The Lost Art of Humility – Pt. 2

One Sunday he was just fine.

The following Sunday prayer was requested for an upset stomach.

The Sunday after that he arrived with a report of stage 4 cancer in his esophagus, his liver and his lymph nodes.

In the short span of time between his first scan and his second the spots on his liver had migrated into a single large one. Oncologists said it is advanced, aggressive, incurable, and untreatable. They advised against chemo and suggested a course of pain management and palliative care.

DSC_0325 (1)His response?

Glory. Glory. Glory. All glory belongs to our savior Jesus Christ! God can do whatever He chooses to bring glory to His name. I ask that God would give me strength to glorify Him in this and that I would not fail to praise Him in all things.

His wife sings harmony in this chorus, echoing those sentiments.

The report landed softly in the room where our Simple Church gathered. Our collective response was, O Lord, nothing is impossible for you. We ask you to heal our dear brother. We trust You with the outcome. 

Like a scalpel, the news sliced into our respective hearts confronting our faith, our theology and our unspoken fears.

As my fingers move over my keyboard just now, our brother is receiving, in faith, his first chemo treatment–against the advise of his doctors. There are days when pain and nausea thrash him like mortal enemies and still his lips speak praise for our Love-sovereign, gracious, merciful, omnipotent LORD who’s ways are perfect and worthy of all the glory.

Hops

He’s no stranger to affliction.

  • He and and his wife worshiped while grieving the stillbirth of their twin sons and said, “We count it a privilege that God would consider us worthy to display Himself through our loss.”
  • When their wealth was vaporized by a Christian brother who had defrauded them they responded, “Nothing in this life compares to the riches of knowing the love and grace of our Lord Jesus Christ.” And they forgave.
  • Presently, unless God intervenes, he is moving rapidly toward his heavenly home and great kingdom reward.

This unassuming couple is quietly speaking volumes in the way they are standing in this furnace of affliction. It’s a message about the incomparable worth of being a child of God with humility that is focused on bringing glory to Him.

You see, I’ve been giving this humility thing a lot of consideration lately. Early in chapter 4 of Ephesians Paul urges (actually entreats or begs) believers to walk in a manner worthy of Christ’s calling (or ordered steps) for our lives. He describes what that looks like, opening with humility:

…with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing forbearance to one another in love…

DSC_5119A

Right out of the gate I’ll admit that I’m one of those people who can walk into a room where 99% of its contents are in good order. Invariably my eye will fall on the crooked picture frame or the tilted lampshade. I’ve fought it my whole life. Flaw or gifting? I don’t know. Either way I try not to let it in the driver’s seat but I don’t  stuff it in the trunk.

As someone who has experienced childhood abuse, alcoholic family dysfunction and mental illness I can tell you that I’m no stranger to the world of self-help.

In my early twenties when I began my healing journey there was virtually nothing on childhood sexual abuse. PTSD hadn’t been coined. Adult children of Alcoholics was just gaining a voice. Melody Beattie’s spotlight on Codependency wasn’t mainstream. At that time most of the emerging self-help conversation was in secular arenas. The faith community eventually responded and has since contributed some amazing helps for wounded hearts and broken lives. But…

20140712_072115

I’ve noticed the pendulum swing wide since those early years when it was just me and Jesus gutting out my chaotic internal world. But now I think we have become obsessed with ourselves and with our wellbeing; with our passions, our purposes, our dreams, and our voices. We have personality assessments, gift assessments, love-language assessments, and ministry gift assessments. We have markers, labels, identifiers, and a whole vocabulary of newly coined terms–all intended to help us better understand ourselves and recognize each other.

We seek the deep mysteries in ourselves but in the process have we lost our appetite for the deep mysteries of God?

The result of this propensity for introspection, indicated in too many ways for me to list here, has been summed up in a Brennan Manning quote:

“God made man in His image and man returned the compliment.”

