The Best Ten Minutes of My Week

Scott Van Pelt does a segment on his sportscasting show called “The Best Thing I Saw Today.” If I were to have a church planting show (which would be weird) I would have a segment called “The Best Ten Minutes of My Week.” Only it would not change, as the best thing that happens every week has been the same since the beginning of our baby church a year ago.

It may not seem like much to an outsider looking in. It definitely doesn’t start in a fancy manner. In fact, it starts with an early morning trip to a neighborhood grocery store. The receipt simply shows a loaf of fresh bread and a plastic jug of grape juice. But, even as I pour the juice into tiny plastic cups, I get excited for what will come.

We are a small, but growing church of around fifty adults weekly (and a slew of precious kids and teens). We worship in a borrowed space. Often our sound system does not work right. One time our baptismal leaked into the basement. There is usually something to giggle about after the service. But every week, after we hear the Word opened up and are carefully pointed to Jesus, we line up for a family meal. Thus begins the best ten minutes of my week.

There is no hiding in a small church plant. We know each other, which means we know each other’s beauty and the brokenness. We enjoy each other’s gifts and often experience each other’s besetting sins. But as our people line up to receive the bread and the “wine,” I am brought to tears each week.

I watch as my husband and our co-pastor offer a personal blessing to each of our flock. I watch downcast eyes and dispositions change as our people are reminded of the truths of the gospel. I watch them eagerly receive a piece of simple bread (sometimes too large a piece when my hubs is handing out the elements) because they know they are starving for the grace and strength that only Christ can provide. I watch my husband offer his children the bread of life as a peer and sibling in the Lord. I watch our two pastors humbly offer each other the bread and “wine” that they both so desperately need.

We line up to receive and remember and reenact (1 Corinthians 11:23-26).

And in those few moments in the family meal, I temporarily forget all the work of rearranging chairs and making coffee and cleaning bathrooms. People are hungry to hear the truth, not only those who know and forget and know and forget, but those who have not yet known. I need to eat this bread and drink this cup with these people. Every week. This is why we are working alongside Jesus as he establishes this local flock.

Greater than the miracle of manna in the wilderness is the reality of God’s love displayed on the Cross. Better than meat delivered by ravens is the Spirit’s delivery of the Scriptures to hungry hearts.

Madeline L’Engle introduced me to two powerful lines from a Conrad Aiken poem entitled “Bread and Music”:

“Music I heard with you was more than music, 
And bread I broke with you was more than bread;”

Those lines perfectly capture our experience Sunday by Sunday. Bread eaten with this flock is more than bread, not because of anything we do, but because of what Jesus has already done.

Our ten-minute meal fuels us for the week ahead where we will fumble through our days attempting faithfulness. Our ten-minute meal gives us a taste of the abundant love we will need to remember if we are to cover over each other’s faults and foibles in the coming few days (1 Peter 4:8). Our ten-minute meal levels the classes and divisions that the world will use to categorize us as soon as we walk out the doors. It makes us siblings and peers at the table of our impartial heavenly Father.

Every week in this church planting adventure there are unexpected hurdles or hard conversations or heavy burdens. But those only make me more eager for the joy I expect for the best ten minutes of my week.

Let Loneliness Lead You to the Faithful Friend

Underneath the noisy newsfeeds and behind the flowery photo opps with lovely lattes, many women are living what Thoreau called “lives of quiet desperation.” I know this because I feel it myself, and I regularly hang out with women who share the same sentiments. Beneath the busy schedules and surface relationships, many women are starving for authentic friendships.

When Mother Teresa visited the affluent Western world, she was wise enough to make the following observation:

“In the developed countries, there is a poverty of intimacy, a poverty of spirit, of loneliness, of lack of love. There is no greater sickness in the world today than that one.”

The Long Loneliness

Dorothy Day who helped found the Catholic Workers Movement and lived faithfully among the poor and working classes had her own sense of poverty: a relational one. As a single mother and as an ordinary believer living in the already/not yet of the kingdom of God, she experienced what she called “the long loneliness” all of her life.

I love that phrase because it honestly depicts an ongoing struggle with feeling alone or never fully known or at ease. We all experience it though to differing degrees and in differing seasonal lengths. As an introvert who does ministry, I feel loneliness both acutely and chronically. Usually when the creeping sense of sadness and aloneness starts to creep in, I try to busy myself to avoid it. Fill the schedule. Work on a project. Read a new book. Get things done.

But as I age, I am learning to lean into loneliness even though it feels scary and vulnerable. For loneliness is a costly invitation to walk more deeply towards our faithful friend, Christ.

