Jesus

Can I Be Meek AND Strong?

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Words are important. We quickly learn as children to move our hand from the hot stove because the blisters and burns were so painful that one time we didn’t. At the library we understand what they mean by quiet! It means no talking. Not even whispering into your cell phone “for a quick minute!” The definition we give to words informs our attitude toward them. 

For a long time, the words humility and meekness have looked a certain way in my mind. Shy. Quiet. Doormat. Insecure. There was also the notion of putting others first and thinking of others more than I think of myself. Essentially, I had a blend of some negative connotations, peppered with a few grains of biblical truth. 

Overall, humility and meekness embodied undesirable traits to emulate. The end result was unattractive and didn’t look successful (which was very important to me), and I felt guilty to be unable to produce these traits in my own character. I suspect I’m not alone.

How Would Jesus Progress?

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Throughout my adult life, I’ve moved along well in my career. I had most of the accolades I was looking for: a good job title, a solid reputation, and a comfortable bank account. They were all checkmarks that told of the progress I’d made in life thus far. Yet after fifteen years, I found myself hating my life so much that I was looking for ways to end it. My life looked successful and thriving from the outside. On the inside, however…


Seeking, Telling, and Dwelling in the Truth

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A few weeks ago, I heard a speaker refer to "10% friends." He explained that most of us are willing to talk about 90% of how we are, and that we are willing to receive information about the same things we are willing to share. Topics that hover on the surface of everyday life and are generally safe. It might be a compliment we received on last night’s dinner, our upcoming vacation plans, or the details of a current project at work. This information is framed around content that is comfortable and affirming.

 But the remaining 10%, he explained, is comprised of the hard things we are not willing to share or hear others point out. He said we all need to have, and should aim to be, part of the 10% who speak and seek to hear the Truth. I turned around to my friend and smiling said, "You're welcome, for I am part of your 10%!" We both chuckled.

 My friend and I both acknowledge we need Truth from outside of ourselves to check our own version. Because there is Truth, and there is what we hold as truth. And they are not always the same. We are, after all, finite and fallible. Therefore, we need what is forever and infallible. Those attributes are not found in humanity, but in its Maker and the words recorded for us in the Bible.

  

Seeking the Truth

 There is something comforting about Truth. While it can be hard at times, it’s also stable. It is not contingent on my own agreement or emotions. What is True is true, with or without me. It does not need my endorsement or my permission to be true. When we lie, or when truth is absent from a situation, it does not cease being itself. It remains, well... Truth.

 Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German theologian who was martyred by the Nazis, wrote: "No man in the whole world can change the truth. One can only look for the truth, find it and serve it. The truth is in all places." That wording in the last part lingers in my mind, “One can only look for the truth, find it and serve it.” This means we submit to it.

 In a noisy world filled with competing perspectives on everything, whatever our truth is (that is, our go-to uncontested knowledge) will determine much of our emotions and thereby actions. The danger, then, is when we are holding onto our own version of truth. When we do that, we are in essence idolizing a part of ourselves. If the definition comes from our own reasoning, then we are really just serving ourselves.

 For me, this begs the question…

To grow we must be pruned

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The Christian faith is one where pain is a key component. And while most human beings find a natural aversion to pain, nowhere is this truer than in Western, and especially North American culture. For us, not just pain, but any semblance of discomfort, is deemed unacceptable. Our abundance and modernity have allowed for unprecedented comfort and convenience. Believe I’m as guilty/ delighted as anyone. With online grocery shopping and delivery service, my life has never been so easy, or convenient. I do 90% of my shopping from my laptop in my pj’s while sipping my morning coffee,and schedule the delivery for the day and time that most suits me. Convenient and predictable - yes please, thank you!  

