Month: October 2014

When You Turn On The Light

In Numbers 13, we reach the part of the narrative of God’s story where His people are on the brink of realizing all they have been waiting for since the days of Abraham. They have been rescued from Egypt and now are so close to the Promised Land they can smell the honey in the air. But regardless of the promise, the final destination is an unknown land to them, shrouded in mystery and intrigue.

Had God really promised? Had Abraham misunderstood or had the story been passed on incorrectly? Had God given away the promise to someone new while the Israelites were enslaved in Egypt? And even if He had promised and the land was meant to be theirs…how were they going to make that happen? What was the best approach to the promised land?

So, they send 12 spies. Supposedly people that they trust to speak with wisdom. The 12 go out and they return in 40 days….there’s something about 40 days that tends to get the Israelites in trouble. Last time they sent someone on their behalf, by the time Moses got came back down the mountain with the 10 commandments, the Israelites had shifted from, “We will do whatever honors God. We will completely obey.”…to melting down all of their jewelry to make a golden calf to worship instead.

This time, the 40 days created space for doubt. Maybe they are wondering what is taking so long? Maybe the moms in the group are already dreaming up the worst, the way my mom can tend to do. Perhaps they are thinking the 12 men have been taken captive…and are being tortured…or maybe even they have been left for dead in a ditch. The Israelites don’t wait well. When the 12 spies return, my guess would be that the grounds are pretty ripe for fear.

And 2 spoke with wisdom, “Yes, it’s occupied, but God promised! Let’s go!”

However, 10 spoke from fear, “Yes, God promised, but it’s occupied…by giants”. And as that word spreads through the camp, giants become fierce warrior beasts who will crush the little Israelites. And the Israelites take the bait. Even though the 12 spies have brought back evidence of the goodness waiting for them in the promised land. Even though God had promised. Even though they have recent historic evidence of the power of God. After all, they had witness the plagues in Egypt, the parting of the Red Sea, the terrifying presence of God at Mt Sinai, bitter water turned sweet by tossing a tree into it, sweet bread from thin air, water bursting out from a rock. And yet, even with all of this evidence they give into fear.

Fear squashes faith unless we are purposeful about calling it out. Think about when you were little. Fear had a way of turning the shadow of a tree into a blood-sucking monster. Fear had a way of turning a creaky foundation into a burglar coming to take you away from your family. As a teenager, fear had a way of turning a careless word into a total rejection of all you are and a pimple into a grotesque deformity. As a parent, I’m guessing fear has a way of turning 5 minutes past curfew into a deadly car crash or a kidnapping. That is what fear does. And the way you combat that fear, is you shed light on it. When you turn on the light, a tree is just a tree, a careless word, even though it hurts, is just a careless word, not total rejection. When you turn on the light, 5 minutes late is just a teenager who lost track of time. When you turn on the light…darkness flees.

Ephesians 5:13-17 says

But when anything is exposed by the light, it becomes visible, 14 for anything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says,

“Awake, O sleeper,
and arise from the dead,
and Christ will shine on you.”

15 Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, 16 making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. 17 Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.

The will of the Lord for the Israelites was to trust His promise and enter the land he had given them. But they let the darkness of fear convince them it was too scary.

For us, there will always be those who encourage our fears. And it may even be the people we trust to speak with wisdom. If we aren’t being intentional about shining the light into the places where fear has darkened the way, we will miss out on so much that the Lord has in store for us because we have trusted the ones who encourage our fears instead of our faith.

You know, the journey from Egypt to the Promised Land was only an 11 day journey if they had gone the short way. But, God purposefully took them the long way around because they needed to learn some lessons to be prepared for what they would later encounter. Some of us have been led the long way through the wilderness to where we are. I know I have. I knew as a 12 year old that God had called me to youth ministry and aside from an internship or two, it wasn’t until a year ago that I entered the world of youth ministry. Many of us are standing on the brink of realizing so much goodness that God has been storing up for us.

We can walk in faith and brave the things that are standing in the way of the promised land, or we can give into fear and hope that someone who comes after us will be willing to fight the battles we couldn’t. But here is the beauty of choosing to walk in faith. The God who promises, is the same one who fights for us. He is the one who accomplishes the victory.

Psalm 46:10 is a very familiar verse. We like to put it on coffee cups and cross stitched pillows.  It’s usually accompanied by a gentle river or butterflies…something peaceful.

It starts, “ Be still and know that I am God.” That is usually the piece we pull out. But in context, that verse is not gentle and calm. Below is the whole of Psalm 46. But, before you read it, I want to point out that this is a war-time Psalm. It is about a God who is strong in battle. The command to be still and know that He is God is not as much about resting up as it is about taking up our courage and faith and knowing that our God is going to have the victory.

