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Spring-loaded Discipleship

Time binding. I have been reading about time-binding. Lest you write me off as a sci-fi person (which I most certainly am not, though I seem to be raising children who are… never say never), allow me to explain myself.

Time binding is not time bending or some other time-space continuum talk which is well above my pay grade. Rather, it is a concept studied by Alfred Korzbyski which I came across in Present Shock, the most fascinating book I have read in a while.

Korzybski noticed that in addition to storing energy (like plants storing energy photosynthesized during sunlight for darkness and winter) and storing space (like a squirrel gathering nuts from all over and placing them into its niche),  humans also store or bind time.

While time-binding might sound like something only an Avenger could do, it is something we all do regularly.  Douglas Rushkoff wrote the following explaining Korzybski’s concept.

We can take the experiences of one generation and pass it on to the next generation through language and symbols. We can still teach our children things  like hunting or fishing in real time, but our lessons can also be compressed into stories, instructions, and diagrams. The information  acquired by one generation can be passed on more efficiently than if each subsequent generation needed to learn everything through experience. 

Rushkoff describes this action as spring-loading time: if time were a spring, we compress ages of learning and information, passing it on in shorter period of time. This concept of spring-loaded time helped me understand the significant activity that happens within Christian discipleship in a new light.

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Discipleship as Time-binding

Passing on information is nothing new. In fact, the passing on both the theological tenants of the gospel along with its practical implications on life within the context of an intentional relationship is as old as the Christian church.

In his last letter to his young protege Timothy, the Apostle Paul perfectly captures the heart of discipleship with its time binding properties.

You then, my child, be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus, and what you  have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will  be able to teach other’s also. 2 Timothy 2: 1-2

Paul had spent countless years of his life doing life with the young Timothy. In addition to knowing the gospel, they knew each other’s strengths, weaknesses, quirks, and stories of upbringing. Timothy knew Paul’s preaching style, the lines he used to transition surface-level conversations with those around them into significant conversations that might move toward spiritual things. Timothy learned from Paul’s experience how to suffer well, how to fight against living for the approval of man, and how to persevere even in the presence of mounting pressure and hostilities.

Knowing he was nearing the end of his life on this earth (which he welcomed… for to live is Christ and to die is gain. Philippians 1:21), he urged Timothy to pass this eternally critical information on to the next generation.

Timothy was to live his life faithfully, binding the lessons he learned as he walked with  God through the Spirit and the Word and compressing them to pass them along to the next spiritual iteration.

This exponentially multiplicative process has been ongoing since Christ ascended back to His father, leaving the Spirit to guide his rag-tag crew of disciples in the continued advance of God’s kingdom.

We stand on the shoulders of giants. We have so much to learn from the spiritual successes and failures of the generations of saints who have gone before us, binding the lessons they learned and spring-loading us for the future. And the coming iterations of the kingdom of God will use the information bound by us and spring-loaded into their lives through our discipleship of them.

Spring-loaded lives

As I was reading about and mulling over these concepts, the Lord was gracious to bring two real life examples into my life, one to our kitchen table and the other to my office.

A friend came over to catch up and enjoy a meal with our family. He shared about his parent’s marriage and how God had enabled him to speak into their relationship at a very critical juncture. With tears of relief in his eyes, he shared about how all the years of training and discipleship he received during his college days had spring-loaded him for that very moment in their marriage. The countless workout sessions with a mentor, the weekly Bible studies, the seasonal retreats, the silly outings… all had been compressed into the wisdom he would need to help his parents reconcile.

Then, just yesterday, I sat down with a retired woman from my church. She was begging for ways invest all the time-binding she had been doing for a lifetime in the lives of the next generation. She said, “I am not getting any younger. I want to get to work passing along these things to new believers.”

Oh, that we might not only carefully number and invest the time we have been given but also bind it to pass it along to the coming generations. May we spring load the spiritual springs of the future that the gospel and its implications might continue its work until Christ returns.

 

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The Coronavirus & the Collapse of a Cohesive Narrative

Medical masks are a hot commodity right now, and understandably so. The world is watching live news feeds watching the death toll rise on a virus that jumped from animals to humans before our eyes. I have found myself having to put a limit on how often I can read about the latest news, as keeping my pulse on the changing stories causes my pulse rate to rise to unhealthy levels.

At a women’s bible study this week about fasting, the coronavirus came up in discussion. Women have an incredible ability to web in conversation. Just ask a linear-thinking male who is trying to follow the intricate web of conversations at a table full of women.

