Ash Wednesday & Resurrection

by Elizabeth

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I went to Ash Wednesday service this week expecting to meet God. I always do — in unexpected ways. I can never predict the moment God will show up and the tears will fall. The part of the liturgy that touched me the year before inevitably feels dry to me a year later.

But I’ve done this enough that I know God will show up. Even if we are more than halfway through the service and I haven’t encountered Him yet, I know He will draw near to me.

That night I experienced several of these moments. The imposition of ashes, of course, when we remembered that we are dust, and to dust we shall return. When we sang “Lord Have Mercy.” When we begged God repeatedly, “Holy Lord, hear our prayer.”

And when we sang the first verse of “Jesus Paid It All”: I hear the Savior say, “Thy strength indeed is small. Child of weakness, watch and pray, find in me thine all in all.” Because I know my strength is small, and I am weak without Him.

But most of all for me that night, was the moment in the middle of a worship song whose name I can’t remember, that God reminded me of Galatians 5:7-8. On Tuesday and Wednesday I had a deep, dark flare of anxiety and OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder). I had been doing so well, and the intensity of this relapse surprised and frightened me.

So I turned to the text. Here it is in the New Living Translation:

“You were running the race so well. Who has held you back from following the truth? It certainly isn’t God, for he is the one who called you to freedom.”

And here are verses 1-3 in The Message:

“Christ has set us free to live a free life. So take your stand! Never again let anyone put a harness of slavery on you. I am emphatic about this. The moment any one of you submits to circumcision or any other rule-keeping system, at that same moment Christ’s hard-won gift of freedom is squandered. I repeat my warning: The person who accepts the ways of circumcision trades all the advantages of the free life in Christ for the obligations of the slave life of the law.”

[I love Paul. The way I love Paul borders on the ridiculous.]

I was discouraged because I had been running the race so well. The days had been good, and I was full of joy. And then what happened? It was like all of that goodness and grace just disappeared, poured right down the drain.

In case you don’t know what anxiety or OCD feels like, it certainly feels like a harness of slavery. And OCD is a definite rule-keeping system. I don’t want to trade my free life in Christ for the obligations of the slave life of the law.

So what is holding me back when I relapse? Maybe it’s the brokenness of my own brain, or the forces of evil in the spiritual realms. Maybe it’s living in a fallen and unpredictable world. Maybe it’s some aspect of soul care or body care that I’ve neglected. Maybe it’s all of it together. Maybe I’ll never know.

But this one thing I know: it’s not God. God is the One calling me to freedom. He’s not the One holding me back or “hindering” me, as the ESV puts it. The Message tells us: “This detour doesn’t come from the One who called you into the race in the first place.”  No, the God who called me didn’t design that detour. What He wants to give is life full and free, satisfying and abundant.

And that freedom was what I had on Thursday — because I went to Church the night before. That’s not all I did, of course. Before that I had gone back to bed to cry extra hard. That wore me out so much I needed a nap. Then in an effort to manage the anxiety, I exercised as hard as I could. After that I went to church, where I smiled and made sweet small talk with people, because I knew the good stuff was coming when I entered that sanctuary.

I wasn’t ok, and I knew it, and I needed God to sit with me in the mess. And meet me He did, through the words of Paul and the words of the hymns and the words of the liturgy.

Because a relapse is not the end of the story. That’s what I tell girls struggling through eating disorders, and it’s what I needed to be reminded of last night. A relapse doesn’t mean that no healing has happened. It doesn’t mean that recovery is over. It actually means lots of progress has been made; a relapse wouldn’t feel so awful if you hadn’t been making forward movement.

So I relapsed. But I didn’t have to stay in that relapse, spiraling downward and feeling sorry for myself. I could start making good choices again, and I could listen to God when He spoke, and I could let Him encourage my heart.

I am a person in need of deep mercy from God, and so are you. So are we all, for we are all formed from dust. Our Maker knows we are dust, for He is the one who made us and breathed His life into us.

But dust, like relapse, is not the end of the story: for we are a Resurrection people, both now and forevermore. Amen.

 

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When the Thief Steals {A Life Overseas}

by Jonathan

“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” ~ Jesus

Thieves steal. Sometimes the impact is NOW; you know it immediately and you feel it deeply. Other times, it takes some time; the bomb’s on a delay. And then it blows and you begin to realize all that was taken. All the time lost, the lives shattered, the relationships fractured. It feels like the wind gets knocked right out of you and you can’t even tell if the crater in your soul feels like anger or sadness or some other concoction of pain. But it’s definitely pain.

Sometimes the thief steals stuff, but often it’s more. Much more.

