The Screeching Voice of Lack and the Bounty of Jesus

by Elizabeth

orange-tree-1149584_960_720

I’ve been stumbling around for weeks now, gathering my identity from the things other people might say about me. I’ve been scooping it up from my deepest fears of failure, harvesting it from my ripening field of inadequacies. But you know the thing is, I know better than this. I know better than to do this; yet I did it anyway. I listened to the voice of darkness, that screeching voice of lack inside my own head, and I flagrantly disregarded the bounty of Jesus and the abundance of His love.

I didn’t know where to begin again. I knew I’d misplaced my identity, but I was scared to approach God with my missteps of belief and doubt. How could I lose that precious gift of identity in Christ, after searching so long and so hard to find it before?? But one day last week I finally worked up the courage to ask God what He thinks of me. Sincerely expecting a reply, I ventured a quiet and tentative, “God, who do you say I am?” And Jesus, mysterious Son of Man that He is, simply and immediately asked back, “Who do you say I AM?”

“Who do YOU say I AM???”

Not an answer did the Promised One provide; merely, like so many instances in the Gospels, another question. Who do I say Jesus is?? Because maybe that’s where I went wrong, forgetting who Jesus is. Because maybe I don’t have to ask so many questions about myself, if I know the answer to the question about Jesus. And maybe I don’t have to get lost in my own dark, dangerous head, if I can get lost in the majesty and glory of the Creator, of the Redeemer, of the Comforter, of the Trinity.

Don’t get me wrong: it’s a legitimate question to ask “Who does God say I am?” But now I know it’s just as legitimate to be asked by Him — as Jesus asked Peter and the other disciples — “Who do you say I AM?” Because maybe, just maybe, that’s the question that can transfer my focus from Self onto Savior. And maybe, just maybe, the moment I answer that question is the moment the clouds will start to lift.

Turns out, the way up out of the pit isn’t to believe in myself better, it’s to believe in Someone Better. For as Peter answered, I believe Jesus is the Christ, the son of the living God, and HIS identity alone is what holds sway over the clinging darkness.

Linking up with Velvet Ashes

A Letter for the One Who’s Waiting {Velvet Ashes}

by Elizabeth

waiting-shortcuts-detour-726x484

You in the waiting,
Yes, you
And yes, me too —
For we are all waiting for something —
Dear sister,
Beloved one,
You in the waiting,
This much I know:
There are no shortcuts to healing.
There are no shortcuts to wholeness.
For we can’t know God as Healer without first being wounded.
And we can’t know God as guide without first being lost.
We can’t know Him as counselor without first being confused.
And we can’t know Him as comforter without first sustaining pain.
We can’t know Him as intimate companion without first feeling abandoned.
And we can’t find our identity in Christ alone without first losing it elsewhere.

You in the waiting,
Dear One,
This much I know:
There is no way around the ache of the human soul.
There is no detour through the pain.
When we walk through the valley —
And we will all walk through the valley —
None of us gets to skirt around the edges.
We are completely baptized in sorrow,
Fully immersed in its grief.
For there are no shortcuts to healing,
No shortcuts to joy.
There is only Jesus.
If anything, He is the short cut:
He is, after all, our Way home
Even if that way be long and broken.

So you in the waiting,
Keep waiting.
Keep seeking,
And keep asking,
Even in the silence —
For there may be silence —
And even in the darkness —
For there may be darkness —
But don’t you give up Hope.
Hold on to Hope.
Hold on to the name of our Jesus.
This waiting, it takes time.
It takes space.
And, I wish I didn’t have to say this, but —
It takes hard work too:
The hard work of shedding the lies we believe about God,
The hard work of shedding the lies we believe about ourselves,
The hard work of being honest with Him about the injuries,
And the hard, Spirit-assisted work of letting go of our entangling sins.

So you in the waiting,
Yes you —
And yes, me too —
For we are all waiting for something —
Dearest sister,
Beloved One,
You in the waiting,
This much I know:
There are no shortcuts to healing,
But in Jesus there is healing.
And there are no shortcuts to wholeness,
But in Jesus there is wholeness.
So we hold on to Him,
We hold on to Hope,
And together, we wait.

Originally published here, reprinted with permission.

Anyway

by Jonathan

photo-1439792675105-701e6a4ab6f0a

They were unclean and unwell, with oozing sores and wounded hearts.
He touched them anyway.

They were dirty and uncouth, sinners all.
He ate with them anyway.

They disbelieved, decried, and occasionally denied.
He loved them anyway.