The other side of this predictable convenient existence though, is that it has harmed our ability to weather and welcome life unscheduled and unpredictable. We see it in our attitude when a page takes longer than 3 seconds to load on our browser, or when what we want and expect to find at the store, is not available. If these instances catch us on a particularly bad day, our reaction can put a damper on the hours left with our poor families, colleagues, or friends.

We don’t like being inconvenienced. But we especially strongly dislike the notion that we will go through hardship, and so we freeze upon the possibility that something will push us outside of the area where we excel, where the roads and shortcuts are familiar to us, and where we feel we have control.

I personally sit in the tension of the self  I’m most familiar with, and the one I’m informed about in the Bible. Said tension is in essence what I write about in this blog. Hence its tagline “in the intersection of between everyday life and eternal perspective.”

That wrestling between the part of us that is asked to pick a heavy piece of wood and follow Someone; when all I want to do is sit irritated that no one is acting on my expert knowledge of how things are and ought to be, and everyone’s failure to follow suit.

What the Bible informs

Let's talk agriculture for a moment. The process of cultivating, to be more specific. First, the soil needs breaking. Being broken is what makes it ready for planting. Once seeds are placed, tending must follow. And then, a prolonged pause happens waiting for the harvest. During that prolonged pause where waiting seems to be the only thing taking up calendar days (instead of satisfying to-do’s we get to mark of) there actually is a lot of activity underneath all that dirt. It is during this last stage where growth takes place.

Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit.
— John 15:2 (ESV)

He prunes so that we can bear fruit. The first time I heard this passage preached and unpacked I did not know the word pruning. It was in the early 90’s during my first year of university. Thinking it was because English was my second language,  I looked it up in Spanish only to realize I didn’t know it either. So, the issue was not language, but that I wasn’t familiar with plants at all.

More than 20 years later, doing my own inductive study of John’s gospel, I appreciated the details in John’s account. I took notice of the language and the intention. The cultural sensitivity revealed in the choice of analogy. Jesus often spoke in parables and used storytelling to illustrate important principles of the faith he came to live out for us.

He was speaking to an audience familiar with farming and agriculture. The people at that time derived their very livelihood from it. It was their day to day and means to make a living. Here he was, the Maker of everything using the very creation He had authored to paint a picture of how God parents us.

Pruned literally means to cut a part of a plant so that it will grow. The removal of a piece of its own composition will help the whole grow healthy. How interesting. I think of things that feel so close to me, so familiar and intimate, that its removal seems unbearable. Our reaction to the mere possibility ranges  from irritation when something doesn’t go our way; to utter despair when we feel out of our depth and the deep sense of injustice to have been placed in a predicament without our doing.

God’s economy is as wide as it is generous. So He is constantly pruning out of us the self that wants to stay comfy and the same always. Because that self has no interest in Him and will not naturally draw near to Him. That self is often found holding what we think is the reins of our lives, when in reality it is our spiritual demise we are holding on to. And so committed is God to our sanctification that both the mundane traffic jam-like irritations, and the deep crisis will He use to prune the parts of us that impede our soil to be broken and good seed to take root in our lives. Because the end goal is not to makes us comfy, but to make us like His Son.

What are you wrestling with deep in your soul right now? Ask in your heart; Am I resisting God’s pruning? Because, remember, His purpose in removing something from our being is in order to help us grow and be whole.

[This is part of the “first-draft” series. If you want to know what it is and why I’m doing it you can read about it here.]

The Main Thing Amidst all the things

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Today I had a busy day full of tasks. The kind that feel tedious but move our lives forward bit by bit. Things like sorting, washing, and folding laundry; making red lentil soup; washing and drying my hair ( I have long hair, so it’s definitely a task). There were also messages I needed to catch up with, reply to, and people to connect with. This too moves forward life. Actually quite an important part of it, as I’m sure most of us would agree.

