Dislocated and Relocated

After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. And they cried out in a loud voice:

“Salvation belongs to our God,
who sits on the throne,
and to the Lamb.”

All the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures. They fell down on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, saying:

“Amen!
Praise and glory
and wisdom and thanks and honor
and power and strength
be to our God for ever and ever.
Amen!”  Rev. 7:9-12

I’ve never been a very good “group” person.  I don’t like group projects.  I don’t like being one of the many, as if I can be summed up or accurately characterized by the multitude around me.  After all, I am not like that lady.  I want to be seen, recognized, identified, separate, unique…special.  I don’t want to be a finisher, I want to medal.

Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.  To one there is given through the Spirit a message of wisdom,  to another a message of knowledge  by means of the same Spirit,  to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing  by that one Spirit,  to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy,  to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues, and to still another the interpretation of tongues.  All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he distributes them to each one, just as he determines.

Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ.  For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many.

Now if the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body.  And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body.  If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be?  But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be.   If they were all one part, where would the body be?  As it is, there are many parts, but one body. 1 Cor. 12:7-20 

Guess which word I get fixated on?  “Part“.  Which part am I?  What is my function?  Am I playing my part fully?  Is the manifestation of the Spirit doing all it can through me?  Yup.  Me.  Me me me.  And I wonder why I start to feel a little crazy, restless, and out of sorts.  I am out of sorts when I dislocate myself from the Body!

The well formed tooth is just not the glory of the body, but it is necessary for the consumption of food to provide strength and nutrients for the functioning of the body.  And so it is with each little part.  They are necessary and important, but not as severed parts.  They are crucial and significant for their contribution to healthy functioning of the whole.

And so God gently placed my perspective to that Day, when I will be in the multitudes before His throne…and in that crowd I will want to be nowhere else.  My focus will not be on my reputation but on His.  The consuming thought will not be what role I played in 2012-2022, or any other time frame, but what role He has played from beginning to end.  May I spend more time meditating on His glory, on His role, on His function, on His beauty, on His strength and on His wisdom, which is the person and work of Jesus.  Then I may enjoy the stability that is mine as one grafted in, no longer dislocated or severed, but alive with strength as a branch attached to the Vine, as one clothed in Him, as a tree whose roots are deep.

Blessed is the one  who does not walk  in step with the wicked or stand in the way that sinners take or sit  in the company of mockers, but whose delight  is in the law of the Lord, and who meditates on his law day and night.  That person is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit  in season and whose leaf does not wither— whatever they do prospers.  Psalm 1:1-3

Humility or Fear of Man?

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. Phil. 2:3-4

The virtue of humility seems always to have been exalted in my upbringing, and for that I am grateful.  Human nature is to be self-consumed and for that reason, I need to be told repeatedly that considering others above myself and looking to their interests in addition to my own (or at times, instead of my own) brings about a broader benefit than only looking out for “me and mine”.  This isn’t socialism, it is the basic way of the cross, choosing to die so that others may live.

Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Col. 3:12

Humility is inextricably entangled with compassion, patience, gentleness and kindness.  It is very hard to exhibit genuine humility while screaming reproachfully with my middle finger in the air at the person in my way.  Or, sometimes what I call “honesty” is a thinly veiled excuse for seating myself in the judge’s chair, critiquing the hearts, words and actions of others without compassion, kindness, gentleness or patience and therefore without humility.  But hey, I’m just bein’ honest.

Unfortunately, there is something in my high esteem for humility that results in my feeling shame every time I speak up, disagree, have a critique or passionate opinion.  In fact, just about every time I inject myself into a conversation in an unguarded manner, I leave feeling like a buffoon, a bull in a china shop, a fool, a talking head, a volatile bar patron prone to conflict.  I feel like Animal in the Muppets, who gets so carried away playing the drums that he often ends up destroying the drum set in some way.   At some point, I married humility with silence, invisibility, stoicism and ultimately being more like a chameleon than a particularly and uniquely designed, necessary part of the Body.  I’ve begun to realize there is something fundamentally wrong about my pursuit of humility, perhaps beginning with the pursuit itself.  Within my “humility” there is actually great pride and even another source of self-righteousness.

Humility is the fear of the LORD; its wages are riches and honor and life.  Prov. 22:4

What I fear or am shamed by isn’t really about Jesus at all, it is about the way the other people in my interactions think about me.  My humility isn’t about compassion or patience, its about my reputation.  What I often call humility is actually more about people liking me and approving of me than taking on a servant’s nature in honor of the Lord.  My “humility” is often more about protecting my image than laying it down.  My notion of humility fears being seen and sinning against others, all the while living with the deception that it is even possible for me to slip in and out of relational contexts without ever actually sinning against others.

