The Beginning of the Cycle

History tends to repeat itself. At least that’s how the saying goes. I have seen this in politics, family decisions and behaviors and even in “new” innovations. I think it’s true. We may not do exactly what has been done before, but it is usually something similar. It’s cyclical and different aspects of our lives have cycles to them.

I was talking with a good friend, Brenda, a few years ago and was lamenting about how in my walk with Christ, it seems that things I thought were done and forgiven continue to keep coming back up in my life. A struggle with this or a temptation to that. I was frustrated because I felt like I couldn’t ever get ahead. I was frustrated because it seemed like once I had victory over it, at some point it would come back. She asked more and more questions, simply allowing the Holy Spirit to speak to me in my moment of frustration. For whatever reason, the picture of an onion is what came to my mind.

An onion (I wish there was something better than an onion). Like peeling an onion, God desires to continually uncover the depths of our fallen nature. In revealing them to us, we have a choice, either lean into God more or stop and stay at this level of dysfunction. If we do stop, it is usually because it’s either too hard to go any deeper or we’re too scared of the unknown of going deeper. Or both. However, in removing these layers and by moving inward, we are not only seeing the depths of our sin, we are also seeing the depths of God’s love, grace, mercy and holiness. Learning more about ourselves allows us in turn to learn more about God. Becoming more intimate with ourselves, allows us to become more intimate with Him.

When we have a community of people that is open and honest with each other about God removing their layers, we can also have intimacy with each other. But often times we’re too guarded, afraid of what others may think or say.  Intimacy with God requires intimacy with ourselves. I’ve met several people over the years who aren’t comfortable in their own skin and are afraid to go deep in the recesses of their hearts. Freedom comes when we dare to go to the darkest places and walk through the pain. Those dark recesses are no different than the seemingly open valleys of the shadow of death David writes about in Psalms. God will be present with us there as well as in those darkest places in our hearts.

Will you allow Him to shed light on them?

be blessed today

Meeting Each Other

I really have good people in my life. There are good people that have surrounded my family and I. Encouraging, supporting, willing to call me out on my stuff when I start blaming or throwing myself a pity party. Yep, those kind of good people. I’m not sure where I would be if I didn’t have them. I would probably be living out of my own woundedness and dysfunction more than I already do, that’s for sure.

One of the hardest things for me when I started down my road of recovery was both sharing my own junk freely and letting that float in the air in the room. The listeners were quiet, none of them trying to break up how uncomfortable they felt with handing me a tissue or saying “it’s ok.” Another hard thing was sitting there when someone was sharing their junk and me not trying to make myself feel better by smiling, talking, adjusting my posture in my seat, etc. We all just sat. Quietly.

My first experience with this sitting in silence was in one of the dark times in my life. I wanted God to speak, clearly, as to what He wanted me to do. I was desperately searching for direction. But He was silent. Very silent. And the more I strained to hear anything, the more piercing the silence was. I finally unloaded about this in a  group meeting of other leaders as we went around the circle sharing what God had done in us that week in the San Bernardino mountains. But all I could share through tears was my frustration…and fear. And there it was again, silence….silence from the other 30 people in the room. But this time it felt inviting. It seemed that God was doing, even though He wasn’t saying. I say this in no light terms….it was holy ground.

Henri Nouwen, who knew loneliness and pain, wrote, ” I have always felt that the center of our faith is not that God came to take our pains away, but that He came to share them and I have always tried to manifest this divine solidarity by trying to be as present to people in their struggle as possible. It is most important to be with people where joy and pain are experienced and to them become aware of God’s unlimited love in the midst of our limited abilities to help each other. “

When we hit the wall and the bottom, we feel it. If we lean into it, and consequently God, we come out changed for the better. More grace, understanding, compassion, trust, joy…the list goes on. Jesus meets us in our pain. And, we can meet others in theirs. Who will you meet in their pain today? Who will you allow to meet you in yours?

be blessed today

Photo Credit: Shutterstock

The Other Side Of The Wall

We can never, never, fully experience everything another person in this world experiences. It doesn’t matter if you’re the same age, race, gender, nationality, social class….you can never experience everything because you are a different person than they are. Different family history, family structure, personality, talents, etc.

