If I’m being honest, and I always am with you, loved ones, there’s one Bible verse I fail to believe and one I disobey every day.
God tells us that His followers are one body. One body with many members: “For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ.” I Corinthians 12:12 (ESV)
I believe that.
But then He says this: “If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.” I Corinthians 12:26 (ESV)
This, I clearly don’t believe, because if I did, my prayer life would look different. If I believed this verse, I would not see prayer for the persecuted church as optional. I would pay attention to the reports coming out of North Korea, Iraq, Sudan, Nigeria, China, and other places where Satan has his reign and I would labor in prayer. Their suffering is my suffering whether I accept that or not.
Several friends, diagnosed with cancer, have remarked at the shock they felt at the test results since they didn’t feel sick. How could it be that they felt fine while inside a part of them was dying? It is often simply because they have faith in the word of the doctors and medical technicians that they begin treatment for this disease they cannot see or feel.
Today I was gawking at some of those terrible before and after photos the media publishes of celebrities who have had unfortunate run-ins with plastic surgery. (You know you do it, too. How can we NOT look, right?)
I’ve done this before and always find it a satisfying moment of self-righteousness where I pat myself on the back for not succumbing to modern pressures of beauty. Never mind, that my choice to age naturally has as much to do with fear and finances as it has to do with commitment to representing myself honestly. Anyway, in my small, petty self where I compete with the rest of the world for points, when it comes to people who submit themselves for plastic surgery and suffer unwelcome outcomes, I win, they lose. It’s normally a twisted, smug but satisfying moment.
That is until God got a hold of it today. (grrr)
When you gather to worship this weekend, I want you to remember something important: Jesus isn’t a nice guy. You aren’t kneeling or raising your hands to worship someone who worries about being liked. His entire focus while He walked among us was doing the work of His Father and our opinion of that work didn’t sway Him in any way.
While the good news of Jesus Christ is that He died for our sins and rose again so we can have eternal life, the bad news, for many of us, is that He came to call us out of our deception.
We live in a world rampant with lies. The air we breathe is part oxygen, part nitrogen, and part delusion. Like helium, this delusion leads us to believe we can fly, that we can rise on the currents of our own empowerment, and that we can soar above it all.
Jesus Christ popped that balloon at every opportunity. He didn’t come to coddle us or to nurture our self-esteem or to show us that what we needed was within us all along. He came to confront us with the truth: We are NOT all children of God.
That’s right. God may not be your father.
All but one. He holds out hope. Sunday after Sunday after Sunday, he walks through the doors open-hearted, seeking God with his whole soul, striving to see Him, ready for Him to move in their midst, worshiping among the dead.
God points him out to the watching angels. “There, see how he worships with expectation even in the midst of their unbelief?”
“Yes,” says a cruel angel, “but his hopes are dashed week after crushing week. Is that your plan for him, that he should worship you each week to the sound of his breaking heart?”
“My plan for him includes eternal rewards beyond your wildest dreams, cruel one. I see his enduring hope, his commitment to love the way I love, his faith that I see him, and it is all written in the record of his days.”
“Is it right to let him suffer his way?” asked a sweet angel, one who had compassion on humans.
Standing at the deathbed of a friend, I made a promise to another. We watched as the nurse felt the hands and feet of our barely breathing loved one to assess for the presence of remaining life. “Promise me,” my healthy friend whispered, “you’ll make them check me thoroughly for signs of life. My hands and feet are always cold.”
That moment when a living being passes from life to death is so profound; it’s hard-wired into us to fear being pronounced dead before our time.
And yet, in the church, we do this with abandon.
In my younger days, I was liberal in my use of this judgment, declaring this church or that denomination or some individual “white-washed tombs full of dead men’s bones.” Because, you see, when I was young, I was all-knowing, and quite capable of detecting Pharisees, hypocrites, and posers in the ranks. In fact, I felt it my duty not only to declare them dead but also to inform them of their status.
Strangely, though, the longer I know Jesus, the less eager I am to call time-of-death on someone who claims to be my brother or sister in Christ. In fact, now when I sit in a room full of believers, I’m no longer trying to sniff out the dead as much as I am praying for eyes to detect every sign of life, no matter how faint. Like the scene from the movie Titanic when the rescue boats paddle gently between the floating dead, I search hard to be sure not to abandon even one soul to the icy sea who may still have a chance at survival.
There’s plenty of room in the boat. Continue Reading →
If I leave my husband for my lesbian lover and we blend our families and take in foster children, we will likely be celebrated on the cover of Time magazine for our commitment to family.