Have things gotten turned around in the relationship between the Creator and the created, the Redeemer and the redeemed, the worshipers and the only One deserving of worship?

I’ll never forget the impression made upon me by a book title that caught my eye in the 80’s: Write Your Own Ticket With God. Really? Not in my bible!

Entitlement has crept into our culture–not just in the secular arenas, but also the sacred. Sadly, I recognize it in my life as well. Ugh. I’ve noted how my conversation with God has shifted. It grieves me that:

  • I petition more than I worship. 
  • I too often scrutinize my life and world, determine what or who needs fixing and then petition God for remedy as though He were life’s Customer Service Agent.
  • I can be much more concerned with my petty agenda than I am of His kingdom purposes and of His redemptive story forged in and throughout my life. 

Ironically, the quiet humility of my friends has been God’s megaphone in my ear:

God is whispering to our preoccupied hearts. “Keep your eyes on me. Stay focused. Live to glorify me. Lose your life to find it. Be the least so you can be great in my kingdom. Trust my ways. Walk humbly before me.

The truth of the matter is that our lives really don’t belong to us, they’ve been purchased by the King of Kings and Lord of Lords! (1 Cor. 6:19-20)

An Organic Conversation – Pt. 2 of 2

Heal My Wounds

An Organic Conversation, Part 1

I ended my talk with these words:

We want to be offered solutions but He offers HOPE instead. Hope goes beyond the skin-depth nature of solutions. Hope does not disappoint, despite our continuously changing circumstances.

The vivacious woman who had strummed us into worship stepped into transparency and spoke first, “I’ve been hiding in plain site.” Her ministry call and various positions had left her feeling invisible and empty. Her love for children and her desire to be a mother had been met with an inexplicably barren womb. She sits with conflict and pain while Jesus holds onto her hands that may have lost some of their grip. Her heart hangs in the balance of a life transition and faith transformation that can’t be explained but can only be lived out.

A woman with beautiful eyes and an open heart said that she had experienced the hand of God lead her out of meth addiction, restore her career and her relationships but that the marriage and ministry she saw with the recovery package had yet to materialize. She sat in undefined limbo trying to find motivation for her life–in God and in loneliness. She vulnerably expressed her disillusionment and her dry faith. She feels reluctant to continue to till ground that has not yielded the harvest of her hopes and prophetic promises. And while she hasn’t turned her back on God, she sits with the unanswered and the unfulfilled.

My heart strings were being tugged toward the strong new-to-town military wife. Her zest for life seemed to show signs of weariness as she opened her heart and spoke in tones of frustration. She’s seen Jesus in big ways and collected, in faith, big plans but still she sits with a barren womb and a pile of God-directives that haven’t come to fruition. She’s weary of pushing upstream toward dead ends. She feels twinges of cynicism that she wishes weren’t there. She holds onto God while she handles the unanswered and the unknown. She speaks with candid kindness, “Please don’t tell me that God has something for me. I’ve heard it all before.”

The sweet young woman sitting nearest me sits wrapped in a beautiful scarf and a protective layer that hints of soul-fatigue but not despair. She lives a life quietly giving herself away but dares to admit that she feels empty. She wonders if her desire to be married and have children will get lost in the many places she busies her heart and hands to serve others. How does she get her cup filled in a culture that is so needy? How does she say yes to so many and still leave room for yes to herself? She sits with weariness, longing and unfulfilled dreams. How can she frame her life around the empty spaces?

The next to speak was a single gal with beautiful eyes and thick hair. With arms crossed over her chest she spoke out with confidence. “This message, it isn’t new to me…I hear Him speaking it all over.” She’s disillusioned about the culturally current church and the way it can leave attenders lonely and disconnected. She sits with a need for community and relationship but can absolutely no longer abide the “peganite” church practices that grieve her soul. She sits with questions. She sits with disconnection. She sits with wonder about what it is God is saying to us and how to live that out in a kingdom-serving way to a self-absorbed world.

