Posted in Living this Life

When you can’t get out of the cave…

Another arrow pierces the heart. I don’t have any fancy words today. The fact is, it just really hurts. We have watched the world convulse this year. There has been fear, violence, suspicion, sickness, anger – and that all feels so distant when compared to this heaving of the heart.

I know we’ve all been there. Walked through that intangible grief of watching a life implode. We’ve watched the one we respected and honored from a distance fall in a flame of tabloid fanfare.  We’ve seen that dear soul we’ve poured everything into, sometimes it’s your own child, brother or sister… imploding their life with a string of bad decisions. Walked alongside someone as a sister or brother, fought great battles together, until the day when you discover you no longer follow the same Lord. You’ve walked in the fire together, and suddenly they are walking in a fire of a different sort. The heart cries out – not another one?

What do you do when you stand in the smoldering ruins and wonder who is left standing with you?

There’s this story I keep being drawn to – it’s a sub-plot, if you will. Almost an afterthought in the shadow of a larger story. But this quiet little afterthought is shouting loud in my heart right now. I need to put these words right here, if only for my own sake. If only to remind myself of what is true when emotions threaten to reign.

We know about Elijah. The guy who saw a boy come back to life as a result of his prayers and participated in innumerable miracles with God. This Elijah who prayed fire down from heaven in an ultimate showdown between good and evil. This same Elijah – the one who seems so bold and fearless; the one with no reason to doubt God; riding high on the winds of victory – what does he do in the wave of this greatest victory? Well, he runs for his life – afraid. I have always been intrigued by this part of the story, because it feels so… human. So real. So much like something I would do.

Elijah finds a cave and hides in it. And here I sit, in the cave with Elijah, emotions all amuck. Feeling confused, sad, heartbroken – alone.

And God says, “What are you doing here?” Elijah replies with all his pent up evidence against God – “I have been very zealous for the Lord God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, torn down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too.” (1 Kings 19)

Do you sometimes feel like you’re the only one left? The only one who really cares in a world gone mad? Sometimes the hits come so close together and the waves of loss build up until you’re crushed by the grief. And you just feel alone. Sitting in a cave with Elijah and me – issuing your complaint against the God of the Universe. That’s where we all have to start – letting yourself face the emotions that threaten to consume. All the anger. The sorrow. The confusion. The questions – all of it.

I’m glad it doesn’t scare God. It doesn’t make Him turn His back in disgust. It doesn’t make Him lose patience with you or even make Him join you in feeling like giving up. Here is what He is actually doing in this sacred moment.

He is revealing Himself to you. Open your eyes and look – you will still see Him. Right here. In this place. But you have to stick your head out of the cave. “The Lord said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.” (1 Kings 19:11).

He is revealing Himself to you. Open your eyes and look – you will STILL see Him. Right here. In this place. But you have to stick your head out of the cave

Go out and look for Him! And He will show up. But not as you expect. Be very careful not to only look for Him only in fire and earthquakes – He shakes our world in a much more subtle, life altering way. He whispers His presence. What could be more intimate than that?

So let’s start there. Take that one step out of the cave, and watch for His presence. Wait for His whisper. Hold your breath in between the sobs, and let His gentle whisper find it’s way into your soul.

But hold on – the story isn’t over! It may feel like that is all, because it is already so rich, so real. Right here – in this holy whisper – this is just the beginning of our healing! This next part is the flower in the ashes that has held my attention for this last chapter of my life. The part I just can’t seem to get over. Two things happen next in Elijah’s confrontation with God that will define the rest of his life.

  • He is given His next step. God lets Elijah have his moment of grief, but He doesn’t let him camp there. After the whisper, Elijah complains one more time about being the only one left, despite his zealousness for God. And God’s response this time is to simply tell him to what to do next. “The Lord said to him, “Go back the way you came, and go to the Desert of Damascus. When you get there, anoint Hazael king over Aram.” (v. 15) There’s more work to be done – get out of the cave and do the next thing.