We were speaking of fasting as a means to connect to the deeper hunger we have for our true home with God. We were speaking of the deep homesickness we should feel for our Heavenly Husband’s presence and how that is intended to inform our lives in this earthly pilgrimage.  We were confessing how often even believers are hesitant about Heaven,  wanting to linger here on earth a little longer. Thus, conversation naturally turned to the coronavirus and the utter panic that grips us when we think about death. Totally logical connection, right?

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In his book Present Shock, Douglas Rushkoff speaks extensively about the societal effects of the collapse of a cohesive narrative. He builds a case for the power of story in providing purpose and security which beautifully  lines up with the Christian truth that we were made in the image of the Storyteller and desperately need the meta-narrative of the gospel story. Then he mentions that at the turn of the century, narratives began to collapse, leaving us in a narrative crisis. With no story line to integrate our disparate lives, people are left having to create their own individual narratives (which often compete with each other, as seen on the social media political and ideological battlefields). Rushkoff continues, explaining the following:

 “Likewise, without long-term goals expressed for us as readily accessible stories, people  lose the ability  to respond  to anything but terror. If we have no destination toward which  we are progressing,  then the only things that motivates our movement is  to get away  from something threatening.  We move from problem to problem,  avoiding  calamity  as best  we  can,  our worldview increasingly characterized by a sense of panic. Our news networks and Internet feeds compound the sense of crisis by amplifying only the most sensational  and negative events…” 

The story of whistle-blowing doctor Dr. Li Wenliang provides a powerful juxtaposition to this story-less panic. Dr. Wenliang, a believer in Christ, had an eternal storyline on which  to hang the parts and pieces of his life, even the painful, scary ones.  The Apostle John wrote a telling phrase about Jesus’ motivation to wash His disciples’ feet on the eve of the horrifying death: “Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands,  and  that he had come from God and was going back to God” (John 13:3). In much the same way, Dr. Wenliang knew the bigger storyline: he knew from whence he came from and to where he was bound. Thus, he was freed to treat those who were infected with the disease and risk the censure of his government to warn the world.

I am not saying we should want to be infected with the coronavirus; however, our panic to avoid catching it betrays a deeper societal sickness: we have no long hope, no compelling passion and purpose that infuses our lives with meaning and the courage to risk in light of something better.

As believers in Christ, we are invited to live into the gospel story of a long hope and a deep and eternal purpose. We don’t have to give way to the panic that drives our society; rather, we are invited to speak truth into the panic by inviting others into the glorious news of the gospel storyline. In the face of diseases and political power struggles, we need not give in to the crippling fear that paralyzes the story-less. Rather, we ought to live with such a resilient hope that people even ask us about the reason for such a strange response.

Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared  to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet, do it with gentleness and respect. 1 Peter 3:15.

May we step into a panicked world with the peace that comes from knowing THE story that makes sense of life on this broken globe. May we live with a long hope that happily invites others in. May we move with purpose to the day when the coronavirus will be banished by the presence of the Wounded Healer.

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Love’s Lonely Offices

Today love will be celebrated with saccharine candies,  glittery cards, and helium balloons, and well it should be in a world laced with hate and envy and self.

I loved making a soccer field Valentine box with my middle schooler. In fact,  I cherished it knowing it may be one of the last we make together before he thinks such things cheesy.  I set out sweet treasures for my boys last night. My hubs and I have some sweet things planned for the morning.

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But today I am also thinking about love’s lonely offices. The uncelebrated, unnoticed, unseen acts of daily love that keep families and churches and cities alive in the midst of the entropy of a broken world.

In his poem Those Winter Sundays, Robert Hayden dropped a line that has been stuck in my head like the thread of a spiderweb.

Those Winter Sundays

Sundays too my father got up early
and put his clothes on in the blueback cold,
then with cracked hands that ached
from labor in the weekday weather made
banked fires ablaze. No one ever thanked him.

I’d wake and hear the cold splintering, breaking.
When the rooms were warm, he’d call,
and slowly I would rise and dress,
fearing the chronic angers of that house.

Speaking indifferently to him,
who had driven out the cold
and polished my good shoes as well.
What did I know, what did I know
of love’s austere and lonely offices?

The last two lines have been playing on repeat in my mind for over a week. What do I know of love’s austere and lonely offices?

As I continue to step further into parenting, as I watch my mother-in-law care for her sick husband, as I wade into a new Church leadership role, I continue to notice more of love’s lonely offices.

Waking up at odd hours of the night to spend an hour getting her husband out of bed and to the toilet and back, my Amma knows austere and lonely offices well. She has opened my eyes to the quiet faith and uncelebrated fortitude of caregivers to the aging and sick.

