Tag Archives: Faith

Seeking Justice, Loving Mercy

“There are those who turn justice into bitterness and cast righteousness to the ground” (Amos 5:7 NIV).

“There are those who hate the one who upholds justice in court and detest the one who tells the truth” (Amos 5:10 NIV).

“There are those who oppress the innocent and take bribes and deprive the poor of justice in the courts” (Amos 5:12 NIV).

“You have turned justice into poison and the fruit of righteousness into bitterness” (Amos 6:12 NIV).

Two times, Amos was given visions of Israel’s destruction. Two times, Amos interceded with God on behalf of Israel. Two times, God relented.

After a third vision, God says, “I will spare [my people Israel] no longer.” And this time, Amos doesn’t intercede, because a prophet can’t carry a burden that God lifts.

I couldn’t intercede in what happened today, try though I did. I’ve spent the past few months crying out to God for justice in this situation. I’ve spent the past month pursuing an opportunity for justice in this situation. I’ve refused to participate in injustice against myself.

I paid for all of it.

I processed all of it.

I interceded for the people involved through all of it.

I let all of it go. To God. I let all of it go to God.

And that’s important. Because if had been entirely up to me, what happened today wouldn’t have happened.

But I am not my own. I belong to Someone Else. I am fiercely loved and jealously protected. These things are never entirely up to me.

I thought I would be displeased by what happened today. Instead, I feel the love, the protection, the vindication. The fierceness of all of it.

I feel best knowing that even though what happened today had to happen, you are in merciful hands, and if you lean in, all good things will be yours.

Lean in.

Lean in.

Lean in.

As someone reminded me last week, you harvest what you plant.

“Let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream” (Amos 5:24 NIV).

“Commit your way to the LORD; trust in Him and He will do this; He will make your righteous reward shine like the dawn, your vindication like the noonday sun” (Psalm 37:5-6 NIV).

 

 

 

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You’re on your own, kid.

Maybe it’s terra incognita. Maybe I’m being called to trailblaze a path for which most people don’t even see a need, and by the time they do see it, the path will be there, and they’ll just take it for granted, like it always was there. And maybe I’m being called, not because I’m particularly courageous and tenacious and graceful, but because I’m the only one willing to go there right now, and maybe – just maybe – it has to be right now.

Maybe I am on my own, humanly-speaking. Maybe it’s just going to be God and I, hacking it out together, like we have with countless other situations. Maybe that’s how it has to be, because maybe – just maybe – God needs this path to be a certain way.

Maybe it won’t be so bad.

But, just once, I would like to go where all of humanity has gone before.

Sigh.

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Dear Newborn (Christian) Lydia

Dear Newborn Christian Lydia,

Well, this is it: your eighth anniversary of following Jesus, probably almost to the exact day. Eight years ago, someone who cared about asked you about your relationship with God, and you told the truth. Because eight years ago, you were tired of the ruthless cycle of sin, guilt, and shame, and trying to make it all better on your own; tired of pretending to be someone you were not, of trying to feel things you didn’t feel, and believe things you didn’t believe. Eight years ago, you were simultaneously set free and wrecked with these simple words, by this simple concept: “Do not be afraid, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by your name; you are Mine” (Isaiah 43:1) – by a God who knows you, loves you, and calls you by your name in spite of the tremendous mess that you are. And eight years ago, you were undeniably and irrevocably changed.

In honor of eight years following Jesus, I want to share eight things you will learn in the coming weeks, months, and years. I know, I know: if you could be here in all of your nineteen-year-old glory, you would scoff. After all, writing letters to your younger self really doesn’t do any good – it’s not going to change anything. And you’re partly right: it’s not going to change anything … for us. But maybe – just maybe – it will change something for someone else. Even if it doesn’t, it’s good to remind myself.

So without further ado, here are the eight things I wish somebody would have told you about following Jesus.

You will be depressed – even suicidal – again. I know it’s hard to imagine, in the sheer elation of freedom you’re feeling right now – in the newness, that you will ever feel that bad again, but … you will. It’s going to take a wrecking ball to your philosophy that depression is spiritual or even something emotional that can be overcome if you only put your mind to it, and you’re eventually going accept that your depression is physiological, a special inherited brand, and that you have to treat it like any other sickness. You’ll realize that even times when you feel really good are a part of your disease, and you’ll get to a place where you distrust those times as much as the low points. And that’s a good thing, because you’ll learn to depend more on God to lead you in what to do than how you’re feeling on any given day. It’s still isolating, this disease, and though you’ll cry out for it to go away many times, you’ll learn to carry it with a clumsy sort of grace.

