{re}fresh

Month: August, 2015

Church: The Messy Place We Live

by Wendy

luggage sculpture from freephotoimage from freefoto.com

While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and sinners came and ate with him and his disciples. When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” On hearing this, Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice. ‘For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.’” (Matthew 9:10-13)

One more conflict, one more misunderstanding, one more incident needing mediation. In my weaker moments, I want to scream, or perhaps move to some uninhabited island. Or both. I forget, of course, that “me” will come along and ruin the perfect solitude.

Messy, this church life is so messy. We Christians are often an offended, hurting lot; or on other days we are maddeningly “victorious,” meeting suffering with answers and ills with fixes. What is wrong with us? Have the Spirit’s fruit and gifts not taken hold?

I simmer and distract myself with reading, doing and accomplishing, hoping that the day’s frustrations will dwindle and dissolve before I reappear, but my mind is still busy seeking answers. I’m not praying, exactly, but apparently I haven’t stopped listening.

“It will always be messy,” I hear in my head. Oh, there’s that still small voice again. “It has to be messy. I came for the sick.”

I shake my head and realize, once again, how quickly I forget.

We are sinners. The world has it together, in comparison, or so they think. If they had a need, they would run to hear a gospel of hope. In contrast, the sickest among us figure it out – like the woman in Mark 5, they look for answers and push through the crowd to find solutions.

The church is the clubhouse for the messed up, broken and poor—both in spirit and in health. We who have sought have found. We ran to a Redeemer and discovered Someone who could make sense of our screwed up, shattered, lonely lives. We found Somebody who could restore and change us, see us for who we could be, and transform our ugliness into beauty. We discovered, to our amazement, that we are cherished.

However, as redeemed as we feel, our pasts are not as gone as we would like. There is healing, but we often haven’t found it. We are new creations carrying leftover luggage, pasts that persist and drag us down like a hem full of stones. It’s those pasts that fight, cling, trigger, shame, and hurt; my luggage wrestles your luggage and we’re left with a mess.

We are sinners becoming saints. We’re only barely learning to clean up those ugly consequences of our baggage battles. My need for control still skewers your insecurities; your arrogance wounds my timidity. We forgive, we learn, we grow, we heal, and we arise with the determination to let more of the Spirit take over the next time.

May I challenge you, and us? World: it’s a messy church, but God’s working on us, and we’re real. Church: keep growing, the world needs to see how we handle life. We’re the only ones who can come through these battles with Hope – hope in a Savior who changes, redeems, and calls us forward. No one else in the world – no one – has that answer.

How Does Your Grace Garden Grow?

by mymorethanme

Watering our flowers by Chichacha. https://www.flickr.com/photos/chichacha/ CC by 4.0

Watering our flowers by Chichacha. https://www.flickr.com/photos/chichacha/ CC by 4.0

“I am not enough.”
It’s an old tape played out and worn thin. A deep-rooted weed from long ago that I have repeatedly dug up and tossed out, but still manages to somehow push its ugly head up through my life’s healthy, rich soil every now and again. How far those subterranean tentacles grasp. What kind of weed killer would I need to finally, fatally crush this insidious lie?
After a week or so of indulging this weed’s hissed whispers of, “You’re not a good enough mother, wife, teacher, friend, daughter, Christian…” I could stand it no longer, so I sat on the floor and opened a book the Lord had led me to a couple weeks prior.
Turning to that earthly comfort (a book) I hoped to receive heavenly encouragement (a word). I was not disappointed. God is so gentle, so kind, so considerate. He knows us well and will speak in any way we will hear. The question is never “Is God speaking?” but rather, “Are we listening?” Never, “Is God giving?” but, “Are we receiving?”
Flipping through the pages I watched as they settled somewhere in the fourth chapter, titled “Entrance into Rest.” Ha! My eyes drank the words and I tasted hope.
All my striving, doing, planning, projecting, worrying, controlling was senseless. Nonsense. Wasted time and energy. Stolen moments and memories. Hijacked peace and rest. Death in a garden of life.
I have long known the origin of this serpentine seed, but have not known how to eradicate it.
Now I knew.
The seed was true! The seed was good! I am not enough–hallelujah! But HE is!
My perception needed tweaking; my focus was off and I was digging at the wrong root. It was as simple as that. These fear, guilt and shame weeds sprouting from this “I’m not enough” seed were choking the life from my garden because my vision and my understanding were skewed! What I saw as a bad seed was truly a good seed, which meant these troublesome weeds were actually growing from a deeper, darker, more maleficent seed source.
Pride.
Ahhh, that slithery serpent’s favorite. Of course! Masking truths as lies and lies as truth because unseen is unstoppable and as we who grew up in the ’80s know from watching Saturday morning television “the more you know” the better.

The truth is I am not enough. Neither are you. Let that seed sink in. It’s really quite glorious.

The taste of hope on my lips became freedom food in my belly and I reveled in new-found peace, rest and liberty. I am not perfect and you are not perfect, only the Lord is, and He is full of love and grace and mercy for us all. I can forgive myself and I can forgive you because we are all lack and slack and He, our All-in-All, is the only One who has it and us all together, because yes, after all, we are all in this together.

Unbelief and disobedience had filled my watering can and would need to be replaced with trust and faith. Prideful wild weeds shrivel for want of sustenance as faith is fed and fear is starved. As spirit is fed and flesh is starved. As I surrender to God and rest and steer clear of self and striving.

Alone, I cannot do this. He, the Master Gardner, must do this in me, for me. He brought me out of the wily wilderness and He will bring me into His peace-filled Land of Promise.

