Vacations, Escapes, and Preparation

Jesus went into the wilderness for 40 days to fast and pray- Preparation

Jesus celebrated Jewish festivals to holiday and rest- Vacation

Jesus went to the mountain, awoke early to be alone with His Father, went to the garden late at night to ask if the cup of suffering might be taken away- Escape.

By the most common historical estimates, I am now the same age that Jesus was when he died. From what we know about him vocationally, he was a carpenter and a teacher and whether or not he fished, he frequently knew where the fish were and may have been able to produce a catch by merely speaking a word.

He was/is a model of consistency, content to do very little of significance or success by a strictly worldly measurement. He had no home, no insurance policy, no tangible castle or kingdom that we have yet to see. He didn’t even leave behind a really great lasting table we can look at and iconize in a museum.

He left a story that He did not even write down, yet “by Him, for Him, through Him all things were made.”

And He left the world a Church (more specifically a gathering of those called or summoned). I won’t get into what this gathering is supposed to do, be, look like other than to say “every tribe and tongue worshipping Jesus as King.”

And if I were to add one thing which really is summed up by the word “King,” it’s that I’m not a king, a hero nor do I bring anything of great signicance to this kingdom other than my unique struggling to come to grips with my own existence.

I’m an heir certainly but an heir that has done nothing to earn that position. In fact, I’ve done plenty to garner a reason to lose that position.

Yet, I’m overly aware of the mission. And depending on the day, I might stir myself or allow myself to be stirred to participate in it with a trepidation that would make one think it was optional.

Which is why I think I spend time doing the things in the title of this post. I vacation, get away or take a break from the monotony, the stress, the brokenness I cause, reveal, and am seemingly helpless to fix. It’s why I escape; I go hide for a bit to recalibrate, to find a version of myself that will be bearable and perhaps helpful for the world or at least for the Church to again see. And it’s why I prepare, timidly praying things that I no longer have any idea if I should be asking for, wondering what else I can be courageously willing to lose in order to find the only One that keeps me and to temper my expectation in hope that I accurately perceive how to be obedient despite conflicting desires of the heart.

And I think amidst the vacation, escape and preparation, I find I don’t do even do those things well enough to passibly find entrance into the Kingdom by my own merit. I struggle with the apparently easy things, the things we are supposed to enjoy and delight in.

Maybe that’s a symptom of other things, something more chemical, something that could be easily medicated or maybe in Jesus’ day people put far less expectations on one another or had a more idealized version of community where they weren’t permitted to exploit or enslave one another to move up a tax bracket while their neighbors struggled to provide. They were willing to cancel debts, set people free, and recognized that any form of bondage was to be as temporary as possible, even obsolete (set the captives free). How well they executed that… well?

But there I go talking about some idealized institution or group of empowered people gathering together and forgetting myself, my complacency, my repentance and penance.

And my harshness… contrasted with Jesus’ gentleness. It is impossible to respond to Jesus’ rest when we are feeding the pressure (either self imposed or perceived from the outisde) of the demand to perform ourselves into something we want to be.

Some people are good with achievement and contented by promotion while I light both of those things on fire, while asking out loud, “what good is it?” while searching inside with the question, “am I good enough for…?”

And this is why I need Jesus, my rest, my refuge, my permanent vacation, my escape, my preparer, author, finisher, intercessor, brother, friend who said and demonstrated: “you were worth my blood, no greater love…”

And, then I am able to remember again.

Sing with what we Got: Habakkuk 3

What we have in Christ is so much more than what we’ve lost.

This might be hard to believe, harder to feel, and sometimes we are not at all able to see it, perhaps even moreso now in this season. Which means now more than ever remembering and hearing what God has done is so necessary.

“O Lord, I have heard report of you, and your work, O Lord, do I fear. In the midst of the years revive it; in hte midst of the years make it known; in wrath remember mercy.”

Habakkuk 3:2

The starting point of faith is believing what we have heard. Romans 10:13-15 reminds us that faith is formed in us by receiving through revelation the Communicated Word. This in itself is a gift.

But why is good news resisted rather than received? Broken promises, crushing disappointment, dashed expectations. Sometimes these things happen because we are unreasonable in what we expected, hoped, or thought we needed. Sometimes they are completely reasonable expectations, and we have been failed because the world and people are broken. Sometimes the why behind the failure is crystal clear and most times no explanation is sufficient.

