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.

From Where I Stand

DSC_0755I’ll never forget those dark eyes, never. If I close my eyes now, 17 years later, I can still see them. I can still see the spacing of his lashes and prominent pupils due to the shadowy-dim light. His girth suffocated me as my face was pushed into the all-weather carpet, burning its roughness onto the left side of my face. Without a thought of possible repercussion, I mustered all I had within me and let out a blood-curdling scream for help, except my body betrayed me and no sound came from my lips. I felt my vocal cords constrict, and my mouth open, but no sound escaped. I tried again, telling myself that it was my fear choking me and that if I could just relax, then my voice would work. It didn’t. The silence was deafening; literally piercing my ears. Silence from him. Silence from me. And still, sometimes, the quiet can become too much for me. I remember thinking that this six-foot-four, 275-pound African-American man would give up after trying for what seemed an eternity to destroy me, but he didn’t. My thoughts quickly changed to wishing he would just hurry. I have no comprehension to this day how long the physical attack lasted. I only know I allowed the emotional portion to affect me a good share of the years since.

I felt like a rag doll; limp, lifeless and hopeless when I was finally left all alone in the dark. I didn’t cry—not right away. I picked myself up, cleaned up the best I could, and then I cried. And cried. And still to this day, I cry.

I cry for me. I cry for him. What has to happen in a person’s life to bring them to such a place to commit such violence without regard for another human being?

Weaving in and out of various parts of the story in an attempt to focus on where I am standing now, this week’s theme, I skip ahead nine months to share that with my husband of now 23 years by my side, I gave birth to a beautiful reminder of God’s Sovereignty, a bi-racial baby girl that resulted from that traumatic night; and a few years later found myself part of Pacific Northwest’s Speakers Bureau for Crisis Pregnancy Centers, focusing on both educating the public and fundraising. (I am incredibly, incredibly passionate about the issue of pro-life! Incredibly!).

At one such speaking engagement at Beasley Coliseum at WSU, I was teamed up with an African-American man. We had never met before and to be honest, I do not remember what he even spoke about. However, after the event was over, he approached me, pulling me aside, and with tears streaming down his cheeks, he said, “I want to ask you for forgiveness for my “brother”. Will you forgive him?” I was completely caught off guard and the strength that I had been mustering up all day betrayed me and I fell at his knees and sobbed like the little girl I so desperately had been trying to hide for a very long time.

I don’t remember my co-speaker’s name, but I have never, never forgotten his words. I have pondered them in every possible way; I’ve turned them over, upside down and back again. I’ve mulled them over, looked for a hidden agenda, trying to believe there was something there I wasn’t seeing. Friends, there wasn’t. His words, however, were not his own.  He was merely the messenger because they were the words of Christ, “Forgive them” (Luke 23:34).

17 years later, I, too, stand too as a messenger. Over and over again, I find myself standing in the expanding space between injustice and forgiveness, loving the unlovable, forgiving those who have wronged; those who have crudely dismissed the beauty and value of one’s life and forever altering others in seemingly unforgivable ways. Standing in this place of Hope happened to me. I wish I could say I have this amazingly loving heart and I sought out ways to show love to the unlovable, but I didn’t.

Somehow in the midst of my seething hatred, wishing ill-will of my attacker so much so that I have literally made myself physically sick and praying for vengeance, God filled me with compassion, broke my heart for what breaks His and allowed me to surrender all those warranted thoughts to Him and rely on His strength and leading in my life. I trust—I absolutely have to—that God will deal with each injustice in a far better way than I ever could. Injustice is something I cannot comprehend no matter how hard I stretch my imagination or try to put myself in an offender’s shoes. It’s ugly and it robs us of our security, dignity, and innocence while often jostling our faith in both humanity and God. Turning a blind eye to injustice is an injustice in itself!

I refuse to turn a blind eye to it—I run toward it now. I write to prisoners, through the Prisoners for Christ organization, study the Bible alongside them, write notes of encouragement, direction and prayers over them. When I mail my letters, it is only the beginning because I vow to continue to pray over each prisoner. I have no idea if the words I write are meaningful to them or are life-changing, but I do know I am showing them Jesus the best way I know how. I stand with my arms outstretched toward heaven in humble thanksgiving for the forgiveness that I have been graced with and desire with all my heart to share that freedom with those held captive (physically and emotionally) by their own unforgiveness and sin. I stand as messenger.

What’s The Deal With Baptism?

DSC_0496When I was 9 years old, I was a buck toothed lanky girl who stood at least a full head and shoulders taller than my peers, and although I felt incredibly awkward in my own skin and didn’t really have an understanding of who I was, I knew my Jesus and boy, did I loved Him. Sunday after Sunday, I sat in one of the 30 fabric covered pews flanked by floor-to-ceiling multi-colored stain glass windows with my mom and dad sitting strategically intertwined between my two siblings and I. I could predict church as well as Johnny Carson could predict the answers to clues in sealed envelopes. Church was not mysterious. It was predictable. I knew church. I knew the pastor’s sing-song rhythm so well, that I could practically count down the seconds and number of syllables until his inflection and seemingly calculated rise in tone began before he would slam his fist onto the pulpit. Echoing in the rafters and reverberating in our ears long after, that thud sent an urgency through our bones, guilting us to action, “less you be damned to hell”. It was a place that scared the bejeezus outta me (is that a bit sacrilegious here?) and at the same time felt entirely sacred. The only explanation I have to explain this seemingly oxymoron experience is to say that I felt the Lord’s presence in the face of legalism.

