Woe and Hope

People throughout time have encountered God.  Abraham and Sarah had a nightly visitor who made them laugh in disbelief.  Don’t forget the burning bush incident – that was weird.  Jacob wrestled with God at night and ended up with both blessing and a chronic injury.  Adam and Eve walked with him in the Garden and then were banished from the garden.  Moses got handed a set of stone tablets but never saw the Promised Land.  Elizabeth and Mary heard from the angels more than modern ultrasounds ever tell us and managed to each experience a miraculous birth.  There were so many, many more times when God entered the lives of his people.


I hear the stories today too.  A friend of mine was once diagnosed with cancer and a bunch of his friends prayed over him and his next visit the doctor couldn’t find the cancer - a modern day miracle.  My own brother in 1986 heard the voice of God and he wasn’t even interested in God but that didn’t bother God.  As my brother recounted later, “God said, ‘Gary, this is your chance.  Your last chance.  Call for help or tonight is your last.’ ”  He called.  A few days later he experienced a remarkable and miraculous healing and baptism.  The thing that was also odd about this experience is prior to hearing God’s voice he had WANTED to die.


We love these stories, don’t we?  It gives us hope that in our hour of need perhaps God will come for us and save us!  But some of these God encounters are more disturbing than delightful.


Isaiah comes to my mind.  Or Jeremiah.  Both had “Woe is me!” moments in the midst of loving God and serving Him.  I suspect many of us have had those moments too.  Both men were sent by God to deliver truth, hard truth, to a people who had grown forgetful of God, his promises and his sovereignty. 


What amazes me is how God continues to show up with the exact message folks need to hear.  Some get healing; others rebuke; all his love.  My prayer for us all is that we continue to listen, listen for the voice of God.  Whether it shows up in the wind and rain or sunshine, may He continue to lead us, his beloved children. May we follow his lead today!

Embrace your crazy

Abraham and Sarah weren’t the only couple in the scriptures who struggled with infertility.  Zechariah and Elizabeth did as well.  Infertility, like other misunderstood health issues, was viewed back in the day as a judgment from God. 


Honorable folks, Zechariah and Elizabeth didn’t end up responding to their suffering with the same crazy antics that Abraham and Sarah had; they seemed to accept their lot in life. 


But then an angel showed up and that was a game changer.


His message was a simple one – God was going to give them a son who would ultimately have a specific and crucial role in the grand epic narrative of Israel’s history.  We know him as John the Baptist.  He heard the stories of signs and wonders, after all, his very existence was one of those tales.


John was a good kind of crazy; a contemplative by practice, a minimalist by today’s standards.  These decisions were made to prepare himself for his call.  Eventually he left his solitary lifestyle and began to preach and baptize converts.  He was a compelling messenger although a confusing one and the religious leaders wanted to know: who is this dude?  The priests didn’t recognize what seems so obvious in hindsight – OF COURSE God would work like this. 


It’s so easy to wonder what’s wrong with those forgetful priests, men whose jobs included  telling the story of God and his people so as to constantly remind the tribe of their calling to bless others.  But wait.  Don’t we forget too?


I do.  I forget all the time that it isn’t my job to succeed, even if I am defining success in a way that I am absolutely convinced would make God smile.  I desperately want to succeed at things I think we would all support – effective interventions, restoration of families, spiritual awakenings and transformation of individuals, communities, and the world.  But all that, as good as it sounds, is forgetfulness.  What is my/our work to remember?  That we are to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with God.  I can participate in all of that as a failure.  I can preach incoherently and still do justice, love mercy and easily walk in humility/humiliation!  I can utterly fail at helping a family get help and still do justice, love mercy and walk humbly.  Me, my marriage, my kids and my extended family can go to hell in a handbasket and still do justice, love mercy and walk humbly.  And the cool thing is this is true for all of us!  Tomorrow we will talk about how we might improve our memory.

Where the Wild Things Are

Although the road was circuitous and much misbehaving happened from start to finish Abraham’s descendants eventually did flourish like the stars.  Eventually.  But at any pin prick point in time, Abraham and Sarah were a mess.