Maybe the thief looked like a robber on the back of a moto, or a home invader. Maybe the thief was a corrupt government, stealing freedom, opportunities, and futures. Maybe the thief was a cruel family member, or someone from your church or mission, a “friend.”

Whoever they were, they stole, they destroyed, and they killed. Or at least they tried.

Continue reading at A Life Overseas

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The Key to Being a Human Christian

I love the Psalms.

In my work as a pastoral counselor and occasional preacher, I talk about them a lot. The hope is that by developing an awareness of the Psalms, folks would feel free to start feeling their feelings, talking about their feelings, and perhaps even talking to God about their feelings. That would be a good thing.

But I didn’t know I talked about them this much. As is evident by the lists below, I’ve talked and sung and written a bunch about the Psalms. And I’m not stopping.

Because although the Psalms do not help us to become super Christians, the Psalms do in fact help us to become human Christians. And the world (and global missions) needs as many of those types as we can get…

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Articles
The Gaping Hole in the Modern Missions Movement (part 1)

The Gaping Hole in the Modern Missions Movement (part 2)

A Missionary’s Call to the Psalms and Deeper Emotional Intelligence

Some thoughts on how to combine the Psalms with Discovery Bible Studies and inner healing ministries.

Here’s a three-minute video showing one way to interface with the Psalms. You can read more on this method here.

 

Podcasts/Sermons
Despair is Where Hope Lives (Psalm 130)

Pilgrim Songs (Psalms 120-124)

On Peace, Busyness, and Remembering that I’m Not God (Psalm 131)

Teleporting, Editing, and Borrowing (Psalm 31)

On Rest, Loss, and Revenge (Psalm 3)

The Posture of God (Psalm 116)

Psalms – Songs for our time

 

Songs
Follow Close (Psalm 63)

 

Spiritual Warfare Lullaby (Psalm 23, Psalm 91)

 

Psalm 13

 

One Thing I Ask (Psalm 27)

Rest is Not the Absence of Work, It’s the Presence of the King {Velvet Ashes}

Elizabeth is over at Velvet Ashes today . . . .

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The words sleep and rest are nearly synonymous in my mind. We wake feeling rested after a good night’s sleep. Conversely, we feel disappointingly not rested after a fitful night’s sleep. Sleep is a gift, and certainly, it is a type of rest, but it’s not the only kind of rest we need.

We also need the kind of rest that lets us stop striving. The kind of rest that lets us stop worrying, that lets us stop working. We need the kind of rest that lets us stop rushing. “All our busy rushing ends in nothing,” David proclaimed in Psalm 39:6. Our daily lives have changed significantly since then, but in all those years the human heart hasn’t changed. David’s words are as true today as they were 3000 years ago.

If we spend some time studying the world David lived in, we can find fresh meaning in the word rest. In the Old Testament, “rest” referred to a dwelling or habitation. More specifically, the settlement in Canaan provided rest to the Israelites. In ancient times in general, rest meant that the battle was over and the king was on his throne. Rest meant that regular rhythms could be taken up because the people weren’t at war anymore.

Finish reading here.

Would You Even Like Jesus?

by Jonathan

Would you even like Jesus?

Would you like him if he came into your church and started yelling about houses of prayer? Or would you call him just another angry man?

Would you like him if he told you to sell even some of your stuff and give the proceeds to the poor? Or would you call him a socialist?

Would you like him if he told you to stop sleeping with people you weren’t married to? Or would you call him a legalist?

What if you realized he wasn’t a Republican?

Or a Democrat?

Or white?

Would you like him if you found him crying by himself on a hillside, talking about a rebellious city? Or would you call him an emotional wreck?

I don’t know, would I even like him?

What about the time he let those guys chop up an innocent man’s roof?

Would you like it if he hadn’t planned ahead and all of a sudden asked you to feed a few thousand people?

What would you think when he dozed off during a life-threatening storm?

He is not as tame as we make him, after all.

Would you like him when he let the prostitute get a little too close? Or would you start to wonder about his dedication to purity?

Would you like him when he befriended your political enemy, visiting his house and sharing a meal? Or would that be a red (or blue) line crossed?

You see, we sanitize and sanctify Jesus, stripping him of context and personality, until he looks (we think) like us.

But he’s not like us. Thank God.

So, would you like him?

What if he showed up in your deepest pain and you saw his eyes, red with mercy and compassion? Would you like him then?

What if you heard him cry, “Forgive them!” And you knew he was talking about you? Would you like him then?

Would you run to him, grasping his sleeve for acceptance and love?

He’d let you.

He’d love you.

He’d heal you.

After all, he liked you first.

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