He knew that nine out of ten wouldn’t say thanks for his regenerative gift.
He healed them anyway.

The tax man and fisherman weren’t looking for a revolution, or a teacher.
He called them anyway.

The rebel man was looking for revolution and a leader, but the wrong kind.
He called him anyway.

They were religious and in charge, with Abraham their father and Law their protector.
He challenged them anyway.

They were cruel and foreign, warrior oppressors gambling for his last shred of dignity.
He forgave them anyway.

They locked his corpse behind stone and guard and seal, ensuring that death and darkness held their catch.

He rose anyway.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Christ is Risen.
He is Risen Indeed!

But I’ve done all these good things . . .

by Elizabeth

train-tracks-1081672_960_720

The question came as Jesus was beginning His last journey to Jerusalem. It came as He was heading toward His most heart-rending task, as He was starting the long descent toward death: “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

We all know the story. A young, rich, religious man calls Jesus good and then asks Him how to achieve eternal life. Jesus first scolds him for calling anyone “good” but God. Then, feeling genuine love for the man, Jesus tells him to follow the commandments and proceeds to list several of them.

The man defends himself. “I’ve obeyed all these commandments since I was young,” he says. But Jesus informs him that there is still something he hasn’t done – namely, to sell all his possessions, give the money to the poor, and follow Jesus. The man’s face falls when he hears this, and he goes away sad, for he was a very wealthy man.

I’d always glossed over this incident, thinking it might not apply to me. (I’d also neglected to notice until now that it occurred just before Jesus enters Jerusalem for the last time.) But this month as I again worked my way through the end of Jesus’ earthly ministry, it suddenly struck me: the story of the rich, young ruler is my story.

“I’ve obeyed all these commandments since I was young” — once upon a time I said those words out loud, too. I’d just been confronted by my own sin, and I was shocked. I remember protesting, “But I’ve spent my whole life trying to follow God!” My statement was just another version of the rich, young man’s statement; it was just another version of pride.

And like the man, my face fell too. When I saw my attitude for what it was — sin — I did an abrupt U-turn. I interpreted my sin as the worst of all sins and became very depressed. My sin wasn’t a sin that could be forgiven, you see. A sin like mine didn’t deserve God’s grace and forgiveness. Where before I had thought I was better than others, I now thought I was worse.

I rolled around in my sorrow and self-pity until a friend gently pointed out that I was exhibiting reverse pride: the kind of pride that says my sins are so bad they can’t be forgiven. I had flipped from the regular old pride of thinking I was a good person to the insidious, upside-down version of pride that said I could never deserve God’s forgiveness.

But my goodness was never good enough anyway, and reverse pride is a sin to repent of, too. So Jesus basically said the same thing to me that He said to the young man: “There is something you still lack.” That something was a humble awareness of grace. Because in the end, Jesus didn’t ask me to give up all my possessions. (Moving to Asia isn’t the same thing.)

What Jesus has asked me to give up is the idea of myself as someone who has done good things. He’s asked me to give up the idea that I’ve followed the commands well. Because I haven’t. And He’s asked me to give up the idea that any sin is beyond His reach, including the prideful belief that I have no (or very small) sins.

As Jesus watched the man in this story walk away, He explained to His disciples how difficult it is for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of heaven. His announcement left the disciples wondering who in the world could be saved – because to a certain extent, we all trust in both riches and our own good works.

But here is where the story gets good, because Jesus told His disciples that “What is impossible for people is possible with God.” And He kept walking toward Jerusalem to make the impossible, possible. He kept walking toward Jerusalem to make the man’s question irrelevant. He kept walking toward Jerusalem to demonstrate His genuine love for us and to give a very un-good humanity the goodness that belongs to God alone.

Whether we’ve done “all these things” since our youth or not.

(Originally published at A Life Overseas.)

Bleeding for Dust Like Us

by Elizabeth

the-story-of-jesus-726x484

I worked at a Christian summer camp when I was a teenager. We attended Hymn Sing every morning, and at the end of every Hymn Sing we wandered off to our Bible classes while singing these words from Fanny Crosby: “Tell me the story of Jesus, write on my heart every word. Tell me the story most precious, sweetest that ever was heard.”

I didn’t realize at the time just how central that prayer-song is to our Christian walk. For what is theology but the stories we tell ourselves about God? So we cry: Tell me the story of Jesus. Tell me the story of a God-become-flesh, a God-who-dwells-among. Tell me the story of a God who sacrifices of self, who pours out His life-blood for dust like us.