But God doesn’t break promises. One of my favorite lines from the song “You Pour Out Mercy” by Luke Wood goes: “All man’s empty promises lie broken at Your feet, but You have never broken One.”

And it is in the confidence of God’s unbroken promise that Habakkuk rejoices even sings out to God despite less than ideal circumstances, circumstances where the Israelites have been invaded:

Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor the fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls. yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will take joy in the God of my salvation.

God, the Lord is my strength; he makes my feet like the deer’s’ he makes me tread on my high places.”

Habakkuk 3:17-19

Song is a weapon against temptation to sin and temptation to despair. Song is how King David stirred his soul from a stupor. Song is how we share our voices in unity. Song gives melody to our prayer and displays passion in our power. Song is the sound and sign that let’s the world know we are alive and ready to love.

It’s what we’ve got.

We are not in the Wind, We are the Wind

What an interesting time for an interesting and interested God. A God that is not idle but who remains an eternal intercessor in Christ. A God that we may feel is silent about circumstance yet still resounds about who He is.

John 3:8 reads “The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

Metaphorically, Jesus draws a comparison between the wind and those born of the Spirit. And it is interesting that Jesus would draw this comparison because wind can only be evidenced by the things it is moving. How do you see wind without seeing something else moved by it? Jesus acknowledges that we hear it.

Scientifically speaking, in a wild oversimplification, wind comes through temperature and pressure changes. Thus the expression winds of change is interesting because wind itself is the result of change not necessarily the cause of it.

We are the wind. Or rather we are like the wind. We are the products of the change of being born anew, born again, now learning and adapting through the Spirit to our current environment.

The time and circumstance in which we find ourselves now, does not change our identity or our ability to be present and to embody the life giving Spirit in and to the world.

Wind-palm-trees-golf-course-Hawaii-Maui

But!!!! There is more. Being born of the Spirit, according to John 3:8, means that it is impossible to be in the wrong place. The question that I plague myself with and need to let go of is: am I in the right place to fulfill the will of God? And the answer to that is, Yes! If you’re breathing moving and having your being, you and I are in the right place. Whether or not our lives are bent towards obedience is a different question. So the question I need to be preoccupied with is, “Lord, how do I love you and others right where I am right now? Help me stay yielded and in step with you. I want to move like the wind with You.”

Even the wind and waves obey Him, so must I. I must obey because that is where I will find my heart delighting. That is where I want my heart to delight and how to delight others and in some cases disappoint others. (there are power and principalities that would like us to fail)

Yesterday I went for a bike ride down the shore for about an hour. It was the first exercise I have done in almost 2 months. It was phenomenal. It was a breezy ride along the bay in very wealthy neighborhoods. On my way home I stopped outside a church that had a prayer labyrinth (imagine a giant circle with a maze painted path on it).

It moved me because that labyrinth was much like a stone labyrinth in the prayer garden at Bon Secours St. Francis Hospital in South Carolina where I started my chaplaincy residency. It was the perfect place to pray and walk. For the first time in months, I prayed with passion and confidence in who God is. I’m sorry it has been that long.

But something amazing happened at the end of the labyrinth. These labyrinths start on the outskirts of a circle and have their ending point in the center. It took about 3-4 minutes to walk. But as soon as I hit the center I paused briefly and turned toward the church steeple and was hit with several successive massive gusts of wind. These winds moved me multiple times while I stood facing it.

I tried to speak to the wind to stop it. I verbally spoke, “God, how am I supposed to hear you when the wind is so loud?” The Spirit replied, “The wind won’t keep you from hearing my voice, and I don’t need the wind to move you.” It was sustained and kept moving me affirming that I too am born of the Spirit. In Him we move, we breathe, we have our being. Let us, the Church billow with blessing.

The Purpose of Our Collective Tears

It is better to go to a house of mourning
    than to go to a house of feasting.

Ecclesiastes 7:2

I don’t know how prepared you are to give of your tears or how familiar you might be with what that entails. I’m going to write a bit about mourning this morning. Grief, loss, and death, I know are not necessarily fun topics to read about. I don’t know a lot about pandemics, the spread of viruses or the long term effects of these things, but I am  fairly confident that if political leaders and people are willing to show any hint of prioritizing stimulating the economy and bailing out large financially irresponsible big businesses at the risk of spreading a deadly virus, it’s safe to say that some compassionate folks may have to take up the business of empathy and grieving.

