Desert Places

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Paul speaking: ‘I went straight to Arabia and later returned to Damascus.  After living this adventurous mission for three years, I made my way to Jerusalem and spent 15 days with Cephas, whom you know as Peter‘ — Galatians 1:17-18 (The Voice).

I grew up in Phoenix, so I’m a little familiar with desert living.  The stately saguaros that stand as sentries on the highway between Phoenix and Payson.  The dry, dusty turf that swirls and gusts when the hot air blows through the desert.  The wall of a dust storm that envelops all in its path and gets into your lungs.  I can still recall vividly the smell of desert dust.  The beauty of the sunsets and monsoon lightning storms where you really do see the sky hit the horizon.  The loneliness of the desert.  Oh, not in the towns and cities.  I mean the actual desert loneliness.  Those who have lived there know what I mean.  There’s a silence that speaks loudly the voice of God, because there is nothing else there to hinder your deepest heart.

I’ve often overlooked Paul’s time in the desert–or at least diminished it.  If anyone were to say to me in my early years that they wanted to take 3 years to starve ‘church’ out of themselves, I would have called them crazy.  Now, I’m older and I think I understand what Paul and God needed to work through.

Paul was a Pharisee to the Pharisees.  He had served the religious leaders and had learned well from them.  He had entrenched himself zealously into their system of interpreting God.  So much so that he hunted the early Christians to arrest and kill them.  Talk about persecution!  He was the top persecuter and proud of it!  Then he met Jesus (well actually we can make an argument that Jesus sort of assaults him on the road to Damascus) and his world changed.  I’ve often fast-forwarded his change in my microwave thinking.  He went from persecuter to apostle overnight.  Except that’s not what the Bible records–what his own words record.

He spent 3 years in the desert after meeting Jesus.

I hadn’t really pondered that one until recently as I’ve been teaching a class on Romans.  In contemplating Paul’s words, history, social and cultural contexts, I’ve found a depth that I hadn’t meditated on before.  Why 3 years.  Oh, many scholars will say that Paul’s time parallels Jesus’s ministry with the other disciples and I would agree with them.  But I believe there’s more.  He needed that time of separation to starve his religious culture out of himself and grow strong and confident in his new paradigm that the Holy Spirit taught him in that desert place.  And it took 3 years to accomplish that.

When Jud retired from the military, he worked on construction sites for almost a year.  I told people it was to ‘beat the military out of himself.’  He had grown tired of desk jobs and bureaucracy.  He got excited when he used 3 nail guns in one day!  The pounding, dealing with the heat in the summer and cold in winter, the sawing and measuring were what he needed to re-enter the land of the civilian.

Sometimes in life, we need to starve out the old ways of doing and believing.  The desert places that God takes us may not look the same for everyone.  For some, it may look like isolation for a period of time–perhaps even a long period of time.  For others, it may look like internal contemplation without isolation from others.  For anyone embarking to a spirit desert, the last thing you need is someone telling you why you’re wrong, why you need traditional church experiences.

Jud and I experienced a dysfunctional church situation that left us traumatized.  We thought we’d given ourselves enough time to heal (a month–HA!) and joined another.  Because that’s the Christian way of getting back on the proverbial horse.  I believe the healing from the trauma would have gone smoother if we had waited (hindsight); but God’s grace covered us and we did heal.  However, I still believe that we could benefit from an extended absence from ‘church life.’  We’ll see if God takes us to the desert.

If you find yourself groaning toward God and needing time to let Him change your belief systems, I encourage you to find others who can help in the journey.  Just one or two to keep you grounded.  If you find a friend who needs to starve out the church culture that has enslaved them, don’t judge and run on them.  Sit with them, journey with them, ask them what they’re learning.  Their experience may teach you a new thing or two about the God you worship.

Have you taken an extended time away from church?  I’d love to hear your experiences.  What you liked and what you’d change.

 

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The ABC’s of Shame: Addictions, Bliss, Cookie Comas

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‘So eat your meals heartily, not worrying about what others say about you—you’re eating to God’s glory, after all, not to please them. As a matter of fact, do everything that way, heartily and freely to God’s glory’–1 Corinthians 10:31.

Why do we feel shame when we have joy?  Have you noticed that in our society, we tend to feel guilty, not just when we’ve done something perceived as wrong, but also when we are happiest.