You will date non-Christian guys again. Look, I know you’re still devastated about that boy you were seeing behind Dad and Mom’s back. I know you think you would have avoided heartbreak if you had just followed their rules for boys. I know that in the next several years, this devastation will lead you to make a number of lists, and that must follow Jesus will top each one. So I know you’re not going to be happy with me about this. Here’s the thing: even now, there’s a guy entering your life quietly, and he’s following Jesus. You won’t notice him for a few months, because you’re still healing, but when you do finally notice him, you’re not going to have eyes for any other guy for years. But even now – for the past year, really – a situation has been entering your life quietly, and it’s going to make this guy impossible to have. After a series of sizeable mistakes on your part, you’re going to read Captivating and you’re going to make it right, but Lydia, this situation is too big for him, and absolutely nothing you do is going to change that. Once you realize that, you’ll get over him, and you’ll be okay for a while. For a while. Then, you’re going to get seriously pissed off, because you made effort upon effort, you made so much room for him, and he couldn’t be bothered to match that. You get jaded about Christian guys, always expecting you to make way for them, to serve them, to be less so they can be more, and you find non-Christian guys generally respect and support your womanhood and independence. Non-Christian guys, of course, would like you to be less Christian, and you learn you can’t be less of that, either, so I think it’s safe to say you’ll quite likely be single for the rest of your life, and you’ll generally be okay with that because more than anything, you just want to be who you were created to be. Still, you’ll be more comfortable cultivating friendships with guys outside of the Church than those within it. (Sorry, kid.)

You’re going to learn that forgiveness is not forgetting, nor is it the absence of pain. Leading up to this life-changing moment, you’ve … had some bad things done to you. And because of something a Bible camp counselor said to you after you shared some things with her when you were thirteen, you’re going to think remembrance and pain are equal to bitterness, and you’re going to do your level best to forget and not feel a damn thing. You’ll hear in counseling in a few years that forgiving is neither forgetting nor the absence of pain, because remembrance and feelings are not choices. After a series of scandals within the homeschool community, you’ll work through a shit ton of anger, and you’ll learn that forgiveness is merely to release the person who hurt you and not let them dictate how you operate going forward. And even though you’ll know all of this in your head, it’s still working its way to your heart.

You’ve got an idea of how things should be, and that’s not how they’re going to be. You may not realize this yet, Lydia, because the people who’ve known you the longest say you’re negative, but … you’re an optimist. You still believe that by going to college and getting your degree, you’ll have a glamorous and high-powered career as a film executive. You still believe you’ll work for a few years, meet the man of your dreams (who is a movie director you met on the set of a film you produced), and be married at twenty-five, after which you’ll adopt a brood of children who will be extremely well-adjusted because you’ll be their mother, and you’re going to be a brilliant mother. The man of your dreams will change first, as you enter your most golden era with the Church (which you won’t think is golden while you’re in it, because you are focused on all of the wrong things, but trust me,…), and he looks like – well, you’ll know soon enough who he looks like. In your coursework in college, you’ll discover you’re better suited to live television production than to anything in film, and upon graduation, you’ll discover you can’t live off part-time production assistant gigs (you know, to get your foot in the door, because you didn’t really expect to start off at the top … or maybe you did). So you’ll do what you did all the way through college: you work hard, two – sometimes, three – jobs. As for marriage, you discover you have other goals – moving to Seattle and writing, for instance. Again and again, what relationships you have will unravel, because people and situations are not who and what you would like them to be. It will be several years before it sinks in that you are the one who needs to operate differently – not in losing your natural optimism or vision, but in saving unrealistic expectations for your fiction writing, and remembering that neither the world nor the Church fit a neat narrative structure. And eventually, you will understand that you were not cut out for some of the things you want for yourself now, and you’ll be grateful many of them didn’t happen.

You are being grown to last and produce things of lasting value, and that takes time. This is why you can’t give up your optimism and vision: you are being grown into something great. And, Lydia, that takes time. It will take time for you to understand that it takes time, and that’s when it really begins, you know? You are still hearing Dad say you take the easy way out and you still don’t understand because he still hasn’t explained that given two options, you choose the easier one. You still don’t see what you’re missing when you choose the easier. And you won’t fully for a long time – I don’t know if I fully understand yet – but sometimes, you will get glimpses. You will learn the patience and faith to wait, to see things through, because you will not know what all of this will grow into, but for the first time in your life, you will want to know what it can be if you just let it.

Don’t try and force significance. There are no small things. As you turn twenty-five, you will go through a period of mourning that you haven’t done anything significant with your life – because of those unrealistic expectations and impatience. And you will try to force it many times by having something to offer, usually by way of your writing and doctrinal prowess. You will learn you are significant, not because of what you do, but by reason of having been created in the image of God. You will learn it is less about what you do, and more about how you do it. There are things that you will do that will feel so mundane and meaningless because you don’t even have to think about them, but they will mean the world to someone else. People will not care that you are a writer, or what you know about T.U.L.I.P.; they will care that you relate to them in ways that mean something to them.