I asked questions. Hearts were primed. We actively listened. A common thread emerged and outlined each woman’s exposed heart as they shared the vulnerable realities of their lives. There was a knowing that we would not leave that room, that night with a handout of formulas, recipes and pat answers rolled parchment-style in our clenched fists.

In the end we dared to exchange transient solutions for true Hope. 

Learning to sit with the mystery, with the unexplained, with the unmet longings, with the weariness, with the unfulfilled dreams and with the dissapointment sets us up for spiritual formation that cannot be achieved otherwise

It’s in this place of the “un” that we recognize resident potential for a more mature love for God. It’s here that deep spiritual formation germinates. It’s here that we sit in the presence of a God who cannot be manipulated, formulated or perpetuated in zealous ideals, ego-centric perspectives or religious boxes. He wants us to experience Him when all the dots connect but especially when they do not.

Habakkuk records in chapter 3, verse 17:

Even though the fig trees have no blossoms, and there are no grapes on the vines; even though the olive crop fails, and the fields lie empty and barren; even though the flocks die in the fields, and the cattle barns are empty, yet I will rejoice in the Lord! I will be joyful in the God of my salvation! The Sovereign Lord is my strength! He makes me as surefooted as a deer, able to tread upon the heights.

If God’s ways and means could be fully explained all of the time, would He not lose some of the mystery that surrounds Him?  Our willingness, and desire, to devote ourselves to Him cannot be contingent on our understanding of His ways. He is every bit God in the unanswered, in the unfulfilled, and in the not yet attained. In the disillusionment and in the silence He is the God of love and goodness, mercy and kindness just as much as when He steps into our lives in bold and dramatic ways that lift our arms and raise our voices in praise.

Is it possible to echo Habakkuk’s praise?

In pain?

In loss?

In loneliness?

In brokenness?

In the holding patterns that eclipse the view of our desired destinations?

JESUS said:

“I have told you these things so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrow. But take heart, I have overcome the world.” Jn.16:33

An Organic Conversation! Pt. 1 of 2

Mystery copy

We like answers. We need to make sense of things. We like tidy explanations, reasonable timelines and unlimited resources. We don’t like delays or inconvenience or disappointment. And if I can be candid, Western Christianity can be perceived as entitled, narcissistic and fickle.

That’s the hard bit.

The heart bit?

God longs for us!

He desires us–He desires our love.

He is saying to us what He was saying to Jerusalem as He wept over her:

“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones God’s messengers! How often I have wanted to gather your children together as a hen protects her chicks beneath her wings, but you wouldn’t let me.”

So when I was asked to share the things God had been placing on my heart, I felt a willing reluctance. What I had to say felt too much like a reprimand that I had no right to deliver. So I meandered for two weeks down rosier paths trying to collect a pleasing bouquet. In the end I agreed to let God use me, come what may.

We assembled that Friday night in a state of expectancy but without the burden of over-expectation or the knowledge of each other’s history, hurts or hangups. We gathered amid vulnerable greetings, jagged dreams and epic weariness. Five generations of sisterhood took seats and settled into the evening with smiles and unvoiced burdens resting in our laps like swollen wombs filled with the awkward combination of hope and disappointment.

The Holy Spirit was welcomed in prayer as the worship leader asked that the Presence of God would draw us into intimacy with Him and prepare our hearts to hear and finally, that He would be glorified in all that was said and done. Amen!

Holy Spirit.

Presence of God.

Intimacy.

My head tingled. Those were the only words I had in my mind when I arrived as their guest speaker. It wasn’t that I hadn’t prepared. The Lord knows how much I had prepared. And when two weeks of prep hadn’t yielded a satisfying package I had begun to wonder if my Yes, I’d love to! should have been an I’m sorry, I’m not available that night!

