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 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? 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 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 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 – that 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 spring 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 of my own self pity, my own disappointment, those who have let us 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.

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

The One where Jesus Weeps

Maybe I’ve read it too many times. Do you ever do that? Reach a grand, sweeping story in the Bible and just skim through it like an old sitcom re-run? “The One Where Jesus feeds 5,000 people”… “The One Where He Walks On Water” … you know what I mean, right?

That’s what was happening when I tripped over these two simple words. Truth be told, it’s an oft repeated verse around these parts – my boys say it’s their favorite verse to memorize in Scripture. That might be because it’s known as the shortest verse, and what would a proper boy be if he wasn’t looking for the easiest opportunity to get out of a memorization assignment? So there I was, entering into the “One where Jesus raises someone from the dead” episode, when it stopped me in my tracks.

“Jesus wept”, it says. Yeah, I know we’ve read those words before. Maybe even talked about it. But I’ve never read those words in the context we are now enveloped in throughout our world. Muddling through. Confused by. This “squinting-to-see-truth -through-the-haze” kind of world we are in. So I backed up – and I read it again as if I’d never heard the story. Go there with me…

Jesus receives news that His good friend Lazarus is sick. His sisters, Mary and Martha, are begging Him to help. After all, He is God, right? And He does love them, right? And how does Jesus respond? He waits.

Hold it right there. The story is already hitting too close to home. This is perhaps the most frustrating and confounding of God’s responses to my cries for help. “Will you just do something, God?” I chafe. I try to “help” Him out. I reason with Him, explaining how easy it would be for Him to fix everything … as if He needed to hear how to do His job better. I beg to hear an answer. Even a no – just a something. Some indication that you know I exist. That I need you. That you care. Something, God!

And yet Jesus waits.

Long enough to ensure the worst possible scenario. Lazarus, His friend, dies – and then Jesus decides to show up. His disciples are confused. Jesus makes parodoxical statements that seem to clarify nothing – and then He marches resolutely towards Bethany. It seems to everyone that He’s just a couple days too late at this point.

That’s when this moment that makes time stand still takes place. Jesus is still on the outskirts of town. He has a plan that no one knows. He intends to display God’s glory and power. He knows that the death of His friend will end in resurrection. In a victory that no one can fathom or would dare to predict. He carries all this in His heart as He enters Bethany.

Yet, there stand Mary and Martha. Weeping. Feeling the crushing defeat of death and grief, abandonment and betrayal – they ask all the questions… Why? Where were you when we needed you? You could have saved our brother – why didn’t you come when we called?

Do you feel the weight of those questions today? We all experienced this last year – differently, perhaps, but the loss was there. Confusion permeated the air. Life happened and God has been faithful, but almost like the ongoing horn of a car alarm, there has been this underlying tension that has frayed the nerves and changed us all. Where were you, God?

It’s almost like we can taste the very human saltiness of those tears.

As Jesus stands before Mary, Martha, and the questioning crowds, you’ve gotta wonder what He’s thinking. He knows the end of the story. He knows He came to raise the dead – how easy it would be to slap them on the back, laugh a little, and say “Don’t cry, girls! Come and see what I’m going to do!” He could so easily point to the victory ahead, remind them of all the good days to come.

But not my Jesus. He stands there, holding resurrection in His heart, looking into their grieving souls, and He weeps.

Right there, in that staggering moment, I see Jesus with new eyes. He is my Savior who holds victory in His whisper and promises of hope with every tomorrow – but right now, in this present place, He simply sits with us and feels with us.

My friend, do you feel that? I don’t know what kind of pain, grief, anxiety, or other challenges you face. I am grateful to know that on the other side of it all, there is more in store for us than we could ask or imagine. (Eph. 3:20) But right now, in the middle of it all, don’t we really need to know that Jesus is in it with us? Crying with our sorrows, hurting with our confusion, laughing in our joys, and cradling us when we feel so lost?

I take a deep breath, and let my soul rest in this. This beautiful reality that my Jesus knows. He may not be answering all my questions right now – and honestly, that may not help. Answers may calm our minds, but our heart needs more. It needs Jesus’ presence now – comforting us in our pain. Walking with us in our sorrow. Giving us the assurance of His faithfulness in our questions. Lifting us in our joys.