It’s okay to pray for what you want. This thing that’s been coming into your life? This thing that will come to rest and overshadow much of the next several years? You will pray what you think you should pray, not what you want to pray. For three years, you will pray that way before you give up because you will no longer have any personal investment in the matter. Finally, one December, you’ll be reading in John, and you’ll hear Jesus say, “Whatever you ask the Father in My Name, I will do,” and you’ll throw your hands up and cry, “I have asked. For three years, I have asked.” God will ask you, “When?” and you’ll think about it and realize … you have not, actually, ever asked for what you really want in this situation. And you will, and what you want will transform. You will learn to trust God so much more simply by being totally honest with Him; You will learn that He wants to give you good things, and just how gentle He is in transforming you when you ask for things that aren’t right for you.

Grace. You will learn that God is good, and He will give you everything you need for everything you are supposed to be. You will learn that grasping and clawing in your spirit is a sign you are trying to be something you are not supposed to be, trying to get something you are not supposed to have, trying not to be something you are supposed to be, trying to block something you are supposed to have – a lack of grace, if you will. You will learn that when God wants you to be someone, He will get you there, and Lydia, He does not need your help. When He wants anyone to be someone! And you will realize that you have missed so much grace in your grasping and clawing and pushing and shoving – the grace to let Him be God and to just be His child, to grow in His time and even yours (because, Lydia, He knows what is going to take you time before you do), to let things and people be, to know He’s got your back so you don’t have to have your own back, to be yourself confidently. You will always be learning this.

You probably think I’m a serious buzzkill, even sounding like Dad and Mom in places, but in these early days, you’re so much like a marsh reed, you know? Blown every which way, by every which thing. If I could go back and have a conversation with you – eight years ago, on this day – I’d want to tell you how to stand stronger. Then again, you probably wouldn’t listen: you have a tendency to want to figure these things out on your own. (Oh, well. I tried.)

As to the future, all I know is you will be following Jesus the rest of your life. And it’s going to be great.

 

 

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The Unplanter

The Unplanter

By Lydia Evelyn Thomas

(Copyright: Lydia Thomas 2016)

Once upon a time, there was woman who loved to plant seeds. Early each spring, she would rush to the market to carefully select the seeds she wanted to plant in the little garden behind her house. She especially loved looking at the pictures on the seed packets and imagining what her garden could be. Every year, after she had purchased them, she would hurry home to plant the different seeds in her garden, singing and skipping the entire way.

Like any good seed-planter, every year, she cleared the little plot of rocks and weeds and broke up the soil before painstakingly marking the rows where the seeds would go. Then she dropped the seeds into the dirt, one by one, and lovingly covered them with dirt.

In the days that followed, every year, she added fertilizer and water to the soil to make sure the seeds were getting the food and drink they needed. If it got too cold, she would cover the ground with blankets so the cold air couldn’t get to the seeds. And she always kept an eye out for weeds that might be trying to steal food and water from the seeds, or rocks that might be trying to keep the seeds from growing, or anything that might hurt the seeds.

She waited and waited, every year, for a week, at least, to see if anything would happen, and nothing ever did. She worried: were the seeds getting enough to eat and drink? Were the seeds getting too much to eat and drink? Were the seeds staying warm enough? Were they too warm? Was something hurting the seeds that she couldn’t see?

And so, every year, a few days after planting them, she dug up the seeds and returned them to the market.

“These seeds didn’t grow into anything,” she would say, spreading them out on the counter. “I’d like my money back, please.”

The man who sold her the seeds would frown, and every year, he told her this: “There is an old gardening term called staying.”

“What does that mean?”

“It means that things have to stay planted in order to grow.”

The woman didn’t believe him, and so she continued planting seeds and digging them up for many years.

One year, early in the spring, the woman came to the market, excited as she always was to choose seeds that would make a beautiful garden.

“I’d like to see your seeds, please.”

The man who sold her seeds shook his head. “I’m not going to sell you any seeds this year.”

“Why not?”

The man shrugged. “It’s wasteful. You plant them, only to dig them up again. They can’t be used ever again after that.”

“I won’t dig them up this year, I promise. Please let me buy some seeds.

The man shook his head. He didn’t believe her. “We sell some plants in pots that have already been grown, if you’d like to buy some of those, but I cannot sell you any more seeds.”

The woman bought some pots in plants at his suggestion, but this year, unlike all the other years, she was not happy walking home from the market. She didn’t want plants that had already been grown. She very badly wanted to grow something of her own, from a seed.

Still, she set the plants on her front porch, and made sure to take care of them, every bit as well as she had taken care of seeds when she’d had them. One day, as she watered the plants, a man strolled by.

“Beautiful plants,” he said. “Did you grow them yourself?”

The woman sighed. “No. I bought them already grown. The market won’t sell me seeds anymore.”

“Why not?”

“When seeds don’t grow, I dig them up.”

“How long do you wait before digging them up?”