He will bring me into rest. And He will do the same for you if you let Him.

Sitting under His watering can, drinking deep His endless love, I am drenched in His divine grace.

And I am growing.

Drenched with Heaven’s Dew

by Dawn Aldrich

raindrenched

“…and he was drenched with the dew of heaven, until he learned that the Most High God rules over the kingdoms of the world…” Daniel 5:21

Indian summer held on tight wrapping it’s humidity around us like a wet blanket as we sauntered to class through the tree-tunneled path around the pond. I felt my bobbed curls—the ones that took me twenty minutes to unfurl—coil up like Shirley Temple’s locks (but not so cute), making me wonder why I hadn’t submitted to their natural tendencies.

Then, rain came—slowly, at first—one gentle drop after another.  It was almost melodic watching the rain drops create rings across the pond. Then the melody turned dark and the heavens opened just as we emerged from the tree tunnel.

She laughed and slowed.

I cry-screamed and darted.

Then, looking back at her through fogged-up glasses I yelled, “Are you crazy? We’re gonna get soaked!”

“I LOVE getting drenched by the rain,” she giggled back at me. “It makes my hair so soft.”

I tried enjoying it, partly because I thought maybe I was missing something, but mostly because I didn’t want to be rude and leave her behind.

I hated it. Soggy made me feel undone and ugly.

Sometimes that’s just the posture God wants from us—undone and ugly—because that’s where we’re most vulnerable and teachable.  It’s those times when we’re most undone that our God ears hear and our God eyes see.

Just like King Nebuchadnezzar, a God-appointed king turned arrogant, we must be stripped of all our pride—undone and ugly—and let heaven’s dew drench us bone deep (Daniel 5:20-22). And when we soak up all that rain our rough edges soften.

Unattended brokenness creates pride; pride that says, “I got this, Lord” or “Leave that chapter alone, God, ‘cause I closed that book years ago.” We think ourselves better protectors of our hearts than our Creator. We manipulate our way around the truth and hold Jesus at arms’ length, avoiding intimacy, for fear He wants to inflict more pain or brokenness. But quite the contrary, He only wants access to our hearts to heal us—to restore us to our original beauty and Kingdom purpose.

Prophesying of the coming savior, Jesus, Isaiah said:

“…for the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to comfort the brokenhearted and to proclaim that captives will be released and prisoners will be freed.” (Isaiah 61:1 NLT) 

Jesus came to set us free from all our brokenness, all that binds us—everything we’ve spent years trying to straighten on our own. He comes, through the Holy Spirit’s nudging, asking permission to cover you with heaven’s dew. Will you let it rain? Will you endure feeling undone and ugly in order to be made new?

Prayer:

Abba Father,

May we lay aside our pride and humble ourselves before you, today. Forgive us our arrogance that our brokenness created. We lay it all at your feet and we say, “Come, Holy Spirit, come.” Rescue us, heal us, restore us and transform us. Drench us with heaven’s dew. May your Kingdom come right here, right now. Amen.

The Slow Rain of the Soul

by Mike McKinniss

"Lightning" by snowpeak is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Lightning” by snowpeak is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Ask the LORD for rain in the springtime; it is the LORD who makes the storm clouds. He gives showers of rain to men, and plants of the field to everyone (Zecheriah 10:1, NIV).

Having recently moved to draught stricken California, I’m suddenly more aware of the various benefits and hazards to different types of rain. This was never a concern in saturated New England, where rain was rain and a regular occurrence. Funny, when a thing becomes scarce, it not only becomes more valuable, but also more particular.

Just the other day, for example, our region received the remnants of a hurricane that had struck Mexico and crawled its way up the coast. The vast front brought with it a few strong but brief storms. Quarter-sized raindrops pummeled the streets for about 15 minutes at a time, with a couple iterations. One might have assumed this would be cause for rejoicing, considering our reservoirs are holding less than a year’s supply of water in their stores.

Yet when the ground is so dry, a hard pounding rain will not penetrate the earth, but instead runs off to the dry stream beds and off toward the ocean. Little seeps into the groundwater and the reservoirs are hardly replenished.

There is a lot of flash and bang to a powerful storm, but it does little of actual sustaining value.

Contrast this with a very different front that blew through a couple months ago. Rather than a hurricane, this system blew down from Alaska, moving very slowly through the region. When that particular rain finally reached us, it came in a vastly different manner, enfolding the area in a dense constant drizzle, lasting hours and hours.

Whether a slow rain or a hurricane, the same amount of water fell to earth in our city, but the differences in their benefits could not have been greater. The soaking northern storm allowed the ground to soften so that it could receive and drink the water deeply. Less impressive, perhaps, than the hurricane, but far more effective.

From time to time in our walks with the Lord, we discover ourselves in the midst of draught. Whatever the circumstances that put us there, it’s not immediately important. There we are in a spiritual desert. Coming to our senses and seeing our wilderness situation, a way out must be found. We must be wary, however, of the hurricane solution.

Relief from the draught may come not from the big bang—the sudden 3-day fast, the spur of the moment all-night prayer vigil, the gorging consumption of the Psalms in a single sitting.

Seek instead the soaking route and begin taking measured and steady steps toward the Lord. Come to him humbly, acknowledging the reality of your desperate plight and allow the slow drizzle of his love to saturate your heart and soul once more. You may not realize it’s happening at first. There may be no thunder and lightning. But in time the groundwaters and reservoirs of your faith and hope will rise to overflowing.

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