Quiet

“There is something moving in you that needs to stop,” said my counseling professor to me many years ago.  There is a hamster wheel speeding inside of me, often frenetic in motion, in great need of both slowing down and also of being still.  The difficulty of stillness is the difficulty of faith and deep unresolved truth regarding in whom I place my trust.

The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.  He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he refreshes my soul.  He guides me along the right paths for his name’s sake.  Psalm 23:1-3

When I am scurrying about frantically like a mouse or roaring in self-protection at others like a lion, it is because I am lacking much, feeling that my well being and provision is up to me to secure.  It isn’t that I am consciously aware of that at the core, but here is how it plays out:  I must get to the bottom of a riddle.  I must aggressively complete a scavenger hunt.  I must be the detective who cracks the case.  I assume the role of shepherd.  I can’t lie down with all of this to accomplish!  How can I enjoy quiet waters when there is so much ground to cover, so many rocks to turn over?  I must get to the bottom of “this” (whatever the most immediate puzzle is) and I must identify the bottom line so that I can correct it!

When I am my own shepherd or that for others, I assume responsibility for correcting/fixing/healing/redeeming/saving.  It isn’t merely that this is not “my job” but I am in no way qualified or capable to do what  only God can do.

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.  Rom. 15:13

What strikes me in this is that trust doesn’t lead to bold courage to act but to hope in the power of the Holy Spirit to act.  I can lie down in green pastures and enjoy quiet waters because my shepherd is doing the hunting and gathering, the guiding (not as in whispering hints and clues but actually walking in front and leading the way), the providing and the completing of all the work that must be done.  When my heart begins to believe that it is in His righteousness that I stand and rest confidently, and not my own, that it is His shepherding that will protect, fix, heal and redeem, then I will be able to be quiet, still and at peace.

The fruit of that righteousness will be peace; its effect will be quietness and confidence forever.  Is. 32:17

Perfectly One

Standing in a circle of four, holding hands with my neighbors and praying on Sunday afternoon brought tears streaming down my face.  “Miss Maimie” called three of us to meet with her and we went with great fear that we had done something to offend or were about to be educated about negative views of us by neighbors (guilty conscience?) or in some other way were being forced into conflict.  Some of that is certainly assuming the worst and fear of man and insecurity.  But some of that is because as white neighbors, which the three of us are, in a neighborhood that has been “black” since the early 60’s, we are the newcomers and, in some ways, intruders.  The gathering turned out to be a widowed older woman reaching out for support and prayer to neighbors who she has come to assume actually care and are willing to love.  So there she prayed, in that wonderful traditional black preacher cadence, and there I stood, bowed, weeping at what felt in that moment like winning the lottery.

And when he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints.  And they sang a new song, saying, “Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.”  Rev. 5:8-10

Every tribe and language and people and nation…every tribe and language and people and nation…I need to keep repeating it just to start to hear it.  It isn’t just that Jesus loves the little children, all the children of the world, red and yellow, black and white…He is making them a kingdom and priests to reign together on the earth just as He initially designed it in the Garden.  A Kingdom and Priests together!  If it will be so one day, oh might we taste more of this sign of His glory now?

But we don’t.  And we don’t because even in our own families we are divided by personalities, style preferences, music choices, eating habits, and interests and comforts which vary person to person.  Outside our families, family backgrounds, finances, positions and titles separate us from one another, as do life stages, skin color, educational background and recreational pursuits.  Quite honestly, every single thing that we can come up with has the potential to divide us from one another.  It just seems easier to move toward sameness because that validates us and then to move from sameness to isolation, because that too protects us.

But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.”  1 Sam. 16:7

The difference in God’s Kingdom and His view of people is that we are so focused on the outside of the cup, the outside of the dish, the outer behaviors and circumstances, that we miss the heart inside all that varied wrapping, and it is the heart upon which God sets His gaze and attentive work.  It is not what goes into a body that makes it clean/dirty (hip hop music, organic vegetables, liquor, sunscreen or cigarette smoke) but what comes out that reveals the heart.  And it is on this level that all of human creation, affluent and destitute, black or white or purple, overeducated or undereducated, formal or casual, powerful or invisible, religious or irreligious all stand in absolute equality of position.

I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one,so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.  John 17:20-23

The person and work of Jesus, accomplishing perfect righteousness and crediting that obedience to us and taking our selfish, self-seeking, rebellious rejection of the Law as if His own, is accomplishing a unity far better than a room full of people who share an enjoyment of the same t.v. show or band.  Only in this framework can individuals who have opposite tastes in music, “fashion”, books, who use different vocabulary, humor and reference points, who are in different life stages and socioeconomic positions…only through the person and work of Jesus can two or more such individuals be united as genuine equals with sincere love and delight in one another.  Apart from Him, there will always be condescension, bitterness, resentment, demoralizing patronizing of one or the other, and perpetual disconnect.  We naturally assume superiority or inferiority with those who we deem “different” than us, according to the outward appearance of things.  In Christ, there is only One Head and every other member is an essential part of the body.

Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor.  Romans 12:9-10

Might that circle of elderly African American widow, single young white woman, married mother of three grow to include an even greater variety of God’s people and even then occur with greater frequency?  Might it grow to be genuine love and not merely awkward togetherness?  He is making all things new, starting with my heart and my vision of people, to love as I have been loved.  Hungering and thirsting after righteousness is hungering and thirsting after Jesus, and He is building a kingdom and priesthood from every tribe and language and nation and people.  May we know, taste and get to  enjoy more of this even now, even if only in part.

Then I looked, and I heard around the throne and the living creatures and the elders the voice of many angels, numbering myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, saying with a loud voice, 

“Worthy is the Lamb who was slain,

to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!”  

And I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, saying,  

“To him who sits on the throne

and to the Lamb 

be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!”   

And the four living creatures said, “Amen!” and the elders fell down and worshiped.  Rev. 5:11-14

But Have Not Love, I Gain Nothing

As Terrell and I wrestle with the question of schooling for our children, a question that never needed wrestling before because we used to be certain about “the best” option for them, it is revealing ever so many lies I have called truth.  As with most aspects of one’s world view, these aren’t things that I am fully conscious of nor are they in all cases choices of one belief over another.  More accurately, they are assumptions based on my limited experiences and the particular traditions of my culture with about as much genuine significance as those old notions that it is practically immoral to wear white shoes before Memorial Day or seersucker pants after Labor Day.  Yet I hold to them as if in fear of my life should I be found in violation of such rules of the game.  I have “the Law” in regard to my children’s education printed firmly on my forehead but I do not have Jesus as the fulfillment of that Law.

These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ. Let no one disqualify you, insisting on asceticism and worship of angels, going on in detail about visions, puffed up without reason by his sensuous mind,  and not holding fast to the Head, from whom the whole body, nourished and knit together through its joints and ligaments, grows with a growth that is from God.

If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations— “Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch”  (referring to things that all perish as they are used)—according to human precepts and teachings?  These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh.  Col. 2:17-23

Sure, throughout history we Christians have made all sorts of rules about worship (this kind of music is more authentic and honoring to God, that use or rejection of liturgy is more faithful to the heart of Jesus, these social behaviors represent Jesus better than those, etc.), but if I falsely distinguish the sacred from the secular, I am doing what the Bible does not do.  My heart at church is the same heart standing in the kitchen at the end of a long day and the same heart standing out on the street with my neighbors.  The things to which I submit my heart, in which I place my truest trust and around which I wrap my strongest affections become as much my Lord and Master as I intend for God alone to be.

One of my strongest affections, it seems, is not to be excluded from the “members only” room, club or associations.  There is not only something intoxicating about being identified by and with the community’s elite but there is something almost irresistible and even possessive about it.  This particular affection promises opportunities through people who have resources, influence and the admiration of those who can “make things happen”.  Suddenly, it becomes apparent, it is not the people themselves that are always of value to me, but what they can provide and how they can improve my own standing.  I picture it something like a narrow set of steps to a throne, with barely enough room for too many and all of us working our way to that seat of honor, power and glory.  And then, like Edmund in Narnia when he suddenly realizes the true nature of the white witch, I see the subtle way in which I have been sucked in to a position which opposes Aslan as it dawns on me I am seeking his overthrow for my own rule.  And then also realizing the only position actually being secured is my own execution.

For although there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth—as indeed there are many “gods” and many “lords”—  yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist.  1 Cor. 8:5-6

When I fear so genuinely the exclusion from certain systems, opportunities and insiders’ clubs, it is clear that I have come to believe that it is through those connections that abundant life is to be found and that it is in them that all things hold together.  Besides the way this sets my own heart against God as the only rightful occupant of that throne, this unquestioned quest reduces people to stepping stones rather than images of God to be cherished.

So what does this have to do with my children’s education and the local schools we are now considering?  Well, of course there is a difference in approaches to education and there are more effective and engaging ways to develop the critical and creative thinking skills of children.  But what I am realizing is that while it is very true that I have really wanted my children to be in a learning environment that stimulates their curiosity and fuels a lifetime desire to keep exploring and wrestling with the world around them, of almost equal value has been the “door opening” power of the institutions and individuals connected to their education.  In other words, even school has been for me about getting the biggest boost toward that throne for my children.  The Law of education I have been following has been a “how to get ourselves on the throne” directive without including the person and work of Jesus in the equation.  Suddenly, God is interrupting this way of viewing people and institutions, challenging my idol factory of a heart and impressing upon me the good and freeing news that His ways and His views of people extend all the way into elementary school, not just after graduate degrees have been attained.