The woman put her hands on her hips. “I’ve waited as long as a week before.”

“Only a week? That’s not long enough!” The man smiled. “Seeds have to stay planted in order to grow.”

“That’s what the man at the market told me,” the woman said, “but what if something is wrong with the seeds? How will I know if I can’t see them?”

“Do you give the seeds food and water?” the man asked.

“Yes.”

“Do you keep weeds and rocks away from the seeds?”

“Yes.”

“Do you protect the seeds when it might get too cold or too hot for them?”

“Yes!” the woman exclaimed. “I do everything I’m supposed to do.”

“Everything except for letting the seeds stay planted,” the man said. “That’s the most important part.”

“But”- the woman protested.

“Seeds grow,” the man said. “It’s what they do. They just have to stay planted. I wish you could see it.”

“I wish I could see it, too,” the woman said, “but where will I get seeds? The market won’t sell them to me anymore.”

“I might have just the thing.” The man pulled a seed packet out of his pocket and held it out to the woman.

The woman looked down at it and frowned. “It doesn’t show what it will

be.”

“It doesn’t,” the man said, “but it’s the only seed I have.”

“There’s only one seed?” the woman asked, eyes wide.

The man smiled. “Only one, but legend has it that when it’s grown, it gives more seeds.” The woman just stared at him. “Plant it. You’ll see.”

“I guess it never hurts to try,” the woman said, taking the seed packet.

“Just remember,” the man said. “It will only grow if it stays planted.”

The very next morning, the woman went back to her garden. As she always did, she pulled up the weeds, picked out the rocks, and broke up the ground. Then she thought about where to plant the one seed. Should she plant it on the edge? Near a corner? In the middle? In the middle, she decided, and dug a small hole. Pulling the seed packet out of her sweater, she took a deep breath, and crouched to the ground. She shook the little seed out into the hole. It was so small and dark, she could barely see it. Slowly, she covered it with dirt, before standing and brushing off her knees.

The next day, the woman went to her garden again.  As she had done with the other seeds, she gave them food and water, working it into the soil with her trowel around where she knew the seed was planted. That night, when the air became colder, she covered the garden with blankets.

And, day after day, she watched for something to show her the seed was growing. A week went by, and then a month, and still she could see nothing above the dirt. She grew restless, and began running her hands through the dirt near where the seed was planted. Remembering the man’s words when he had given her the seed – “It will grow if it stays planted” – she stood up, brushed off her knees, and went inside.

Months went by, and still the woman cared for the garden, waiting. One day, after the dead autumn leaves had fallen and blown away, as the woman spread mulch over the soil for the winter months, she saw a small green chute where she had planted the seed so long ago.

“Well, that will never last the winter,” she said, hands on her hips.

She thought about digging it up, but again, she remembered, “It will grow if it stays planted.

“I don’t see how,” she muttered, but she spread mulch around the chute, and left it where it was.

The air became so cold and the ground froze so that the woman could no longer work in her garden. In fact, snow began to fall and fall until it was too high for her to even leave her house. She was certain the chute would die in the cold, and it made her sad.

At last, the air grew warmer, the snow melted, and the ground thawed, the woman went out to visit her garden.

The green chute was gone!

In its place was the tiniest of saplings, barely a foot tall.

The woman clapped her hands and bounced up and down. She was growing a tree! A tree!

“I’m glad I listened to that man and didn’t dig up the seed.”

She was so delighted that she went to the market to buy more seeds now that she had learned the secret to growing them, but the man who sold seeds laughed at her.

“You’re the woman who digs up seeds,” he said.

“I’m not anymore,” the woman said. “Last year, a man gave me a seed.”

“Who would give you a seed?” the man who sold seeds asked.

“I don’t know,” the woman said. “He was just passing by, but he told me to keep it planted, and I did. Now it’s going to be a tree.”

Again, the man who sold seeds laughed. “I don’t believe you.”

“Come and see,” the woman said and led him home to her garden. She pointed to the tiny sapling at the center.

The man who sold seeds squinted at it. “That looks like nothing more than an overgrown weed.”

“It’s a tree,” the woman insisted. “I know it’s a tree.”

“You don’t have the patience for a tree,” the man who sold seeds said, turning and walking away.

“I do now,” the woman said. “Please, sell me some seeds. I’ll show you.”

“I will never sell you seeds again.”

The woman was very sad, because she loved to plant seeds, and now that she’d seen how they could grow, she wanted to see it again and again. How could she, though, if she couldn’t buy seeds?

Suddenly, she brightened. The man who  had given her the seed had said something about it making more seeds. A legend, he had said, so maybe it wasn’t true at all, but the idea gave the woman hope.

Throughout the spring and summer, the woman tended her garden as usual, watching the sapling for signs of seeds.  Then the air began to cool, and she prepared her garden for the winter. There were no seeds, but perhaps, like everything else, it just took time for them to come.

