The joyful anticipation of the beginning of Summer break became tainted with disappointment as we walked home from school that day. My fifth grade son and his friend and I sauntered down the sidewalk in conversation as the warm breeze brushed over our bodies; a reminder of God’s never ceasing hand at work.
Our journey came on the heels of the fifth grade awards assembly. You know the drill: outstanding students in academics, athletics and extracurricular activity are recognized before an assembly of teachers, staff, students and parents. My son and his friend did not receive one. Both are smart, kind kids. But they did not fit the criteria for the awards. They understood that. However, a dissonance remained.
“Why didn’t the volunteers for Circle of Friends get any rewards?”
Little did they understand the depth of the question.
Circle of Friends is the name of the group in which they both participated. It’s focus is on engaging students from the mainstream classrooms with students with special needs. Normally these particular students are not integrated into the regular classrooms due to the severity of their disabilities. The group offers a community in which all learn from each other. My son and his friend volunteered for it. My son’s eyes lit up when he shared about his experiences.-building snowmen, going to McDonalds for Shamrock shakes, and enjoying parties together.
During the assembly, most every type of extracurricular activity was recognized. Except this one. Which seemed paradoxical in a sense; given the philosophy behind the group.
But here’s the rub. We don’t “do good” for the recognition.
Wrapping our heads around that reality? Well, that becomes a challenge. Especially when our hearts depend on Earthly motivation to reach out our hands.
Sometimes, the blessings appear invisible. We may not see the immediate “return” on our investment.
Serving a meal at a shelter? May not yield one thank you.
Sacrificing snacks and beverages to the needy neighbor kid who practically lives at your house? May not immediately result in a verbal recognition of your actions
Embracing a person in a vulnerable season of life? May not guarantee their back turns away from you at some point.
Extending an olive branch to the person with whom you butt heads in church? May not resolve the conflict instantly.
So while I understood the disappointment tugging at the hearts of my two tween companions that day; even resonated with them, I held a greater truth in my heart. One which can only be learned through experience.
“Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” Galatians 6:9
The truth is this: sometimes we are witnesses to the harvests of our own sowing but sometimes we are privvy to the harvests sowed by others.
The harvests visually remind us of the obedience of its workers; workers who may not be aware of the abundance of the harvest’s yield. When it emerges, it may not even be in our lifetime or in our vicinity.
Ann Voskamp writes, “Believe it: Every tremor of kindness might erupt in a miracle on the other side of the world. http://annvoskamp.com/2015/09/when-you-just-want-to-know-its-all-going-to-be-okay/
So “keep on keepin on.” When recognition fails. When fatigue sets in. When results appear far-reaching. A harvest awaits…
Only a few days ago, a weekend full of multi-sensory worship began the “annual” reflection of Jesus’ resurrection. As a pastor, I am familiar with the challenge of trying to bring the message found in the resurrection to those in our midst in fresh ways. Truth is Truth. Yet, in a culture that is surrounded by plenty to veil the raw implication of Jesus’ invitation to Kingdom living, the truth loses its urgency. Reframing the account of Jesus’ resurrection gives us new perspectives.
Traditionally, the Holy week observances exhort us to reflect on events of Jesus’ last days. Typically, we recognize and recount Jesus’ death and resurrection.
But what about Saturday? Why, as Christians, do we brush off that “extra” day? The Jews recognize Saturday as the Sabbath day. However; for those of us who follow Christ, the Sabbath transitioned to Sunday. Perhaps the implications of what that in-between day meant to those closest to him do not even cross our minds. We know what happened on Sunday. But I’m guessing they were left:
Reeling from the gut wrenching events witnessed the day before. Had the words uttered by Jesus as they lived under his leadership adequately prepared them for the reality of his crucifixion? How do you set aside the images captured in your mind? On what do you draw in order to move your legs forward from their state of “paralysis?”
Pondering why they felt compelled to risk everything to follow this man who claimed to be the Messiah. Certainly others had claimed the same title in the past. Yet, what were the convincing characteristics of Jesus? Peter, in his second letter, reflects on what his eyes observed.