I’ve got an addiction that I only succumb to once a year.  Thankfully, my addiction is only available for a few weeks out of the year; but I’ve learned to stock up so I can imbibe all year long.  Thin Mints.  Yep.  That’s my addiction.  Girl Scout Thin Mint Cookies.  And I get several boxes of Samoas–they’re my daughter’s favorite.  I get enough to last through December.  Just a box every few months so that they keep their special occasion feel.  My dealer … er … ‘supplier’ … no that doesn’t sound any better … FRIEND!  That’s a great word!  My friend covertly meets me at McDonald’s, Starbucks, Chick-fil-A–wherever there’s a parking lot, really.  We make the exchange:  Me handing over a check for more money than I would ever spend on cookies, and her handing me an ungodly number of cookie boxes.  This year it qualified as a ‘case’ of cookies … That would be 12 boxes.

I’m not proud of my addiction.  I’ve realized just how much shame I feel with those boxes of cookies hidden in my room until the right amount of need-t0-cry-for-an-evening-rough-day reminds me that I can feel better–not fixed–just better.  A couple of years ago, my friend met me at McDonald’s for some coffee, then we went out to her trunk.  She opened it up revealing cases of the cookies.  I ‘shopped’ to my heart’s content; and as we said goodbye, several women came up to her looking over their shoulders and whispering, “Are you selling those?”  I laughed, left her to her other sales and drove out of town back to my home–with a sleeve of opened Thin Mints riding shotgun.

How often have I passed by a table outside of a store with adorable little girls selling their cookie wares and felt just a little self-righteous about my ability to say, ‘No, thank you’, while others just cannot help themselves.  Then, when I’ve gone out of town to purchase mine (so no one knows just how many I hoard in my home), I feel shame eating the incredible chocolatey-minty goodness that makes me so happy on my hour-long ride back home.  I’ve noticed that as I find freedom from shame, I don’t eat as many cookies in one sitting, nor do I have to do it covertly.  Which leads me to believe that shame can lead to addictions.  And, in my case, to cookie comas!

Instead of loathing myself for enjoying a few cookies, I can rejoice in the moments of bliss that having a couple of them give me after a stressful day.  Instead of hiding my ‘stash’, and secretly scarfing some down when no one is looking, I can savor them and enjoy the serenity of breathing in and breathing out when life throws me the curve balls.  Instead of shame, I find freedom.

Does this work for all addictions.  Absolutely NOT!  Some addictions need re-direction to healthier options.  Sex, drugs, alcohol and even sugar addictions should be overcome, not managed.  Does that mean that those who struggle with destructive addictions and unhealthy living cannot find blissful moments?  NO!  They just need to find healthier options on their road to freedom.  They still need release from the shame of their addiction; but that release should not give them justification to continue it–just as I cannot justify eating an entire sleeve of Thin Mints and throwing my body into a cookie coma.

But we all can revel in moments of joy without shame.  And one thing I have learned with Girl Scout Cookies:

Buying cookies should not feel like a drug deal.

Have you ever felt shame when you’ve done something not shameful?  Have you learned how to live in freedom?

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The Joy of Family Stories

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 ‘He showed us real life, eternal life. We have seen it all, and we can’t keep what we witnessed quiet—we have to share it with you. We are inviting you to experience eternal life through the One who was with the Father and came down to us.  What we saw and heard we pass on to you so that you, too, will be connected with us intimately and become family.  Our family is united by our connection with the Father and His Son Jesus, the Anointed One; and we write all this because retelling this story fulfills our joy’ –1John 1:2-4

A pastor told me recently  in an email exchange that he hopes to see more people who ‘struggle with same-sex attraction’ find a home at our church.

Not gonna lie, I’m praying the opposite.

I’ve seen how the few brave gay people who have opened up about their relationships in our church have been treated.  I’ve seen them denied membership.  I’ve seen them overlooked for leadership.  I’ve seen them weep because they cannot give their testimonies of God’s grace and Jesus’ saving power in their lives … at least not publicly on a Sunday morning.  The Bible study I co-lead is studying Romans.  We got special permission to have one woman who is gay give her testimony to our class.  This woman has been part of the study longer than I’ve been at the church.  I applaud our leadership for allowing her to give her testimony to our study on church grounds and not making us go off-site.

But, why did we have to fight for her to give her testimony?

Everyone who follows Jesus has a testimony of how God has worked in their lives.  Everyone gets to proclaim that work in their own words and from their own perspective.  I’m sure there are several things in my past that I interpret one way as giving glory to God that others may have a problem with in their interpretation of scripture.  I’ve heard some testimonies in my day that made me cringe–not because of the gory details, but because I judged, ‘God never would have told them that.’   Not proud of my arrogant immaturity.  Less proud that perhaps the assessment was correct, but the subsequent gossip with others afterward negated any thought of trying to talk with the person and hearing more explanation of their life–perhaps, in humility, offering a way to clarify what they tried to communicate.  Unless something is total Christian heresy like Jesus isn’t the Son of God, or God isn’t sovereign, or only white straight people are going to heaven–you get the idea:  character assassination of God or elitist theology that only some are allowed to know Him–we don’t get to decide how a person experiences Christ in their lives.