Years passed, and every year, the woman cared for her garden, and every year, the tree grew taller and wider around, until it far surpassed the woman’s height and width. It was majestic, with many branches, and green needles that never lost their color nor fell to the ground, no matter how cold the air became. Year after year, there were no seeds, and the woman began to think the legend surrounding the tree was just a story. Still, she was quite proud of her tree.

One year, small brown cones sprouted on the branches in the spring and fell to the ground in the crisp autumn air. The woman went through her garden plucking them up into a bucket, thinking they would decorate her house nicely, when she found a cone that had split open during its fall.

The woman knelt down to look closer at the split cone and gasped. Seeds of all shapes and sizes were spilling out of it! Seeds! The woman pulled a cone out of her bucket and pried it open. There were seeds inside of it, too!

“Those seeds aren’t good enough to use yet.”

The woman turned to see who was speaking to her. It was the man who had given her the seed.

“What do you mean?” she asked.

“The tree isn’t fully mature yet,” the man said, “so any seeds it produces aren’t ready to be planted. If you put those in the ground, they’ll just rot.”

The woman’s lip quivered. “How long will it be until they’re ready?”

The man gazed at the seeds, picking some of them and holding them in his hands. “I’d say, about … five years.”

“Five years?” the woman whispered, eyes wide.

The man nodded.

The woman pointed to the seeds. “So these aren’t good for anything?”

The man smiled. “Actually, they’re quite delicious roasted with butter and spices.”

“You want me to eat them?” the woman asked.

“You don’t have to,” the man said. “It’s just a thought.”

After that, the man went on his way, and the woman continued preparing her garden for winter.

Once inside, she roasted the seeds as the man had suggested. He was right: they were tasty prepared this way. As she ate them, the woman thought that five years wasn’t so long with such good food on her table and such a beautiful tree in her garden.

Even so, the next spring, the woman had a heavy heart as she went to clear the weeds and rocks and break up the soil in her garden. Where it had always been something she loved doing, now it was hard. She took many breaks, and thought often of leaving the work altogether. The only thing that kept her working was knowing that she needed to keep the ground ready for when the seeds were ready.

It wasn’t much, but it held the woman  until, at last, the spring of the fifth year came. With a thrill, she hurried out to her garden. This fall, the seeds in the cones would be ready, and next spring, she would plant them. Throughout the summer, she watched the cones eagerly. Finally, autumn came, and the cones began to fall, slowly at first, then all at once. Out the woman went to her garden with her bucket to gather them. She soon found that one bucket was not enough for all of the cones, and gathered bucket after bucket until not one cone was left on her garden floor.

As the snow fell that year, the woman went to work opening the cones, emptying the seeds onto her table, and sorting them into packets. She sorted and packaged so many seeds she thought she might need a bigger garden. She wondered what all of the seeds would grow up to be – would they all be trees? She would have to wait and see.

When she finished, leaving just a handful of seeds to roast, the woman stored the seeds in a warm, dry cupboard until spring. Then, as she swept up the remaining seeds from the table to put them in the roasting pan, one in particular caught her attention. It was small and dark, just like the one the man had given her to plant so many years ago.

Excited, the woman ran to get one more seed packet, thinking how lovely her garden would eventually be with two such trees. She paused: maybe someone else needed this seed, like she had all those years ago. And so, the woman decided not to plant it, but to set it aside and get it to someone who needed it, instead.

It seemed like no time at all passed until the woman was looking over her garden the following summer.  Now, instead of just the tree, flowers, plants, and small bushes populated the garden. There were blooms and bulbs and fruits and vegetables of all kinds forming almost everywhere. There were still some areas where there were no signs of anything growing, but the woman knew there would be someday.

“It’s a beautiful garden.”

The woman didn’t need to turn to know it was the man who had given her the seed.

She smiled as he came to stand at her side. “It took long enough for it to come together.”

“The strongest, most beautiful things need that time,” the man said.

The woman pulled a seed packet out of her pocket.

“What’s this?”

The woman pointed at the tree. “A seed. Thought you might come across someone who needs it.”

The man smiled. “Actually, I think you’ll come across someone who needs it.”

“When?”

The man winked. “Soon.”