Long More, Not Less

I used to deal with unfilled longings like Whack-a-Mole. When one came up, I immediately sought to shove it down and pretend it never showed itself. But this approach to longing and life is more Buddhist than Christian. Desires, as much as they may cause us to ache, remind us that our hearts are made for far more than even the best this earth has to offer us. Piercing desires are homing devices that keep us aligned with our true North and help get us back to our eternal nest.

As such, I am learning to sit in the loneliness I sometimes feel. In the moment, I am learning how to drag such seemingly unmentionable hungers to the throne room and tell God honesty what I feel. I love how Robert Hugh Benson, a spiritual writer from the early 20th century, captured Christ’s desire for our honesty:

“As our God he knows every fiber of the being which he has made; as our Savior he knows every instant in the past in which we have swerved from his obedience; but, as our friend, he waits for us to tell him.”

I tell him how alone and unseen I feel. I’ve done that for a while. But lately, I have also been honest enough to express my frustration and lack of faith to him as the One who could ultimately fix these feelings but, lovingly and patiently, lets them persist. I bring my wrestling with him to him, and he listens. In my complaining about lack of kindred friends, he shows himself to be the epitome of a faithful friend. What a gracious friend we have in him! What a wonder!

Long in the Light

While I have always been comfortable being honest with God, being vulnerable with people has been a slowly-acquired skill for me. To even let my precious, trustworthy husband of sixteen years into the battles of my brain and the howling of my heart takes effort and courage. I often can’t do it until I am so tired and needy that I have no choice. I usually wait until we are both about to fall asleep because its takes me all day to gather the strength to be so exposed. But over the years, the time it takes to drag my longings into the light has shortened. I am beginning to wonder if this should be a more real measure of maturity than a sanitized, sacrosanct soul.

When we walk in the light, others open up about their longings. This does not mean we seek to meet each other’s longings or fix them (though often our reflex will be to try to do so), it simply means that we validate those longings and point each other to the One who will meet them all, whether sooner or later. I love how Henri Nouwen (another brave struggler with long loneliness) captures it, “It is in the intimate fellowship of the weak that love is born.”

Long for the Faithful Friend

God is such a good and faithful friend to us that he has given us ready-made language to express the deepest, most seemingly unutterable desires of our hearts. In the Psalms, our dearest, most faithful friend has provided prompts to help us share vulnerably in the safety of his sheltering presence.

“The friendship of the Lord is for those who fear him, and he makes known to them his covenant. My eyes are ever toward the the Lord, for he will pluck my feet out of the net. Turn to me and be gracious to me, for I am lonely and afflicted” (Psalm 25:14).

There are literally innumerable reasons to praise God since he is inexhaustible in both the quality and quantity of his goodness. But lately, I have found myself camped out in the reality that the God of the universe would call us friends (John 12:15-16).

May this short poem from the book The Friendship of Christ by Robert Hugh Benson remind you of the faithful friend you have in Christ this morning and for eternal mornings.

“He is as good as he is great.
His love is as ardent as it is true.
He is as lavish of his promises as he is faithful in keeping them.
He is as jealous of my love as he is deserving of it.
I am in all things his debtor, but he bids me call him friend.”

The Inflation We Tend to Encourage

I’m not usually one to keep up with economic trends like inflation, largely because I don’t fully understand it. However, even as someone who is accustomed to exorbitantly high West Coast gas prices, the cost of filling my car with gas is something I can no longer ignore.

I may not understand inflation, but I sure am discouraged by it. All this inflation talk has had me thinking about the kind of inflation we tend to encourage: the inflation of earthly knowledge.

We live in an age of competing knowledge where armchair experts claim to know better than everyone else. We love to clean on phrases like “Clinically-proven” and “Studies have shown.” In our day and age, people tend to wield knowledge like a weapon, using statistics, studies, and even sometimes sermons to try to decimate intellectual sparring partners.

Don’t get me wrong. I love knowledge and always have. I take great joy in learning and teaching all kinds of things. And I hope that I have passed such a passion for learning on to my children. But knowledge (not even knowledge of spiritual things) is not the end all be all; being known by God is. There are plenty of people with parades of accolades after their names who have knowledge but are not known by God and growing to know him more.

When writing to the church in Corinth, the Apostle Paul addresses a sinful inflation that comes from thinking we have superior knowledge to others.

“This knowledge puffs up but love builds up. If anyone imagines that he knows something, he does not yet know as he ought to know. But if anyone loves God, he is known by God” (1 Corinthians 8:1-3).

Through James, the Scriptures offer us a similar plumb line or a standard against which to measure our knowledge. Writing to believers in the early church, he draws a clear distinction between wisdom from above and earthly wisdom.

“Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom. But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where jealously and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial, and sincere. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace” (James 3:13-18).

I memorized this in college when I was first beginning to try to kill the monstrous idol of academic pride I had fed my entire life up until that point. I borrowed David’s prayer for truth in the inner parts and wisdom in the secret heart (Psalm 51: 6) . I sought to trade my prideful, noisy knowledge that wanted to make itself known to the watching world for the kind of knowledge that can rest quietly and peacefully in the heart of one has wisdom (Proverbs 14:33).

Earthly wisdom puffs up self, creating swollen, easily-inflated (and equally-easily-deflated) egos, whereas godly wisdom builds up others. Our culture and our flesh flaunt the former and shun the latter. In fact, the Greek word that Paul used while writing to the Corinthian church about earthly knowledge, phusioó, literally means to over-inflate by blowing or to cause to swell up. Scripture juxtaposes such breathing which swells up with the wisdom that comes from the pneuma or breath of the Holy Spirit. Such wisdom sustains and fills us, but not so that we think more highly of ourselves but, rather, so that we think more rightly about God, self, and others.

Earlier in the same letter to the puffed-up Corinthian Church, the Apostle Paul clearly equated the person of Christ with the wisdom of God (1 Corinthians 8:24). Drawing out this reality, the Apostle Paul further explained to these contentious believers that it made no sense to boast in men or the wisdom of men when you have all things already resting in Christ (1 Corinthians 3:21). I wish I did not find so much of the Corinthian church in and around me, but I struggle similarly to them still.

Tomorrow night, we are headed to an academic awards night for our eighth grader. ‘Tis the season. But I find myself praying desperately that he and our entire family (beginning with me) would be marked by true wisdom that can only come down from above. Like most things in God’s kingdom, such wisdom is not gained by granted as gift to those with space. The only need for such wisdom is to be deeply aware of our need for authentic wisdom and deeply suspicious of its cultural counterfeits.

I am fighting to be weary of all inflation, not only the economic kind but also the academic kind. Our wallets may deflate a bit each day due to inflation, but, by the power of the Holy Spirit, we can encouraged and appropriately filled with the kind of knowledge that does not inflate self but rather builds up others.

When Fiction Strengthens Faith: Willa Cather and Love for the Local

We live in Southern California. My driver’s license and return address stamp have told me so for more than a decade, but it is only recently that my heart has been telling me the same. It seems strange that, in a time when everyone seems to be fleeing our state, God has been growing our roots physically, spiritually, and relationally deeper into it.

Many who visit here fall quickly in love with San Diego’s perma-perfect weather. Tourists are captivated by her coastline and tummies are tantalized by her taco trucks. But this love is a surface sentiment that largely ignores the brokenness of our city.

Ours is not a blind love for our local region. The longer we have lived here, the more I see the ugliness underneath the shiny veneer: the systemic housing issues, the promiscuity, and the prevalence of sex-trafficking break our hearts. So do the girls who strut the streets wearing next-to-nothing who have bought the lie that they are their bodies alone. The fact that so many here do not know their right hand from their left (to borrow a biblical phrase from the book of Jonah) leaves me in tears at least once a month.

But this is not a post about Southern California, it’s a post about learning to love where you live in an eyes-and-hearts-wide-open kind of way. God often uses fiction to strengthen and buttress my faith. And lately, as I read Willa Cather’s classic novel O Pioneers!, I found myself resonating with the protagonist Alexandra’s realistic but resilient love for her land. While we are clearly not homesteaders, God has called us to pioneering ministries on the West Coast.

The Heart of a Pioneer

As the daughter of a Swedish pioneer, Alexandra Bergson knew first hand the hardness of the Nebraska land. Cather captures this harshness writing, “In eleven long years John Bergson had made but little impression on the wild land he had come to tame. It was still a wild thing that had its ugly moods; and no one knew when they were likely to come, or why. Mischance hung over it. Its Genius was unfriendly to man.”

Despite summers of drought and pestilence, Alexandra continued to love and invest in the hard land even after the death of her father left her in charge as a young, single woman. When family after family gave up attempts at pioneering and homesteading to head back to already-tamed East Coast cities, Alexandra exclaims, “Sometimes I feel like I am getting tired of standing up for this country.”

Yet she persisted in her pioneering spirit and anchored her heart in Nebraska. Returning from a trip to look at some farms nearby, Cather writes the following about Alexandra’s love for her locality:

“For the first time, perhaps since that land emerged from the waters of geologic ages, a human face was set toward it with love and yearning. It seemed beautiful to her, rich and strong and glorious. Her eyes drank in the breadth of it, until her tears blinded her.”