Psalm 46 English Standard Version (ESV) 

God is our refuge and strength,
a very present help in trouble.

Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way,
though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea,

though its waters roar and foam,
though the mountains tremble at its swelling.

There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
the holy habitation of the Most High.

God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved;
God will help her when morning dawns.

The nations rage, the kingdoms totter;
he utters his voice, the earth melts.

The Lord of hosts is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress.

Come, behold the works of the Lord,
how he has brought desolations on the earth.

He makes wars cease to the end of the earth;
he breaks the bow and shatters the spear;
he burns the chariots with fire.

“Be still, and know that I am God.
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth!”

The Lord of hosts is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress.

Can You Hear Me Now?

I recently had the chance to sit down with a friend for more than five minutes, which is unfortunately rare these days. As we sipped coffee outside a Starbucks, our conversation slowly weaved it’s way from the atmosphere, quality people-watching, life-catching up, to some deep aches that weighed heavy.

We are lonely. Here’s the thing. We know lots of people. Lots of people seem to like us and we like a lot of people. And yet, somehow, in all of that mutual liking, there seemed to be little genuine connection.

Just a few days before this conversation, I’d spoken with another friend who was feeling similarly. She had been in a church for a few years and made every effort to be highly involved, get to know the other church members. So many knew her and liked her, but yet, she didn’t feel connected to anyone. And here’s the thing, all three of us are single.

It could be just a coincidence and have no real bearing on the subject. On one hand, I think it must. Surely there are married people feeling just as disconnected as we have been feeling.

As my coffee friend and I continued baring our lonely hearts, a question began rising in my mind. In the Church, are we really hearing each other?

This question came about as my friend and I shared about how often in our lives we had asked for help. We had asked people to walk with us through something, to allow us to learn from their lives, to do life along with us. Sometimes, it was a sin issue that had a grip we couldn’t loose on our own and our requests for help were met with platitudes and prayers but no purposeful movement into the mess of our lives. At times, it was that we saw something in someone who was a bit further down the road and we wanted to learn from them, to be like them because they were like Christ. And instead of an invitation to walk beside them and learn about them, we were handed a book or Bible study. Other moments, we just needed company. Needed to be seen. And we were met with impersonal invitations to be where everyone was welcome.

This situations left more scars than they offered healing. But, it isn’t even that we were mad about how things had turned out, we just were…are at a loss of how to keep asking when we feel unheard.

So, I have been wondering. Are we hearing each other? I used to think that the problem was that people are afraid to ask for help. And I still think, that at one point, that was the problem. And as the Church, we began to encourage people how to reach out and ask for help. But did we ever equip people to respond to that hurt? Besides giving them language to form an immediate response, did we really equip and challenge them to step into someone else’s world?  And what keeps us from stepping in? What is holding us back from walking through pain or sin struggles with our brothers and sisters? Why are we so quick to squish “mentoring” and “discipleship” into a structured Bible Study? What keeps us from acknowledging and helping to fight the lies of loneliness in someone’s life?

My guess is fear. And rest assured I am standing with you on both side of the fear. I am crying out for help and failing at hearing those who are crying out for help from me. Here is what I know…Helping someone beat a stronghold is messy and it most likely will hurt anyone who steps in. Allowing someone to get close enough to learn about how we deal with our own pain and hurt in life, how we rejoice and how we respond when we screw up, means they are going to see our failures and maybe we fail more than we succeed. That is terrifying. Loving someone out of loneliness might mean we have to give up our own time, might mean we have to include people even when we aren’t sure what to talk about or if they will even click with the people we are bringing along. It might mean awkward conversations or even worse, awkward silence because we just don’t know what to say.

But what are we missing out on because we are so afraid? It isn’t just the struggler, the disciple, the lonely one who is missing out. When we let fear stop us from getting our hands messy in relationship, we miss out too.

Consider all the times Jesus reached into the mess. He stopped a funeral and reached into the death to bring a young man back to life. He touched lepers. He dug up the dirt around the feet of blind beggars to set them on the road to healing. He gathered a scraggly bunch of guys and invited them to follow him and learn, even to watch his greatest moments of heartache. One of those guys betrayed him to his death. One was always sticking his foot in his mouth. One was always trying to one up everybody and be the favorite. How many times did Jesus weep with people or go out of his way just for one person…one conversation? Jesus came to reconcile us to God. And according to 2 Corinthians 5:16-21, we have been given the ministry of reconciliation. We have become ambassadors for Christ. Ambassadors are meant to make decisions as though they have the mind of the one whom they represent. What would cause them to do otherwise? Fear.

