to reason that we would consider vulnerability a character trait of the weak and the foolish. Fair enough. Worldview sets the perimeter for belief. So in wrestling with our animal instinct to survive and our human need for companionship, most of us settle on being selectively vulnerable. We are satisfied that caution + wisdom = relative safety. Sounds reasonable.

But if our worldview is rooted in biblical Christianity, we cannot necessarily apply the same standards of reason to our beliefs. There's no fence to straddle. The chief end of human beings—their raison d'etre—is to love God and to enjoy relationship with Him forever. If Lewis' argument (love requires vulnerability) holds, then the greatest love we were created for is no exception. In both the Old and New Testaments of the Bible, we are told that the greatest commandment is to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, strength, and mind. In other words, hold nothing back. Nothing. No. Thing.

In fact, in the Gospels of Luke and Matthew Jesus is asked about this commandment, and he makes it clear that loving God and loving others are practically inseparable. In keeping the commandment to love God without holding anything back, by extension we're required to love others as if they were our very own selves.  By holding these two commandments as our principles for living, we essentially obey the whole law of God...but, of course, we don't...not by a long shot. Our human instinct to survive sets us up to abandon our supernatural calling to be vulnerable—to be open, accessible, transparent, generous lovers of God and man.

Well, here's the reality of wearing the name Christian. We cannot take that name on and off like a name tag at a conference. Sure, we may do that and fool a whole lot of folks, but God sees. He knows a poser when He sees one. If we wear His Name with integrity and sincerity, then we don't get to pawn off our lack of love and vulnerability toward our fellow humans as merely the "animal" nature. <insert "wrong answer" buzzer here>

Commandments aren't suggestions, and being given the name of the king to wear as our own isn't like a hall pass to go and smoke in the rest room. Our sin and survival instincts are not license for cowardice and dishonor.  Love and vulnerability require courage and honor. 

Love rides into the valley of death with God and with others. Love goes follows its cause and its calling out of obedience to God even when it seems crazy. Love doesn't question or reason, it just forges ahead through anything and everything...propelled by courage and by honor. Love is but to do and die. Courage pushes us forward when our honor is on the line.

     That's why courage is tricky...sometimes you might not even know why you're doing something. I mean, any fool can have courage, but honor, that's the real reason you either do something or you don't. It's who you are, and maybe who you want to be. If you die trying for something important then you have both honor and courage, and that's pretty good...you should hope for courage and try for honor, and maybe even pray that the people [you love] have some too. —from The Blind Side

The Bible says it this way,        

1 Corinthians 13:4-8

New International Version (NIV)
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
Love never fails.

To call ourselves Christians is to answer God's call to courage and honor. There's no way around it. Love may call us into the muck and mire of people's lives. Love may call us deep into the valley of death, but we are never called by a leader who hasn't been there already. He made it back alive. Follow Him. Trust Him. Obey Him. You'll make it out alive too.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Field Notes from the Prayer Trenches

So...I received this prayer burden today (an extra measure of spirit-tugging beyond what has been a nearly 4 year calling) and somehow, before the day was out, it became a determination to spend the next 5 days praying for a pretty lengthy list of people and situations. I'm very excited...and a bit overwhelmed. It's strange how prayer always seems like the least you can do for someone...until you really hit your knees and hunker down on the prayer front. Then, suddenly, the idea of Jesus praying in the Garden of Gethsemane and sweating blood doesn't seem so far fetched. Prayer can be nearly an athletic endeavor sometimes—truly exhausting!

I spent part of the day meditating on Hebrews 4:15, which reminds us that Jesus is our greatest comforter because He has experienced and risen above every weakness, sickness, and temptation that comes to us through sin. By the time I came to prayer late this evening, I'd really started thinking about how profound that is. I had in mind the horrific tragedies people experience, and live to tell about, in life. One friend lost a dear one in the World Trade Center attack, another found out she has breast cancer, several others have out-lived their children, someone else was raped...and it goes on and on. I stopped and wept over one particular situation that someone we love has endured. My heart was stirred deeply as I held fast to the hem of God's garment and pleaded for His attention and blessing in prayer.

There amid my tears and prayers it hit me. There are some circumstances in life that can only be comforted by the Lord Jesus, who really gets it. I thought about Job, and what it must have been like to receive wave upon wave of horrible news—his children, servants, livelihood, and health all gone. And with them all but a strand of faith dangling over a pit of despair, the Slough of Despond

As I wept and prayed for our dear one it occurred to me that some life experiences bring home to us the idea that nothing and no one on this earth is "safe" from anything. Not one breath is promised...not one moment of peace or innocence can be protected from violation. Once you come to that realization by way of hard times and tragedies, it's not so easy to just call up a pile of comfort from within. The thing about tragedies is that they leave us with a sense of emptiness and depletion. They fill us with fear for what could be next to count among our griefs.

I wept harder as I continued to pray and wonder what it could possibly take to restore people who endure unimaginable tragedies and losses...the things we dare not speak of because they are our worst fears. My breath went away from me momentarily. How, I wondered, does anyone endure the nightmares of this life? When the hideously unimaginable comes home to roost, how in the world do we hold onto hope and let go of fear?