Tell me the story of a God who sets captives free and makes blind people see. Tell me the story that never gets old or grows stale. Tell me the story that revives my weary soul, the story that brings new life to all. Tell me the same story I’ve been hearing for thirty years, the same story people have been telling for two thousand years: Tell me the story of Jesus.

I love this story. Truly I do. It doesn’t matter how many times I hear the story, I can’t get enough of it. And it never gets old. But. Sometimes I forget. And sometimes I need a reminder. Last month my reminder came in the form of C.S. Lewis’s children’s novel The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. For when I read it with my children, I read words like these:

“Please – Aslan,” said Lucy, “can anything be done to save Edmund?”
“All shall be done,” said Aslan, “but it may be harder than you think.”

As I spoke those words out loud, I remembered the greatest Story ever told: the enormity of Jesus’ sacrifice, the enormity of my need for that sacrifice, the enormity of Jesus’ love for all of humanity. Believe me, I needed the reminder.

Glennon Melton has said that “Grace cannot be personal if it is not universal.” If grace is for me, then it’s for you. And if it’s for you, then it’s also for me. This is a truth about grace that I sometimes forget. Sometimes I need reminding of the personal, and sometimes I need reminding of the universal. Last month I needed reminding of both, and I found them both in the pages of an ageless children’s story.

This week the global Church is preparing for Easter. We’re on a collective journey toward the Cross and toward the Resurrection that follows. As we journey, let us remember the truths immortalized in the Apostles’ Creed. They are the core, the crux, the fundamentals of our faith. They are the words we must remember when we begin to forget. And they are the words I leave you with today.

I believe in God, the Father Almighty,
creator of heaven and earth.
I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord,
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
born of the Virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried;
he descended to the dead.
On the third day he rose again;
he ascended into heaven,
he is seated at the right hand of the Father,
and he will come to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic Church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting.
Amen.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

When you forget the Story, what helps you remember??

(Originally published at Velvet Ashes.)

Dear American Church

by Elizabeth

dac1

Dear American Church,

I love you. You are the Church that birthed me, the Church that raised me, the Church that sent me out — and I will always be grateful for you. I will always love you.

But, dear American Church, can you not see? The walking wounded are among you, and you seem blind to their pain. Have you no eyes to see, no ears to hear, no heart to care?

There are people among you who long to be listened to, who long to be cared for. Who better to care, than the Body of Christ? And who better to walk alongside, than the people of God?

But from my vantage point, American Church, you’re not paying any attention.

In all my stateside travels, the one constant has been people who want to tell their stories. Perhaps they’ve lived overseas for a time or moved here from abroad. Perhaps they stayed in America and simply accumulated some pain along the way.

These people, they’re hurting, and they don’t have anyone to tell their stories to. No one seems to be listening. For who could possibly be interested in anything besides American sports and American vacations and the relentless keeping-up-with-the-Joneses-American-rat-race life??

Everywhere I go in America, I talk to people who’ve had life-changing experiences, who are lonely and hurting. When I sit down with them, their stories start flowing. When I ask them if they have anyone else to tell their stories to, they answer, “No.”

Won’t anyone listen to them?? Won’t anyone be a safe place for them to land??

Dear American church, people want to tell you their stories. They want to be heard. They want to be known. From the immigrant to the missionary, from the layperson to the local minister, these travelers are hungry for people who care.

Dear American Church, don’t you remember that we bear God’s image? And as image-bearers, don’t you know that God calls us to imitate Him in His question to Hagar: “Where have you come from, and where are you going?”?

Dear American Church, you know you don’t have to fix people’s problems, right?? All you have to do is open up your heart and show that you care. All you have to do is sit in silence and listen. All you have to do is offer up the occasional hug and prayer.

All you have to do is let their hurt, hurt you.

Dear American Church, let me tell you something. The wounded? They’re closer to heaven than you are. They’ve seen brokenness. They’ve watched the world break people. They’ve watched the world break them. And they are closer to the Kingdom because of it.

Blessed are those who realize their need for Him, for the Kingdom of heaven is theirs. These words come straight from the mouth of Jesus. The Kingdom is at hand, He tells us; it’s near the brokenhearted. And when we draw near the brokenhearted, we draw near the Kingdom, too.

Blessed are the pure in heart, says our Christ, for they will see God. Blessed are the ones whose hearts are honest in all things, whose hearts know their wounds and know their own deceit. They are closer to heaven than we are. They are the ones who will see God, who will experience Him.