16For we did not follow cleverly devised fables when we made known to you the power andcoming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we wereeyewitnesses of His majesty. 17 For He received honor and glory from God the Father when the voice from the Majestic Glory said to Him, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.”…
Hoping: that Jesus was right. “I will not leave you orphaned. I’m coming back. In just a little while the world will no longer see me, but you’re going to see me because I am alive and you’re about to come alive. At that moment you will know absolutely that I’m in my Father, and you’re in me, and I’m in you.” (John 15:18-20)
Believing: All the promises poured over them by Jesus including: “I’m telling you these things while I’m still living with you. The Friend, the Holy Spirit whom the Father will send at my request, will make everything plain to you. He will remind you of all the things I have told you. I’m leaving you well and whole. That’s my parting gift to you. Peace. I don’t leave you the way you’re used to being left—feeling abandoned, bereft. So don’t be upset. Don’t be distraught.” (John 15:25-27)
Can we not empathize with the disciples as they wrestled with the tension of faith in the face of dreams unfulfilled? It points to our humanity. One that cannot grasp the unfathomable character of God.
In visiting my great nephew a few weeks ago, I was reminded of the stage of human development when the existence of objects (and people) within a baby’s sphere, only claim existence if they are seen. Anxiety appears in the wide eyes of a five month old when the mind realizes the person in view is not the parent. Their sustainer, provider, source of life. The mouth begins to quiver, the eyebrows furrow and tears form in the pockets of the lid….until a rotation of the body points to the one whom for whom they long.
Perhaps, like an infant, our eyes and mind, and heart often find themselves disconnected. Have you ever heard the Holy Spirit speak to you a word about your future but later find your ability to see it waning? Dreams planted in your heart that seem to have failed to bear fruit?
Like the disciples, we are left wondering and seeking Jesus. Though our hearts bear evidence of an undeniable connection, our eyes fail to sense him. We haven’t rotated our view. We are looking at the place we expect him to show up. But he hasn’t moved. We’ve been consumed with waiting for Jesus to appear according to our assumptions.
If we are still, we will live into that moment of transition from quivering lips and teary eyes to abundant rejoicing at the reunion. And the reminder that our perspectives fail us. He is always here.
Where have you been expecting to see Jesus? How can you rotate your view?
Would you call your closest friend Satan? No doubt that friends can have disagreements sometimes. It happens. But calling someone you consider to be your confidant, advocate and support system, the name of a being whose only mission is to destroy seems harsh. Especially, if the context involves your friend seemingly making known a desire that they wish for your well being. Why on Earth would you be so angry over that interaction?
In fact, an eyewitness would most likely accuse you of overreacting. (Do you need more sleep? Is something bothering you?)
So goes the pondering on this passage found in Matthew 16: 23 Jesus turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.”
Jesus invited Peter to be his friend and mentoree. HE invited Peter into relationship. They ate together, prayed together, shared together. They literally did life together.
I couldn’t imagine imitating Jesus in that way. And yet…we are called to do exactly that….because that’s what a disciple does….and that’s what the Holy Spirit makes possible.
I’ve learned that I need to do just what he did. And more often. Because Jesus tuned his ears to hear the voice of his Father among the many voices calling out to him. His first priority was following the will of God. Not his disciples. Not the crowds. Not his family.
The irony is that many of those voices represented good things:
Yet, none represented the BEST thing. The BEST thing was the plan that God was laying out for him. But Peter was not ready for what that plan entailed. Who can blame him? Of course he doesn’t want to hear that a death sentence awaits. The implications of Jesus’ death are many-the most personal one being that it would leave Peter without this person who has transformed his life on Earth.
But it isn’t about Peter.
And it isn’t about all the ways Jesus could fulfill people’s needs. It’s about being in tune with the will of his Father.
Jesus’ exhortation most certainly sent a chill to Peter But it was truth. Peter’s plea to Jesus represented a path that was contrary to the one that Jesus knew he was to walk. One would be afire with the Glory of God and the other would lead away.
Satan will try hard to distract us from listening to God’s voice. Some of those distractions come in the form of “good things”: other people’s expectations, the myriad of ministry opportunities luring us, the desire to do good, even relationships.
Sometimes you get a gut feeling that the path you’re on is not where God wants you treading. It’s that inner voice that you ignore because the way you are investing your time and resources appears to be productive.
But that “peace that passes all understanding” isn’t there.
In the last year, I’ve come to realize what happens when I don’t really listen to the inner voice of the Holy Spirit. It’s so easy to dig in and be consumed by “callings” to areas that use my skills and gifts. Being drawn to people is always a temptation of mine. But when I jump in without listening; without praying, I feel tired and frustrated. And, in a sense, those “good” things become my “Peter.” They are stumbling blocks.
What is God’s purpose for you right now? What is the “BEST” way that Jesus can be seen at work in your life? What must you give up to embrace it?