But we have no need for fear. Our God is bigger than that. So let’s learn to hear one another. Let’s brave the mess, brave the baring of our own messy lives, brave the awkward moments. I’m confident that if we do, we will all discover life like we have never known.

Risky Prayer: Not A Shoreline In Sight

“Be careful what you pray.”

It’s a sentiment I’ve heard passed on time and again. It’s a sentiment I’ve half-jokingly spouted in a conversation about patience and the frustrating process of being sanctified in such a lack thereof.

And woven into those quippy words is a subtle, deadly lie.

All of this began percolating in my mind about 3 months or so ago. You see, I’d been singing Hillsong’s “Oceans” for months on end and whenever I sang it, the words and melody mingled together into a passionate prayer wafting up to heaven like the temple incense of the days of Moses. I meant every word of that melodic prayer with every fiber of my being. I wanted more faith. I wanted to be led to places I would never go on my own. And I believed that the Spirit would take on unforgettable journeys that would be terrifying but incredible.

I knew in the midst of that prayer that there was great risk involved, that what I was asking would probably be answered and I would probably have days I wanted to swallow that song deep into my throat rather that proclaim it boldly. But, honestly, the fear I knew I was risking, couldn’t hold a candle to the reality of the answer I am walking in.

You see, I’m living in the middle of that ocean I was asking to be led out into. Trust without boarders…I had no idea. Honestly, I couldn’t wrap my mind around what that might mean until I found myself here. I’ve been out on the ocean before, but I’ve always been able to see at least one shore…one border. But, now, I’m smack dab in the middle of the Pacific. There is no shoreline in sight….only water. And I can keep trusting and walking, or I can drown.

Suddenly, my mind has wandered to that movie, Open Water, where the tourists get left behind on a deep sea diving excursion…never saw it. I have no desire to watch a movie like that. But I remember the previews. I remember the knot in my stomach as the vivid images stirred an already fear in me about oceans and isolation *(heebeejeebees)*.

But the truth is, I haven’t been forgotten and left behind. I don’t have to figure out how to survive out here. I was led here…I prayed for this. The Holy Spirit has led me to a place where there is nothing for me to hold onto but the hand of God. And He holds me by my right hand…The Bible tells me so.

But I found myself thinking on all of this reality the other day and the craziness of it all. All the little crevices of my faith where the enemy can wedge in a lie…and he will, anywhere he can. Isolation. The impossibility of provision. Lack of survival skills. All of this slicing into me as the spiritual world wages war around me. And that evil little thought, feigning as innocent, crept in. “Well, be careful what you pray for.” But immediately, The Spirit leapt up in me in protest. Those words that I’d uttered so many times….that had fallen on my ears so many times, suddenly turned to ash in my mouth.

There is death wrapped up in them. Be careful what you pray for? We offer it as a warning. Do not pray for patience because the Lord will give you a chance to learn it. Do not pray for more faith, you will be tested. WHAT?! Why would we ever suggest that someone not pray for these things.

Is it scary to pray for sanctification? Abso-stinkin-lutely. Will it be hard, maybe even seem impossible, when God brings you to the answer. Almost certainly. But, it is worth it. I experience days where it seems I will never feel the surety of solid ground beneath my feet again. There are days where the storm rolls in and waves crash up over my head and I’m certain I will drown. But there are more days where the shimmer of the glass seas sparkle all around me and I am overwhelmed with the kindness of a God who creates such beautiful moments. There are more days when I remember that I have prayed to see the middle of this ocean for years and my Lord has worked all things together for my good and in the fullness of time. There are more days when I notice that my legs are stronger from learning to walk on the inconsistent waters. And I wouldn’t trade it for anything. I don’t want to take back any of my prayers. I don’t want to go back to what I know. I want to keep walking out here, wherever the Spirit leads. Eventually, as we walk, the shore will come into sight again. There will be a time when this current ocean will lead me to ease once again….the tide will carry me to comfort. And when that happens, I will pray once more, “Spirit lead me where my faith is without borders…”

And as I consider the students I have the joy of loving and teaching, I am overwhelmed with compulsion to teach them not to be careful what they pray, but rather to risk it all in prayer. Pray with every ounce of faith you can muster, and beg for more. Then, keep praying as you wait and follow. You will find a day when God has answered your risky prayers and you aren’t sure you will survive His answer. But you will. You will not only survive but you will find more life than you have ever dreamt of knowing.

If you aren’t sure how to pray with so much boldness, then let the songs of worship we sing become your prayers. It is often easier to pray scary prayers when they are accompanied by the harmonies of God’s people.