You Plus Me Equals Us

shredded wheatPicture a handful of strong, determined and loyal men, both young and old who show up to the dusty fields before sunrise, while it is still dark, ready and willing to work. Their job is a long and tiresome one, often working from sun up to sun down. The heat and strain on their backs becomes too much by midday–each and every day– as they plant, nurture, and harvest wheat, but they don’t complain; they keep working “as if unto the Lord”. Years of engaging toilsome work publicizes itself for all to see in the deeply etched lines of their faces, which seemed stained with grit and grime. They wear these lines proudly for they speak of their character and the One for whom they work. They find purpose in their work and confidants in the men they labor shoulder to shoulder with day in and day out. They considered one another family.

Early one morning just as the sun had made its way over the horizon and the birds could be heard tweeting their melodies of glee, their Boss, a loyal, sacrificial man of insurmountable integrity Whom is well respected and highly esteemed in the community, meets them at the fields. This was part of His daily routine for He genuinely cared for His workers and always made Himself available. He balanced His position of Boss and Friend seamlessly and His workers respect Him for His hard, honest direction in both business and matters of the heart. This day, He heaves the bulky burlap bags of seeds from His rig, breaking a sweat Himself, as His men prepare to plant the acres of just fertilized and prepared fields. His men, have grown old with Him, learned the ropes by watching, and imitating both His methods and principals through their years under His care. They knew what needed to be done, so without a word, the Boss tips His hat, gives a quick nod and with a twinkle in His smiling eyes, He turns to leave. He trusts His workers. They have proven themselves reliable, valuable and desiring the best. They know the land and the job so well, they could have written the manual themselves!

Diligently, day after day, the workers sow the seeds and survey the land as they look for new growth and prepare for the harvest season.  They work as if the field belongs to them, doing whatever it takes because they genuinely desire to grow a successful crop and to please their Boss. Weeks pass, when one day the workers notice that among the healthy, thriving wheat stalks, thistles have taken root. In their years of experience, they haven’t encountered such an enormous outbreak. The men look questioningly at one another and with each acre they assess, their growing concern quickly turns to panic.  They sprint back to their Boss, breathlessly panting, “Weren’t the seeds You gave us to plant good? Were they not stored in the cool dark cellar and kept safe?” As they breathed the words to life, they knew the answer. They didn’t have to question their Boss’ methods, but they could not explain what else might have contributed to the heavily interspersed weeds among their prized wheat; the very thing that could destroy it.

Their Boss smiled ruefully, shaking His head, His eyes dropping to where He watched the dust float heavenward with each scuff of His boot along the dry ground. Slowly, His teary eyes met theirs and with such a tenderness in His voice, He whispered, “Boys, I knew this day was coming; a day when our competition would sneak in and plant weeds in My fields in hopes to choke out My healthy stalks”. The men, eager to do whatever needed to be done, replied with raised voices, “Well, we’ll show him, we’ll spend as long as it takes to pull up the weeds. We will restore Your plan. We will restore what is damaged and make it better than new”. Their Boss looks at them again, kindness in His eyes as He walks toward them and speaks once more, “No, my boys. Thank you for your willingness to act justly on My behalf. I appreciate the heart in which you mean to help, but something you might not have considered is if you were to pull up the weeds, you may accidently uproot the wheat as well. Let’s do this: let them be; let the weeds grow alongside the wheat until they reach maturity, until the time of harvest, and then you may pull the weeds and burn them”. The men, confused, questioned Him, “But Boss, are You not worried that the weeds will ruin the wheat? The weeds, the bad, the less desirable will surely weaken or destroy the wheat, the good, the desired–the very thing we have worked so hard to attain”. Their Boss let out a soft “hmmm”, dropped His head and slowly walked back to His quarters.

Can you imagine the talk that ensued once their Boss was out of ear shot?
Do you think they respected His orders, or do you think some of them felt they knew better and acted on their Boss’s behalf?
What do you think the end results would have been?
Who do we identify with in this parable?
(Obviously, I’ve taken some liberties in expanding the story found in Matthew 13:24-29 with the hope that we might picture it all the more clearly and identify with it on a more personal level).

To paint with more detailed brush stokes, this story represents non-Christians (weeds) living among Christians (wheat) and how those with good intentions often believe the best thing to do is to separate the two (us and them). The workers in this story identified with the wheat, as many of us, as Christ-followers, do. Their initial thought was to pull up the weeds, but Jen Hatmaker, in her insightful (and seriously life-changing) book, “Interrupted” points out that “we are qualified to administer mercy, not judgment”. Think about that for a moment. Let that fact sink in. Stings a little, doesn’t it? For many of us, we have looked at the world as black and white, good or bad, for God or against God. We play judge and jury.

