Sunday, December 30, 2018

When Your Hands Are Heavy (The Question of Gospel Community in Practice

I wrote this awhile ago and left it sitting in a document somewhere, a bit forgotten after being submitted to different publications and rejected a couple times over. I think I now know why that is, though. Sitting in on this morning's Sunday message on gospel community, I remembered these words and (with one or two additions) am posting them now as both a response to that message and an encouragement to my own community here. To my people - family and church family - this is what I'm learning in loving Jesus together with you.

The first beautiful weekend in October found us, sixty some women young and old, in a meeting room atop a local mountain. Sounds a bit Old Testament, doesn’t it? I made a mental note of that myself as I drove the winding road there. I won’t lie to you, I’d been to these kinds of things before and was fully skeptical of just how much depth in Christ a gathering could offer while being heavy on hormones and rounded with sugar. As far as I was concerned this was just going to be a fun sleepover. Happily, I was wrong, very wrong, and that gathering turned out to be a mountain of the Lord type of experience posing as a “fun sleepover.”

Those two bluebird days framed by fiery autumn colors were spent alongside all those those ladies in pleading and praising

“...Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think,
according to the power that works within us, to Him be the glory in the church and
in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen.” (Eph.3:20-21)

There, in what I affectionately will remember as our “mountain of the Lord,” we heard and believed together in the unchanging and consistent faithfulness of God, and we reminded one another of our high calling in womanhood being found in nothing and no one less than Christ. Sure there were stories shared and shoulders soaked in tears, a few awkward moments and a lot of laughter, definitely too much caffeine, but I think all of us left with the same vision: Look to Jesus and run to Him. Run as if your life depends on it because, well, it does.

Months later, I'm still thinking about and basking in what God gave us in that time together.

The thing, you see, is that truly holy community can pose quite the challenge to us because we flip it on its head. In general, we do life together and rather like it that way, but doing life together leads to habits of looking side to side rather than ahead, of running circles around each other rather than straight and true. Well, that or keeping silent and charging forward with side blinders on. While it’s no sham that “seek ye first the kingdom” is our high and holy aim, the comradeship of “bearing one another’s burdens” is what we long for yet don’t always do well.

Where we struggle to see through the tangle of our lives threaded together, the Lord Himself offers the clarity of His own intention for us: “But if we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus cleanses us from all sin (1 John 1:7). Did you catch that vision of community in there? Walking in the light of God together is where the tangle of our lives together can finally be seen for the tapestry of His grace, His holiness, and His glory that it is. Now to apply this to our fun sleepovers and everyday burden bearing together.

An episode of “the wilderness files” might be a helpful visual here.

In Exodus 17 Amalek, an enemy, seeks the Israelites out for a fight. Moses says to Joshua, “Hey, choose some men to fight with you tomorrow and I’ll stand up here on this hill with the staff of God.” So Joshua heads off to fight while Moses, Aaron, and Hur hike up this nearby hill.

“So it came about when Moses held his hand up, that Israel prevailed, and when he let his hand down, Amalek prevailed. But Moses’ hands were heavy. Then they took a stone and put it under him, and he sat on it; and Aaron and Hur supported his hands, one on one side and one on the other. Thus his hands were steady until the sun set. So Joshua overwhelmed Amalek . . . .” (Ex.17:11-13)

While it is true that most of us are not leaders of multitudes, we are a people whose hands grow heavy in the obedient surrender of our daily Amaleks. A people whose eyes blur in the weariness of straining onward and upward. A people tempted to tread outside the God-given limits of our humanity. Sweet friends, as we do life together in this state, let’s remember Aaron and Hur who lifted the heavy hands that also needed to be raised in obedience to the Lord. Let's let their example be a reminder to us to support one another's heavy hands toward the One who in a different battle on a different hill, stretched His own broken, nail-pierced hands for us with the victory cry that echos into today - “it is finished.”

The literal gospel truth that makes all the difference here is that rather than being left to bear our burdens together, period, we get to bear our burdens together to Christ.

"Therefore brethren, since we have confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus... let us draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful; and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near." (Heb.10:23-25)

Walking in the light... drawing near to the holy place... friends, it would seem that a gospel community that runs well together is one where the members are in community with God.

What this looks like in our own lives is simple enough to figure out - I think we're pretty privy to the fact that the Lord's raining manna in our lives and we need to gather it daily. In community though? This is where things get interesting, creative even. What does gospel living (running well) look like in practice here? Well, Maybe it could look like choosing to listen and lift heavy hands to Him whose brokenness gives us hope when the next SOS on account of another late night with baby, disagreement with spouse, or heavy circumstances at work crops up. Maybe it will look like choosing words and actions that overflow with suggestion of the One who will someday make all things new when we recognize the temptation to fix the brokenness we see within, without, and (dare I say) in each other? At the very least, I think it will most certainly look like choosing a joy that courageously says, “It’s good to be meeting with my Lord right here, right now, regardless," when we come face to face with our limitations and sometimes meager circumstances (ahem, you know I’m referring to a good old Instagram, facebook, or pinterest scroll here).