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Last Night’s Dream

In the dream, I’m hiking a path I’ve hiked many times before, but I’m tired and it’s harder this time. A woman is hiking the same path several yards ahead of me, and she doesn’t seem to be having any trouble. The path gets narrower, and more overgrown, but I was expecting that. Suddenly, up ahead, there are trees cut down in the path, that have never been there before. Not particularly massive trees, but large enough to present formidable obstacles. I was not expecting that. Without making a conscious (or unconscious, since this is a dream) decision to be so, I’m on my hands and knees, knowing I’m pretty much defenseless against any force of nature that decides to take me on. I crawl towards the trees laying across the path. The woman ahead of me strides over them, head held high, and I wonder how she’s doing it, because by the time I reach them, I’m almost entirely flat on my stomach, doing an army crawl. As I pull myself up over the first tree in a sort of roll, I look up and there’s this balcony of sorts in the trees, and people are watching. They’re all telling me how much easier it would be if I was on my feet, like the woman who went through before me; and I know that, but no matter how hard I try, I can’t get back on my feet. And a little voice says, “You’ve just got to keep crawling.” I find I can do that, so that’s what I do. I pull and roll and army crawl over those trees in the path until eventually it’s just foliage again. The woman who was ahead of me is out of sight now, as is the balcony and the people in it. It’s just me and the path. I crawl on until I’m almost to the end of the path, and then, as suddenly as I was on my hands and knees, I find the strength to pull myself up and walk. I’m not particularly graceful, but I’m on my feet again, and I finish on my feet, but somehow … Somehow, I know if I had finished crawling, it would have been fine. I would have finished. But now I know that even with where I am on the path right now, I get back on my feet further down the line.

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I’ve had to let something go…

I’ve had to let something go in order to keep my faith in Jesus.

I’m not referring to the things we normally talk about when we discuss following Jesus – you know, the works of the flesh or the sacrifices we have to make in carrying our crosses. I’ve had to let go of something far more orthodox – that is, something most Christians consider fundamental to following Jesus and their faith in Him.

But as I’ve dealt with certain doubts since my preteen years, and as these doubts have escalated to critical levels this year, this thing could not be less fundamental to my faith in Jesus as Savior from sin and the way to the Heavenly Father. In fact, as things have boiled down, I’ve discovered I can either have faith in this one tenet and let Jesus go, or I can have faith in Jesus and let this one tenet go, but I will not be able to hang on to both.

And since Jesus is the best thing that’s ever happened to me, and this particular tenet – well, it’s been one of the worst, I’m going to stick with Jesus.

I’m breaking the rules, I know. It’s supposed to be all or nothing, I know. I’ve seen individual faiths crumble because people thought they had to believe both, or neither, okay? Because in a situation where people are forced to choose both or neither, they inevitably choose neither. I’ve decided that’s not going to be my story, so I’m going take Jesus, and leave the rest.

I believe God can be entirely known through Jesus, and Jesus alone, because Jesus is God. I believe absolutely everything must be filtered through Jesus, because Jesus is the Word of God – if it stands in Him, it stands, if it falls in Him, it falls. Jesus is my final authority.

Which is, as a Christian (literal meaning, “little Christ”), exactly as it should be, in my opinion. (Again, orthodox Christianity disagrees with me.)

So, yes, I’ve had to let something go in order to keep my faith in Jesus. And, yes, I know it puts me at odds with most people I know. And talking about it publicly?

I’ll probably get multiple calls from multiple people.

I’ll probably get called multiple names by multiple people.

Multiple people are probably going to lose all respect for me, because their respect for me has been on the basis of my grasp of this one tenet.

I’m probably not going to be allowed to minister in certain capacities.

If I don’t fall in with orthodoxy, I’m probably going to be treated a certain way by the Church.

But I’m not going to pretend – not for my own comfort, and not for anyone else’s – and I can certainly handle what comes as a result.

Oh, yes, I’ve let something go in order to keep my faith in Jesus.

And I’m not ashamed or afraid, because I’ve kept the most important thing: Jesus.

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I’m Writing a Story For Pharisees

I’m writing a story for Pharisees.

I’m writing a story for those bound to the letter and not the spirit.

I’m writing a story for those who dictate what loving Jesus and faith should look like.

I’m writing a story for those who try to make faith easy by making it a to-do list.

I’m writing a story for those who love rules more than freedom.

I’m writing a story for Pharisees, because I am a recovering Pharisee.  Honestly, we can all be a little Pharisaical.  We don’t want to admit that, because everyone loves to hate the Pharisees.  Good news: Jesus loves Pharisees and came to save them, too.

And so, I’m writing a story for Pharisees, about Pharisees, and by a Pharisee.

I’m wading into territory ill-addressed in Pharisaical circles; areas we usually don’t even realize need addressed because we’re so comfortable with them.

Being who we are as Pharisees, this story is going to ruffle some feathers, but I hope those ruffled feathers lead to serious consideration of our faith and what it really means to love Jesus.

I’m writing a story for Pharisees.

 

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A Dark Night of the Soul, A Crisis of the Faith

In the beginning, I gave Him my heart. My heart of hearts. Deepest desires, dreams, wishes.  And, one by one, they died.

Do you know what it is to see your desires, dreams, and wishes crucified? I do. I was angry.

Then my heart withered.

And I felt nothing.

I didn’t want to speak to God. I had nothing to say to Him. It was He who was to guard my heart, and He pillaged and plundered it.