After a time of mingling we eased ourselves into the rich melodic chords that resonated from a lone acoustic guitar. We lent our unrehearsed voices to God in heartfelt worship. We lingered. There was no rush to get through the set, no digital numbers pushing us through to the next segment. There was no platform, no performer and no push to keep a tight schedule. As the last note settled into silence I felt breathless in The Presence. (That’s  what I’ve been calling the Holy Spirit lately!)

And then all eyes were on me.

Those who gathered waited for something worthwhile, I’m guessing, to come out of my mouth–something that might fuel hope. I had been praying for them, praying that each one would come away with just one something that they knew came from His heart to theirs. Yet I literally had no idea what was going to exit my mouth when my lips parted. I uttered another silent prayer of faith, fully trusting that God’s pre-emptive promise would not disappoint:

“Now therefore go, and I will be with your mouth and will teach you what you shall say.”

You see, things have been stirring in my heart. Unconventional things. Ideas that seem abstract and countercultural. I’ve spent much of my life orienting to the norm and the status quo because my lack of identity and my sense of wellbeing depended upon it. When these inklings and ideas began percolating in my soul, I batted them away in deference to insecure conformance. Who was I to speak for God?

I opened up with the Cliff Notes of my testimony. They deserved to know a little about the woman they had come to hear. I shared what brought me, after decades of self-assisted Christianity, to the absolute end of myself. I shared the arduous shame-journey that depleted me of all self and ushered in a revelation of His love.  The familiar I once was blind but now I see had become I once was caught in deceptive self-loathing but now I know His love. 

After I had talked about the person of the Holy Spirit and the role He desires to fill in our lives,

after I shared that there is absolutely no substitute for intimacy with God,

after I talked about the overlooked need for Jesus-modeled solitude in our daily lives,

after I shared some of the ways Jesus’ life demonstrated an organic relationship/ministry model to follow,

after I urged us to take a look at the idolatrous photo filters we have placed over our lacluster lives,

after I expressed the ways we embrace friendship with the world and enmity with God,

after I talked about spectatorship assembly and Church, Inc.

after I urged consideration of the many distractions that keep our attention divided and our devotion diminished,

after I had challenged an examination of our worship, and

after I observed how so many of us have unwittingly substituted time in the bible for a quick read in Jesus Calling–I closed me lips and looked into the penetrating eyes of the women who gathered to sit with God.

And then the conversation that I had come to begin had indeed begun.

To be continued in Part 2 of 2

*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-

Thank you for reading today! Please take a moment to share your thoughts. And do, please, feel free to share Grace Grips with your friends! 

 

Rock Harvest

6133079888_4f5b611d87_o

My family teases me about my proclivity for word pictures. Sometimes they’re useful in communication, other times I find I’ve applied a five-pound metaphor to an eight-ounce idea. When my youngest son was in high school I apparently used too many football metaphors to drive home my points because he’s a grown father now and he’ll still tease me. “Mom, it’s like you’re 3rd and 9 with 34 seconds left in the fourth quarter and….”

Well friends, today’s word picture is brought to you by the letter R.

I’m a city-girl who married a farmer. Like most farmers, my husband is outstanding in his field. (Sorry, I couldn’t resist that one!)  Farmers mark their anniversaries by harvests rather than years. Though we are the quintessential example of the attraction of opposites we have successfully marked off twenty-four harvests. For farming families, life revolves around the seasons and few people better understand the principles of sowing and reaping than farmers. Can you imagine the fodder for word pictures here?

photo credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/49502994797@N01/2609223069/

A short drive around our large farm will reveal a number of rock piles. They represent years of cultivation, planting and harvesting.

Each spring, as soon as the ground is dry enough for tractors, the fields are worked in preparation for planting. Spring work involves a two-step process. The fields, which were disked after harvest the previous fall, are roller-packed and then harrowed in preparation for planting. Harrowing (no, it’s not scary) is like combing the clumps of dirt with rows of metal teeth. It’s like a giant earth comb. At first glance, the fields can appear nice and smooth after this process.