What does that mean if we allow testimonies that go against the traditional grain?  It makes church messy.  It may mean pastors getting emails/phone calls/texts from people who, like me, have a problem with a person’s expression of an experience with God.

But, it may also mean that a church will grow spiritually mature because of the depth, breadth and height of the revelation of God at work in our lives through the multi-faceted stories within the congregation.  So there may be a few stories in there that don’t speak to me.  What if some of those stories are the ones that reveal the joy of life in Christ to someone else.  Some of the stories may challenge my theology.  What if that challenge leads me and others to examine why we interpret Bible passages a certain way.  What if our view of God becomes bigger, and He takes our breath away with His beauty, power and … God-ness?  My heart is racing with excitement at the possibility!

I long to see the reality of a church united by the common thread of Christ at work in our lives.  The reality that we are family … blood family because of Christ’s sacrifice … and in the telling and hearing, the story of God’s power in our brothers’ and sisters’ lives ‘fulfills our joy.’

What takes your breath away about God?  Have you discredited someone’s experience with God because it wasn’t yours?  How can you help make church more of a ‘family’ for yourself and others?

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Super Sunday!

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I’ve told Jud that he married one of the last perfect women in America.  I hate to shop.  I love to cook.  And I love sports.  I married a Minnesota Viking fan.  For some insane reason, we got married during the playoffs.  Those were the days when Minnesota was winning….

Yesterday, I totally expected the Broncos to win–and not just because we live in Colorado.  Secretly (although not secret anymore), I always root for the NFC team; but I really thought the Seahawks were the underdogs.  I just hoped they’d make a game of it.  I was as shocked as everyone else in my state when Seattle blew-out Denver.  However, the snacks I made saved the day!!  Homemade guacamole, taco dip, Irish nachos (made with the healthier alternative sweet potatoes).  Snacks definitely salvage a dreary game!

So, today as I look over all the disappointed Facebook posts of my neighbors and work on the Bible study on Romans that I’m doing, I see a correlation of what Paul communicated.  The Jews of Paul’s day felt betrayed by God when the Gentiles were welcomed in to the promises they thought were only for them.  According to Facebook, Bronco fans believed winning the Super Bowl was their destiny.  Someone had to lose and when it was us, we feel the sad let-down.  The shame of the team spreads to the whole state.  For better or worse, we take on the identity of our team.

How often have I believed myself invincible … Believed that I could do no wrong … Believed that ‘if God is for us, who could be against us?’ … Believed that ‘The God of angel armies is always by my side’ (Chris Tomlin song).  I think my focus is wrong–just as falsely believing who wins or loses a football game has spiritual implications of the worthiness before God of a particular team.

Studying Romans for the first time in many years reminds me that God is the center of the universe.  He’s not always by my side; I (hopefully) am on His.  Often, I take the ball and run with it; essentially saying, ‘God, I’ve got it from here.’  Then when the play doesn’t work out, I turn to God, perplexed.  How could the plan fail?  I thought it through and it made sense!  The Jews in Paul’s day seem to wonder the same thing.  They thought they had God’s plan all worked out, and they win.  They had lived hundreds of years in that belief.

Then God goes and welcomes the Gentiles into the fold.

Their fold.

Their covenant fold.

Their exclusive fold.

Now, as part of the ‘Gentile’ group, I’m grateful.  But, I also relate to the feelings of the Jews.  I’m part of the church group too.  The modern day ‘chosen people’ group.  And we haven’t changed much from Paul’s day.  Once we understand our privilege, we don’t want to share with outsiders–unless they look like, act like or think like us.  Or unless they know their place … beneath us.  Paul, in Romans, tries to unite the two camps.  He tries to show the Jews that God’s plan never changed.  He quotes all the prophets and Moses to show them.  And not just in Romans.  He threads that theme all through his letters.  God foretold it all, but the Israelites didn’t want to see the weaknesses within themselves that God also foretold.

We don’t want to look at those weaknesses either.   Sometimes, just like in football, we underestimate our opponents.  Sometimes we believe too confidently in our ‘golden child’ status.  Sometimes it’s just time for another to win.  Can we let that happen without feeling betrayed?  Can we let that happen without making excuses?  Can we let that happen and still believe we are ‘chosen’?  Can we let that happen, still believe we are ‘chosen’; but at the same time believe the other is ‘chosen’ too?

Some heady Monday morning quarterback thoughts.  I think I’ll ponder those things as I eat some leftover guacamole.

Have you felt betrayed by God?  Have you seen God bless people you thought unworthy?  How can you expand your view of God’s fold to allow others equal footing?

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