Being around our church more, I see the pastoral leadership team bearing the weight of the congregation’s needs and sufferings. I have an inside vantage point to the wrestling in prayer and planning that happen behind the scenes on a daily basis, another window into love’s lonely offices.

Watching friends serving the foster care system set up visitations and caring for children that are not theirs. Love’s austere and lonely offices.

A smaller example, yet significant in its own little way: I spent time writing notes in my boy’s notebooks for school only to be told, tenderly, but still painfully, “Yeah, I saw that. All those notes always say the same thing.” A little example of love’s little yet lonely offices.

The world is full of austere and lonely offices, but they are all glimpses of the Love’s most austere and lonely office, the office of Christ.

In the poem, the image of the father waking with tired and blistered hands to stoke the fires of warmth for his son are both moving and memorable. Yet, the image of the Creator God sending His beloved, dear Son-self into the hatred and hardness of our broken globe trumps the former image.

The image of Christ in the garden, laying with His face to the ground, in agony while His closest friends slept. Love’s austere and lonely office.

The image of Christ lifted on a Cross, perfection pounded by imperfection’s penalty, forgiving the offenders. Love’s most austere and lonely office.

In an eternal string of days, our Christ sets the table, serves His children, offering them the meal of Himself, his body broken on our behalf that we would be made whole. Often, the meal is skipped, if not scorned. Yet Christ faithfully serves in His austere and lonely office.

What a joy to know that as we go about our own nuanced versions of love’s austere and lonely offices, followers of Christ are not alone.  Far from alone, Christ’s brothers and sisters are empowered and enabled by the Spirit and strength from His lifetime of love’s lonely offices.

The Father’s sending, Christ’s sacrifice and the Spirit’s closer-than-the-air nearness transform our lonely offices into lovely offices, chances to join the Trinity in an eternal office of love.

 

 

 

 

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Scarcity & Abundance (lessons learned from the Cereal Police)

My older sons fight for a very strange office in our household: the cereal police.

The cereal police plays the important role of making sure that no one person is hogging too much of whatever cereal is the most coveted brand of the month. This self-appointed officer can seemingly measure exact portions and can tell, with only a slight glance at a bowl, if someone has crossed the line. If said person has used too much cereal or had too many bowls of said cereal at one sitting or even used a few too many splashes of milk, the officer will most assuredly step in wielding his authority.

Usually, a slight altercation occurs upon accusation and the real authorities are awoken to mitigate the damage. Shaken from my semi-slumbering state,  but aware enough to predict exactly what is happening, I immediately respond with something to the tune of the following statement:

“There is plenty of cereal. We live in abundance, not scarcity. We do not have to be afraid. If the cereal runs out, I will buy more,  as I always do. Your parents knows what you need and like and you can trust them to provide.”

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Scarcity and Abundance

As silly as this sounds, the continual appearance of cereal police role is a source of spiritual conviction in my own life. You see, I have to remind myself all the time that our God is a God of abundance, not scarcity.

I fear that there is not enough blessing to go around; not enough space in the infinite heart of our God to make room for all of His children. Even worse than questioning the depth of His pantry, I begin to question His heart and intentions. Inevitably, I am tempted to believe the same insidious lies that hooked our forefather and foremother in the garden: God is withholding from me; I need to get my own; I cannot trust His heart and intentions toward me.

Just as I attempt to point our scarcity-fearing hearts towards God’s abundant provision and love, Moses wrestled with leading a people who continually believed the lie of scarcity.

In his last address to God’s people, he was quick to remind God’s people of His ample provision for them, even in a land of real scarcity of resources and water.

And you shall remember the whole way that the Lord your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness that he might humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep his commandments or not. and he humbled you, causing you to hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the lord. Your clothing did not wear out on you and your foot did not swell these forty years (Deuteronomy 3:2-4).  

But he also went beyond the physical provision to point out the nature and intentions of Yahweh, the abundant God.

Know then in your heart that, as a man disciplines his son, the Lord your God disciplines you. So you shall keep the commandments of the Lord your God by  walking in his ways and fearing him. For the lord your God is leading you into a good land, a land of brooks of water, of fountains and springs, flowing out in the valleys and hills, a land of wheat and barley, of vines and fig trees and pomegranates, a land of olive trees and honey, a land in which you will eat bread without scarcity, in which you will lack nothing (Deuteronomy 3:5-9). 