However, by the time the field has been planted the ground will have been worked over three separate times. This vigorous working of the soil brings large rocks to the surface, rocks which damage equipment and implements. You would think that after sixty years of working these same fields we’d have come to the end of rock harvesting. Not so.

No matter how smooth the ground appears prior to the growing season rocks are churned up every single year. It’s critical they be removed. No doubt, you’re already beginning to see where I’m going with this.

Whether we’ve been a Christian four weeks or four decades, the Holy Spirit’s cultivating process in our hearts will continue to uncover obstacles that are damaging to both ourselves and others. We can become discouraged when hidden things are continuously being revealed. I can. “Lord,” I lament, “where did that come from? I’ve worked so hard to overcome and here I am again, still dealing with the same old stuff.”

My rock pile consists primarily of shame and insecurity boulders. My heart intention is to live a cultivated, fruitful life to the glory of God but I still stumble over the same rocks–and their cousins. Two things can happen to me when those rocks crop up. One, I can get frustrated. And then, in my frustration, I can become vulnerable to deception and the temptation to throw up my hands. I’ll never be free of this. I give up!

When I’m working at something so strenuously and feeling frustration in the process it’s a good indication that I’ve moved over from grace-living into the dangerous territory of pride. I entertain the notion that I have what it takes to present a better version of myself. I think that by improving myself, even if it’s a pretentious show, then I will have the approval of people and therefore provide myself some security. (I can’t believe I just said that.)

Self as the prefix to anything is dangerous ground!

The undeniable truth is that transformation is always a work of grace and divine power. The bible says that it is God who is at work in me both to will and to do of His good pleasure. It clearly states that God will complete the work He has begun in me. I am His workmanship. (Phil. 2:13; Phil. 1:6; Eph. 2:8)

I didn’t initiate this transformation process and it is certain that I will not accomplish it under my own power. My role in this process is not that unlike the ground on our farm. I yield. I yield to the initiation of God and His transforming power. When we step out on our porch at night, we don’t hear the ground grunting and groaning in an effort to bear fruit.

Humility yields to the work of Christ in our lives. It can be my only response to the transforming work of God in my life. Transformation requires humility; humility allows acceptance and surrender. Like the men in our fields, God wants to remove those rocks from us so that we aren’t encumbered by them but also so that we don’t become a stumbling stone for others.

King David earnestly prayed:

“Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me and know my anxious thoughts; and see if there be any hurtful way in me, lead me in the everlasting way.” (Ps. 139:23-24)

My husband made peace long ago with rock harvesting. Rocks are part of the storyline in farming. And they’re part of the story God is writing of us. I have yet to hear him come in from the fields yelling, “You’re never going to believe the boulders I found out there!”

Friends, can we make peace with two things?

  • We need to regularly pray David’s prayer. We can be so easily deceived by our own hearts. “A man’s ways are right in his own eyes, but God weighs the heart.” (Pr. 21:2)
  • Secondly, let’s not be surprised (or frustrated or angered) by what is revealed in answer to that prayer!

My husband wants to find those rocks. He wants to know what is lurking beneath the surface so he can avoid a breakdown and prevent expensive repairs.

The Road to Shur

The angel of the LORD found Hagar beside a spring of water in the wilderness, along the road to Shur. The angel said to her, “Hagar, Sarai’s servant, where have you come from, and where are you going?

Genesis 16 reveals an ancient scenario that stills plays out in our very modern and acutely human lives. You recall how it began? God promised Abraham and Sarah a son in their barren old age but because it wasn’t happening quickly enough, Sarah crafted an I’ll help you help me plan for God. (I still attempt this!) As with all our endeavors to interfere with God’s timing (usually a failure to trust), Sarah’s plan created a mess.

Hagar is destitute, her life has become unendurable, partly a result of her own actions and heart issues but largely due to events which were out of her control. (Most of my painful predicaments consist of both!) Hagar has run away. She’s gone as far as her strength would allow and then she collapses in a heap. She has no food, no water and no one to help.