As we begin to visit schools comprised not of the movers and shakers in the city but of the frequently moved, displaced and shaken, He is opening a new avenue by which He will change my self-serving heart into one more like His…One who loves with no respect for title, earthly position or power.  As He peels away sin’s blinders from my eyes and hardening of my heart, I have a feeling it is I who will be counted among “the least of these” in far truer ways than those I currently place in that category based upon material and social standards alone.  My children will learn how to manipulate numbers accurately and how to craft an articulate argument in writing and speech no matter where they attend school.  But for me, in God’s commitment to complete the good work He has begun, He has more significant growth to effect…that I would begin to truly love as I have been loved – generously and sincerely, without favoritism or selfish ambition diminishing the authenticity of that love.

As I sit here in this moment, I absolutely do show favoritism to the “cool”, the influential, the powerful and even the beautiful.  There is no room for this view of humanity in the story of redemption nor in the value that is found in the person and work of Jesus alone, by faith alone.  I look forward to the day when I will see all people as having no greater value than Jesus and, just as He sees me, with no less value than the fullness of Jesus in whom I am clothed.

And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.  

Love is patient and  kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.  Love never ends.

As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. For  we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away.  When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways.  For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known. 1 Cor. 13:2-12

My Father Who Is

Some time back, when buckling Martha Jane into her car seat, her finger got slightly pinched.  So, being a good mother, I kissed it and all was well.  Since then, when I buckle her in, she will touch her buckle and then hold her finger up to be kissed.  It is a sweet ritual that I don’t mind repeating.  Similarly, when Ellie or Chad fall and scrape their legs or otherwise find creative ways to hit their heads on furniture or walls or whatever comes along, their instinct is to come to me, in tears, for sympathy and affection.  This is of course the blessing of childhood, or at least should be:  when an injury or insult is incurred, a loving adult is there to sympathize both with the injustice of the wound and the sadness of the pain it has inflicted.

In you, O Lord, do I take refuge; let me never be put to shame!  In your righteousness deliver me and rescue me;  incline your ear to me, and save me!  Be to me a rock of refuge, to which I may continually come; you have given the command to save me, for you are my rock and my fortress. Psalm 71:1-3

There was a moment last week, I think it was in the midst of being sick, when I was sitting with my children and got hit in the face with a sippy cup about two or three times in a row (not out of malice but out of the lack of total body awareness and coordination of a 1 year old) and then kneed in the leg for similar reasons by my growing 6 year old son.  Those injuries, though understandable and unintentional, really hurt.  But as a “grown up”, we know its just part of life and we need to get over it.  The same goes for the injustice of washing another crib dirtied by a diaper’s unfortunate inability to contain all its contents, and the necessary bathing of the child afterward.  I realized in the midst of all this that I too just want somebody to sit with me and acknowledge, “That is really awful that you were hit in the face with that sippy cup and how very cruel that you are having to clean all that poop!”  I just want to be parented as really isn’t realistic for adults to expect and honestly, would be kind of awkward if my parents walked in and kissed my face where the cup hit me.  Yet, my heart wants this kind of personal and tender care even so.

The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.  He will not always chide, nor will he keep his anger forever.  He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities.  For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us.   As a father shows compassion to his children, so the Lord hows compassion to those who fear him.  For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust.  Psalm 103:8-14

Upon entering adulthood, the messages to toughen up, suck it up and get over it replace the nurturing sentiments that disappointments warrant a grieving period, broken toys or torn pictures are very sad things and that sometimes spilled milk does make us cry.  So, much like an orphan, I learn to take those earlier responses and either shove them inward where I can’t feel them or feel shame for such self-centered and immature self-pity.  From this orphan response then often comes an eruption an anger toward the one responsible for the insult or injury because where I don’t feel permission to grieve, I replace those hurt feelings with anger.  Rather than just an orphan, I become like a stray dog, willing to attack someone who threatens to take away my old chew bone, even if it is nasty and past its prime.

But you, God, see the trouble of the afflicted; you consider their grief and take it in hand.  The victims commit themselves to you; you are the helper of the fatherless.  Psalm 10:14

What it means that God is my Father isn’t merely to make up whatever difference remained between my earthly dad and all the needs I still have.  He isn’t just filling in some gap but is my Father from first to last, womb to tomb, caring deeply about what makes me sad or scared in the middle of the night or proud at the end of the school day.  I don’t have to stuff or feel shame or burst out in anger because I still, even as an adult, have a Father who allows me to cry about a splinter and goes even further to say to me, “That is horrible that the piece of wood attacked your skin and it is so very sad that you are experiencing this pain.”