When Abundance Experienced Scarcity

The Israelite’s clothes did not wear out and their feet did not swell, even in the long wilderness wandering that they had brought upon themselves in their own disobedience. But there was one who always obeyed,  who always trusted the good intentions of the Father, who always lived not by bread alone but by the very words that came from God’s mouth.

His clothes were torn in jest by mocking soldiers. His feet swelled with fluids and blood as they nailed to the cross of our shame. Because Christ, the Son of Abundance experienced scarcity at the Place of the Skulls, we can trust God’s heart toward us.

Our God is a plenty-dropping ploughman.

The Plenty-Dropping Ploughman

His plenty-dropping hand
Must first plough the ground,
Before He can rightly scatter
The seeds that will abound. 

Lord, my heart is all disturbed;
What once was neat now is not.
These fields are lying fallow,
All with muddiness is besot.

Good ploughman, teach me,
To trust your proven ways,
To believe you’ll bring harvest
More rich through long delays. 

Death before life; Cross before crown,
This is the pattern our Christ set down. 

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Three Kings

In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Isaiah 6:1. 

In the year that King Uzziah died. I have always rushed passed that introductory phrase, thinking it was only recorded to anchor a supernatural event in natural time. While it most certainly does that, it always provides a powerful juxtaposition between the earthly king that Isaiah had seen and known and the heavenly one he would spend the rest of his life serving.

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The King Isaiah Saw

In this epic moment, we find a young Isaiah experiencing a powerful moment with God through a vision of His throne room (similar in imagery to John’s vision on the Island of Patmos which became the book of Revelation). He sees the glory of the Lord on His throne as the seraphim worshipped him for His thrice-fold, complete holiness.

“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of His glory” (Isaiah 6:3)

In the presence of such power and purity, Isaiah cries, “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips and I dwell in the midst of a people with unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts” (Isaiah 6:5). 

Shortly thereafter, one of the seraphim, looking to the coming sacrifice of Christ, cleanses his lips with a hot coal and announces his guilt taken away. Having thus been cleansed, he was then willingly commissioned into the service of the Lord, saying, “Here I am! Send me” (Isaiah 6:7-8).

The King Isaiah had Seen 

Isaiah grew up during the reign of King Uzziah of Judah. For a time of incredibly monarchal instability due to warring factions and usurping sons, Uzziah reigned for a long fifty-two years. Having replaced his father (who had turned away from the Lord and been driven away and killed by the people) at the impressionable age of sixteen, he started well.

And he did what was right in the eyes of the Lord…He set himself to seek God in the days of Zechariah,  who instructed him in the fear of the God,  and as long as he sought the Lord,  God made him prosper (2 Chronicles 26:4-5). 

Following this summary statement, the list of accolades from his early reign continue. Uzziah seemed to be a renaissance man long before the renaissance gave us that term. He led his people to military victories over the Philistines (as in the people group who had birthed Goliath). He strengthened the city to protect his people by building towers and fortifying walls,  which was no small deed in a time of marauding people groups and unexpected attacks. As an agrarian who “loved the soil” (v. 10),  he dug cisterns to water the flocks in the wilderness. He created an unbelievable army with an unthinkable armory of “shields, spears, helmets, coats of mail, bows and stones for slinging  (v. 14). He was even an inventor, as he created machines to hurl stones and shoot arrows (v. 15).

King Uzziah must have seemed larger than life to a young Isaiah who watched as the king grew in strength and fame. Until he began to trust in himself rather than the Lord who had strengthened him.

But when he was strong, he grew proud, to his destruction (v. 16). 

Just as his strengthening had been public, so was his demise.

Thinking himself invincible and above accountability, he marched himself into the Temple and attempted to burn incense unto the Lord. While that doesn’t sound anathema to our ears, it would  have to Hebrew ears, for only the chosen and consecrated priestly line of Aaron were to burn incense to the Lord.

He overstepped his bounds and was publicly confronted by 80 priests, in a scene that would do well on the silver screen. In that moment, he was struck with leprosy, much like Miriam when she sought to overstep her boundaries as recorded in Numbers 12.

He spent the rest of his years living in exclusion and was remembered only for being a leper (vs. 21-23).

The King Isaiah Spoke of but Never Saw 

Thus, in the year that this failed king had been laid to rest, a likely confused and devastated Isaiah saw the great and holy king who would commission him as a prophet that would speak of the coming king.

Hopelessness over failed king after failed king would give way to a vague hope that one day, God would send a better king, a suffering servant. Isaiah gave his life to being the mouthpiece promising a king who would usher in a different and lasting kingdom. He died not seeing that king reign.