What if God made me, like Animal, to play the drums loudly and energetically and what if every now and then a drum stick flies out of my hand and hits someone on the head?  What if while playing the drums enthusiastically I bust right through one of the drum faces or break a cymbal?  Or, what if every single time I play the drums I get so carried away that I drool and sweat and have sticks flying?  Can I not then apologize to the wounded friend or make the necessary repairs of my drum set?  But out of a self-serving impostor of humility, I have chosen to do what Animal did in the most recent Muppet Movie and check myself in to Anger Management, forsaking drum playing so as to avoid the way it can open me up to critique or possibly cause harm.   I am not resting in His righteousness alone, but in opinion poll righteousness or even, humility righteousness!

So, the person and work of Jesus offers a third way.  While trying to make myself humble, I can err on the one hand by making it a guise for self-preservation behind which to hide and on the other, a manipulative tool to serve my own ego as if it is in humility that I am justified before God and man.  The third way opened up to me through the person and work of Jesus comes by the basic reality that in my bullishness or aggressive drumming, I have peace with God not because of my sinlessness, but because of His.  Practically, this means I can play my drums boldly and expect to seek forgiveness along the way, and have confidence that it will be found.  The real humility, it turns out, is in opening myself up to the critique of others because I already have peace with the One whose opinion matters most.

To those who through the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ  have received a faith as precious as ours: Grace and peace be yours in abundance through the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord.  2 Peter. 1:1-2

Politically Righteous?

You brood of vipers, how can you who are evil say anything good? For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.  Matt. 12:34

With the political season not only if full heat right now (yes, as disgusting as that image of a dog is), and Facebook filling up with snarky jabs that are easily made from the comfort of one’s keyboard, it raises the question of how Christians are to disagree with one another.  What is it about the “home team” that justifies sweeping judgments about all those associated with the opposing team?  When we scream that one political party is more righteous than the other, do we really understand what righteousness actually looks like?

Is righteousness singularly found in the protection of unborn babies or in the provision of health care for the under resourced among us?  Are tax payers more righteous than those who don’t pay taxes?  Is the particular cause closest to my heart more aligned with the heart of Jesus than the particular cause close to your heart?  Why do I hate and fear those who are not concerned about the same issues I am consumed by in our society?  Where is the Gospel in all of this?

Understand, then, that it is not because of your righteousness that the Lord your God is giving you this good land to possess, for you are a stiff-necked people.  Remember this and never forget how you aroused the anger of the Lord your God in the wilderness. From the day you left Egypt until you arrived here, you have been rebellious against the Lord.  Deut. 9:6-7

Why am I so quick to forget that I have never for a moment earned God’s favor?  Why do I act smugly as one who is superior when my need for His mercy is no less than any other’s?  Why do I fear and despise the sins of others but minimize my own?  How do I stand humbled before the cross yet turn in bitter judgment of the others in its shadow?

I can only despise and fear others to the extent God’s holiness is clouded to my heart.  In other words, I have to minimize God’s standards of perfection to such a level that I can attain them by my own efforts and simultaneously be compassionless to those who aren’t as disciplined, committed or faithful as I am.   If I knew how extensive God’s law actually is, if I maintained a truly high regard for His standard of holiness and righteousness, I would better grasp how impossible it is for me to ever come close to attaining it.  I would begin to be silenced by the Alps of His glory and my tiny position before Him.

At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke. “Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.”  Is. 6:4-5

If I stood shaking before the Lord like Isaiah, so aware of His power and Holiness, would I stand shaking my fist at my peers?  Would I delight in the ruin and condemnation of others?

At this the servant fell on his knees before him. ‘Be patient with me,’ he begged, ‘and I will pay back everything.’  The servant’s master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go. “But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred silver coins. He grabbed him and began to choke him. ‘Pay back what you owe me!’ he demanded.  “His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay it back.’  “But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt.  When the other servants saw what had happened, they were outraged and went and told their master everything that had happened. “Then the master called the servant in. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to.  Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’  Matt. 18:26-33

I am not an undecided voter and I am as prone to roll my eyes and sneer at the other team as the ones I oppose.  But are these the teams which should identify us?  Are either of these two candidates the One I want to be clothed in before my Father?  I think I quickly forget that no, clothing myself in any form of righteousness other than Jesus is a losing choice for everyone involved.  And when I select a lesser form of righteousness out of which to live, I offer a lesser love, mercy, compassion and life to others, just like the unmerciful servant.  Can some of God’s redemptive work occur through the political process?  Of course.  But I’m seeing the first place that work needs to occur is in my own heart.  And I must trust patiently that His righteousness will do its work in His time, even as I foolishly wander to all other forms in the meantime.  He is faithful and He will do it.