The lonely and the hurting, they know what heaven is, because they know what heaven isn’t — it’s everything they’re not living. They know they need care and companionship, redemption and restoration. In their weakness and in their longing, they are that much closer to heaven, that much closer to the heart of our Savior for this broken world.

Dear American Church, stretch out your hand to them, and take one step closer to the rule of Christ. Touch their pain, and walk arm and arm into the Kingdom with them. Share in their sorrows, and taste of heaven.

Ask questions and listen to their answers. Cry with them, grieve with them, long with them. All they need is you, dear American Church, open-handed and open-hearted.

Dear American Church, I beg of you to do this with me. I cannot bear this burden alone. And neither can I bear the thought of losing my faith in you.  So won’t you enter the Kingdom with me? Won’t you take a look at suffering, and see God with me?

Let us enter into the Kingdom hand in hand with the hurting. They will lead us. They will guide us. The poor in spirit and the pure in heart, the ones who are honest, the ones who are needy, let them take us by the hand and lead us into the Kingdom.

I’m willing. Are you?

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Other posts in The Church series:

Hungry for Community

“Me Too” Moments

On Not Being the Casserole Lady

I am a Worshipper

Authenticity is Not New

What is a Woman Worth?

This post was originally written for and published in The Light Times Magazine, with Khmer translation done by the magazine editors. Download a PDF of the article (in English and Khmer) here. — Jonathan

wiaww3

All over our world today, women are treated like trash. They are abused. They are neglected. They are desired only for what they can give (their bodies, their service, for example). They are not desired for who they are.

In our churches, it should be different. For those who follow Jesus, it should be very, very different.

What does Jesus think about women? How did Jesus talk with women? How did Jesus treat women? Before we look at how Jesus treated women, we need to look at how Adam treated Eve.

 

Blame
In the beginning, there was intimacy and freedom and trust. But sin shattered that intimacy. Sin broke the trust between Adam and Eve, and we are still suffering because of it. The moment sin entered the world, men started blaming women. (See Genesis 3:12) And we’re still blaming women for our sin.

Have you ever heard a man blame a woman for tempting him? Men hit women and then say, “She wasn’t respectful enough.” Often, men lust and then blame women. “She wasn’t wearing enough clothes. She was not modest.” I would like to say something very clearly: if a man lusts after a women, it is the man’s sin. If a man sins, it’s the man’s sin. Christian men must stop blaming women for their sin. Men have been doing this since the beginning, but we need to stop now.

I believe Jesus wants to restore intimacy and freedom and trust. But first, men must learn to value women like Jesus did.

 

The Value of Women
Jesus grew up in a culture where women were seen as property. But Jesus comes along and treats women with dignity and respect, as equal heirs of the Kingdom. Loved.

Jesus’ actions were very strange.

The culture in Jesus’ time treated women very poorly. Like slaves. The Romans did not allow women in politics or sports. Women were not allowed to go out in public alone. A woman was not allowed to learn under a rabbi and could not call a rabbi “Teacher.”

But Jesus often went out of his way to talk with women. He taught women. He allowed women to follow him. He treated women like they were worth his time, because they were. And are. In one case, Jesus even allowed a woman to return to her village as a missionary, spreading the good news about what Jesus had done for her. Jesus believed this woman was valuable enough to carry the most important Message the world has ever seen. (See John 4)

And when it was time for people to find out that he was alive again, the first people to know were women. Women were the very first people to announce the resurrection of Jesus. This was very strange. In that culture, women could not be legal witnesses in a court of law, but now, they are witnesses of the greatest event in history. And they’re telling men all about it. (See John 20)

There is one more story that we must talk about. In John 8, a very vulnerable woman is in front of very powerful men. And Jesus stands in between. Because that’s where he always stands. Jesus always positions himself between religious men and hurting women. When the men want to throw stones, Jesus stands there, protecting, wanting to heal hearts.

We must follow his example.

Ladies, hear what Jesus says to you,

You are loved,
You are valuable,
You are precious to me. 

I made you on purpose, and I love you.
If you have been hurt or abused, I am so sorry.
If you feel shame, remember that I came to erase shame.
When I see you, I do not see shame.
I see the girl I Iove, the girl I died for. 

My daughters are shameless and blameless.
Perfect in my sight.

It is my hope and prayer that the Church in Cambodia would be a place where all people are respected and loved and cherished. Old and young. Rich and poor. Men and women.

Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

[page 1 of 2]