But God…

I love this part–it’s such a beautiful image of our Father’s heart:

The angel of the LORD found ___________(fill in the blank.) God knows where we are at all times but to be found indicates that we were missing. He pursues. He chooses just the right time to reveal Himself–usually when we’re at the end of ourselves!

“For the Son of Man came to seek and save those who are lost.” Luke 19:10

Hagar, Sarai’s servant…. God knows her name–He doesn’t say Hey woman, what’s your name? When He included Sarai’s servant in His address He reveals that He knows the details of her circumstances. Being Sarai’s servant was central to the destitution she felt. Please be encouraged that He knows all about us–each and every detail of our disheveled and complicated circumstances!

The woman left her water jar beside the well and ran back to the village, telling everyone, “Come and see a man who told me everything I ever did!” John 4:28

Where have you come from? God knows where we’ve been but there’s something very validating about being asked to tell our story. It places worth and value on us and it also allows us the opportunity to consider our past.

“Listen to me, all who hope for deliverance—all who seek the LORD! Consider the rock from which you were cut, the quarry from which you were mined.” Isaiah 51:1

Where are you going? Sounds like a simple question doesn’t it? But I don’t always know where I’m headed, because when I’m running it’s usually from something and the destination is almost always secondary. It’s as though the Lord is inviting us to recognize that. His question allows us to see we’ve substituted our reactive plans for His purposeful one.

“You can make many plans, but the LORD’s purpose will prevail.” Proverbs 19:21

The angel of the LORD said to her, “Return to your mistress, and submit to her authority.” Then he added, “I will give you more descendants than you can count. Gen. 16:9-10

Return & Submit? Ouch! My chest burns just thinking about this! It’s difficult enough to return to the place from which we’ve fled or are avoiding–but to submit to it?  Impossible. In the first place, it’s likely our previous circumstances have not changed and secondly, we have our egos to contend with. (I’ve had to drag my tucked tail back many times in my life, wearing humility like an outdated prom dress.) Who wants to submit to something unfair, unjust, or simply unpleasant

But what if we looked at it from another angle? What if we stopped rehearsing all the nasty details of our unbearable circumstances–stopped describing the water we’re drowning in? Picture with me the throne of God fitted with a storage seat. Imagine lifting the lid and placing each specific element of our situation inside the compartment. Now, can we invite God back on His throne to rule and reign. He’s LORD after all!

“He (Jesus) did not retaliate when he was insulted, nor threaten revenge when he suffered. He left his case in the hands of God, who always judges fairly.” 1 Pet. 2:23″

This kind of surrender (submission) requires trust, right? But how do we trust someone we don’t know? It’s not enough to know about God we need to know Him for ourselves.

“”Be still, and know that I am God!” Ps. 46:10a

Among other things, Strong’s translates know here as to know experientially. There are no substitutes for this. We can’t know Him simply by hearing what others know about Him–we can’t experience him vicariously either.

I will give you… Here’s the part we all love, right? The promises, the gifts, the good stuff! God lavishes us with good stuff. The bible says that He knows how to give good gifts to His children. He’s been making and keeping promises from the beginning. There is always, always, always a reward for trust, repentance and submission. In this account God promises Hagar some monumental things but sometimes His promises are:

Peace — John 14:27

Grace–James 4:6

Strength–Hab. 3:19

Hope–1 Pet.1:21

So let me close this with a little reality bite. Our promises aren’t always manifested in this life. We may not get that healing. We may not restore that relationship. We may not realize those dreams. But, and here’s the really good stuff, this life we live with its heartaches and storms and torment is a vaporous moment–a temporary blip on an eternal timeline.

If, like me, you find yourself slumped along the road to Shur (ironic play on words) remember that He seeks you out, calls you by name, sets you on your feet again and reminds you of His promises. 

Our greatest promise is God Himself! And there is absolutely nothing that can pluck us from His hand or separate us from His love.

NOTHING!