Sometimes life doesn’t make sense. The reality of living in a world of brokenness washes over us on a daily basis. Yet, I think we are still caught off guard by it……and sometimes the depth of that brokenness challenges us.
In November 2015, Amanda Blackburn, wife and new mother, (her son wasn’t yet one years old and she was pregnant with their second child) was simply in the midst of her daily routines when an intruder broke into the home. Her husband of a couple of years, came home from the gym to find his beloved soulmate dying. She had been sexually assaulted and shot. Somehow, in the midst of their everyday tasks, in the refuge of their home, the life they knew was shattered.
I know this scenario is not exceptional. Sadly, the random taking of a life happens everyday, all over the world. People lose children, spouses, parents, friends unexpectedly everyday. Sometimes, the events are preventable. Sometimes they are not. Yet, because the we cannot fathom the pain endured by those affected, and because we know that we could easily find ourselves in their place one day, the gut reaction is to find reason. We grasp for control. We tell ourselves that if we can explain the incident away, then we can remove ourselves from “that place” of vulnerability.
As I read comments to the articles on Amanda’s murder, I noticed a thread in one of the discussions. Perhaps this young vibrant couple should have done their research before relocating from South Carolina to Indianapolis? Unfortunately, sin happens everywhere. And when you are a follower of Christ, you cannot go anywhere that will assure you of safety. And that’s the rub. Jesus never made safety a prerequisite for following him.
The Blackburns knew that: which is why they moved to Indianapolis. The Blackburns left their beloved church in the south to follow God’s leading to begin a new church in Indianapolis. According to the church’s website, “Davey and Amanda Blackburn moved to Indianapolis in January of 2012 with a dream and a calling to start a life-giving church that would connect with people who normally wouldn’t connect with church. (http://resonateindianapolis.com/our-story/).”
At a conference I attended, Rev. Raleigh Washington shared about his personal experience regarding the costs of following Christ. He and his family moved to Chicago to plant a church. The neighborhood to which they moved was one depicted by poverty and oppression. Violence, unfortunately, occurred on a daily basis. One day, his son was physically assaulted by another student as he got off the school bus. Friends of the family questioned Raleigh and his decision to move to a “dangerous” place. His response is etched in my heart and my mind. “My friends,” he said, “the most dangerous place to live is outside the will of God.”
That truth is uncomfortable. It’s no wonder Jonah jumped out of the boat. He feared going to a dangerous place. Which, by human accounts, it was. Have you researched the Ninevites? But this life isn’t about us. It’s about God and a bigger picture that involves us.
Several years ago, my husband was offered an opportunity to work in Florida. It sounded like a fantastic opportunity. He even would have traveled to the Bahamas occasionally. Our child was a toddler. What could possibly be wrong with this offer? We were ready to jump on it. But first, we committed to praying and seeking God’s blessing on this new move. And you know what? It didn’t happen. So we prayed some more. And we still didn’t sense God’s blessing. We had to acknowledge that, for us, Sarasota was a dangerous place to live. Not because of criminal activity. But because it was outside of God’s will.
Not all dangerous places look the same
So, let’s pray for the Blackburns. Their lives have been changed forever. Her family and friends are experiencing brokenness in its most intense Earthly form. But evil does not have the last word. Amanda may not be here on Earth. The expectations her husband held for how they would serve God together may have changed, but God’s revelation and purposes have not. This is the place to which they were called to live. And because of that, it is anything but a dangerous place.
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart. Lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him and He will direct your paths.” (proverbs 3:5-6)
My neighbor and I have some lively discussions. It’s refreshing; actually, since our demographics differ greatly. He is an 80 year old widower, father, grandfather, vet; and agnostic I am 50, wife, mom, and Christian. We talk about everything: parenting, economics, the state of the country, gardening and when the Spirit opens a window of opportunity-religion. Although his wife was connected to a church family, he had (and continues to have) no desire to learn more about the character of God nor be part of the body through whom the Holy Spirit here on Earth.
The funny thing is, we share similar philosophies regarding many issues such as parenting, lifestyle and a belief in right and wrong. The difference of course is that I see my worldview reflecting the “kingdom” on Earth in which I live. One that is supposed to radiate light to others; one that should bring a salty flavor to those who encounter it; one that turns the human ways of looking at things on its head. It is indeed a Kingdom that began as God chose to be in covenant with imperfect human beings and through whom would show the other nations that “I am your God”.