Impossible Hope

But the Lord came down to see the city and the tower the people were building.  The Lord said, “If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them.  Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other.”  Gen. 11:5-7

Do you know what happens when you get to the end of a problem and realize you can’t solve it?  Well, for me, I feel overwhelmed and depressed and defeated and pointless.  I lose hope.  I lose motivation.  I lose life.

For reasons only explainable as God’s hand, our family relocated to live in close proximity with those who are in poverty, in constant position to be taken to jail, in easy access of thieves, in a stone’s throw of drug dealers and prostitutes, physical abuse, high school drop outs and even the middle class African American widows and young singles who have gone to college and have more gracious hospitality than I do but are more closely associated by the world with the rest of this list than with people who look like me.  As a result of living around brokenness, I get broken.   Feeling broken is overwhelming, depressing, defeating, hopeless, demotivating and steals life all while forcing me to cry out the question I swore I’d never utter here, “What is the point?”

The other night I ran into the back of a van with my car at the intersection less than a mile from our driveway, totally my fault for turning around to deal with crying children in the backseat at 6pm, and what followed only made it worse.  The main road that runs right through our neighborhood is a transit for lots of commuters coming in from Cobb County and surrounding suburbs, lots of white commuters who keep their windows up and doors locked as they drive through.  To the eyes of the folks sitting on the porch next to my wreck and standing in the parking lot on the other side, I was one of these white outsiders that they wanted to make sure was held responsible as the guilty party.  They saw it, they yelled out in witness, and I easily responded that I did it and it was all my fault and I took full responsibility.

The three occupants of the obviously company-owned van got out in their moving company uniforms to see what damage had been caused.  They were understandably annoyed and I apologized and owned it as much as I could and as often as they would hear me.  The crowd softened a bit when they realized they wouldn’t have to hold court against me.  Then a couple of the men on the sidelines recognized me as the lady with the big gray dog who actually lived in the neighborhood, which felt good for a moment.  The van occupants wanted to just go on their way with the dangling bumper that they said was no big deal, but I worried they’d get in trouble for what I did to their company van, and the sideline audience also seemed eager to see me take responsibility for my fault, plus its the law that I do so.  So, I called the police to begin the insurance process so I would bear the burden of the accident and they would not have to pay for it out of pocket or with their jobs.

Before I know it, the police are having the driver of the van empty his pockets, remove his belt, and are putting him in handcuffs.  It turns out he was currently in violation of his parole, so after a day of honest work when he’d like to be going home, he would be going to jail and his two coworkers would be stranded because they weren’t supposed to be in the company van.  I hit them.  I was at fault.  I got a ticket with an apology for having to be given a citation and they went to jail and were stranded.  The whole vignette played out before the eyes of the intersection audience: white lady at fault, black people lose.  My error got them in trouble whichever way it played out.  Its no wonder one of the women from the van refused to look at me or even respond when I tried to apologize while the other could only say, “Its ok” as she avoided my eyes.  It is not ok, I kept telling her.  This is not ok.  “Well, it is what it is” she resigned.

It would be easy to say, “Well, he shouldn’t have violated his parole or gone to jail the first time around.”  or “Well, they shouldn’t have been driving a company van home.”  Sure.  That’s true.  But I bet if you rewind our stories all the way back to our mothers’ pregnancies, everything has lined up from before that time for the world to work for me and the world not to work so easily for them.  I don’t think they got an apology for being handcuffed or stranded while I got an apology for being given a ticket for slamming into the back of their van.  The divide between race and class and socioeconomic standing is so deep and wide and iron clad, I realized in that moment, so that all of my noblest desires to move towards this divide, to participate in bridging it, are impossible as my white privilege goes with me like those gnats around PigPen in Charlie Brown, increasing the chasm even as I try to close it.  I am not the reconciler, the restorer, the redeemer.  I am part of the world so diseased that no health can ever come unless it comes with divine power from without.

remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world.  But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility,  by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one  new humanity out of the two, thus making peace,  and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility.  He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near.  Eph. 2:12-17

The divide that occurred in Eden wasn’t simply physical or emotional, it was straight through the heart of man.  This is why building a tower to God would never be the actual fix.  The separation was and is always at the core of our beings, not in our geographical standing.  Yet, I kept hoping to build a new tower anyway, maybe a pyramid by which “both sides” could climb together toward each other and God and end up in harmony at the top.  He showed me that the language barrier, the life experience and expectation barrier, the perspective and outcome barrier is as deeply rooted in our hearts as it is evident in our discord.  I cannot climb to Him.  I cannot pull others to Him.  I cannot even scratch the dividing wall of hostility between any of us.  I am hopeless to do anything.