But, you can experience the same feelings. In the last post I wrote about watching loved ones getting ready to hit the wall. I wrote that it’s like watching them in slow motion as they are about to hit rock bottom, and there’s nothing you can do. And it’s extremely hard to watch. However, there is a gift that comes from going through pain. Actually, I believe there are a few gifts that come from going through the pain of anything including hitting the wall. One of those is being able to experience the emotions and feelings going through that painful experience. God created us. He created us in His image. He has feelings and emotions. It is clear in scripture that God experiences anger. His wrath is an expression of that. He has compassion. We see that in a few places, such as growing a plant to shade Jonah from the sun, even though Jonah is living in his own dysfunction. He delights in (or is joyful over ) us. Spend a few minutes reading and you will find many more examples of God and His emotions.

One of the gifts I believe we have through pain is being able to relate to those who are feeling the same emotions we did. If you’ve ever hit the wall, rock bottom, a crisis of limitations, you know how painful it is to watch others head down that road. A similar road, perhaps, you have been down before. It is painful to watch, to receive the rejection at times, from their dismissal of your warning. It’s hard to see people you love go through something that may, may, have been avoided.

God has us go through painful times to learn many lessons. Those lessons are usually about either Him or us. Coming out on the other side, we have a better understanding of who we are, who He is, and who we are in Him. And, those same emotions we felt during that crisis, during that pain, enable us to relate to others. They enable us to come alongside others who are going through similar crises.

Those times are not moments for “I told you so; I tried to warn you but you wouldn’t listen.” No, no shame. Those times are for sitting with the person hurting, confused, lost, in the fog, defeated…broken. Sitting with them. Listening. And empathizing with them. Meeting them in the emotions. That, that sitting, that is a gift. Jesus does that with us when we come to Him in those same times. When we are confused, lost, sitting in the forest unclear where to go next.

Paul sat in a time of confusion, instantly blinded and thrust into full dependence on the people he tried to kill, thrust into total dependence on the Body of Christ. God listened to Moses in those moments as well, allowing him to feel, to speak to God openly. That is a gift. To be that deeply engaged with someone and connect on that level, is something that is beautiful, priceless, holy. And being able to connect on that level with the Creator, the Builder of the universe and time, it’s a gift worth accepting and acting upon.

Will you sit in that with Him? Allow yourself to be open and honest with Him? Will you sit with someone who has hit the bottom? Will you use your gift-your experience to be Jesus to someone else? There is great healing and power in that act.

be blessed today

In Slow Motion

Iris and I were able to go on a date the other night. A great newer restaurant in Portland that our friends own. A long drive for dinner, but well worth the company and food. As it normally does here in the Pacific Northwest, it rained. Hard. Down poured actually. I like to consider myself a good driver. Snow, ice, rain, fog…I think I handle them well, no matter what type of vehicle I drive. I think it’s my upbringing in the Midwest, and my adolescence on the farm. Or maybe not.

As we were heading home, late, on that very rainy night, we began to notice something strange. Most of the other cars on the road where in one lane, not spread out among the four lanes that were available. And, they were almost on the bumper of each other. We watched as one tapped their brakes, the others would slam on theirs. Then, almost as instantly, they would all speed back up again.

You know, as well as I do, what was about to happen.

An accident was more than likely that night. Thankfully, we made it home safe and sound. It was a good night. But I kept thinking about those cars. Why were they all in one lane? Why didn’t they give themselves more room in between each other? Why were they constantly slamming on their brakes?

I can’t predict the future and I’m not sure if given the opportunity I would even want to. But based on our past experiences, there are times we can look at what might be coming down the path, those things that are in the future if we continue to make these choices, good or bad. Occasionally we can see what’s to come in our own lives, but more often, we can see it in the lives of those we love. And as we look, analyze and become fearful, we want to do anything to stop it from happening. We want those we love to see it as well. We want them to stop the way they’re heading, what they’re doing. So, we begin to talk to them, tell them, show them what they are heading into. It is so painful to watch. It’s like watching an accident in slow motion.

We can see it because many of us have experienced it before. To the degree we engaged hitting the wall, engaged smashing into the bottom, varies between each of us. But it happened. And sometimes, even though we’ve warned our loved ones, we can do nothing else but simply pray for them and be ready for them when they hit it. Not to fix, but to simply just be. Jesus did this. He warned the disciples what was about to happen, that what they were putting faith in (a very man made, finite, limited king), was not who they should have been. And how did they react?