*Scroll to the bottom if you just like practicals*

And that person might be you or me. So here’s how:

Tears are beautiful. One day, in the Kingdom of Heaven there will be no more use for them. But here, now, tears of the emotional variety are a visual display of our pain and our stress and our empathy. As they are released chemicals are typically released in our body that calm our mind and relieve us of physical pain. In this way they are chemically associated with doing good for the inside.

It is important to keep in mind that the capacity for tears or crying is more important than volume. So like anything crying too much or persistent crying amidst a depressive episode could yield little to no benefit. It’s important to discern and distinguish between the two.

IMG_0333

For instance:

Yesterday, my mom put her cat Tabitha down who was 19 years old and had kidney failure. I cried a bit on my drive to her house thinking about my mom during this season of quarantine, thinking a little about Tabitha and how interesting of a cat she was. Those tears were in some ways helpful because I was prepared to empathize with my mom and imagined what it was like to lose a pet but also adjust in a season when being home a lot and perhaps for a extended season is necessary.

Later on that evening, I cried again while being exceedingly frustrated and uncertain even scared about what decisions to make, feeling like life is still out of my control and being frustrated and double-minded about how to live out what I feel called to in the midst of my current vocation after a season where I already felt isolated for the previous 5 months. These tears were less helpful, but still helpful. In part because these tears were more a response to an unclear uncertain emotional framework that had me stuck on myself. If I was still crying those same tears now they would not be helpful and perhaps self-indulgent.

Let’s return to loss and grief and death though for a moment. Some of you may have experienced the loss of a loved one. It was a deep loss that you may have not been prepared for and suffered or may suffer still as you learn to adapt to a new rhythm without that individual. Sometimes their loss might still illicit tears or sadness but hopefully, that loss has not kept you unable to find fullness in life.

Hopefully, you found a helpful ritual or prayer or found ways to accept the loss and have been given new eyes of appreciation for others. Hopefully, also, you will be presented with the opportunity to help others walk through their own grief and loss.

My hope is that this will not be a season that you will be called upon to do that, but there is a chance in the coming weeks even months you might know several people who lose something or someone due to this virus.

Not all loss is death, but death feels the most permanent. And in seasons where isolation is already becoming the norm if someone were to die while others are isolated and may not be able to mourn as easily communally, we will need to be diligent in helping to heal those who suffer loss.

We have power to minister and bring healing to others when we stay alert and aware in the midst of our own loss, to not checkout and isolate, but to remain available. To be reminded that others too will suffer the loss of spouse or grandparent or parent or child, that while our grief and loss is unique in the individual or thing lost, the experience of losing is not unique to us.

So a couple of practicals:

-Imagine you are in their position, in the coming weeks it might not take that much imagining (we’ll see)

-Listen more than spouting advice or cliche phrases of optimism (Scripture written in an encouraging note or a timely word spoken gently might be helpful but listen first)

-Pray for them

-Make sure they are fed and checked in on

-Affirm that they are loved, again gently

-Maybe not a reminder for the one suffering, but death is not the end of everything and it is a part of life; death might become more normalized, but Jesus has promised us eternity with Him for those who believe. So yes, a priority on the restoration to or perseverance in their most important relationship.

-Remember God is with us in our tears

Psalm 56:8

You have kept count of my tossings;
    put my tears in your bottle.
    Are they not in your book?

Love Theories II: Coming and Going

It is leaving Heaven

It is finding luxury in sharing the suffering of the dirty and fallen in order to make them clean and whole again

it is eyes fixed while awaiting the gaze of the beloved

it is resolute patience, incomparable kindness,

12068804_10102624691758549_8215114817072978637_o

it is the greatest guard

it is the hopeful guardian

it is the eternal guard

of the heart

it is the seal with a kiss, with blood, with the Spirit

it is the coronation before consummation as it fills and overflows a kingdom

It is returning to Heaven, leaving an army behind

It is coming from Heaven with an army behind

It is making  it’s home with us forever

patient for us to desire it, as desperately as it desires us

It does not regret what it endured

it was it’s joy to give us everything

it waits for our everything

100% Responsible and Forgiven

Have you ever noticed that blame is never beautiful?