There are two significant aspects of God’s  nurturing Fathering.  For one, it is a benefit of belonging rather than being left to survive independently.  Even grown-ups are not abandoned or required to become calloused and unfeeling in the face of wounds, disappointments or physical or emotional frailty.  This tender care offers me permission to acknowledge my sadness, even over small things like being smacked in the face with a sippy cup, because God sees, sympathizes and meets that need to be healed, loved and not disregarded.  The second aspect of this Fathering which builds upon the first is that when my deepest and often unrealized need to be cared for as a small child gets cared for is met by my Father, I no longer have to demand it from others or resent them for not providing it.  When I experience His deep regard for all aspects of my being, not because I am strong and innocent, but even in my sinful responses and self-centered pity parties, I am not so easily emptied by the disregard I may feel from others.  I can then love others with greater patience, compassion and even sacrifice because I am no longer entering the relationship as an orphan looking out for myself first but as a well loved child full of His life to then offer others.  My need to be cared for is being met by my Father so I am not left feeling forsaken like an orphan or cornered like a stray dog by the daily insults and injuries of life, both large and trivial.

You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will take me into glory.  Whom have I in heaven but you?  And earth has nothing I desire besides you.  My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart  and my portion forever.  Psalm. 73:24-26

Earned Rest

I was struck down by some sneaky but powerful virus this week which has kept me out of commission for the past three days.  “Out of commission” doesn’t merely mean that I am not contributing to the world around me productively and helpfully, but it also means that I am requiring others to increase their burdens by carrying mine.  I think this is what makes being sick, whether it be physical or mental illness, so hard to handle.  Well, this is at least the surface of what makes me so uncomfortable with it.  What it reveals under the surface is that “peace” means not burdening anyone and it also means tangibly performing in such a way as to feel I have earned my rest.

And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done.  So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation.  Gen. 2:2-3

God did His work and was able to rest at its completion.  It was this rest that Adam forfeited for his entire line when he failed to complete the work that God had given him to do.  There would now be toil in his labor and rest would be evasive.  Yet even in the curse, God promised the cure – One would come who would complete the work Adam had failed and earn the rest that had been forgotten.  He later gifted His people with a Sabbath day by which to be reminded of the promised rest to come…rest not based upon their own earnings or ability to complete to do lists, but on His.  The Sabbath day, then, is a tangible taste of better things to come and a benefit of faith.

 

For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken later about another day.  There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God;  for anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from their works, just as God did from his.  Heb. 4:8-10

The former regulation is set aside because it was weak and useless  (for the law made nothing perfect), and a better hope is introduced, by which we draw near to God.  Heb. 7:18-19

Now there have been many of those priests, since death prevented them from continuing in office;  but because Jesus lives forever, he has a permanent priesthood.  Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them.  Such a high priest truly meets our need—one who is holy, blameless, pure, set apart from sinners, exalted above the heavens.  Unlike the other high priests, he does not need to offer sacrifices day after day, first for his own sins, and then for the sins of the people. He sacrificed for their sins once for all when he offered himself.  For the law appoints as high priests men in all their weakness; but the oath, which came after the law, appointed the Son, who has been made perfect forever.  Heb. 7:23-28

What He has known from the beginning, which is what prompted His warning about that darn tree, is that we can never earn our peace with Him or accomplish making ourselves holy as He is holy without accepting it from Him.  The written Law was given in much the same way we now realize visual learners need to see the material because just hearing it doesn’t sink in.  James described it like a mirror, showing us just how awful we really look when we are tempted to imagine otherwise.  The point is, it is my weakness and inability that no longer condemns me but ought to instead point me to the One who is strong and able!  Unlike those old communist regimes that consider the value of a man equal only to  his contribution to the machine, the Gospel offers me faith to lie in bed all week contributing nothing and even burdening others.  It isn’t calling sickness “good” or burdening others “righteous”, but it is redirecting my false notion that I am otherwise “good” for being well and “righteous” for being self-sustaining to see where my goodness and righteousness actually originate and are completed.  It is in HIS contribution, His blamelessness, His sacrifice once for all and His perfection forever in which I stand…or lie in bed.  He has earned my rest and left no portion unpaid for me to complete an installment plan.  This is where my undeveloped faith is revealed in times of sickness, fatigue and when I am unproductive.  I still prefer to earn my rest, to be guilt free about it because I think I deserve it and not that anyone else has to pay for it.  The reality is, however, that others do often have to suffer and even pay for it so that I can rest.  Another absolutely did suffer and pay for it, completely, so that I may rest.  It is finished.  And by faith, I too can enjoy that rest that faith provides in the peace that comes by faith and not my works but His.

  Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb  down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.  No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him.  They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads.  There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign for ever and ever.  Rev. 22:1-5