Monthly Archives: February 2013

Wounding Gift

Gifts are supposed to bring joy to life.  Make it easier.  Not bring on pain, right?

A cassette tape of Michael Card’s Scandalon album started as a simple birthday gift. Opening the attached card, I read the words from a friend.  Instead of celebration, the words were ones of good-bye.  How could this be?  A new friendship that had been growing was now over?

Throughout the next months I continued to question what I had done.  What broke apart this friendship?  At the same time I was confronting the reality of a new life.  In only months I would be graduating and leaving a college that had been a home.  Wounds were building up within my soul.

Other friends surrounded me and together we walked through this time of pain, not always looking pretty.  Ironically, one of the most comforting voices was that of Michael Card, from the gift that initiated a cascade of wounds.

His lyrics did not present a triumphant, victorious Jesus and followers, but the reality of following Jesus in the mire of life.  Over and over I listened to these words.

He will be the truth that will offend them one and all
A stone that makes men stumble
And a rock that makes them fall
Many will be broken so that He can make them whole
And many will be crushed and lose their own soul
-Scandalon

As I looked around, I kept seeing broken people through my wounded eyes.  In the midst of this suffering, God’s presence started to grow more real.  Hearing these words brought to light a new sense of freedom that doesn’t hide behind a spiel of how life should be, but confronts the reality of how life is and the healing that is available.

Twenty-three years later I’m sitting only feet away from Michael Card at a concert.  During this season of Lent he is sharing his songs that journey through Jesus’ passion.  That again speak of wounds.

In this most holy place, He’s made a sacred space
For those who will enter in, and trust to cry out to Him
And you’ll find no curtain there, no reason left for fear
There’s perfect freedom here, to weep every unwept tear
– Come Lift Up Your Sorrows

As in earlier years, these past few months I had been looking for gifts to make life easier.  To take away and remove the difficulties of being in friendships, of trying to minister on campus, of dealing with caring for family members with cancer, and of being misunderstood.  It shouldn’t be a surprise that no external gift has worked to right these very human realities.  Yet, in the rush of the day-to-day it can seem more practical to quickly cover over these wounds in order to keep going.  They are irritants that need simply to disappear.

Throughout the concert/worship I’m alternately wiping my eyes in sorrow and smiling in joy.  The words of these songs are helping to uncover hidden wounds. Wounds I had handily hidden. I’m even imagining myself back in the dorm – and the pain that I originally associated with that cassette tape is now gone, replaced by the hope I found listening to these songs the first time.  I sense a new freedom, a freedom not possible by ignoring the brokenness.

These words of song are again a gift of wounding.  A wounding that ultimately heals through times of crying out and weeping with the One who cries and weeps with us.

But he was pierced for our transgressions;
he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
and with his wounds we are healed.

– Isaiah 53:5

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Seeing (and Living) the New Life in Front of You

I’m walking through a new building on church grounds – furnished classrooms that are ready to welcome students, a well-lit atria with places for people to gather and share meals, a stage area for musicians and others to perform, and there must be a well-stocked library behind one of the doors.  This is the perfect space for ministry.

However, it took me at least a week to go in once I noticed it on the property of an older building.  You see, I had been so focused making programs and activities work in the old building that I hadn’t seen the other building front of me. I had been struggling to put new wine in old wine skins, when the new were already there waiting to be filled.   Why?

Then I woke up back in my bedroom.

This may have been only a dream, but the images in it have been weighing on me. At first I thought that the dream affirmed a tendency to get everything in order, whether in ministry or other areas of life, before going on to the next thing.  But there was something more.  I had refused to see the new building for over a week, wasting time and energy on bemoaning the struggles in the old building because I did not see the opportunities in front of me.

How many of us do this?  Refuse to see what’s before us and really live into it.  Or maybe it’s not an active refusal.  Maybe it’s not having the eyes to even see because of fear, laziness, or simply lack of imagination.  There are many excuses for not entering the new building when staying in the old place is so comfortable and rearranging the furniture can make it seem as if something is happening.

Furthermore, it’s easier to complain and critique rather than walk into the new house. When I hear of friends and acquaintances setting out on a new project, I often wonder why do they have this opportunity and I don’t.  How were they able to finish all their work before starting this new activity?  They entered the new building before they should.  At this point I will often find a comfortable place to hang out in my old building and feel sorry for myself.

As I was immersed in this path of self-criticism and envy once again, an e-mail popped up from on of my favorite places, Southborough L’Abri.

“. . . Thankfulness to God begins with an awareness of our complete dependence on God. But a sense of dependence on God is only the beginning. It also requires that we stay awake and aware enough to notice what God is doing in the world and to not forget about it. Those areas of awareness are blocked if we have a strong sense of our own victimhood, if we feel an entitlement that our expectation of a “good life” is owed to us, or if we are confident that we can meet all of life’s challenges with our own resources. It is no secret that our consumer culture invites us to focus not on our blessings, but on what we lack, yet desire. All of these attitudes displace the consciousness that our life itself is a gift. We can usually do pretty well with occasional gratitude but the challenge is gratitude as a more basic attitude or assumption, an anchor beneath our lives.”  Dick Keyes, Southborough L’Abri News/Prayer Letter January 2013

These words spoke directly to me.  It was time to wake up.  Awareness of God’s working in the world is blocked when we focus on our own victimhood.  How true.  This is exactly where I existed as I pitied myself for staying in the old building for too long, for not having opportunities that others seem to have handed to them. It is easy to look at the world and blame some one or some thing else for my problems. To claim someone else has kept me out of the house, when really it’s been me.