You who have never been down this road will not understand this post, and because you do not understand, you will make judgments about me and my walk with God.  You will say, “God would never have put you through that; He is good. What you went through must have been the consequence of your sinful actions.”  And I’m going to let you think that, because I know you do not understand.  That is okay.  This post is not for those who have never been through a dark night of the soul or a crisis of the faith; it’s for those of us who have been, and those of us who are going as we speak.

The second thing is that I don’t presume to know anyone else’s experience with this; I only know my own and can only speak from it.  I don’t take the terms dark night of the soul or crisis of the faith dramatically or lightly: even with Christ, this was the very darkest season of my life, and I believe it is so for anyone who goes through it.

One of the first things you should know about this dark night of the soul, this crisis of the faith is that you feel like you are facedown on the ground, being kicked repeatedly in the stomach.  When you try to fight and get up, it’s like someone has a foot on your back, holding you down.  You have no choice but to sit there and take it.  You wonder where God is in all of this, and because your vision is extremely limited, you wonder if perhaps He is the one holding you down.  You cry out for Him to help you up, to rescue you from this brutality, and there is no answer.

The second thing you should know about this dark night, this crisis is the depressing realization that continuing to fight is useless. You are effectively stuck where you are at, whether because God Himself is holding you down, or He is allowing something else to.  So you stop fighting, because nothing you’re doing is working, and you stop crying, because God is not responding.  You lay on the ground, not moving, because you can’t; at least, you can’t unless you want to get beat up some more.  It’s suffocating.

After a season of stifling, you are going to get extremely angry with God. Maybe like me, you’ve been angry with the people and the Church who have grievously misused and abused you, but at some point, you will face the undeniable reality that God has allowed these people and circumstances into your life.  I’m not saying He made these things happen, but He’s God, and He certainly could have stopped them.  It’s an unforgiving and cruel thought.  You will get angry, and possibly ask God if He gets some sick pleasure from your pain.  This is the midnight hour.

Then you will go numb. It’s not because anything is holding you down anymore that you don’t move, but because you just don’t care.  This numbness can go on for months.

Eventually, though, the dawn breaks in the form of a reawakened desire.  It’s nothing you do, there’s no secret recipe for making it happen, it just does. Suddenly, you feel like you’re pulled up from under water, and you can breathe again.  Suddenly, that desire that got ripped away from you is in front of you again, more a possibility than ever before.  Of course, you don’t fully trust it right away, because something about this dark night of the soul, this crisis of the faith makes you feel perhaps this desire is wrong.  Yet, God tugs gently at your heart to bring that desire to Him and ask Him for it.  You may find in this reawakened moment that you don’t really trust God, either; He did allow what just happened to you.  What if you allow yourself to desire this thing, and He yanks it away again? The temptation to suppress the desire is ever present the first few months.

Still, I’d advise you to take a leap with your shattered faith.  Trust God with that desire, let Him wake you up. You will find Him good and faithful, perhaps so much so that you’ll wonder how you doubted in the first place.  You become more aware of the truth about Him, and I think, you become more aware of the enemy.  You come to understand that he is the one who held you down, and that his intention is to hold you back from good.

It’s anything but easy, and it’s lonely. Trusting God again is hard, especially when He’s been the bad guy in your mind for so long.  It’s also hard to find safe people to talk to about a dark night of the soul or a crisis of the faith, while you’re going through it or when you’ve come out of it.  In part, this is because it’s such a personal journey (with you and God) and it’s hard to know how to talk about it.  The flip side is that it is hard for Christians to understand, because this journey often doesn’t make sense, and many Christians feel the need to make sense of everything that happens. This is the first time I’ve talked so publicly and unambiguously about my experience with this.  Otherwise, I only have a handful of friends who know a few of the gory details.

Hang in there.  Whether you’re going through a dark night of the soul, a crisis of the faith or you’ve just come out, hang in there.  I say what I say now from deep experience and it in no way negates the terrible pain you may be in at this moment: what you are going through, what you have been through on this journey has immense benefits.

You are going to learn a lot about yourself.  A dark night of the soul, a crisis of the faith is an introspective season. You’re going to learn your strengths and your weaknesses, your boundaries and your breaking points.

You are going to learn what it really means to be still. Especially if you’ve been service- and ministry-oriented for a long time, you don’t really have much time for yourself.  Not being able to move or serve or ministry, can be a much-needed rest, even if you wouldn’t have chosen to have it this way.

You are going to get to new levels in your relationship with God. A dark night of the soul, a crisis of the faith is really and truly just you and your Maker. There is a season of distance, there is.  After the anger and the mistrust and the giving up can come intimacy and re-learning trust and joy.  When it’s just you and Him,  there is greater clarity about who He is.

It will strengthen your faith in God being who He says He is. It takes time, but ultimately you begin to trust that God is who He says He is – that He is good and faithful and gracious and loving and just.  You begin to recognize the voice of the enemy trying to persuade you otherwise, and you are better able to combat the lies.