While I don’t drown in the beauty of our desert landscape marked with light brown, dark brown, and sandy brown, my eyes fill with tears when I think about out city and its people. I find myself crying as I pray for God to open people’s eyes to the glories of the gospel here in Southern California. I, too, grow tired of defending our love for this lost place and its particular people who are stamped in the image of God. I know our California politics are progressive and that it is considered a land of hippies, fruits, and nuts, but God has good in store for people here. He has sheep that have not returned to his fold.

Loving the Place of Your Exile

It did my heart good to find a fictional character who embodied a pioneering calling to a particular place. So often I find myself dreaming of greener pastures or easier spiritual climates. I want to feel less lonely and less like an exile. For the sake of comfortability, I want to be surrounded by an abundance of people who think like me, look like me, and approach the world the same way I do; however, God has called us to a place where those people are hard to come by. Sometimes I am tempted to grow embittered by the dryness of our desert-like spiritual climate which mirrors our physical draught-stricken soil.

God used Willa Cather’s Alexandra Bergson to strengthen my faith this week. Through this fictional character, I saw a picture of what it might look like to live out God’s calling to his elect exiles, as seen through the words of the prophet Jeremiah:

Thus say the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I h ave sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters…Multiply there, and do not decrease. But seek the welfare of the city where I send you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare (Jeremiah 29:4-6&7).

Alexandra loved her land and its people in the way that God asked the exiles in Babylon to approach Babylon. This is the same way that I imagine God wanted Jonah to love Nineveh: with an honest, persistent, eyes-wide-open love. For when Jonah ran away to a more tame and comfortable land, the Lord rebuked him and reminded him of his love and pity for such a lost city (Jonah 4:8-11).

When we are tempted to run from our posts or begrudge the places of our callings, may we borrow God’s strength and love for our locations. May we ask God to give us his eyes to see the same places with a different sight.

And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season, we will reap, if we do not give up. So then, as we have opportunities, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith (Galatians 6:9-10).

Baseball & Broken Plans

Real talk: our youngest who breathes baseball did not make the All-Star team. In the grand scheme of things, this really is a blip on the radar. However, God has been showing me so much about my own heart and His heart through something as insignificant as baseball.

This is not a post about the dangers and idols of youth sports, as there are plenty of those. Nor is it is a rebuttal explaining the way youth sports are an inroads into the last frontier of neighboring in our increasingly isolated culture (though one day I want to write that one, too).

It’s about the heart of an earthly parent and the better plans of a perfect Heavenly One. It’s about how my heart breaks to see my son’s little heart crack a bit over baseball. It’s about how his forced smile and attempts to shake it off cause tears to puddle in my eyes. It’s about bearing double disappointment as a parent. It’s about the mysterious mixture of largeness of love and lack of control that marks parenting. It’s about God’s gracious response to the feebleness of my faith when things don’t go my way or their way as a parent.

We pray that God would give our children not only exposure to the truths of Christianity, but real, nuanced experiences with Him personally. In a world that screams, “Be impressive” our prayer for our children has always been that they would be impressed by God, His Word, and His ways. And I mean it.

Most of the time. But sin creeps into even Spirit-sealed hearts. The insidious lie that we can have uncommon intimacy with Jesus by following the common way and with all the creaturely comforts and accoutrement has crept into my heart. Jesus was so gracious to use broken baseball dreams to expose it.

In his gentle way, Jesus led me to a pair of rhetorical questions he once asked a disappointed prophet:

“If you have raced with men on foot, and they have wearied you, how will you compete with horses? And if in a safe land you are so trusting, what will you do in the thicket of the Jordan?” (Jeremiah 12:5).

If I am this disappointed by God redirecting baseball plans, how will I respond when harder suffering lines the paths of my son’s lives? The resilient faith I pray for my children and myself requires meeting resistance early and often. But I am excellent at regularly resisting resistance.

I am so thankful that we rely on a perfectly Heavenly Father who disciplines according to perfect knowledge unlike earthly parents who do their best with their limited knowledge (Hebrews 12:7-11). I am thankful that our good God does not cave to our constant cries for comfort and ease. I am thankful that the scarred hand of Jesus holds the quill that writes the stories of my children. He gently chides me when I attempt to grab it to write a less-glorious, more controlled story.

I can trust the One who write their stories because He wrote himself into our tragedy. He bore unthinkable pain and lumbered under the punishment of our sin so that we could be brought into the story of His redemption. His stories are far better than mine. The largeness of His love swallows my love for my own children whole. He gives me ample practice entrusting to him these children who have been his all along and will be his for all eternity.