But there is hope.  In His flesh, He has done it and He will do it.  I am defeated.  He is not.   For me, it is impossible.   This is His story and He has declared such reconciliation and restoration which is impossible with man, the guaranteed outcome of His work.  And, it will require no less.

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.  For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.  And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent.  For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell,  and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. Col. 1:15-20

Subjected to Frustration

So, I haven’t been able to write as much in the past year as I once thrived in doing.  At first it was because we were in Uganda and had no power or internet connection for enough time to write.  Then it was because I had all my children home, all the time, and that makes sustained thought and attention nearly impossible.  But recently, I haven’t written because I haven’t had anything to say or wrestle with or think about.  It isn’t that there aren’t actually issues for which the Gospel needs to inform my thinking, it is more that I have slipped into some kind of Gospel amnesia, some sort of black hole of thought, motivation and even interest.  Though I could give several reasons for this state, I also have no explanation at all.  I cannot interpret my inner workings, nor decipher what is my sin and what is God’s molding pressure.  And then, of course, I remember that they are rarely clearly distinguished but often co-existing in His process of redemption.

Then Job replied to the Lord: “I know that you can do all things;  no purpose of yours can be thwarted.  You asked, ‘Who is this that obscures my plans without knowledge?’  Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know. “You said, ‘Listen now, and I will speak; I will question you, and you shall answer me.’ My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you.  Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes.”  

After the Lord had said these things to Job, he said to Eliphaz the Temanite, “I am angry with you and your two friends, because you have not spoken the truth about me, as my servant Job has.  Job 42:1-7

When I am going through a time of internal wrestling, times that often occur in the still seasons following those which require higher energy, many counselors vie for my heart’s submission.  Like Job’s friends, there are voices which compel me to search out my sin, which must be the root cause of my ornery and discontented state.  If I can just identify my errant thinking, I will have peace again.  Then there are the voices which place the burden of escape from the dark place to the green pastures on my shoulders, threatening that great opportunities await if I can successfully complete the scavenger hunt or feats of strength required to attain them.  Both, like God’s rebuke, place the responsibility for my current estate as well as the means for fuller life on my shoulders, making me the script writer and lead actress in my story.

As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth.  His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”  “Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him.  John 9:1-3

Because I don’t yet fully believe that the person and work of Jesus is the fulfillment of the Law, imputed to me even as my corruption is imputed to Him, I am still inclined to live by an economy of works where blessings and curses are directly tied to my ability to satisfy the demands of the Law independently.  So, when things feel dark or disorienting, I look to myself as the cause and solution rather than God.  My Gospel amnesia eliminates the truth of God’s story that God is, as Jill Phillips wrote, both the builder and the wrecking ball.

For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it,  in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.  Romans 8:20-21

He is the One who subjected creation to frustration, Job and Paul to despair even of their own lives, the blind man to live so much of his life in visual darkness, Jesus to Gethsemene and Golgotha…and me into this particular time of mental and emotional frustration.  He does this not because He is cruel but as an oncologist subjects patients to radiation and sometimes chemotherapy, processes that hurt, cause illness and pain, not to mention loss of valued physical qualities such as hair, all in order to rid the body of cancer and restore fullness of life.  He eliminates my anemic notions of Who He IS and replaces them with a more accurate understanding of His power, control, goodness and mercy just as He did for Job.  As Edmund Clowney once wrote, it is not my grip on God in which my confidence rests but His grip on me.  Oh might this truth bring me from groping in the darkness to resting securely in His sight and His plan to maneuver me in His very secure grip.

How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever?  How long will you hide your face from me?  How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and day after day have sorrow in my heart?  How long will my enemy triumph over me?  Psalm 13:1-2

He remembered us in our low estate
His love endures forever.

and freed us from our enemies.
His love endures forever.

 He gives food to every creature.
His love endures forever.

Give thanks to the God of heaven.
His love endures forever.  Psalm 136:23-26