As our recent discussion turned to the issues of abortion and valuing life, I heard him passionately state his sadness and anger at the act. Personally, I believe abortion to be more than a legal issue. I think there are a plethora of social layers that must be addressed in order to decrease abortions, I stated to my neighbor, “Well, it would help if the Church would be the Church.”
He stared at me for a minute before replying, “You know…that’s a good one! That is really true. ‘If the Church would be the Church’, he mumbled to himself. “I’m going to remember that.”
When I said that, I wasn’t referring to protesters outside clinics or social media comments. I was referring to being the hands of feet of Christ who bear the image of God through actions that seek to restore and bring wholeness-providing, shelter, materials, friendship, help along the journey of giving life. Hopefully, it would result in reducing the possibility that abortion would even be considered as an option.
Because of Ray’s reaction to my statement, I am left pondering the question, “Why is he not seeing the Church?”
Who else is not drawn to it because its visibility has diminished; it’s saltiness has become stale; its light-dim?
Certainly, we, in our humanity, can’t fix everything. Earth is a taste of Heaven. But at the same time it’s just that-a taste. Shouldn’t there be something about living in God’s Kingdom that would make people walk away from life as they know it in order to be part of such a place?
Casting Crowns’ song, “We are the body” so eloquently asks the questions we as the church should be asking. (the song is based on James 2)
But if we are the body
Why aren’t His arms reaching?
Why aren’t His hands healing?
Why aren’t His words teaching?
And if we are the body
Why aren’t His feet going?
Why is His love not showing
them…..There is a way?
As Jesus is the way.
In my next post, I will share some creative ways that the body of Christ’s arms reach others in their dire circumstances and show them Jesus is the way.
As my son settled himself into the car seat next to me, his face told me what I had hoped wasn’t a reality.
His friend had moved away. Without notice.
My heart sank.
For him. For Matt. And for me.
You see, my youngest, is in middle school. It’s a season of so many changes: adjusting to six teachers from one, expectations from school that you are now a “big” kid and must take on more responsibilities. Yet, for many, their bodies look no different than they did when they were considered “little kids” two years ago. Furthermore, social circles are in flux. Figuring out who is really by your side becomes a challenge.
My son is described by many to be kind, funny, smart. He is respectful to all but chooses friends carefully. He’s not a group friend kind of guy. He prefers a few close buddies with whom he can trust his innermost thoughts and feel comfortable being his “out of the box” self. So when he shared with me, on that day before Spring Break, that he thought it odd that Matt wasn’t at school and had turned in his science book the day before, we both faced the reality that Matt was moving. And thoughts began trickling into each of our brains and sadness crept into our hearts.
I didn’t know Matt as well as my son did, but what I did know I liked. He shared a child-like innocence in a world where kids are pressured to grow up too fast. Although they didn’t spend much time together outside school, they were part of the rhythm of each other’s day.
It’s what makes getting through those mundane moments tolerable. It’s what gives you reason to go to school or work when you wake up tired and don’t really want to forge through the day.
I grieve not only for my son, but for Matt as well. I know that this move is not the first one. He met my son when he moved here five years ago. His life involves frequent adjustment-new home, new friends, visits between his custodial parent and non-custodial parent.
I grieve because I had hoped to invite he and his mom further into our lives. And it didn’t happen soon enough.
What will happen to him now? Will he befriend kids who will challenge him to be his best self?
The experience echoes similar situations our family has experienced along the way. Several other kids who have graced our lives for a bit and then moved on. I’m not gonna lie-often these are the same kids who can push my (and my kids) buttons. My own kids do that sometimes. But often times, the brokenness in these kids that draws me to them can manifest in ways that can make relationships hard: acting out, lack of social boundaries, different value systems. Yet, somehow in the midst of those tensions, there is a yearning to let God’s deep love seep out of me. They must be reminded of their have value and purpose. Always.
Fortunately, some of those kids have crossed our paths again. Technology, can be a gift in that way. But others, have gone off the radar. I can only hope in the one who knows them far more than I.
“See, I have inscribed you on the palms of my hands;
your walls are continually before me.” Isaiah 49:16
I know that my prayers for God’s intervention in their lives are not left unheard.
And that is what we do now. Knowing that my long distance desires for Matt’s well-being are heard by our God who is near him. Believing that there are others who will now walk alongside him.
But it doesn’t make me or my son miss him less.
My son has texted a couple times with Matt and of, course, my heart’s desire is that it continues. But, that’s not a given. For now, we relish the moments we had to walk life together with him and hand him over to the One who even knows the number of hairs on his head. But his name will never leave my head….or my heart.