The Quill

You can pray, process, and point,
But you cannot steal the quill. 
You can help me hold the paper,
But you cannot change my will. 

Besides, you wouldn’t want to
If you saw what I have in store. 
Every loss and limp and lesson 
Is an attempt to give them more. 

More humility, more dependence,
More soul space for more of Me.
Momma, move out of my way,
For I have plans you cannot see. 

They won’t know uncommon love
By following the common way;
Let me lead them by the hand,
Let me order each and every day.  

I know it seems small and silly, but I am learning so much from baseball and broken plans. I am thankful that as I walk my children in one hand, I am held by God’s greater grip in the other. Parenting is not for the faint of heart, but thankfully, our Heavenly Father knows that in ways we never will.

“What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” (Romans 8:31-32)..

On Sloppy Soldiering

While nothing about my life or personality screams soldier, the Bible is replete with images of Christians as soldiers. As one who has lived her entire life in the privileged place of safety from wars and one who has not married into the military, the soldier mantle feels far from fitting.

I can most assuredly say I would never make it through boot camp, yet, if I take the Biblical imagery seriously, I have to consider myself as a soldier.

In addition to screaming of discipline, training and a life of service under careful command, the soldier imagery also forces me to remember that life is war.  Laced throughout the New Testament, one finds the language of spiritual warfare. In Ephesians, Christians both ancient and new are bidden to put on the whole armor of God, to wage war against the rulers, the authorities, the cosmic powers over this present darkness.

When Christians are born again by the power of the Spirit, no matter the times and places in which they live, they are children born into the ravages of a war. As C.S. Lewis so powerfully wrote, “There is no neutral ground in the universe. Every square inch, every split second, is claimed by God and counterclaimed by Satan.”

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The final letter of a near-death Paul to Timothy, his replacement in the kingdom cause, exhibits a similar thread of soldiering.

Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ. No soldier gets entangled in civilian pursuits, since his aim is to please the one who enlisted him. 2 Timothy 2:3-4. 

As I was walking yesterday, the Spirit brought this Scripture to mind, gently convicting me that I have been living this week as a sloppy soldier. While I haven’t defected or deserted, while I am indeed actively enlisted in His service, I have found myself more and more entangled by civilian affairs.

The Greek word emplekó, translated entangled above,  can also be translated to weave or to entwine. It comes from a root meaning to braid, to plate, to twist, bringing connotations of threads being woven together tightly.

Christians are not called to neglect civilian affairs like their children’s education, their homes, their futures, their possessions and the likes. Yet, they are warned to not become entangled by those things. It seems that God knew that such things have a way of finagling themselves into the holes in our souls and getting entwined in our deepest senses of identity, security, contentment and worth.

As soldiers who must be ready at any time to follow the orders of their direct report, we are called to live lightly, to sit loosely in civilian affairs. We are supposed to be ready to leave our current stations and situations should our Commanding Officer redirect us or have need of us for the sake of the greater cosmic war. We are commanded to leave room in our hearts and lives to become entangled in the fight for the kingdom of God to come to earth.

My heart has become entangled with civilian concerns which, in and of themselves are legitimate; yet, their hold on my heart this week has been illegitimate and inordinate. I have been anxious and worried over house offers and counter-offers, over school zoning lines and other decisions which are gifts and privileges, not weights.

Yesterday, I took my overly entwined heart on a walk in an attempt to take captive every thought to the obedience of Christ. On one block, I would have my unruly fears and concerns and hypothetical situations in an obedient headlock. Then, on the next block, they would pull a full-nelson on me and have me back in a chokehold.  My internal WWE match was interrupted by a thumping party scene (we live in the throes of the college area, so parties are a regular scene).

I saw crowds of young ladies dressed in what I would consider less than lingerie, walking tipsily into a rowdy house party. I saw guys consuming alcohol in a desperate attempt to alter reality and find life.

The Spirit graciously cut some of the suffocating civilian cords from my heart. Life is war, Aimee. You are a soldier of Christ, positioned, postured and trained to battle for the souls of these students. You so easily forget the context into which you have been reborn and what is expected of you as a good soldier of Christ.

While we know victory has been secured by Christ, we live our daily lives on the fields of the last skirmishes of this eternal battle. I am so thankful that God promises to equip and train often sloppy soldiers like myself.

May God graciously remind of these truths when the civilian concerns threaten to obscure this reality. May we sit loosely and live lightly in our necessary civilian affairs.