But I love that the story doesn’t end here! Jesus didn’t stop there, on the outskirts of Bethany. He didn’t build a camp around their grief and sink into the trench of sorrow with them. He moved forward – and brought them with Him. Jesus said, “Show me where he (Lazarus) is”. He goes boldly, unafraid, to the source of their grief. And then He heals.

He has the victory in hand. When we sit in silence, He knows. While we wait, He prepares a way. While we are weeping, He weeps with us. And then He gently takes us to the source of our pain and offers healing. Resurrection power.

My friend, our resurrection will look different than we expect. It may not be the resurrection of what has physically or emotionally died. It may take longer than we expect and we may not fully understand it until we see it on the other side, but it is no less real.

His promise of resurrection leads to victory. It gives us a road out of grief, helps us carry our tears to a place of hope, carves new vision for tomorrow. We can trust His promises. All of them. Even when He is silent. Don’t let your confusion shut Him out. Don’t let your grief dull your senses. Feel His tears alongside your own. Let His presence with you bring you comfort. And then fight for hope. Fight for victory.

Listen to Him say, “Lazarus, come out!”

Posted in Living this Life

I still believe

I stood there the other night and remembered… I remembered the day I ran away from it all.

The wind tickled my face as I stood at that outdoor concert and watched these three faithful men sing truth and proclaim the power of that truth. And my heart remembered.

I remembered a time when I almost lost my way. A season when nothing made sense and it was hard to know who or what to believe anymore. A time when choices danced before me like mirages and I couldn’t find solid ground.

I remembered the words pounding through my head as my feet pounded the pavement. “I believe in God the Father Almighty…” It feels like yesterday in my heart and soul.

bruge streets

“Creator of heaven and earth…” These thoughts crowding my mind – racing so fast, they can make you fear for your sanity sometimes. “I believe in Jesus Christ, His only begotten Son our Lord … MY Lord!” How had I ended up here? Trying to escape the cycle of bombarding thoughts, walking the streets of Brugge, Belgium, simply because I didn’t know where to go or what to do? How to quiet the noise inside my head – screaming at me from the moment I woke up until I finally found escape in sleep? “He was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary. He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried”

It had been a long journey to this moment. Months in Amsterdam, telling people about my Jesus – the One who promises freedom. All the while, crumbling inside from my own lack of freedom. Trapped in my insecurities, in my doubts, in the dysfunction I had come to see as “normal”. So I ran away to Brugge, and I walked those streets.

I remembered those days when I was a kid. Long Sundays in church, reciting a liturgy I thought was old and “dead”. They called this the “Apostle’s Creed” – it didn’t mean much to me back then – just words we said every week. “He descended into hell. On the third day, He rose again. He ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of God the Father…” I remembered sitting in that college cafeteria, telling a wise professor that I was beyond all that now. I was exploring new ways to worship. He didn’t say much, only gently reminded me to not forget those who had gone before me – “You are standing on over hundreds of years of history…”, he said.

“I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic (universal Christian) church” Suddenly the scrambled thoughts started slowing down. I found myself mouthing the words, savoring each precious morsel… “the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, and the life everlasting”

bruge 2

There are many ways to worship, but in this moment, walking those old cobblestone streets, God began to set me free from the tyranny of the new. He brought those words to life in my heart on that day in Brugge, Belgium, and I no longer had to figure anything out – I knew. And that simple knowing quieted the screaming voices in my head.

My God showed me that as long as I clung to what I knew was true, He would lead me through what I didn’t know. Though emotions may soar to great heights and plummet to sordid depths, nothing can shake the reality of this foundation. I BELIEVE IN GOD THE FATHER – I wanted to shout it from the rooftops… and I still do.

Here is where I can plant my feet and not be shaken. In these days of confusion and fear around the world, it doesn’t take much to feel like a “wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind” (James 1:6) Headlines scream terrifying news at us, the pundits on TV tell us what (and who) to believe, people are displaced, having to flee their homes, politicians ask us to put our faith in them – it’s hard to know who to follow and what to trust in anymore. “When you hear of wars and revolutions, do not be frightened” (Lk 21:9) I still believe in God, the Father Almighty”

We are surrounded by the constant shifting shadows of life – today I choose to plant my feet on the one thing that will never change. I still believe in Jesus Christ, His only Son our Lord” “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.” (Mt 24:35) I still believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy Christian church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, and the life everlasting

And in the threatening waves, Jesus whispers, “Peace, be still”.