Then I saw the time. The middle of the afternoon found me accomplished as far as my to do, yet distracted. I realized that I had not had a moment with Scripture all day. You see, I normally do that in the morning after getting up and making breakfast. Today, because I wanted to get done as much as possible, I woke up a bit earlier and tackled the day’s chores. Using every pocket of time, capitalizing on the interim of each activity to start or continue another. Chopping veggies while waiting to go downstairs to the laundry room to transfer our clothes from the washer to the dryer. Replying to a message between folding towels and sheets. And so on. My early morning and afternoon a symphony of efficiency in multi-tasking.

So with supper cooked, laundry done, and hair freshly washed and blow dried to style, my mind felt scattered and my soul distracted. I had addressed my to do list with gusto and now the rest of me was asking to be fed. I grabbed my notes, my Bible, and sat at my desk. Re-read where I left off yesterday and continued on to the next portion, Colossians 1:14-20.

I’m going through the whole epistle in small portions to outline it and simmer my mind in the words Paul so thoughtfully composed for a church he didn't plant but loved and which was steering away from the main thing, giving weight to matters of no consequence. To address this Paul begins with the Truth on which all hinges - who is Jesus?

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.
— Colossians 1:15-20 (ESV)

I read Paul’s words and repeat them in my own: Jesus. He is EVERYTHING. The invisible God made visible. Holding all things together. Because all things were created by and through Him. He is the beginning. He holds the fullness of God. He reconciles, making peace with his blood shed on the cross.

And just like that, no more than 30 or so minutes, my thoughts and emotions, aligned once more. All the to-dos done could not give me that. Paul’s words written to a group of beleivers millenia ago, who were struggling with what was and wasn’t first order matters, reminded me how much I need that reminder too.

I got a lot of things done today. I have a fed husband and a closet full of clean neatly folded clothes and an almost up to date inbox to show for it. All good things by any measure, and a sing of a life in process; moving forward as it should. But it was those 30 or minutes that made sense of the rest of the hours, brought into perspective all the things, as His things, and made for the best part of my day. So much so, that here I am sitting down writing a first-draft post about it because it’s that important for me to record and capture life in the moment when that Life is Jesus Himself, the Word made flesh speaking to me through Paul’s words to a church on the other side of the world and time, reminding me that He is the main thing. Always and forever. From the first to the last. And that all things are held together by Him. Laundry, supper, messages, and my personal hygiene included. And remembering that holding it in the middle of my otherwise accomplished busy day is what made any of it meaningful. Those 30+ minutes reading, dwelling, and simmering those 8 verses, and thus spending time in His Word, were the best accomplishment of the day. May I always need it and carve space for it as a main thing on which all other things rest. Late or early, long or brief; worth it every. single. time.

[This is part of the “first-draft” series. If you want to know what it is and why I’m doing it you can read about it here.]



Labels reduce, the Cross exalts

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“I wonder what this will cost me?”, I said to my husband right before sharing an article on social media about Jackie Hill Perry’s latest book. The book moved me deeply and my hope was that after reading the article, others would be curious to read the book too. He reassured me I should share it as worthwhile content. He was right. So, after posting the article along with my own enthusiastic recommendation of Gay girl, good God, as one my top reads this year, I put the phone down.

Shortly after posting I saw the first comment. There was pushback that misrepresented the piece and more importantly an open hostility against it. Jackie’s story, the article commenting on her book, and my own commentary, were all mixed together as part of the harmful efforts of the evangelical agenda against the LGBT community.

While I don’t expect everyone to agree with the faith professed by myself or the article, I realized it was likely they had not even read the article. The tone and words employed to express said push-back were out of sync with the spirit of the article. I understood it was a reaction to something more than what was shared. Dietrich Bonhoeffer said,

Nothing that we despise in other men is inherently absent from ourselves. We must learn to regard people less in the light of what they do or don’t do, and more in light of what they suffer.”

I wrote a short comment thanking them for their honesty, and affirming my affection for the person, as it was someone I know in real life. A short time later, they deleted the thread on their own accord and wrote me privately, where they apologized, and we engaged in written conversation for a long while.