 

Evaluating Your Eschatology

Eschatology probably sounds like herpetology, ornithology, and entomology to most people; however, unlike the study of bugs, birds, or reptiles (all of which are useful endeavors), eschatology (the field of theological study concerned with death, judgement, and the destiny of humankind) should be a concern of every Christian.

Our thinking leads to our doing, and our doing often has dire and lasting consequences on both our lives and the lives of those around us. Where we are headed matters. While not every person knows the word eschatology, every person operates out of one.

Those who think this world is all there is and follow the false motto “Let us eat and drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die” live up to their eschatology. Sadly, most believers, myself included, do not live up to our true eschatology.

Underneath nearly every hot-button topic (and it seems like our current society is a whole fuse box full of them), are matters of eschatology. My heart has been sunk down with most of American society over the latest in a laundry list of school shootings. The depression did not surprise me this week, the anger I found brewing in my heart did. As I listened to and engaged in conversations around the topic of gun control, I consistently heard comments from believers in Christ that betrayed a warped eschatology.

Already/ Not Yet

As believers, we live in the already/ not yet kingdom. God has inaugurated (or begun) the kingdom of God, but it is not yet consummated (completed; whole). Thus, we have the foretaste of the justice and mercy which met at the Cross of Christ, but we do not yet live in a world where evil is eradicated (Romans 8:18-25). When we get the timetable confused, we will see the effects of such thinking in our patterns of living.

If we have an over-realized eschatology, we begin to demand that the realities of the kingdom of God happen too early. We get angry and impatient with God for not fixing things soon enough or we wrongly think that we can achieve a utopian reality apart from the full presence of Christ. If we have an under-realized eschatology, we settle for less than God intends for us in the here and now. Rather than step in to move this present reality closer to the coming kingdom reality, we are content to sit and wait.

Over-Realized Eschatology

In the gun control debates, I hear some believer (at time, myself included) slipping into an over-realized eschatology. We focus on the Already and forget the Not Yet. We erroneously and often insidiously begin to sounds like the world which expects earthly systems and realities to fix our brokenness. Creation cannot fix creation. You cannot fix a system with the same thing that broke it. Humanity trusting humanity and its designs shattered shalom, thus, we are fools to look to humanity to fix what it broke.We should fight for gun control, protest, sign petitions, and increase awareness, but we cannot put our hope in lawmakers or political systems. We should fight like it depends on us, but pray and live remembering that it depends on Christ, our ultimate and lasting hope.

Under-Realized Eschatology

On the other hand, I have heard believers asking Jesus to just come back. While I, too, long to see Jesus return, as all believers rightly should, I fear that sometimes this is an excuse to pray and wait. There is work to be done here and now that matters to God; to disbelieve this reality or hyper-spiritualize all of life is to live out an under-realized eschatology. We put too much emphasis on the Not Yet and forget to live as those who are pulling heavenly realities into the Already. Yes, we want Jesus to come back, but our todays and tomorrows matter. How we invest our times, talents, and treasures matters. How we use our platforms to advocate for the least of these matters. It shows off the nature of God and fills a sin-stinking globe with the aroma of Christ. We cannot rightly fold our hands to pray and not be willing to pick up a sign or a pen or a shovel to work towards God’s values right now.

Holding Both as He Holds Us

We don’t like tensions. We don’t like both/ ands. We like control and clarity, which are much easier to achieve when we truncate the mysteries of God into neatly foldable either/ors. But we must fight to hold the already and the not yet of the kingdom of God.

In the words of Soren Kierkegaard, we must “go with God to God.” We must walk by the Spirit, rightly divide the Word of truth and actively living out the principles we have seen lived out by our Christ here and now. With God, as His aroma and ambassadors on this earth, we walk to the day when we will be with God and the kingdom will be consummated.

The Habits of Hope

Everyone knew where to find them. After all, they had been daily perched in their particular haunts for hope with the regularity of sentinels.

They had little in common, as one was an aged prophetess, long ago widowed,  and the other a blind beggar; however, they had both cultivated habits of hope.

Persistent Patience
Luke goes out of us his way to let us know that Anna was a daughter of Phanuel, which comes from the Hebrew word meaning the “face of God.” A fitting fact, as her life seems to be characterized by a longing and panting for the presence and nearness of God, despite the fact that she spent the majority of her life widowed.

She had only been married for seven years when she lost her husband, a painful blow in the Ancient Near East as well as today. Instead of growing bitter or resentful to the Lord who had dealt her a hard hand, she became more attached to hope, longing day and night for His coming.