If I spend fifty years in a monogamous, faithful, heterosexual marriage and give birth to six children, I will likely be publicly vilified in the checkout line as others count my brood and notice I am pregnant with number seven.
If people comment to my lesbian partner that they don’t approve of our relationship, those people will be shushed and told they are guilty of discrimination, possibly even a hate crime. If people comment to me and my husband that we’re selfishly overpopulating the world, or insinuate that we don’t know how children are conceived, or act as though I am an addled, oppressed woman, lacking in intelligence or personal ambition who should be liberated, they are applauded by spectators.
We didn’t become this culture overnight but here we are.
There are commissions, nonprofit agencies, and entire legal institutions committed to protecting the reproductive rights of women, but these apparently don’t include a woman’s right to have as many children as God chooses for her to have and to receive each of them with joy. AND it isn’t usually men who are belittling or scorning or mocking women who choose to have large families through childbirth – it’s other women.
Seriously, how rude and unconscionable is that?
Right where I am wounded,
that’s where the strike was aimed.
Yes, it’s an old wound, one of my oldest, in fact. But wounds received in childhood sometimes reopen and bleed all over the present day, don’t they? No matter how scarred, no matter how deep we think they have been buried, they are still liable to resurfacing at inconvenient times
And this moment was most inconvenient.
I was surrounded. Surrounded by God’s women. Like Conestoga wagons on a long journey to an untamed land, we’d gathered to circle up, to share provisions, to defend against common dangers, to swap stories.
And now, here I was bleeding in their midst. Not the original plan.
The original plan was for me to bring them a word of testimony, a word about the work and the movement and the miracle of God in my life. I’d prepared for it, prayed over it, partook of God’s grace for it, received His anointing on my story, and sat waiting to be called to the front.
That’s not what happened.
A funny little guy who loved to laugh, had the energy of a meerkat, and liked to “show you his moves” by dancing on the coffee table to music videos.
He had a soft, green blankie and if you visited his home, he’d crawl up onto the sofa beside you and assign you a corner. Then he’d sigh and lean into you a little as he showed you how best to rub your corner of the blankie as he rubbed his.
One day he was different. His energy depleted. His dance moves on the lam.
“What’s up buddy?”
So mom, who had recently acquired new friends, new friends who introduced her to some new ways to relax, explained that the little guy was “pouting over baby stuff.”
“Well, he’s two. So, that’s not unexpected. What kind of baby stuff?”
“Look, he was whining because I threw his dad out and I told him to stop whining. When he kept it up, my friend said I should teach him a lesson and so I cut up his blankie and burned it in the fire pit.”
I still remember his little eyes staring up at me, waiting for me to understand, hoping that someone would avenge his blankie.
You recognize its value, of course, but you’re terrified by the pure power of the thing. Your father’s instructions were for you to enjoy the car as he enjoyed the car, to experience the grace of the drive.
But, you’re not like him.
The power of this engine excites you, but it also frightens you. You doubt you can handle it.
You drive it, of course, but only to church on Sundays and occasionally on Wednesdays for prayer meeting. You always abide by the speed limit and you stay between the lines. The rest of the week, the car remains in your garage. After a while, you forget it’s designed for high performance. Your father’s instructions became an old memory.
Until one day, your neighbor inherits a similar sports car from his father. Immediately, he sets out on a road trip. The dispatches he sends back to town are tantalizing, brimming with hair-raising turns and breathtaking views.
So, you wonder.
You think you want to see Jesus.
It’s something you’ve sung on Sundays, you’ve heard it’s the goal of your faith, and you pray the prayer believing that if you just see Him, everything will be all right.
But, then you read stories of actual encounters with Jesus and you wonder if you’re mistaken. After all, you only have your perspective from this outpost of Glory.
When the disciples were out at sea, the sky dark, the wind against them, and a long way from land, they saw Jesus but it was no comforting sight. It scared the pants off them.
That’s the Jesus you know. He walks up to you in the midst of your storm when the wind is blowing in your face, and you think He’s going to put His arms around you and say it’s going to be fine.
Instead, He says something crazy like, “Forgive this person who’s ripping your heart from your chest.” “Love this enemy as she skewers your hope to the ground.” “Tell the truth about this topic even if it means people will hate you and no longer respect you.” “Get out of the boat and walk on the water, it’s all good.”
That’s not nice. Seriously. You know? Doesn’t He see that you’re scared? Doesn’t He care that you’re not in the best position to take a risk just now? He’s God, after all, so He must know you’re not ready for this – not until your stomach settles, or the waves die down, or the sun comes up tomorrow.
For Pete’s sake.
Wait. What’s Pete doing? Is he actually getting out of the boat? Aw, this is so wrong!