There were unspoken expectations and it seemed everyone played along. It was Sunday- Funday! I probably shouldn’t say that because wearing itchy wool skirts and pretending I liked being there wasn’t fun. If I can take an inch of liberty here, I would say, I bet it is actually Sunday-Funday for Satan. He loves when we put on those masks and act as if we’re OK. He loves when we compare our wool skirt to the pretty petite girl’s across the aisle. He loves when we sing songs about “oh how we love Jesus” and yet have just cursed Him the night before. I bet that sly little smile pulls at the corner of his mouth and a gleeful giggle escapes. We may be fooling the other wool skirt wearing chicks, but we’re not foolin’ anyone else, especially ourselves. That phrase, “fake it until you make it”, does not, absolutely does not apply here. I faked it. I faked it for the first 20 years of my life. And when I was 9, I started to realize that there were expectations of me that expanded beyond my outward appearance. And so I was baptized.

I remember checking the box on the envelope that I usually disassembled each week in order to have more space for drawing. I put it in the offering plate and that was that. A few weeks later I was baptized in front of the church with several other kids my age. My pastor asked me two questions prior: “Do you know Jesus as your Savior?” And “Would you be willing to sit on your knees once inside the baptismal so I can reach you?” (See, even at 9 I was taller than our pastor). My answer to both was “Yes”. I remember entering the baptismal and feeling absolutely elated. I swear they trucked in salt water because never have I buoyed that much. I tried to kneel, but I kept floating. The pastor managed and I was immersed “by the powers vested in [him] in the name of the Father, Son, and the Holy Ghost”. Baptism done. That’s all it was. And I thought nothing more of it for many years.

I have attended church my entire life so I have had the honor of witnessing hundreds of people profess their faith publically in baptism. The idea of baptism always stirred at my heart and when my own daughter asked to be baptized when she, too, was 9, I felt the weighty, albeit, honorable task of making sure she understood what it symbolized. When I was in her same position I believed two things about baptism and honestly, I do not know where these ideas came from. First, that it was something you had to do if you genuinely believed in the Lord, and secondly, that it was a washing of the spirit, performed to obtain a clean slate. What I did before the age of 9 that I felt needed a clean slate is beyond me!

As my faith continued to be cultivated, the more I learned to love, love my Jesus and the more I felt compelled to understand His beautiful Truths for myself. I leaned that those two ideas I had at 9 were not so far off the mark, but there was so much more to it and it had nothing to do with me. Romans 6:3-10 became pivotal verses for me as I dissected each with a ferocious hunger. Though I could easily write in more depth about my discovery, I will simply say that baptism is ALL about Jesus, not about us. It is an emblem of Christ’s burial; signifying death to sin’s rule over our lives, to our unbelief, rebellion, idolatry, etc. and His resurrection; signifying a new life of faith, submission, and unfathomable, gracious, and sacrificial love. It’s a sign of belonging, of union with Christ in His suffering, but also in His glory. This is what we are declaring when we are baptized! Doesn’t this just give you gooseies?!!!  Don’t misunderstand me here, I am not saying that baptism unites us with Christ—FAITH units us with Christ! Broken down so eloquently by author, John Piper, we understand that: “…we show this faith, we say this faith, and signify this faith, and symbolize this faith with the act of baptism.” If we believe, we publically proclaim it through baptism. He died and rose so that we might have life—and life to the full (John 10:10). When we rise from the water, it is symbolic of the covenant we have made with Christ. (It is not the covenant itself, just as a wedding ring does not make us married. It’s a symbol).

You see, when I was 9, I made baptism about me, not Jesus. I didn’t know better. And a couple years ago, that weighed so heavily on my heart that I desired  to be re-baptized with all the understanding and genuine love I have for Christ now. So, in a horse trough at a very special ranch (Raven Rock Ranch), where I had felt increasingly close to the Lord and witnessed His glory more times than I can count, I was baptized. I desired to be baptized with the imagery of Christ’s brutal suffering and His un-surpassing desire to give me (and you) life. Kneeling in the trough filled with water warmed by the afternoon’s sun, I closed my eyes and felt my heart pierced with a pain I’ve never experienced before; and as I was about to be lowered, my eyes filled with tears for Him, for God’s Son. I cannot fully comprehend that sacrifice. I cannot understand that level of love. I had the honor of my husband and our good friend, Tim to stand by myside and together slowly lower my body until it was fully covered by the refreshing, life-giving water of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirt– Whom I know witnessed this act of outward expression of my faith for them. A second or two passed before I broke the surface of the water and felt the warmth of the sun shine upon my face. I raised my hands toward the Son, giving thanks for the life He gave on my behalf and the life I now have because of Him. I am a new creation (2 Cor. 5:17). My daughters stood just outside the trough and witnessed what can only be described as one of the most meaningful events of my life.