I wonder if she had days or even decades of wrestling with doubt and experiencing hope fatigue. I wonder if her steps were sometimes sluggish, mirroring a heavy heart, as she approached the Temple yet again to pray and fast and cry out and wait. Whatever was going on within her, we know that her habits of hope were strong enough to be the distinguishing characteristics of her life. She had a reputation for steady (some might say stubborn) expectancy, despite living our her entire life in the tenure of 400 years of prophetic silence.

Until one day, in the mist of her deeply engrained habit of heading to the Temple to wait on God, she saw the Hope of the World in the arms of a young, poor mother and father.

She did not depart from the temple, worshiping with fasting and prayer night and day. And coming up at that very hour she began to give thanks to God and to speak of him to all who were waiting for the redemption of Israel. Luke 2: 37-38.

Unabashed Neediness
As Jesus was walking out of Jericho, headed into Jerusalem for his last week of life that would end at Golgotha,  Mark tells us that Blind Bartimaeus was sitting by the roadside. This blind beggar is the son of Timaeus, whose name means “highly prized,” an ironic name considering his highly undesirable situation as both a beggar and a blind man.

Blind Bartimaeus was sitting there because this was his spot and had been his sad address for quite some time. Just as we have grown accustomed to certain homeless men and women who frequent streets in our neck of the woods, it is likely that Blind Bartimaeus was a permanent fixture at this particular gate of Jericho.

When he heard the large crowds leaving the gate, our beggar inquired as to the ado, to be told that Jesus of Nazareth was passing by.

He began to cry out, “Jesus, son of David, have mercy on me!” And many rebuked him, telling him to be silent. But he cried out all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” And Jesus stopped and said, “Call him.”  And they called the blind man, saying to him, “Take heart. Get up; he is calling you.” And throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus. Mark 10:46-50. 

While the crowd had used his common name, Bartimaeus called Jesus a much more significant name, Son of David. He understood that Christ was the long-ago promised, long-waited for king of David’s line. He cried out unabashedly and unashamedly, even to the point of awkwardness and discomfort to the hearers who tried to shush him. For if this was the Messiah, his cries would be heard.

From Anna we learn the hopeful habit of daily showing up and patiently persisting. From no-longer-blind Bartimaeus, we learn the hopeful habit of crying out boldly, confidently and consistently.

As those awaiting His second coming, may we learn to cultivate these two habits of hope in our long-waiting for the world to be made right again in His presence and by His power.

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Inscape in an Escapist World

Our newsfeeds, both the ones in our minds and the real ones that capture our attention, constantly bid us to escape from our realities. They invite us to wish we were on a secluded, tropical island or exploring the French Riviera. They tell us that if we could only get a new set of mid-century modern furniture and some macrame hanging plants, our lives would be richer, simpler, and more beautiful.

Our escapist culture allures us, whether explicitly or implicitly, to run away to external things for renewal and refreshment. On the backdrop of such an escapist world, inscape, a concept termed by the Jesuit poet Gerard Manly Hopkins, resonates deeply.

The Dearest Freshness Deep Down Things

Hopkins used inscape to describe the unified and complex characteristics that give each thing its uniqueness, and he captures this concept poetically in his famous poem God’s Grandeur where he wrote, “There lives the dearest freshness deep down things.”

While the world bids us look out, Hopkins invites us to look deeper into the things, places, and people all around us. When I find myself imagining that a trip to Hawaii would satisfy me, Hopkins would invite me to fight to see the beauty of the Hibiscus flower growing in a pot in my own backyard. When I find myself buying the lie that what I need is a new set of circumstances, Hopkins gently invites me to ask God for new eyes to see the same things more deeply and differently. With the help of the Holy Spirit and an attuned focus, the mundane drives to soccer and baseball practices with my sons become opportunities to see who God has made them with fresh eyes.

When the world lures me to run away, Hopkins bids me grab a spiritual shovel to begin digging for a dearer freshness deep down the things and people in my present life. Hopkins can say this because he knew that those who dig deep enough would eventually find God, the Creator, at the bottom. For freshness can only come from the abundance of the life-giver and source of all refreshment: the Triune God.

The Dearest Freshness Deep Within Us

Scripturally, we see a similar invitation in the Word of God. Although Christianity is the farthest thing from navel-gazing and looking for life in things and people themselves, Christ gives his children new eyes to see God in all things. The Scriptures are replete with terms like “inner man,” “within,” and “the secret place” which reminds us that God sees us all the way through. While the world looks upon the outward appearance, God looks upon the heart or in the inscape, to borrow Hopkins’ term (1 Samuel 16:7).