The disciples denied it. Then their world came crashing down.

And I did to, in many ways, at many times. And Jesus sat with me.

What about you? Did He sit with you? Did you engage with Him? What was that like?

be blessed today

Photo Credit: zfnews

Poverty- Timber

It was black. No color, no light, simply blackness. It took me a few moments to figure out and process what had just happened. This was due partly from the concussion and partly from the oddity of the event that took place…… wait, what did just take place?

I was cutting wood with my brother and dad in my parent’s woods. I was flipping over a small dead tree so that it could be easily cut into smaller, more manageable chunks, and so that it would be easier to fit all the wood in the wagon we were using. As I flipped the tree vertically, the top of the tree broke off about 20 feet up, and came plummeting back towards the leaf covered ground…all 10 or so pounds of it. With my eyes looking down at the ground and not paying attention, the chunk struck my right temple, and I instantly hit the ground.

My dad seeing what happened, threw the chainsaw down and ran over asking if I was ok. But like I said, all I saw was….nothing. My glasses had flung off when I was hit, and so all I could see was brown and yellow blurs from the leaves…out of my left eye. But out my right was black- the empty, hollow darkness of nothing. Over the course of a few months, my vision would regain, mostly. I am still slightly color blind in that eye and have blind spots, but they are minimal.

From my experience, we in the West tend to look at the world only from the perspective we were born and raised with. This is not the truth for everyone, but more often than not this is how we view the world. We get comfortable in our worldview. And like a really good sofa, when we get comfortable in it, it’s hard to get out of it. social-icons-01

I mentioned a few posts ago that I believe all of us are truly impoverished. Maybe not financially, but I do believe we can be impoverished in our understanding of God. In the last post I mentioned that in the parable of the Widow’s Mite in Mark 12, that maybe the story revolves more around the scribes and pharisees than it does the widow herself. They created systems that oppressed those below them to the point where, financially, those lower classes were in poverty. But I’m not sure they actually saw it. Blinded by their own greed and lack of generosity, they couldn’t see the system they had created. And I wonder how much we are like that today.

We have massive amounts of information. Far more information than they did in biblical times. CNN, FoxNews, BBC, Google news feeds, newspapers, journals, magazines and more, are constantly presenting information for us to digest. We have so much information, yet in terms of understanding, it seems that we can’t see the poverty that we are in. We are blinded by the log in our own eyes, only focused on the specks that everyone else may have. We cannot see that we don’t understand what the pain of a war across the ocean, or the stink of the squatter town in the dumps, the fear of the minority or oppression of the label of terrorist. We are in poverty in regards to ignorance.

Either we want to remain ignorant of these different perspectives, or we simply are so stuck in our own ways we can’t see…I’m not sure. But, from my experience, we have a hard time understanding that the way an Asian (and even that is a broadly different term depending on where you are in Asia) looks at God or culture or politics or love, is different than white Americans. Or how an African (and again, that varies differently on what cultural microcosm, religious beliefs, gender and country you are talking with) views community development programs. Or how a European (lots of different ethnicities, in Europe as well) views nationalistic pride.

We will  never be able to fully understand in complete entirety of everyone’s perspective in this unraveling world, just like we will never fully understand the depth, width and height of God’s love for us. But…..we need to try as hard as we can to understand better day by day. Not gain more knowledge…no. That’s what the Enemy would like. No, I mean gain in understanding…in empathy…in love.

be blessed today

Photo Credit: commons.wikimedia.org

Poverty-The Misunderstanding

In my 37 years of life, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard the story of the “widow’s mite,” but it’s been several. I may have even preached on this passage in Mark 12 at some point, but I don’t remember. The sermons go on how incredible it was that this woman who had nothing, gave out of her poverty. And, in all of those sermons, I’ve only ever heard this passage spoken of in regards to finances. Perhaps that’s true.  But maybe, just maybe, it goes deeper than just finances.

Last time, I shared my initial thoughts on poverty. To be “in poverty” means that one has very little of something. Generally speaking, we almost always refer to wealth and riches when we speak of poverty. But what if poverty was also poverty of grace, worldview,  culture, understanding of race, gender and social class privilege, etc.? And what if we all had poverty in our understanding of God’s love and power?