That king would not only start well, but would continue until the end as one who did right in the sight of the Lord. Far more than King Uzziah, this king had power to do anything and everything. Yet, He let himself be nailed to an instrument of shame, dying a death more ignoble that than of King Uzziah. He took upon His pure and perfect self our disease of sin. And then, He rose to destroy that which had destroyed us.

In an age of failing and flawed rulers, we can learn from Isaiah. Rather than look forward to the King as he did, we look back upon His life, death and resurrection. We remember with hope that He will one day consummate His kingdom and reign without rival.

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To Carry or Be Carried

Being a mother,  I am also a sherpa. I may not appear strong, but on any given walk from the car to the house, I can become as strong as an ox. I can simultaneously carry a backpack, a lunchbox,  a random shoe, and two grocery bags, along with my Mary Poppins purse which has bandaids, mints, pens, Nerf bullets, Hotwheels and other necessary items.

In addition to these physical weights,  I have the uncanny ability to carry the unnecessary emotional and spiritual weight of idols. I usually don’t realize that I am carrying these unnecessary burdens until my soul begins to ache and revolt.

Thankfully (and yet sadly), I am not unique in this idiocy. Unfortunately, since our foremother and forefather traded created things for the Creator in the place of preeminence, we have passed down the unnecessary weight of idolatry.

This past week, the Lord convicted me through a study of Isaiah 46, revealing to me that I have been lugging around the added weights of impotent idols.

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Bel bows down; Nebo stoops; their idols are on beasts and livestock; these things you carry are borne as burdens on weary beasts. They stoop; they bow down together; they cannot save the burden, but themselves go into captivity. Listen to me, O house of Jacob, all the remnant of the house of Israel, who have been borne by me from before your birth, carried from the womb; even to your old age I am he,  and to gray hairs  I will carry you. I have made, and I will bear; I will carry and will save.

“To whom will you liken me and make me equal, and compare me, that we may be alike?  Those who lavish  gold from the purse,  and weigh out silver in the scales, hire a goldsmith; and he makes it into a god; then they fall down and worship! They lift it to their shoulders; they carry it, they set it in place and it stands there; it cannot move from its place. If one cries to it, it does not answer or save him from his trouble” (Isaiah 46:1-7).

The tongue-in-cheek nature of this indictment of fallen humanity is obvious even if we are not familiar with the original context and language. However, a deeper study only  highlights this reality.

Bel (Baal) and Nebo were two of the most common Babylonian and Chaldean gods. Baal was the Babylonian equivalent of Jupiter, the King of the Gods in Roman mythology. Nebo was his right hand god, the scribe of the heavens.

Here, the prophet Isaiah, speaking through the inspiration of the Spirit, depicts these supposedly powerful gods as silly statues being lugged around as burdens on the back of donkeys.

These gods, which were supposed to carry and deliver the people who worshipped them and looked to them, ended up becoming extra weights that had to be lifted and borne. They were impotent. Not only were they unable to relieve the burdens of the people who had fashioned them, they became an added burden to their backs (or the backs of their beasts of burden).

While I have not crafted a molten idol of Bel or Nebo, I have my own carefully crafted idols that I have been carrying around with me. The idol of success, which promises to provide relief, becomes an additional burden to be born, one that weighs me down with fear and steals my freedom as a child of God. Rather than freeing me to walk in confident obedience, this dumb, ubiquitous idol of America, makes me afraid to fail  and thus afraid to risk. And as a mother, I don’t just carry the idol of my success, as a sherpa, I carry the idols of success that I have crafted for my husband and my three children.

I could go on and on, emptying my over-filled bag of idols, but I would rather juxtapose those dumb weights that must be carried and cared for with the Ever-Living God who carries and cares for us.

The same Hebrew word used in Isaiah 46 to describe the burdens of idols is used in Psalm 68.

Blessed be the Lord, who daily bears us up; God is our salvation. Our God is a God of salvation, and to God, the Lord, belong deliverances from death (Psalm 68:19-20). 

Here, we see the Living God carrying our burdens, not adding to them.  Idols (success, comfort, beauty, significance) require our constant attention and doting care for upkeep and maintenance.  They add burdens to our already-burdened and heavy lives.  However, our God is the burden-bearer who not only carries our burdens, but also carries us as His children.

Rather than weight us down,  He lives the weights from our necks and replaces them with His yoke which is easy and light (Matthew 11:28-29).