Deferring responsibility may be celebrated, but it only entices others at the expense of creating victims. Forgiveness though, that is beautiful. It has the power to free the victim and the guilty party. Jesus forgave his executioners while it was happening, not holding their responsibility against them for crucifying the One whom they did not know.

Jesus says, “You did it, but you didn’t know, and I offer you my embrace.”

It is beautiful yet fearful. The Psalms state forgiveness makes God fearful because God is the only one that can truly cleanse us from our wrong. And that is terrifying, yet equally terrifying is the Spirit God gives that enables us to forgive. I am presently overwhelmed by this, primarily because of having to take responsibility for myself.

I am responsible for my anger, even rage, for what I do with my feelings, for who absorbs it, for how I act in light of the temptation to despair. I am responsible for what I do with my time so long as God allows me to wake up to new mercies every morning. Nobody else gets to choose what I do with my day or how I heal, except me and God.

No

body

else.

I’m reading the Chronicles of Narnia for the first time and I am currently on Book 4 Prince Caspian. Until yesterday, it was my least favorite of the books, until Aslan came and talked to Lucy. I’ll share the excerpts, you can fill in the meaning.

“I didn’t mean to start slanging the others. But it wasn’t my fault anyway, was it?” asked Lucy.

The Lion looked straight into her eyes.

“Oh Aslan, you don’t mean it was? How could I–I couldn’t have left the others and come up to you alone, how could I? Don’t look at me like that… oh well, I suppose I could. Yes, and it wouldn’t have been alone, I know, not if I was with you. But what would have been the good?”

Aslan said nothing.

“You mean,” Lucy said rather faintly, ‘that it would have turned out all right– somehow? But how? Please, Aslan! Am I to know?

Aslan

Jesus, I mean Aslan, says “No” to the answer of what would have happened in the past if we had obeyed. Instead he offers a way forward in forgiveness. Because He has already made a way.

Oh how Lucy wrestles internally without an immediate reply, without an answer to the why.

“Oh dear, oh dear, said Lucy. “And I was so pleased at finding you again. And I thought you’d let me stay. And I thought you’d come roaring in and frighten all the enemies away– like last time. And now everything is going to be horrid.”

“It is hard for you, little one,” said Aslan. “But things never happen the same way twice. It has been hard for us all in Narnia before now.”

Lucy buried her head in his mane to hide from his face. But there must have been magic in his mane. She could feel lion-strength going into her. Quite suddenly she sat up.

“I’m sorry, Aslan,” she said. “I’m ready now.”

blameNo.. body… else. Nobody else can have a relationship with Jesus for us, and we shouldn’t want someone else to have it for us. I should want it for myself. I should want his lion heart love for myself because Jesus will not leave me alone especially when I bury my head in my pillow with tears crying out for help.

I made the choice to move back to New Jersey. I made the choice to switch jobs. I made the choice to yell and curse and critique the body of Christ. I made the choice to get my hopes up and make my heart vulnerable and spend time with the dying. I make the choice to be quirky and weird, to dress like I don’t care, to get a cat, to write, to wrestle, to reflect too much, and all of it could become a vapor in a moment because I am responsible but not always in control.

And that’s where the surrender comes. That’s where the “I’m sorry, I’m ready now,” comes into play. I can get up and go. Forget about blame and go and not let love be hindered.

Forgiven much, love much.

I have one more passage if you’ve gone this far. It’s Aslan to Susan, Lucy’s sister, who didn’t believe and could not see Aslan longer than her other 3 siblings.

“You have listened to fears, child, ” said Aslan. “Come, let me breathe on you. Forget them. Are you brave again?”

“A little, Aslan,” said Susan.

Me too, Susan. Add our little to Christ’s infinite much and I’m hopeful we will be more than okay. I’m hopeful that I will stop getting angry, then exhausted by the restlessness of my soul. I’m hopeful for the breath and wind of the Spirit to overcome me each day, to posture myself to move and live and have my being in Christ.

Responsible, yet forgiven and more beautiful than blame.

Set apart, beloved, no longer hindered by shame