The answer came to me in the verse I started with. There are times and seasons and circumstances in life that rock us to our core, and that cause our souls to bleed with pain that defies our best explanation. The agony cannot be reasoned away; it can only be given over to the One who understands and can truly empathize with our sufferings because He has experienced them all himself...even though He was sinless. Jesus—Wonderful, Counselor Jesus—endured it all. And yet He did something amazing. Jesus gave it all, paid it all, so that we would not be left without a genuine comforter...one whose agonies included and exceeded our own. Then He did something even more amazing. HE LIVED.

Isn't that an incredible model? Jesus gave his flesh—all the sin, death, and temptation this world could hurl at him—and received life...new, whole, healed, blessed life...life intended to be given away for our sake again, and again, and again. Wow!

As I sat there, poured out before Jesus in prayer and meditating on why and how it could be so comforting to know that a sinless man from over 2000 years ago understood and sympathized with our troubles, I asked God this question. What difference could it make that anyone (sinless or not) cares about our times of tribulation and really sympathizes? That brought on more weeping for our dear one's suffering. Then...light. I remembered what made our King Jesus and his sympathetic comforts so special. 

I envisioned Moses hearing the news that he would not enter the Promised Land. I imagined Job confronted by God while in the throes of grief and unexplained tragic losses. I thought about Elijah fleeing from Jezebel and suddenly encountering God. There was a truth I'd neglected to examine and bring into focus. The reason we don't read about Moses, or Job, or Elijah growing dark with fear and despair after their personal experiences with God is because He is Light and Life. He is the one the angels called "Holy, Holy, Holy." His faithfulness is great.

We can receive comfort from even the most heinous disasters when we focus on not only the humanity of Jesus who knows our troubles by way of personal experience, but  also when we focus on the breathtaking deity of Jesus who overcame sin and death through His perfect holiness...all so that we can live and live fully. If you are struggling to find the hand of peace and life in your darkness, meditate upon His humble humanity and His glorious holiness. Give him your fears and ask for life in return. Then...praise Him.

I promise...He will not fail you.

"Oh praise the One who paid my debt, and raised this life up from the dead!"

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Message from an Empty Tomb

Luke 24

English Standard Version (ESV)

The Resurrection

24 But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they went to the tomb, taking the spices they had prepared. And they found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. While they were perplexed about this, behold, two men stood by them in dazzling apparel. And as they were frightened and bowed their faces to the ground, the men said to them, “Why do you seek the living among the dead?He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men and be crucified and on the third day rise.” And they remembered his words, and returning from the tomb they told all these things to the eleven and to all the rest.


Can you even imagine this scene? I'm pretty confident that everyone who heard the news of Jesus' empty tomb must have been thinking they'd lost their minds. Let's get real. Having an encounter with an angel first thing in the morning isn't exactly business as usual. Who sees "two men in dazzling apparel," except in Las Vegas or on Broadway? But there they were, announcing Jesus' resurrection.

We've been talking all week about grief and the resurrection, but let's talk for a minute about  the promise and the message we have been given though grief.  From deep within our grief, do we ever stop and return to prophesy of a glorious day when we will be resurrected? I know that in my own times of grief and sorrow, it has been easy to look forward to death and being with Jesus in heaven away from all the pain.  In those times, I relate to the Bible promises about being with Jesus in heaven. But, to be honest, when I'm grieving I have trouble clinging to promises about my life on earth. I have trouble singing songs of hope.

This feeling of being disabled from hope is not unique, and it often feels like future joy mocks us. It is as if the days to come are like bullies who torment us saying, "Let's see you talk about hope and really mean it now!"

When the Israelites were captives of the Babylonians, they were asked to entertain and amuse their captors.

Psalm 137

English Standard Version (ESV)

How Shall We Sing the Lord's Song?

137 By the waters of Babylon,
    there we sat down and wept,
    when we remembered Zion.
On the willows there
    we hung up our lyres.
For there our captors
    required of us songs,
and our tormentors, mirth, saying,
    “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!”
How shall we sing the Lord's song
    in a foreign land?

The Israelites were devastated. The psalmist says they just sat down and wept thinking about what was in their past—their homeland and heritage. They hung up and put away their musical instruments for praise and worship, but their captors required them to sing songs from home. The people of Israel were grieving, and wondered how they could ever sing the songs of their homeland—songs from the good ol' days—while being held captive. Isn't that just how it is for us when we grieve and mourn? But the psalm goes on to say, 

If I forget you, O Jerusalem,
    let my right hand forget its skill!
Let my tongue stick to the roof of my mouth,
    if I do not remember you,
if I do not set Jerusalem
    above my highest joy!

Dear friends, grief can choke off our praise and pull a curtain around our memories of happier times...cutting them off from our hope for today and for the future. We we are in the clutches of grief and sadness, our lives can feel like tombs of death sealed from the outside by an immovable stone. We feel empty and depleted. 

