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.'”

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