Faith, Culture & The Church
"In Him [Christ] you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit."
(Ephesians 2:22, NIV)
(Ephesians 2:22, NIV)
Two weeks ago, I ended the telling of my testimony with the lyrics from, New Wine. To me, it was a declaration to my heart and the cloud of witnesses listening that night. In the months leading up to sharing my testimony, these words spoke comfort to my soul and reminded me that who I am and what I am called to hinge not on my vocation, location or plans: That I can trust God with what he sets before me. And that in the process of following the leadership of God, there will be pressing, crushing and the making of new things out of the old.
In my testimony, I shared that life as of late has required surrender and breaking--leaning desperately on the hope of new ground being broken to bring forth growth. The hope of new wine being poured and the new ground being broken filled me with hope and confidence in the future.
But in the days that followed the sharing of my testimony, the hope slowly dwindled. Instead, it seemed the crushing and the breaking were only producing the hope of a dream, the waiting on of a vision. Not the dream or vision actually happening. Doubt began to say, “Maybe those dreams and visions won’t ever actually happen. Maybe you dream too big.”
I don’t know about you. But for me sometimes dreams and visions are heavy parcels to carry. Sometimes the hope of the good that I know will come from the pressing and the plowing gets stomped on by the circumstances and emotions that usher in, presenting themselves as truth and reality.
That is where I found myself in the wee hours of late night and early morning this week, seemingly wrecked by the crushing and breaking. Disappointment, grief, and aloneness swallowed up my mind and soul and for two hours sleep would not come--only tears, silent pleas for understanding, and a metaphorical beating of fists on the doors of insight and understanding.
Yet, in between the sobs and the ugly snot blocking my airway, there were lyrics running in my mind--a sort of soundtrack to the scene of the pain shaking itself out as I sat in the silence of a quiet house, on a quiet street, in the middle of the night. Alone.
Where had these waves of discouragement come from?
Why couldn’t sleep just come?
I had no answers. Only aching and churning. For what and from what were both frustratingly unclear.
The gravity of goals, dreams, visions, purpose, parenting, discipling, and teaching. The dreams deferred, the doors un-opened, the misunderstandings, the changes in plans, the uprooted things. The living in the in-between of all the things. In those hours it all crushed. It all pressed. It all broke me down. It all left me feeling alone, exhausted and unable to sleep.
Until it ceased. And there were no tears left to cry and no thoughts left to think. Just silence and lyrics in my head and I ventured off to sleep. Worn out and torn up and yet peace enough to rest deep.
And this is where the story shifts from pain and pressing to truth and confidence even when I can’t feel God’s nearness, He hears my cries: I am never, ever alone. He sees. He hears. He pursues. And his rescue comes through the ministry of His Spirit and His people. The plowing is birthing growth even when it doesn't feel or look like it.
Twelve hours later, sitting in the nursery at church with a friend, God blew me away with who he is, who is to me, and the beauty of living life within the Body of Christ. With some caution and trepidation, a friend leaned in and said, “I had a dream about you last night. I am not sure what it means. If it means anything. But this is what happened.”
Tears filled my eyes as I realized that her dream woke her up at the time that I had ceased crying and was finally able to go to bed. God spoke to her through that dream to pray over me with praises. And that later she was to remind me that no matter what I am facing, praise was to be my road to what God had for me.
I was floored. I have believed from the time I was young that God still speaks. I have never questioned that the Holy Spirit does ministry through dreams and words. I just hadn’t seen it so obviously and clearly in my life. Here I was in our little church nursey, on just another typical Sunday, and God was using this space to remind me I was not alone. And not only that, God had woke up my friend in the night to intercede for me even though she knew nothing of what my week had contained.
But it gets even better. While I was tearfully trying to tell this friend the events of my sleepless night and how her dream and words “keep praising” were exactly what I needed to hear, another friend sat down next to me and said, “Hey, I don’t know if this means anything or not. But I had a vivid, and maybe slightly strange dream about you last night.”
She then proceeded to tell me her dream when another friend, who has more knowledge than the rest of us in dream interpretation, walked in. I am not making this up. We were nearly the last people at church and we all ended up in the same room talking about dreams about me. Both dreams were retold and then interpreted as messages of instruction, intercession, and future ministry roads to be traveled. (Both dreams involved roads.)
What in the world?
There is no denying He hears our cries (Psalm 34:17, Psalm 18:6). And He wanted to make very sure that I believed this of Him. I am in awe of His orchestrating of not just our lives, but our dreams, conversations and midnight cries. I shouldn’t be stunned, but I am. God is huge, magnificent and powerful. But he is also close, intimate and witty.
You see, I had no intention of sharing with anyone that I had been up in anguish during the night. I had no plans to ask for prayer or seek counsel on what I had experienced. At least not that morning. I didn’t understand my own sorrow and I didn’t know what to do with it. And most of all, I wanted to just sit in my heaviness for a while--process it, analyze, gain some understanding of it before I shared it with anyone. In fact, on the way to church that morning, when I was reflecting on my sadness, and heard the phrase, “put on a garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness” go through my thoughts, I made a mental note that I would do that later. I didn’t want to do that now. I wanted to pull away and hide in the dark and mull it over.
But I would show up to church because that is what I do. And I would put on my best happy pastor’s wife face and charge through.
And here is where I see the grace and pursuit of God most--he let me be found even when I didn’t even want to be found. He used my lack-luster obedience and the members of my church family to get through to me a message that would pull me out of my darkness and into his marvelous light. Even when I didn’t so much want that, yet. And he had it all set up and ready to play out before the church doors opened.