Friends, we will encounter more than our fair share of weeds; people that make us uncomfortable because they think, behave, worship, vote, live differently, and/or have a different sexual orientation than we do. (think homeless guy on the corner, those living in poverty in this country as well as others, the lesbian couple in the booth at the restaurant you’re dining at, boisterous Liberal, Republican or Democrat with opposing views, pro-choice/pro-life rallies, alternative music, drinking, drugs…honestly, could I hit anymore hot buttons? You get the point). To be honest, I’ve always identified with the wheat, but as I’ve grown in both age and faith, I find that my heart longs to draw closer to the weeds. Don’t misunderstand me, I don’t want to abandon my faith. On the contrary, I want to embrace what it has always been about, the part I have misunderstood, the part my legalistic background has declared bad and sinful and therefore, we must flee from. Jen Hatmaker makes a bold statement when she writes, “The correct character to identify with here is the weed which was shown mercy, not the Savior capable of discerning the human heart”. #convicted

To identify with the “least of these” or the “oppressed” or whatever we choose to label others outside ourselves is so counter-cultural, so uncomfortable, and if we’re honest, it come at a high cost; the cost of being ridiculed or misunderstood. I know this personally as fact! And we cannot make the outcome of whatever we put into motion with others hinge on whether or not it takes root on an eternal level. That’s not our job. Our job is to DO something. “Doing nothing is a blatant sin of omission” and we are held accountable for our actions/inactions. This does require a willing brokenness, a willingness to embrace certain frustration, and confess moments of judgment that seep in from time to time in addition to a fullness of joy we have never really experienced before. I believe becoming less in stuff and stature and living, for lack of a better phrase, (the overused and highly underlived word) on mission is where we find fulfillment, genuine liberty. I can’t help but to think of John 3:30, which echoes the constant prayer of my heart, “I must decrease, so that He may increase”.

What it all boils down to is this: it’s you and me, weeds and wheat, living together. Let’s really live intentionally together. It’s not our job to separate ourselves or even cast judgment on those different from us. That’s God’s job. Our job is to be purposeful, intentional in showing Christ’s love to all people. I’m pretty sure that’s what Jesus implied, scratch that, commanded when He said, “Go” and “Do”. Faith is not meant to bless the blessed. It’s intended to bless the marginalized.

Wondrously Known

DSC_0592While running errands on a cool dusk evening in late September, I noticed an older bedraggled gentleman hunched over, shakily holding onto one side of his walker, while attempting to a hold his large cardboard sign for passer-byers to see with his gnarled fingers of the other. As I rounded the corner, I saw that he was wearing only one shoe and the other had no laces. He had dropped his sign and was struggling to pick it up.  I was immediately endeared to him; maybe it was because he had a grandfather-like quality about him, maybe it was because I could see that his needs extend beyond the simple plea scrawled on his sign as I looked into his milky grey-blue eyes, I don’t know. I was running slightly behind, but decided to park and walk one of the gallon-size Ziploc bags filled with various necessities I keep in a box behind my seat, over to this man. As I struck up a brief conversation with him, he told me that he had children and it was them that he was on the corner for, not for himself. They needed milk and school supplies; neither of which were in my bag, mind you. I put my hand on his shoulder, looked him in the eye and told him I was deeply sorry for him and his family and that I would pray for him. He thanked me for my kindness as he reached out to grasp my hand for a brief moment before we parted ways. It was a sweet encounter I will never forget, but not because he was a precious old man, which I am entirely endeared to, or because I gave him one of my necessity bags. No! It was because I understood moments later that I was not meeting his greatest need—to be seen, to be known.

I realize that the territory that I am about to embark comes at the risk of sounding slightly haughty. I assure you nothing could be further from reality because after my brief encounter with this dear man, I rounded the corner, briskly walking back to my jeep pretending I didn’t see the haze of my breath drifting heavenward, and was struck, as if by lightening, by the fact that I had never asked the man his name. It seemed so simple, so little in the grand scheme of what I was attempting to do that I have bypassed this noteworthy detail dozens of times without this thought ever crossing my mind; but this night…this night I could not escape the mournful, heart-crushing pain that accompanied this realization. This level of grief was unlike anything I’ve ever experienced because with it, after copious contemplation and soul searching, I understood what it really means to be seen, to be known and the undeniable significance this is for all people (I think herein lays a glimpse into the meaning of the “Love your neighbor as yourself” commandment–Matthew 22:39). For days, and even now, when I recall this story, my soul aches so deeply, so intensely, that my prayers scarcely grasp adequate words to convey my sincere sorrow and conviction for not seeing God’s child. I did not see Him.