He can do this for us, because He Himself, the Creator, was lifted up on a cross of wood  for His impossibly idolatrous creations. The One who now carries our burdens was first crushed by them at Golgotha. He who delivers us from death allowed Himself to be delivered over to death on our behalf.

Oh, that we would stop carrying the idiotic weight of idols and be carried by the One who conquered over the Cross!

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Pain as Pointer

Disappearing toes. Shrinking fingers. These were the mysteries that Dr. Paul Brand set to demystify when he began working exclusively with leprosy in Vellore, India. At that time, while the stigma around leprosy was large, the actual medical understanding of the disease was quite small.

Most doctors mistakenly assumed that the disease actually caused degenerative tissues; however, Dr. Brand and his colleagues would eventually prove that assumption false. Rather, they would learn that the problem of the disappearing toes and shrinking fingers had to do with the nerve damage caused by leprosy. When nerve cells become dysfunctional, there is no longer a sensation of pain. While initially this sounds like a good problem to have (after all, we take drugs and other substances to help minimize our pain), it was the culprit behind the seemingly disappearing digits. A patient would not feel a nail that was stepped on or a blister that was building on his or her feet or hands; the wound, unnoticed and uncared for, would get infected.

Thus, began Dr. Brand’s unique schooling into the paradox of pain which would enable him to say things like the following:

“I thank God for pain. I cannot think of a greater gift I could give my leprosy patients…Most people view pain as an enemy. Yet, as my leprosy patients prove, it  forces us to pay attention to threats against our bodies…Who would ever visit a doctor apart from pain’s warnings?”

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Pain as Pointer
Christianity provides a unique perspective on the problem of pain. While not glorying in pain or seeking it out as a glutton for punishment or an ascetic, a Christian understands  that pain is the result of living in a world gone awry from God’s original intent for it. As such, pain can serve as a pointer to the life for which we were created and to the life-maker by whom we were made. 

Isaiah 53, the song of the suffering servant, poetically depicts (thousands of years before His stepping into our mess) the Messiah as “a man of sorrows, well acquainted with grief” (verse 3). The Spirit, through His prophetic mouthpiece, predicts a Sent One who would bear our griefs, carry  our sorrows, and be stricken by God on our behalf (verse 4). Christ, uttering parts of Psalm 22 on the Cross, fulfilled Isaiah’s prediction, taking upon Himself our pain and punishment.

After His resurrection, in His glorified body, Christ still bore scars as reminders of His redemptive pain. Rather than promise them a ticket out of pain, Christ promised His followers pain and trouble; however, He also promised and provided a live-in Comforter in the Third Person of the Trinity. He promised that, for those who believed on Him, pain would be punctuated and purposeful.

Pain can serve as an often-unwelcome homing device which intrusively reminds us that we were made for a better city whose builder and architect is God (Hebrews 11:16). Pain can point to hidden pattens in our lives that are dangerous to our bodies, our souls, or our relationships. Chronic back pain can point out improper posture or prolonged stress. The pain of being isolated from God can be the catalyst we need to repent and return to Him for whom our souls were made. Relational tension can sometimes help us to see that the way we are relating to others is unintentionally harmful.

Punctuated Pain

No matter its source, for the believer, pain is punctuated, meaning it will no not go on forever, but will have a decisive end. Isaiah 35 and Revelation 21 are short glimpses into the eternal painless days ahead of those who hide in Christ.

The Apostle Paul, like the Master he served, was well-acquainted with pain in all its various forms. Yet, when he placed the heavy weights of suffering which he bore on the scales of eternity, he knew they would be shown to be light and momentary even when they felt crushing and unending in the moment (2 Corinthians 4:16-18).

When in the throes of physical, mental, spiritual or  relational pain, the believer can find some relief in knowing that one day it will end, never to be seen or felt again.

Purposeful Pain

For the believer, pain is not a wasted, nihilistic experience. Rather, it is a necessary dark thread woven into the beautiful tapestry of redemption by the skilled artisan who is Adonai, Lord.

Corrie ten Boom, another saint who was far more acquainted with pain than most through her experiences in a concentration camp, loved to keep a tapestry with her when she spoke. She would show the messy, knotted underside of the tapestry as our present, limited perspective on the pain in our lives; then she would flip the tapestry to the front, showing the beauty on the other side.

Coming from someone like Corrie who experienced inhumane hatred and brutality, this lesson powerfully depicted that all things would, indeed, work together for good to those who love God and are called according to His purposes (Romans 8:28).

As unwelcome a visitor as pain is, the believer in Christ can slowly begin to befriend pain as a pointer until that day when it will be eradicated as we stand in the presence of the One who conquered it through His life, death and resurrection.