There’s more work to be done – get out of the cave and do the next thing

And finally – almost as an afterthought – is the crescendo to the entire conversation. Elijah’s complaint against God centers on himself – I have been zealous for the Lord God Almighty…the Israelites have abandoned you… I am the only one left (v. 10 & 14) Do you feel that some days? Just watch the news cycle. Hop on to facebook or twitter and watch the vitriol swirl. Do you sometimes feel like the only one who still cares? Who still longs for truth and beauty and grace and kindness and for Jesus to be lifted high?

  • God sends Elijah on his way to do the next thing. And then He says, “oh, by the way, Elijah. You’re not alone! “Yet I reserve seven thousand in Israel—all whose knees have not bowed down to Baal and whose mouths have not kissed him.” (v 18). You may think you’re the only one left, Elijah, but there are 7,000 others out there! I don’t know about you, but this blows my mind. God has His people spread throughout His land, and just because we can’t see them doesn’t mean they’re not strong. Does this breathe courage and strength into your heart like it does mine?

So where does leave me on this beautiful summer morning when the darkness licks at the edges of my soul? It gives me the courage to stick my head out of my cave and listen with bated breath for His whisper. To see His glory. To let His truth be louder than all the taunts leveraged against me in my own head. To let Jesus be bigger and more real than any disappointment or heartbreak.

It opens my ears to listen to His next step. Who needs a voice of encouragement today? Who has God brought into my life today? What is He asking of me? Take my eyes off my own self pity, my own disappointment, those who have let me down, and simply do the next thing.  Because we are not alone! God has His people scattered throughout this beautiful world, and we can lock arms with those who are still faithful and walk boldly forward. Elijah’s next step after his encounter with God was to find Elisha. I just smile at this – how very good of God to bring him a brother during this vulnerable time in his life. Someone to walk with him, encourage him, breathe that life back into him. Someone to carry on after Elijah was gone.

Lock arms with those who are still in sync with you and Jesus. Let Jesus figure out how to handle those who break away. Walk boldly on into the next adventure, take on the next challenge, quiet the accusing mocking voices in your heart, and hear this clarion call: “since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him He endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider Him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” (Hebrews 12:1)

I’m glad there are people like Elijah in the Bible. I’m glad I got to sit in his cave with him some this morning – I needed this reminder.

Posted in Living this Life

I don’t understand…

He just couldn’t understand why. This boy with curly blonde hair and big blue eyes, looking at me so quizzically. And I’m glad he couldn’t.

This 7 year old boy who loves Jesus with all his heart and has no limitations to his expectations of who Jesus is and what He can do.

It was just a normal morning. We were doing our regular reading routine this morning, the 3 kids and me. All of us a little sleepy and groggy, trying to wake up enough to start our day.

The reading we came to in our “Mini and Maxi devotions” was Luke 5. Peter and his friends had been fishing all night, without catching a thing. They come in to shore, and Jesus ends up using their boat as a makeshift pulpit. Then comes the miracle of a boatload of fish when Peter least expects it, followed by Peter’s well known response: “When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!” (Luke 5:8)

spotlight

Maybe I’ve read this story too many times. Maybe I just know too well that feeling of being soiled and not wanting to be too close to Jesus in my shame. But as I read these words, I didn’t expect to see my Joshua’s face contort in utter confusion.  “I don’t understand”, he said. So I tried to explain.

I asked him if he’s ever felt like he’s not good enough to be near Jesus. If he’d ever messed up so much that he felt too ashamed to come close to Jesus. As I talked, my overly expressive boy’s face changed from confusion to shock and horror. All he could say was, “but WHY?! Why wouldn’t you want to be with Jesus?!”

I’ve heard numerous sermons and explanations of that moment when Jesus said the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to “such as these”. And here in front of my bleary morning eyes was this verse being lived out in front of me. Because on one hand, I know that when we compare ourselves to the great glory of God, we find ourselves, like Job, saying “My ears had heard of youbut now my eyes have seen you. Therefore I despise myselfand repent in dust and ashes.” (Job 42)  And I believe this is what is happening in Peter’s heart in this moment.

But in comes crashing the beautiful paradox. Because, my friend! This also is true. And I believe this may be what was happening in Jesus’ heart in this moment.  That beyond the reality of who we are compared to Him, He longs for us to come close and just be with Him.

In our filth.

In our emptiness.

In our shame.