I have often asked the Lord to break my heart for what breaks His, to give me His eyes to see the lost, the weary, the broken, and that He would show me how to respond in a meaningful way. And all this time I thought my sensitive heart was a fractured replica of His. Maybe it still is; but I know in the deepest part of who I am that God has called me out beyond my comfort zone and into an area where I have no choice but to trust Him to lead me. It is here where real faith stands. And it’s here that I have been fearful to set my anchor.

Author, Francis Chan, reminds us that “God’s definition of what matters is pretty straightforward. He measures our lives by how we love”. The question then becomes, “How do we love?” It is not a matter of if or who, or even when, but how do we love? If we were to pull apart Psalm 139, we would see how Christ loved us. Though I will not dissect each verse for you here, I have to point out at least verse one: “Oh Lord, you have searched me and you know me”.  This word know is not a mere encounter. In the Greek, “yada” is a verb meaning to “know relationally and experientially. God Knows [our] hearts entirely” (The Complete Word Study Dictionary).

“To know” can be based on factual knowledge as well as relational knowledge—and I suppose it is the later that I reference as I attempt to write out my thoughts.

I believe one of our most basic needs and deepest longings is to be known. Sure there are those of us who, on one hand, fear being really known—at that ugly, gut level that even spooks us from time to time, but on the other hand, we have a tremendously, desperate desire to belong, to feel a part of something grander and deeper and all encompassing. We know to reach this place; we must become real. As I write these words, I can’t help but to think of one of my most treasured childhood stories, The Velveteen Rabbit, written by Margery Williams:
[in response to asking if becoming real happens all at once]”It doesn’t happen all at once,” said the Skin Horse. “You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get all loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”

Our fear of being known often keeps us from being real, raw, and vulnerable with others, but what if I told you that we are already known. All our flaws, fractures, scars; all our shame, regret, embarrassment; all those dreams we’ve been fearful to breathe to life, all those tears we’ve cried—all of it—all those pieces that make up the real us—what if someone saw all of us? What if…

John Piper paraphrases 1 Corinthians 8:3 beautifully when he writes, “Deeper than knowing God is being known by God”. God knows us from the inside out. Contemplating on the incredible fullness of this phrase, I understand that I not only belong to Him, but am loved, and adopted by Him. Being known, being connected to Christ, is nothing short of intimate and privileged and saving and friendship and…profoundly humbling.

This realization not only deepens my awareness of what it means to be seen, to be known, to be loved, but also the primacy of grace and the necessity of it to precede our relationship with Christ. In other words, “We love because He first loved us” (1 John 4:19). Without His gracious and sacrificial love for us, we would not have the ability to love Him. God is the source of our love and it is the Holy Spirit who enables us to love. When we know God, we can love as He does (1 John 4:6-7).

As Christians, we have often made our lives all about us knowing Him—but we often skim over the fact that He knows us—the real us—and He profoundly loves us in ways we cannot possibly fathom and made us His own.  C.S. Lewis wrote in his book, The Weight of Glory: “To please God—to be a real ingredient in the divine happiness…to be loved by God, not merely pitied, but delighted in as an artist delights in his work, or a father in a son—it seems impossible, a weight or a burden of glory which our thoughts can hardly sustain. But so it is”.

To be known, to be truly seen by the Lord is a tremendous gift of grace. And in turn, I want to live Christ all the more boldly, all the more loudly, all the more intentionally. It is enough for me to be known by Christ. More than enough. It’s actually who I am! So I take this new found appreciation for what it means to be known, to be seen, by God and think of the shoeless man on the corner—the man whose name I will never know—and know God sees him, the real him, his needs, his hurts, his dreams—and because God is gracious, He will prompt our hearts to know how to love others the way He does. Without a doubt, there will be times our faith will be tested, where we will wonder if we are on the right path, or doing enough ,or even the right things. God sees the motives of our hearts and when we trust Him to led us in unchartered oceans, where sometimes we fear dropping anchor, He meets us there, firm and secure, and works in and through us to show His love to all people.