Yet, what if we chose to see things differently? 2 Corinthians 10:5 says that we can "destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ," and that ability can be put into practice amid our pain and suffering. We can make up our minds, even right now, that we will not forget God's promises to us that are for THIS life, not just the life to come. Even though we grieve and mourn we have hope and we CAN experience joy!

My friends, out of our ashes, and out of our tombs of grief and loss, our God has been faithful to raise us up because HE was raised from death to life! And so, because He conquered sin and death for us, we have not only hope for the future, but hope for TODAY. We have a message—a testimony of Jesus' great faithfulness to us. But that is not the end of our message.

What we find in grief is not only that He lives—Jesus who has already borne the sacrificial, crucified, tormented death of our griefs, and of all our sickness, sin, and shame—but WE live...and we live to share that message of hope that rose with Jesus out of the tomb. We live to share His love through our own stories of life, death, and resurrection from our personal tragedies and griefs.

I am praying today that everyone who grieves and mourns will take both courage and encouragement to let Jesus raise you up out of life's griefs (the stains of sin and death on our human hearts) so that you can tell His story and proclaim His love through your message from an empty tomb!

And for anyone who does not yet know, or has not heard, the beautiful story of God's love, please visit my friends at What is the Gospel? and find out how you can have hope and share the great message from the empty tomb!

Saturday, March 30, 2013

The Sound of Silence

If you have ever heard or read the story of the prophet, Elijah, you may remember that, at one point, he was on the run and in fear for his life from the evil Jezebel. Elijah was literally running for his life; there was a price on his head. 

I have heard Elijah's story told like the religious version of a Nora Ephron film, where, after many fits and starts, Elijah has this romanticized moment of closeness with God that turns the whole thing into a happily ever after tale. Forgive me, but I am impatient with these kinds of interpretations of Elijah's story. 

First of all, he wasn't running like Chicken Little and crying that the sky was falling. Jezebel really wanted to have Elijah murdered! Second of all, it's all well and good to give messages on what a more brave and faithful Elijah would have/should have done, but the humanness of Elijah's story really ought to help us relate to the franticness of knowing that a life was truly in jeopardy. But, for me, Elijah's encounters with God are too neatly tied up by most people who discuss his mountain top revelation.

God had been asking Elijah, "What are you doing here?" and I am sure it wasn't because He didn't know what was on Elijah's mind. I sort of imagine it as God's way of getting Elijah to think beyond the immediacy of his circumstances. I can almost hear God saying, "Um...Elijah, not for nothin' but...did it ever occur to you that you are not where you belong? That you're not doing the work I have called you to do? Hmmm...?"

So by the time Elijah goes up to the mountain and experiences the drama and dangers of the wind, the earthquake, and the fire he was probably FINALLY beginning to wonder what it was that God had in mind...what God wanted him to do. Scripture goes on to tell us that God was not in any of the violent weather, but was finally revealed in a "a gentle blowing" sometimes referred to as a whisper, or "a still small voice."And yet even after that God still asked Elijah what he was doing there. That suggests to me that the still small voice was probably a supernatural breath into what was otherwise a deafening silence for Elijah.

My friends, profound grief comes with much legitimate fear. In grief we learn just how much we can lose, how cruelly and suddenly we can lose it, and how quickly the world seems to go on despite our agony. There's a reason people struggle to comfort the bereaved. Grievous events and situations are thieves of words and crushers of our explanatory powers. We cannot get our minds around the catalysts of grief because they are both entirely normal within the human experience, and yet entirely personal to us as individuals.

Can you imagine all the on-lookers and Jesus' mother, friends, family, and followers after it was clear that he was dead? Imagine the theatrics and then the equivalent of an announcer saying, "That's it folks. Show's Over. Everybody go home. Jesus has left the building." It's like that as we experience grief. 

In the midst of the dramas that lead up to our grief, we are asking God, "what am I doing here?" and expecting some grand response from on high. But for a time the answer may be nothing more than a whisper of wind and silence. In the vortex of pain and suffering that follows our traumas and opens the portals of grief, we too go silent for a time, and only occasionally ask what it is that God expects us to do with our suffering. We want to repeat our list sorrows to God. Yet our gentle Father in Heaven continues to ask us, "What are you doing here?" Dear ones, my sense is that God means to tell us that we cannot pitch our tents in the wilderness of grief and expect mountain top revelations akin to Moses' encounter where he received the 10 commandments and chiseled them on the tablets.

In fact, more often than not God will send us back to our lives to continue His work as before, only wiser and with greater reverence, humility, and obedience before Him. That is certainly true of Elijah. And in one way or another it is inevitably what God has in mind for us. Job did not remain in sackcloth and ashes. He got up, scarified, prayed, and went about the business of starting a new family...knowing well that it could all be stripped away again without explanation. Ezekiel was not even allowed to grieve the death of his wife. Jonah was put right back on task.

Maybe the reason the Lord is close to the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds is because He has work for them to do that requires their prayers of repentance, their acts of sacrifice, their commitment to the calling God placed on their lives...in sum, their trust and obedience.