He orchestrated it in the midst of my crying. And the obedience and boldness of my friends sharing with me the “strange” dreams they had while I was wrestling with the pressing and the plowing of new things in my life, demonstrated His amazingly unexplainable power and pursuit.
How can I not love and serve a God like that?
How can I not praise and adore a Father like that?
How can I not bear witness to the necessity of living life alongside the believers that make up the body of Christ?
How can I not believe that he is a good God who is good to me?
There is wrestling in this life. There are doubts that can come and knock us down. There are moments in our journey in which we seemingly travel alone. These are real. These are hard. These crush and break. Yet, the song does not end there.
He hears our cry. He sees our pile of Kleenexes on the floor. And He responds by sending forth his words and encouragement through the people in our lives. He is a friend who is closer than a sister (Proverbs 18:24), who sends sisters our way to get us to open up about our hurts, instructs us to worship, and encourage us to keep moving forward.
This is the message my soul needed this week. I share this story in the case that your heart and mind need to be reminded of it too. I also share it because if my friends had not shared with me their dreams, my outlook on today and my trust in God at this moment would still be dismal. I would likely be sitting here in my heaviness, letting the heft of all that has been hard pull me down.
But I am not pulled down and burdened. Instead, I am putting on the garment of praise. I am searching desperately in my memory for the lyrics I heard in my mind when I sat sobbing because I want to know what I missed in them when my tears consumed me. My circumstances haven’t changed. The causes of my hurt and tears are not extinguished, but my eyes are set on believing that the new wine is coming, the ground is being prepared for a new season, and even though it is hard, I am seen, I am heard, and I am able to press on with praise as my weapon and the Body of Christ as my teammates.
We are in this race together friends. Let’s run like we believe it. Let’s be teammates that listen to the voice of the Holy Spirit and abide in Him so that when the need arises for us to hear His voice--asking us to intercede and encourage each other--we are available and willing. Sunday mornings are for more than normal and routines. They are for the building up of the Body of Christ. Some times we are on the receiving end, and other times we are on the ministry end. And that is why we all need to keep showing up. When we do, miracles can happen that bring tears into the light and make way for hope and truth win.
Sometimes I look around at my life--our little home that is sometimes clean, our backyard with a swing-set, a rabbit and a dog, our children who are not so little anymore, our marriage that is now the age of a teenager--and I wonder, is this really my life? How can it be that I am this blessed, this cared for, this crazy, this loved, and. . . this old.
Truly, I don't really know where the 10 years between 27 and 37 went. I am pretty sure my brain still thinks I am 27, but my body and the ages of my kids are helpful reminders that I am not.
On this Easter evening, I wonder at the time that has passed between Christ's resurrection and the life I am living right now in the wake of his saving grace. Do all the years between feel like a single second or maybe a minute to God? Does it feel like just yesterday he sent Jesus down to walk among us and teach us of redemption through relationship?
And then the bigger question, the one that should impact my every day arises in me and asks, do I live like the power that raised Jesus from the dead is as close and accessible today as it was on that first day that death was defeated? Do I live with an excitement like he saved me just yesterday? Do I live like I know my life today is different because of the yesterday of 2000 years ago?
When I look around at my little life and assess what I see in light of the fact that there once was a man who walked the earth with people just like me who had homes, and lives, and children and marriages, and pain I wonder at his perspective. He stepped into the mess of earth and built relationships with some of the least unlikely men and women and then he died in front of their eyes. And rose just behind their tears. And perhaps it felt like time stood still for a bit.
And yet, on the third day, when the stone was rolled away their ordinary changed because they got to see, touch, talk to and believe this Jesus was who he said he was--fully God, fully man, the savior of the world, the destroyer of ordinary.
What did the next years feel like to those who loved Jesus, watched him die and watched him rise? To those who began the first churches? Did the zeal wear off? Did they go back to their old habits or ways of thinking?
I don't think the ones who really believed him did. Most of them died fighting to share the Gospel of Jesus' saving grace to a world that persecuted them and ran them out of town. To choose to keep believing and professing Jesus was to choose a life full of risk of death. And they chose this!
Would who I believe Jesus to be give me the courage and the strength to risk it all--family, home, comfort, my earthly future hope and dreams--to live like I believed it, and share the truth of the Gospel with others?
Am I that brave?
Am I that courageous?
Am I that sure?
In short, no. I am not. My humanness is tripping me up all the time. But, Easter reminds me that God has been using unlikely, unsure humans to build his church since the days Jesus rose from the grave. And because of their stories and the Spirit’s power at work in me, I can at the very least start living like I do.
Perhaps the courage, like Jill Briscoe says, is waiting on the other side of my obedience. Perhaps, actions come first and the power settles in second? Perhaps my confidence needs to be weak because it is only in my weakness that He is strong. And then my faith is faith because I am operating out of true dependence on Christ and belief in the the one who is the Word come in the flesh, that all the world could know the light wins over darkness.
A lot of the days in my life start out just as ordinary as the one before. A lot of Sundays I corral my troop and arrive late to church, again! But on this Easter Sunday, I am reminded that there is actually nothing about this life I live that is ordinary because you and I have a great commission to fulfill--Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation (Mark 16:15).
I can let the days go by and get stuck in the day-to-day, or I can take actions that show I believe, "The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead, he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance" (1 Peter 3:9). And that I have what I need right where I am to bring the powerful message of Easter to those who cross my path in the in-between of life now and eternity to come.
Happy Easter friends! I pray you and I both will not imagine for a second that we live ordinary lives. Instead, that we will remember, even if our lives look ordinary in the pictures we post that behind the screens, we are able to choose to live out beliefs that drive actions that move us into needing the courage found in the power of the Spirit that raised Jesus from the grave.