I hear the words of Romans 8 ring loud in my heart – “ For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers,neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

And I see Him stooped low, casting off His crown for a manger, so that I can draw close to Him.

I see Him in agony on a cross, so that I can be made clean.

I see Him in all His glory beside God the Father interceding still on our behalf! (Romans 8:34)

And yet how many times have I hidden from Him because of my sin? How many times has my heart reeled with words like Peter’s “Go away from me – I am a sinner?”

As I hear His  words still ringing in the air, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. (Mt 11:29) Did you hear that?!

AND YOU WILL FIND REST FOR YOUR SOUL!

Oh how I long to be nestled in.

To come to Jesus with a heart as simple and clear as my Joshua’s – with no worry or doubt, just trust.

So come! Let’s not spend another day pushing back the One who gave it all to be close to you. His Promises are sure, His Arms are secure, His Words are true.

It’s time to start really believing them.

Jesus

Posted in Walking it out

Belonging

I went to the local park the other day with my kids. We had some bread with us, so we decided to feed the ducks nearby. That’s when I saw this.

goose

I’ve seen a lot of Canadian Geese in my life … but I’ve never seen one alone. I’ve read all the stories of how geese travel in a group, how they take care of each other, look out for each other on their annual migration. So seeing this guy mixed in with a motley assortment of ducks struck me as odd.

But look closer. His wing is dragging. goose wingHas this guy been injured? Suddenly, it makes a bit more sense. He obviously couldn’t continue his flight with the rest of his flock, and had to be left behind. Moments like these prompt me to think strange thoughts – like, “what is it like to live as a Canadian goose among Arkansas ducks?” Does he feel out of place? He certainly looks out of place to me… And how does he feel about being left behind?

It kind of made me think of myself a bit. Almost everywhere I’ve been, I have felt out of place. My light skin and blonde hair certainly made me look out of place among my Liberian friends where I grew up. On the outside, I fit in much better among my friends in Los Angeles, later during my high school years – but my heart still beat African. I definitely didn’t “belong” there. In fact, the first time I ever felt that sense of “belonging” was among an array of nationalities, languages, and cultures in the center of Amsterdam … a bunch of misfits that found belonging among each other.

And how many of us have felt that horrible “left behind” feeling? There goes the rest of the world – they have their life together and are moving along just like they “should”… and here I sit with a broken wing. The loneliness can smother at times like this.

But this goose wasn’t alone. And though his new “family” was a strange assortment of creatures that didn’t look like they belonged together, I found it a beautiful picture of the church. Not the building – the church as Jesus referred to it. What could have been more out of place and clumsy to the outside observer than the motley crew of disciples Jesus gathered? And to the loudest, most impulsive, He said, “You are the rock on which I will build my church” (Mt. 16)

And here we are, 2,000 years later, still clumsy and out of place, but being together. Jesus gave us each other for these broken wing times, when all your expectations and dreams and longings seem to fly on without you, and you’re stuck with a bunch of strange ducks. “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” (Mt. 11).

Is Jesus trying to tell us to release the yoke of expectations, our self-inflated notion of who we should be, our habit of comparing ourselves and our lives with everyone around us? We all have our yokes – things we have done, things done to us, shame we hide in the dark places, things we wish we could erase. What if we really lived this – and set it down? His yoke may involve a cross, but His promise of true freedom can’t be shaken. Galatians 5:1  “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to the yoke of slavery.” John 8:36 “So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. you will be free indeed                           Galatians 5:13 “For you were called to freedom, brothers. Proverbs 1:33 “But whoever listens to me will dwell secure and will be at ease, without dread of disaster.” John 8:32 “And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

If this is what it means to have a broken wing, let it be. And let me be free!

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But I don’t think I’m unique in this. My story may sound different – not everyone grew up in another country – but I’m guessing your desire to “belong” is as strong as mine. And I’m also guessing that you haven’t always felt like you fit in.

I realize that there is nothing new in this. And we’re in pretty good company. Hebrews 11 talks about great heroes of the faith – Noah, Abraham, Enoch, Sarah, and many others … and then it says this: “they were foreigners and strangers on earth. People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.” Paul says it this way: “Therefore, I urge you as foreigners and exiles (aliens