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Powerlessness, Paralyzation & Prayer

I am not sure what I thought my late thirties would be marked by. I anticipated being a soccer mom, paying bills, and steering both a car and a grocery cart regularly; however, I never imagined the amount of powerlessness I would feel at this age.

As a child, when I saw people in the middle years,  I saw certain and secure adults. However, now that I somehow find myself in said demographic, I realize how deeply these middle years are marked by a deepening realization of limitations and weaknesses.

I imagined that making droves of decisions daily and being in charge of families, business, and churches were privileges entrusted to the powerful. I am now realizing that these privileges only expose a deeper sense of powerlessness and dependence in those who are entrusted with them.

This past week, despite my repeated attempts to halt the terribly contagious stomach flu with Lysol sprays, bottles of bleach, and meticulous hand washing, I was reminded of my powerlessness over microscopic germs.

My boys are getting older, which means that we are in the process of attempting to wisely and incrementally lengthen their leashes. They are trying out for sport teams where real risk offers both real reward and real rejection. They are choosing friends, tracking their own grades, and being faced with moral decisions. In all of this, I wake up daily being hit by fresh waves of powerlessness.

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As a Women’s Ministry director at a fairly large church, I experience similar waves of powerlessness.  I can buy all the cute napkins and have all the creamers, but I cannot make the women whom I have grown to love hunger for God and walk in righteousness. I can set the living and active Word of God before them, but I cannot change them.

Lest I sound too despairing, I am beginning to welcome this powerlessness as a driver towards the all-powerful One. As I continue to catch glimpses of my insufficiency,  I have a choice to make regarding the regular realizations of my utter powerlessness: I can either let the facts paralyze me or I can allow them to drive me to prayerfulness.

Rather than being utterly paralyzed by daily doses of powerlessness, weakness, and limitations, I am learning to lean all my weight unto the Rock that does not move.  Facing my powerlessness is an invitation to seek the face of God who cares far more about the people entrusted to me and under my keeping than I ever could.

Power made perfect in weakness is beginning to be stretched from a postage-stamp-sized reality to my permanent address. I wonder if the Apostle Paul felt like he was unraveling as he grew more and more conformed to the image of Christ.

After all, he had lived a life of zeal, confidence, drivenness,  and surety.  He knew what it was to be on top of life and at the top of the pack.

If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews;  as to the law, a  Pharisee;  as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law,  blameless. Philippians 3:4-6. 

And then Christ grabbed a hold of Him, stripping him of  all confidence in the flesh, but equipping him with an eternally founded confidence in Christ.

Such is the confidence that we have through Christ toward God. Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God, who has made us sufficient to be ministers of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit. For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life. 2 Corinthians 3:4-6. 

Paul, who might have been on the cover of the Hebrew version of Forbes magazine as an up-and-coming leader, spent his life after conversion as a man quick to admit his powerlessness. An amazing orator, he spent his life preaching the power of Christ, not the power of his own word play.

And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of  wisdom,  but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God. 1 Corinthians  2:1-5. 

Powerlessness alone will lead to paralyzation. But powerlessness turned into prayerful dependence will enable a faithful life proclaiming our powerful God.

In light of a God whose Word calms the sea, I will fight to welcome the waves of powerlessness. Bring it on, late-thirties and early forties. Your exposure of my powerlessness will push me deeper into the lap of the Powerful One.

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The Cry of Caregivers

While every human being longs to be seen and supported, these longings become the clamant need of primary caregivers. In a world that celebrates flashiness over faithfulness, those who sit by bedsides tend to fall to the wayside. In a world that airbrushes to make already beautiful people even more beautiful, those who are sick and weak (and, thus, those who care for them) are quickly isolated and ignored, being relegated to rooms both literally and proverbially.

The Longing to be Seen

While I know these realities in a cognitive way,  it is not until I am in the presence of the aging or the ill for extended times that the reality sinks into the heaviness it ought to hold in my heart.

Having spent only a few days with my precious parents-in-love in Texas last week, the heaviness of caregivers sits heavy with me. Watching my Amma offer costly care to my Appa who has been suffering from Parkinson’s Disease for over a decade brings tears to my eyes. Her calendar is filled with appointments, not to get her hair done or to have lunch with a friend, but to receive physical therapists and occupational therapists into her home.  Unable to leave Appa alone, she cherishes the twenty minutes of freedom offered her to run to the pharmacy and grocery store to fill his meds and their pantry.