However we choose to respond here, let’s not forget (me especially) that God is able to accomplish far more abundantly beyond all we could ever ask or think. As a sweet hymn of old rightly prompts us, let's “hear the Savior say, 'thy strength indeed is small. Child of weakness, watch and pray, find in Me thine all in all.'”

Saturday, December 8, 2018

Preaching the Gospel to the Backseat (And My Heart)

Trying to drive with one hand on the wheel and one hand cradling a mug of coffee, I glanced in the rear-view mirror. There was a lot of yelling happening in the back seat and I could just distinguish a flying fist, a handful of hair, and something about a book. Ah, the Christmas books we had just lugged out, probably a fight over one of those. Still, I sighed. Today had been one of those days that inevitably comes but I am never prepared for. Last day of our first term's exam, my hope had been for it to be laid back and exciting, but with one car in the shop and Will needing to be picked up and taken here and there it had been a bit chaotic instead. The kids were in chronically low spirits (thus the early pulling of the Christmas books) and I had somehow managed to completely run out of diapers and forget to pick them up on all our outings that day.

So now here we were, trying to peaceably mesh a diaper run with coffee hour and failing.

I nestled my coffee into the cup holder and desperately gripped the steering wheel with two hands as I took a deep breath, steeling myself to shout for quiet if need be. Well the need certainly came, but the grace of God shouted louder into that moment then I ever could.

"Hey, don't you dare go saying that you hate your sister, that's the kind of thing Jesus had to die for."

Now, I'll be honest, the gospel is something that we talk about outside of conflict, but it rarely comes up in moments like this because I'm usually too irritated to go down that road, so it sort of took me aback. "Where did that come from..." And being that you can't tell a four year old something like this without an automatic response, "why?" came flying at me faster than I could gather my wits together.

"Well... because... well... you know... because..."

Clearly I have this parenting thing down pat. I did respond though, after a long pause at a red light and a hasty swig of coffee.

"Well, because. . . because. . . because God is so very good and clean. These naughty things we do made us too dirty to be near Him. The good news though, is that that's why Jesus came - to make us clean enough to be near Him again. But when we do these naughty things it's like hurting Him all over again. You know though, I guess it also reminds us that God is still so much greater and cleaner than us and how much we need Him."

Silence. But I was silent too, partially because I had no idea what was coming next and partially because I was stunned at this whole gospel exchange. The memory of God's love and what Jesus had done for us was a calming oil upon our turbulent waters. Sure, it lasted about ten minutes, but I think it was as much for me as for them, and my side of it stayed pretty fresh.

Most days make me feel like I'm a Moses caught between some Israelites and God, which probably sounds really lofty of me but I don't mean it that way at all. Complaining, bickering, dealing some justice, showing some mercy, giving some instructions, and generally handling clean up duty. I'm in a place of leadership that I don't feel I belong to, not because I don't love my people but more because I feel inadequate to the task. "How about Aaron, Lord?" I'm tempted to plead. Too easily I forget to open my eyes to the bushes around me that burn with the presence of God, take off my shoes, and just worship.

God is so good, sweet friends. I know that's said a lot, but He really is. How else would redemption be possible in even the quibbles and fist throwing of the every day if He were not? The gospel that He came to save and to make new offers hope in the most exasperating moments of the day. Why? Because regardless of how the world may be falling apart around us, we who are wrapped in the cloak of His steadfast love are not consumed, his mercies are that immense (Lam 3:22). So I can bless the Lord in even the brokenness of this failed coffee hour slash diaper run because it's not me - thank God - who takes up the brokenness and makes it whole, it's Him. Because of that hope that we call the gospel, I can turn to the backseat (and myself) and say, "Hey, we've messed this up, but guess what? Jesus is the wisdom, the righteousness, sanctification, and redemption that we aren't. Big words with much bigger thanks due."

I'll be honest with you, as I close out these thoughts it's a different day and a different tough moment just happened moments before I began typing. This time, I didn't remember anything remotely close to gospel hope until maybe 30 seconds ago. Am I disappointed I didn't seize the moment back there? Yeah. But sitting here and reviewing all this everyday gospel hope has me so much more grateful for the reminder to seize the hand of the Lord instead.

Because my God is a consuming fire (Heb 12:28-29), I can exchange these flammable emotions and moments for His unshakable kingdom. Because of Him, completely and totally because of His mercy, I need not be consumed with anything but Him.

Is this what is meant by "every moment holy?" Well then, excuse me while I take off my slippers and worship.