Our God desires truth plastered not only on our newsfeeds and walls but more significantly within our deepest parts: “Behold, you delight in truth in the inward being, and you teach me wisdom in the secret heart” (Psalm 51:6). The psalmists found hope and stability knowing that even if the earth gave way and the mountains slipped into the sea, God is in the midst of his people therefore, they would not be moved (Psalm 46:2-5). Similarly. the Apostle Paul prayed that the church in Ephesus would be “strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith” (Ephesians 3:16-17).

Freshness without our sin-flawed hearts only happens by grace through faith in Christ. For Christ alone had truth in his inmost part and wisdom in his inmost place. He alone constantly drew strength and life from the source of life. He always saw as God sees, looking past appearances to the reality. Yet, he took within him the foulness of our sin, drinking to the very dregs the wrath of God we deserved. After rising and ascending to the Father, he sent us the Spirit who would dwell within us, making his home in us and inviting us to make our home within the Triune God.

The Holy Spirit within us gives us the dearest freshness deep down at the soul level. Even if outwardly we are wasting away and the world around us is fading, yet inwardly, we are being renewed day by day (2 Corinthians 4:16-18). By the power of the Holy Spirit, we are invited to begin to see as God sees and to think with the very mind of Christ (2 Corinthians 5:16; 1 Corinthians 2:16). As such, we don’t need to escape our circumstances, but we need to run and hide in the arms of the One who lovingly ordered our circumstances (Psalm 16:5-6). We get to ask him to show us more of himself deep down in the places and people of our everyday lives.

Spiritual Angioplasty

I came into this week thinking it would be a normal one. But as I sit here on my couch this morning, I feel like the Lord has begun to perform the equivalent of an angioplasty in my soul.

When arteries are clogged due to the slow build up of cholesterol (whether inherited, induced by habit, or the common combination of both), doctors often perform an angioplasty.  A small catheter is placed into the artery and then a ballooning technique is used to stretch and reopen the artery so that more blood can flow through it.

If you asked me even on Monday if I was aware of racism in the world and its roots in my own heart, I would have said yes and been honest in saying so; however, after a week of hard conversations and convicting moments with the Lord, I feel like I went to the doctor and was diagnosed with multiple clogged arteries of the soul.

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I didn’t realize how little I have listened to my friends who are people of color or even asked about their experiences with racism. I have been open to conversations, but I have not initiated them; rather, I have expected them to come to me and open up about hard things. Even that exposes a position of power in my heart that I did not realize I have had.  This spiritual artery needs some unclogging.

I have failed to address the significant shaping power of culture in spiritual development and discipleship. As one who loves to address family of origin with those I disciple, I have largely missed the culture of origin level in discipleship. As such, I have unintentionally shown my disciples that I am interested in most of their lives, but not all of it. This spiritual artery needs some ballooning.

I have been tempted to be defensive, to point out all the ways that I have loved and engaged in the lives of my friends of color.  I felt misread and wrongly judged and overly generalized into a lump stereotype. Until I realized that those exact feelings are only a tiny sliver of what my friends of color have been experiencing daily for most of their lives. Another clogged artery.

If am honest, I sat down to meet with the Lord this morning defeated and exhausted, exposed and sore. Until I remembered that it His great love for and commitment to me and His bride that He would appoint for me a spiritual angioplasty (or a series of them).

He won’t leave well enough alone (Philippians 1:6). He will not settle for anything less than Christ-likeness in His children (Galatians 4:19). He will not leave our soul’s arteries clogged with even unintentional narrow-mindedness and partially working flow of the Spirit. He will look right through us with His gently exposing gaze and will flag every place where the flow of His Spirit through us is clogged or limited.

He will painfully insert His Word into us and will stretch us in ways that feel uncomfortable (Hebrews 4:12-13). He will make space in us to contain love for His entire body. And all of this is for our good, the good of the body, and the good of the world and His glory.

I want a heart that fully functions. I want a heart that is unclogged and wide open, not constricted and strained. I want to look like my Father whose heart is expansive; I want to be shaped to be like the Son whose blood was literally poured out for the world. This will only happen by the surgical expertise of the Holy Spirit within me. While He is always ready to do His healing work, He does not force or coerce. He allows circumstances that reveal just how clogged our hearts have become. He waits for consent and readiness in His patients.

Please be tender with the hearts of those around you. Surgeries, both minor and major, are happening all around you.

“The wounded surgeon plies the steel
That questions the distempered part;
Beneath the bleeding hands we feel
The sharp compassion of the healer’s art
Resolving the enigma of the fever chart.
Our only health is the disease
If we obey the dying nurse
Whose constant care is not to please
But remind of our, and Adam’s curse,
And that, to be restored, our sickness must grow worse.
The whole earth is our hospital
Endowed by the ruined millionaire”

T. S. Eliot, Four Quartets