I believe we are all in poverty. Every single human on this planet is in poverty. Perhaps not in financial poverty as according to the UN, but in poverty of understanding. Or, in poverty of love. In poverty of justice or maybe in poverty of action. I know I am. I cannot understand what it is like being a women in a man’s business world. I can’t fully grasp what it means to be a minority. I can’t have a clear picture of what it means to have absolutely nothing. But, I can try. When we don’t try, aren’t willing to try or think that we aren’t in poverty, this is where we, especially we as followers of Jesus, I think this is where we are blinded by the plank in our own eyes.

We will always have at least two sides of a political campaign (otherwise what would be the point of having elections?). There will always be other ways to interpret data or look at a situation of need. But this shouldn’t hold us back from trying. What we can do is try, try to learn and understand. Try, as best we can, to see the other persons perspective, the world as they see it, to see God in the way that they do.

What if Jesus, in this parable of the Widow’s Mite was actually pointing at the fact that the constructs and oppression of the society the widow was in was causing her to feel as though she had to give all she owned into that kettle? What if she didn’t know she could give less and not have to “keep up with the Jones’?” What if part of her poverty was not just financial, but it was the poverty of being suppressed in a system that advocated bigger, better, more-that said she had to give all she had, even if it meant she wouldn’t have anything to live on? And perhaps this parable is speaking more about the rich and wealthy for creating such a system? Maybe these wealthy were the real impoverished ones. Maybe.

be blessed today

 

Photo Credit: http://www.publicdomainpictures.net

Poverty-The Break

I love Portland, Oregon. It’s by far my favorite city in the USA. Maybe it’s the city itself in it’s weirdness. Maybe it’s the coffee scene which is so much a part of my life. Or perhaps it’s simply that this is a city where a lot of life change and growth has happened in my life. But I do love it. And, as with any big city, it has it’s needs and shortfalls. One of them being the amount of homeless residents. We recently moved back to the States from living overseas for over a decade, and have been residing in Salem, Oregon-a city about 45 minutes south of Portland and a fifth of Portland’s size. But the homeless population is astounding. A little less than half the amount of Portland’s homeless population which means that close to 500 kids in the schools in the two counties that make up Salem, are homeless.

I’ve never known poverty, really. At least, I’ve never lived it. My family was not rich by any American standards, but we weren’t in poverty. My travels around the world have put me in places that I’m not sure I would allow my pet to live, yet it was what many people would call home. They are what we see images of on our TVs or what we read reports on every year. We read about them in books and see them in videos, many of which are asking for donations to help support life giving work that is going on there. And so, we give financially and pray for those who are “less fortunate” than we are. And this is where I think we break from what God commissioned us.

I grew up, as many I know have, in churches that gave to help those in need. Which, in my opinion, is great! When I later went on to serve in ministry capacities overseas, I would come back to share stories of those we were sharing the Gospel with. When talking about these cultures in which we lived and spoke about how we were telling those around us about Jesus, we got smiles, nods and “thank yous” from those listening to our stories. But it almost always was shared in a way that showed how much financial need these people were in. When I shared about how we were helping them financially and sharing about Jesus, we were met with a great pity for those people and because of there “misfortune,” they really needed Jesus.

When our ministry moved from reaching into the lower class to trying to share Christ with those in the upper classes of society, our stories weren’t met with the same adoration. Why? Don’t they also need to understand that we have a Savior who loves them deeply? A God who calls them His children? Yes they do, but they don’t have the same financial need as others.

What I believe is that when many are sent from the American church to ministry cross culturally, it is the general belief that they are being sent to share the Western American Christian life with those in other cultures. That hard work, grit and determination will help you be successful and successful means you will have money….and Jesus. I could go on, but this is where I believe we here in the States have strayed from the commission Jesus gave us. It is a much different gospel than the one Jesus lived and modeled for us.

The ideas of “blessed” and “less fortunate” are for another post, I promise. But, for my brothers and sisters in Christ here in the West, let me simply suggest that perhaps the gospel that we are so excited about sharing, and that we are spending a lot of money supporting, isn’t really the gospel of Christ. Let me suggest that the Gospel we may be preaching, the gospel we may even believe in, isn’t the Gospel of the Son of Man, but the American Jesus we have come to love and come comfortable with.

More to come…

be blessed today

Photo Credit: http://www.publicdomainpictures.net