During our private exchange, my friend expressed alarm at the harm the evangelical community was doing. It was a frank comment, and I took it seriously. While there are plenty of instances where in the name of religion people have engaged in behaviour unbecoming of the gospel they profess to uphold, I wondered how was that the case with my sharing this article? It didn’t matter. Their mind was made up.

I looked up the word evangelical in the dictionary. The root comes from the Greek evangelos, in reference to good news according to the Gospels or the New Testament, adding “of those Protestant churches that emphasize salvation by faith in Jesus.” (Webster’s New World Dictionary, Fifth Edition). It is an accurate word to briefly describe my faith.

As a person who writes and speaks openly about her faith in Jesus, I fall under the umbrella of evangelical. A word that has come to mean many things beyond the dictionary’s definition, and which groups points of views and behaviours I do not subscribe to yet fall under by virtue of being a Christ follower.

When do words cease being an indicator to inform, and become a label to categorize people? I think when we don’t understand something, and a word becomes easier than the time and energy it would take for us to know. Not agree with, but understand. We all do it.

As I processed the aftermath of the whole article situation, I was reminded we all use labels. The label I was reduced to stands for homophobic, verbal abuse, and even violence. Although I was not personally accused of partaking in all of those, I was quickly judged as someone who endorsed it all and was guilty of the first one. Being regarded in that light left me winded.

All are actions heavily condemned in Scripture as they blatantly violate the supreme truth that ALL humans are created in God’s image, including and especially people we don’t like or agree with.

A follower of Jesus is called to uphold the Word of God with their actions. This means that the same Scripture that compels me to stand for the rights of the unborn for example, equally compels me to treat with dignity and respect those who don’t share that conviction. This is a nuance many are not ready to grant space in their thinking in our culture today.  

Whether the issue is abortion, sexuality, or something else, the discussion becomes black and white. Obliterating the fact that our thoughts and emotions usually run in shades of gray. We’ve blurred the lines of debate to labels void of character or humanity. It’s easier to lash out at the evangelical community, a faceless entity filled with hateful voices, than it is to debate amicably with a friend who disagrees with you.

With a sober mind I think of the times we’re tempted to use labels to explain away so we don’t like to engage in real conversation. For example, an immigrant stops meaning a person who moves from their country to a different nation. It now stands for lazy and opportunistic. Muslim is no longer someone from the Islam faith, but is now a horrible person bringing violence to our neighbourhood. Homosexual is no longer same-sex attracted, but dirty.

Those of us who follow a crucified Savor must be mindful of how we steward our words, especially in the way we think of others. Because whatever we hold in our hearts will eventually show up in our words and actions.

The way of the cross is costly and hard, because love always is. It cost the Father His only Son. And it cost Him, His life. Investing time to listen and get to know others will be uncomfortable. Not everyone will want to engage. And some may still react with disdain. This is part of the cost. And if Jesus deemed it worth it, we should do no less.

While my views on the gospel are uncompromising, there is a difference between saying things that oppose, and using rhetoric that reduces someone to a word intended to strip them of all but an adjective that makes us feel safer for keeping them away. I invite us all reading this to examine where in our hearts is there room for more time to listen, and less adjective calling?

I was reduced to evangelical as an adjective intended to close any further discussion with me and likely cost me a friendship. While I assume the cost as part of the price of picking up my cross to follow Jesus, I also take the whole experience as a sobering reminder to walk in humility and always see everyone first and foremost as the glorious expression of a God who chose to make us in His image, and be careful to never reduce anyone – myself included- to one word.

We are so much more friends. More than what words we want to attach to our personhood, more than those we heard all our lives and still hurt us, more than the good ones we fight hard to earn. We are His workmanship.

And when we look at humanity, may we see what God Himself sees; the work on the cross done by Jesus on behalf of a people who couldn’t do for themselves what God could.