Yesterday I suggested that all glory and no guts is not the story the bible tells.  Even though there’s tons of glory (which we all love).  Before we get too hopped up on miraculous signs and wonders, heed the words of Jesus:  “Unless you see miraculous signs and wonders, you won’t believe.”  John 4:48, CEB.


We can argue over whether this was Jesus taking a shot at someone, or Jesus gently correcting, or Jesus just telling the truth.  But there is no argument over the gist of the quote.  Jesus isn’t a fan of a big show of religiosity or loving God in the hopes he will show you a shooting star.  He aligns himself with his Father: do justice, embrace faithful love…walk humbly with your God. BECAUSE GOD IS GOD…not for trinkets and magic show tricks.


I consider this as I stand at the edge of the fight and consider my options with the lightning fast processing of a big a** computer – or maybe an iphone.  I am NOT going to get in the middle of all that shouting nonsense.  I am not responsible for changing someone else.  I am able to think creatively.  Just because I can think of 100 things I want to do but probably shouldn’t doesn’t mean there isn’t anything to be done. And then, like a shooting star, it comes to me. I spin around and rush back to my car, throwing open the back hatch, and thank my lucky shooting stars that I am messy and I hoard books I love.  I rifle through the Target bags and dig under the area rug that I must return this week.  I toss aside my bible and my big book.  I ignore my grandson’s pretty blue sweater that I have been looking for going on ages – will it still fit him?  And there, shining like two little beacons of light I find them.  Two freshly minted mostly undamaged books of “Braving the Wilderness” by Brene Brown, her latest publication which I have already read cover-to-cover FOUR times.  She has some language in there about politics and people and conflict and bravery that are just so good.  I grab them, slam the trunk, and return to the scene of what I think is a crime.  And I say, as calmly as a person can who knows she might be called crazy in two minutes, “Excuse me.  I have a gift for each of you.”  Gifts are always something that create a pause. I stand between them and have just enough room to extend my arms and hand each of them the book.  I say, “I hope this helps your suffering.”  And then I walk back to my car and drive off. 


I totally forget to vote. 

I don’t know if this was good or bad or right or wrong or just crazy.  I do know it was so upsetting that I had to go home and sit for 15 minutes to calm down before going BACK to vote.  I just hope it helps.  I hope it is more reflective of doing justice, loving faithfully, and humbly walking than my frozen state of non-doing last year.  Of course, if you see these two guys yukking it up on Facebook about how that crazy old lady with the really cool boots did that totally insane book giveaway which effectively caused them to stop their public disagreement and what a nut job she was, please don’t judge her.  She was trying to be brave.

Shooting Stars and Other God Things

In October I saw a shooting star.  It was awesome.  We were in Texas on a retreat at this place we go called Laity Lodge that is freakishly perfect and beautiful.  And dark, really dark, at night.  The view of the stars is amazing and every time we visit I make Pete stare at the heavens for a long time at least one night while we are there. 


And I wonder about what in the heck Abraham must have been thinking when God said, “Look up at the sky and count the stars if you think you can count them.” He continued, “This is how many children you will have.”  (Genesis 15:5 CEB) And then Sarah was barren.  How do any of us make sense of that?


Russ Ramsey says in his book Behold the Lamb of God that every story God tells is filled with glory – and of course, how can I argue with this?  It’s true!!!  But it is also chock full of strange things and mundane acts that continue to highlight the reality that we both bear the very image of God while simultaneously demonstrating our willingness to litter and call each other naughty names.


This is key information.  The volunteer ballot bearer, the well-heeled woman in her finery, the two dudes practically coming to blows over the best selection for Commissioner of Revenues for our county and even cowardly me who did not step in and defend a decent woman…we are all both fully human – in both the best and worst sense of that word.


This absolutely MUST impact my choices.  I must find grace for the mistakes made – even my own… I must find a way to love who God loves and support what God supports. I need to ask the kind of questions that guide me toward the light.

What does the Lord require? ]

With what should I approach the Lord and bow down before God on high? Should I come before him with entirely burned offerings, with year-old calves?

~ Micah 6:6, CEB


It isn’t about what we want to do or need to do or should do or shouldn’t.  There is no one-size fits all response. But there are responses to be made. This God who invites us to look up and admire his handiwork is the same God who encourages us to be transformed through his mercy.  I want that life. 


….to be continued