This has been her everyday year after year. And she is not alone in this plight. Just yesterday, two precious older women at our church shared with me the weights they carry as primary caregivers for their aging parents. Another friend has spent the better part of her year sleeping amidst beeping machines and rotating orderlies in the hospital by her toddler who has cancer.

While these caregivers need gift cards and meals, they most long to be seen and known, to be remembered. They need to know that, in the midst of the re-ordering of their lives around others, they are not forgotten.  A simple text, a note, a short visit… these go a long way to remind caregivers that they, too, are cared for and seen.

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We Need to See their Service

As much as they need to be seen, those who are comparatively free, unhindered and healthy need to see their service. In a world where choice and independence reign as king and queen, these despots are dethroned by watching the lives of those who faithfully lay down their choices to care for the dependent. They give us enfleshed pictures of the way of Christ as laid out in Philippians 2.

Their rest-less sheet-changing and bath-giving routines remind us that a better rest is coming, that this world is not our home, that we are waiting for new heavens and a new  earth in which righteousness dwells (2 Peter 3:13).

In a world where love is an ephemeral feeling, the committed and costly choices of caregiving love both depict in action the covenant love that God has for His people.

The One who Always Sees

In the Ancient Middle East, there was a tradition among the kings to keep a book of remembrance so that those who had been helpful to the king and his cause might be repaid for their service (see Esther 6:1-3 and Malachi 3:16-17). Such acts needed to be written down, because their subsequent rewards were not immediate. One can imagine that significant acts of bravery and prowess were recorded in these books.

The King of King and the Lord of Lords needs no such book. He is not in danger of forgetting. But, if He were to have such a book, we can be certain that the deeds and moments recorded therein would likely seem small and insignificant in the eyes of the world. Our God is a God who sees, even when we, His people, forget to see.

Oh, Lord, help us to see and support those who are serving as primary (or secondary, or tertiary) caregivers as we go about our busy days. Thank you for being the kind of King who sees and celebrates committed acts of love that otherwise would be unnoticed and celebrated. Make us more like you; shape us into the kind of people who live with your  values and in light of eternity. Amen.

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The Cattle on a Thousand Hills

As those who recently spent time in Texas, I can at least say that I have seen the cattle on a thousand plains. And as those who raise financial support for a ministry, I can say that I have prayed this phrase countless times (mostly out of context) to remind my anxious soul that God always provides, for all that is on the earth is His! However, this past week, the Lord brought the phrase to mind in a different light.

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“Hear, O my people, and I will speak; O Israel, I will testify against you. I am God, your God. Not for your sacrifices do I rebuke you; your burnt offerings are continually before me. I will not accept a bull from your house or goats from your folds. For every beast of the forest is mine, the cattle on a thousand hills, I know all the birds of the hills, and all that moves in the field is mine.” Psalm 50:7-11. 

In context, God offers the powerful imagery of owning the cattle on a thousand hills to rebuke His people who were quick to do due diligence to the letter of the ceremonial law while their hearts were far from Him. In essence, God says, “I don’t need your sacrifices of bulls; all the bulls are mine anyway. I want what only you can offer me: your dependence, your honor, your worship.”

In juxtaposition to the rote, heartless sacrifices offered by God’s children to their Father, the Spirit brought to remembrance a heartfelt sacrifice from an unimaginably generous and forgiving father on behalf of His child.

But the father said to his servants, “Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand and shoes on his feet. And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate. For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.” Luke 15:22-24. 

I am certain that the father did not consider it lavish to sacrifice the fattened calf to celebrate his wayward son’s long-awaited, oft-cried over return. While the father from the Parable of the Prodigal Son gives us a window into the heart of God the Father, the Cross of Christ gives us a far more focused glimpse into the nature of our God.

The earthly father killed the fattened calf to celebrate the son’s return. Our heavenly  father killed His obedient Son to enable a path for all the other wayward children to return.  I imagined God thinking about the cattle on a thousand hills as possessions He would gladly give up to celebrate the return of more of His children.

The Cattle on a Thousand Hills

The cattle on a thousand hills- 
All of them are mine.
I’ve no need to brand them-
I am their Maker Divine.

Yet, I’d gladly give them
Upon a thousand returns.
For a thousand more children,
My entire being years. 

I’d slaughter every cattle,
But I already gave Myself.
To purchase their pardon,
I gave up all my wealth.

Like the generous father,
I’ve a robe to wrap them in;  
I’ll cover them in my robes,
For I’ve covered all their sin.

A thousand thousand children
for a thousand thousand years;
This is my rightful reward
For all Golgotha’s tears.