Eyes of gratitude help us to live into the life before us within God’s kingdom now.  It stops us from holding onto the world’s ways of security so tightly that we miss God’s work right in front of us.  But it does require letting go.  Stepping into the new house.  Leaving behind the comfortable old belief that we or anyone on earth can create the good life ourselves.

In the old building I’m under the illusion that I’m in control and need to make things work.  In the new, God is, and I can rest in the work he has prepared for me to do, even in the midst of struggles.

It’s time to walk into that new building today.  Or maybe just move towards the front door as I pray for God to guide the way.

 

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The Relief of Lent

The real man is at liberty to be his Creator’s creature.  To be conformed with the Incarnate is to have the right to be the man one really is.  – Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Over the past weeks I’ve been to retreats, cooked meals, met new people, planned ministry events, been invited to dinners, made phone calls, spent time with friends, celebrated . . . and read, wrote, cleaned, organized finances . . . the list could go on.  It doesn’t take long before days, weeks, and months are overflowing with tasks.

It’s in the midst of such a hectic schedule that Lent is such a relief.  It’s a gift to have an expectation to give up something, slow down.

Time to reflect. To return to God.  To breathe again.

At the same time I also wonder how to describe Lent to people outside of the church – as well as to many people within.  It’s not a practice or festival that is in the Bible.  It also seems to run counter to the picture of hope and abundance that is often central to Christianity.  Does Jesus really want us to go around looking sorrowful and depriving ourselves?

No, but throughout his words there are many messages about repentance, carrying our crosses, and persecution.  These are not the jubilant voices of preachers on a Sunday morning or the comforting words of a friend.  They are the earnest pleadings of God wanting us to look at reality.  To see what is really before us, in all its brokenness, instead of painting false pictures.  A God who yearns to heal us.  In current western society that admires image, wants to create a better narrative no matter how far it is from reality, we need this call more than ever.

This is lent.  It provides a time to recalibrate the stories in our lives.  To remove the false versions of ourselves and others.  To see God as God is and ourselves as his creatures.    To step out of the daily routine.  It’s a time when it’s okay to reflect.  It’s okay to remove our masks as we hear we are ashes, we are dust.

What we each give up or take on isn’t as important as the practice of doing so – and Christ breaking into this time to reveal the Truth and to set us free.  Free to be broken and to step into this mess with Jesus in the midst.

How will you find relief and break from the routine in your life over the next weeks to open yourself to God’s calling to repent – see reality as it is and turn to Him?

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Living Scrolls

So small.  So fragile. So tangible.  Scraps of paper connecting people across millenia.

Here is a fragment from the second chapter of Daniel in the Hebrew scriptures.

 “Blessed be the name of God forever and ever,
     to whom belong wisdom and might. 

He changes times and seasons;
he removes kings and sets up kings;
he gives wisdom to the wise
and knowledge to those who have understanding;

he reveals deep and hidden things;
he knows what is in the darkness,
and the light dwells with him.

To you, O God of my fathers,
I give thanks and praise,
for you have given me wisdom and might,
and have now made known to me what we asked of you,
for you have made known to us the king’s matter.”

Two months ago I was leading a discussion on this section of Daniel.  In particular, I was drawn to how Daniel practices what Ignatius may term indifference – his focus solely on God and not the created things and circumstances around him.  In this poetic interruption of narrative, God is vividly shown to be the center of everything in the world and Daniel’s life.

thStanding before the earliest known copy of this prayer at the Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit at the Cincinnati Museum Center, the emphasis on God was before me again.  This time it was on a torn, faded bit of parchment – the writing of a scribe 100+ years before Christ.  On this fragment was the praise of God preserved and continued to be used as a prayer to this day.

It was part a display that sets the scrolls within the history, the culture, the world in which they were written.  The display itself emphasizes the importance of these fragments.  The cases holding the fragments are arranged in a large, circular table in the center of the room.  Other cases containing pottery, mosaics, and tools from the same era and region, surround the main exhibit.  No one can get too close to the actual scrolls.  Under glass, shielded with dim lights so the decaying process is minimized, these 2000 year old fragments are well-protected.

Yet, the importance of these fragments rests not in their fragility and age, nor in the scholars working on them, but in the wisdom, comfort, and truth contained in God’s Word on which people have leaned over centuries and throughout the world. As the prayer from Daniel attests – all these circumstances and created items surrounding the scrolls are nothing compared to the God to which they point.

Furthermore, the words on these scrolls live yet today – not on fragments of paper – but within people as God’s ultimate Word, Jesus Christ, lives through them.

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