It will make you more empathic and less judgmental. I’ve always favored empathy over judgment.  It’s who I am. Still, having gone through this, I am more likely to “weep with those who weep, and rejoice with those who rejoice” without worrying about why they’re weeping or why they’re rejoicing.  I am less likely to apply rules to people and situations. I am more likely to listen, and less likely to bring my assumptions into conversations.

You will appreciate life so much more. This is cliché, but the darkness makes the light that much brighter. Bluer skies, greener grass, you know.

Again, all of this takes time.

Did God allow the dark night of the soul, the crisis of the faith?  He did.  That’s a hard pill to swallow.

BUT (and if you understand nothing else of what I’ve said today about this journey, please understand this) it’s never, ever God’s intention for you to be held down and held back from freedom and fullness of life.  God went to great lengths in making a way through Jesus to a relationship with Him, our Creator (the only way to experience true freedom and fullness of life), even after humans had messed up so badly.  And I think that holds even if sin in your walk with Christ or someone’s sin against you has brought this experience and journey through darkness about, God still wants you to have a free and full life.

So while God allowed this, He certainly did not cause it.  And because you are His, He intends for you to be strengthened, not weakened; He intends to bring you closer to Him, not drive you further away; He intends to tune your heart, mind and soul to His voice, not to give air time to every voice you hear; He intends to make you a better minister of His heart to the world, not to pass judgment on your neighbors, family, and friends; and most of all, He intends to bring you through it to freedom and fullness, not to be held down and held back. 

 

 

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Remain Open

I don’t think I’ve ever changed my mind so much as I did this morning.  I’m pretty sure my brain is fried.

Here’s the story.

About a year-and-a-half ago, I began asking God to open a very specific door for me.  After a few months, the door opened, and I was poised to walk through it.  The week the door opened, I had a dream that I really believe was a vision from God for my life.  One morning, I was reflecting about this door and this vision, and God told me, “You can have this if you really want it, but I have better for you if you just wait for Me.”  I made a choice to trust God that morning, and little by little the vision for what God wants for me has become sharper and sharper.

Doors upon doors have been closed for me.  This week, though, I was faced with yet another open door.   A door that made perfect sense, except as I prayed about it, I had no peace about walking through it.  I felt like God was saying, “This isn’t it.  Keep walking.”

And that’s what I had every intention of doing.  I got to where I was going this morning and I found myself reasoning, “Well, it’s not like this is a bad opportunity.”

Then I’d come back with, “It is if it keeps me from what God wants for me.”

“How can God not want this for me?”

It would be easier than more waiting, more walking.  The feeling that it’s not quite right is easy enough to bury given enough busy-ness or the justification that it’s a good thing.  I mean, technically, since God is prompting me to say now, it’s sin, but it’s … a good thing.

But I can’t do it.  I have to keep going just to see what God has in store, because I can’t see two feet in front of me right now. I have to believe He has told me “no” for a good reason, just like He did thirteen months ago. So I’m going to keep walking and remain open for whatever God has in store for me, even if it’s just more of what I’m doing right now.   He’ll bring that vision about if and when He wants.

I just have to trust and obey.  And remain open for the right opportunities.

And write a bajillion more blogs about waiting and waiting on God and transience and interim seasons and endurance and patience and faith and obedience and things that don’t make sense and all that good stuff God is teaching me through this.

Yup.

 

 

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What’s Inside Comes Out

I once heard an illustration from the great Hudson Taylor.  Well, not from him, exactly, but from a preacher who attributed it to him.  Regardless, this illustration is now stuck in my mind.

Let’s say we have a glass of water, and it gets knocked over.  What happens?

“Well,” you might say, “you have a big mess to clean up.”

You’re missing my point, I think, so I try to rephrase my question.  What if it’s a glass of orange juice?

“Duh,” you say, “the orange juice goes everywhere.”

You are correct, of course, but still not understanding my point.

Whether we have a glass of water, or orange juice, or pop, or milk, or nothing at all, one thing is sure:  when that glass is knocked over, what is inside comes out.

Think about that with me for a minute: what’s inside comes out.

When you’re hit with a life circumstance that knocks you down, know this if you know nothing else:  what is inside will come out.  Things you maybe didn’t even know were in your heart will come out.  The point is not that being knocked down is messy, but that what you really, truly believe in your heart of hearts comes out.

For me, this has been one of those weeks where what is inside has come out.  It’s not all pretty, but there is this one thing that I hold on to:  I trust God.  I admit freely that I do not understand what He is doing, but I do trust Him.  And I trust that He wants to do good things for me, in me, and through me.   In the midst of disappointment, varying levels of resentment, and straight-up hard circumstances, I know that.   And in the end, that’s the most important thing.  That what everyone around sees come out is a doesn’t-make-sense-at-all trust in HIM.

 

 

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