Water. I love water; everything about it, but especially nourishing and life-giving, thirst-quenching attributes. I can’t help but to think of Rev. 21:6, which says, “He said to me, “It is done. I am the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end. To him who is thirsty I will give drink without cost from the spring of the water of life”. Without a doubt, Christ is the merciful Living Water that brings the dead to life though His amazing grace!

It’s a New Day; It’s A New Dawn

DSC_0312I love lazy clouds lingering at the tops of bare trees and sunbeams fighting to display their radiance in the dim morning light. I love the reassurance of life as I feel my lungs fill with cool, sharp air and my skin prickle with goose bumps while exhaling prayers of thanksgiving for yet another day, which on their own, resemble hazy rain clouds drifting heavenward in the early winter mornings.  I love clear, dark mornings when stars still dot the sky, reminding me my God is so much bigger than I, so much more in control that I, so much more powerful and all-knowing than I. It’s exciting to embark on day where promises will be fulfilled, hopes will be dreamed, and new mercies will be gifted.

I’ve always associated mornings with mercy. I’m pretty sure it’s because when I was a wee girl growing up in a small Baptist church, we sung a hymn inspired by Lamentations 3:22-23, which speaks about God’s mercies being new every morning. We sung this hymn so often, seemingly every. single. Sunday, that I can still hear the slow, and I do mean s-l-o-w, organ’s vibrato in the back of my mind to this day. It wasn’t a song I particularly liked (can you tell?), however, the words acted as a key ingredient in the foundation on which I’ve built my now 43 years upon. I am not a glass-half-full kind of girl by chance. I am a glass-half-full kind of girl because mercy was planted and nurtured throughout my entire life.

Mercy is often misunderstood. When it isn’t overlooked, it’s taken for granted or confused with something it is not. And what I mean by that is that we often believe we deserve more or better or something other than what we have received. And although that maybe true, when we look for what we DON’T have, we miss what we DO have. And that’s exactly my point. Remember the story of the Israelites and how even though the Lord daily provided manna (bread) for them, they still cried out for meat? Remember how God eventually gave into their pleas and in the end they realized that they really had no desire for it after all? (Exodus 15-16) I think we’re a little like that too. We want all that Christ offers in addition to the perks of the world. Thinking about this, I wonder just how much we miss of God’s glory when we are searching for something we have assigned more significance to?

Robert Gelinas points out in his book, “The Mercy Prayer”, that mercy is “compassionate, gracious, slow to anger, steadfast love, unfailing love, goodness, generous love, and loving kindness”. You may read that list and quickly make the connection that those are attributes of Christ; and you would be correct! Mercy is at the core of Who Christ is! (Psalm 103). I feel it important to note here that mercy is for everyone; the loveable and unlovable alike. We are all sinners and fall ridiculously short of God’s glory (Romans 3:23); and if we consider that the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23), we know we have been gifted an abundance of mercy when we receive His gracious, sacrificial gift of salvation. Mercy assumes we’re going to sin and He loves us anyway; He supplies our needs anyway. Mercy doesn’t alleviate our pain or suffering, but does act like an ointment to our wounds. It’s not based on anything we do or don’t do. On that note, I think it’s equally important to understand that God doesn’t dole out mercy with reluctance, or weighing the pros and cons of doing so, or even anticipating some form of repayment (not that we could!). He has no ulterior motive. He simply loves to love and He does that by gifting us His mercy each and every day, starting first thing in the morning. Micah 7:18 tells us that “God delights to show mercy”. Delights! Can you picture His face? Do you get a sense of His heart?

Perhaps the best definition I’ve heard is “Mercy is God’s grace in action”.

Going back to the story of the Israelites for a minute, it’s important to remember that God didn’t just place His provisions in their laps. They actually had to go out and gather the manna. When they saw the abundance of manna, they were so excited; so excited that they gathered far more than they needed in hopes to save some for the next day. Do you remember what happened? It rotted. God provides what we need for this day and only for this day. I love how Beth Moore, in her Bible Study: A Woman’s Heart, God’s Dwelling Place” points out that “our ratio of mercy matches our present need. When the time arises and the need escalates, so does the grace required for us to make it. God is always sufficient in perfect proportion to our need”.  We always have what we need. Nothing more, nothing less for today. We cannot store up or use up God’s mercies. It’s impossible. And every day, we will learn to rely on Him to meet our needs.

This morning I thank the Lord for another day, another opportunity to see Him and to reflect His love to the world. I challenge you to do the same. I am pretty sure that if we can practice having a thankful heart for what we already have, we will be transformed from the inside out. This happens when we trade our agenda for His; when we trade our shame, regrets, fears, etc. for His mercy. What a way to begin each morning!