The problem with starting over and the hope of redemption

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In the past weeks I’ve heard nearly the same quote from every weary person I’ve encountered, “I can’t wait for 2020 to be over.” Today, the sun rose on 2021 and death, disease and evil are still among us. Even in us.

New years bring with them an idea that we can wipe our lives free of all the wrongs the previous year produced and start fresh with a clean slate. The problem is every new year brings with it the scars and thorns and weeds of the previous year. And I think more than any other year I’ve lived through, 2020 seems to have left us with a hope that maybe now that the calendar says 2021, we can all start over and things will be better.

We all have a desire to be whole. To be complete. To be healthy in our mind and body. To be happy and fulfilled. That desire is insatiable and drives us to look for something to help us get it. I’ve seen it in my own life and in the lives of those I love, the attempt to achieve wholeness by starting over with a new calendar year or attempting to wipe the slate of our lives clean by purging ourselves of difficult relationships. But it doesn’t work. The problem with that plan is we throw babies out with our dirty bathwater. We live in a broken world and even if the world around us was wiped clean of its brokenness, within us the same seed of brokenness is germinating, ready to spread its strangling seeds everywhere we go.

My teenage son, in his struggle to believe this message of Jesus dying for his sins, has asked me, “Why doesn’t God just destroy everything and start over? Why is he leaving us like this?“ He asks the question we’re all asking every time we try achieving wholeness with a new year or relationship, job or routine. 

God proved that wiping the slate clean or wiping the world clean of the evil we do to each other won’t rid the world of evil unless there are no people in the world. In the book of Genesis we read the flood story. God rid the world of people, save Noah and his family, but Noah and his family gave birth to corruption and people who gave birth to the evils of history we all are aware of.

I love a good purge. I like to clean, put things where they go, and make ideal lists and goals. The problem is… life and me. Relationships and the rhythms of our lives are impacted by the brokenness in all of us. Trying to make things better is good. But we can never start over.  

So what am I to do in my quest for wholeness? Redemption and resurrection is my only hope for wholeness. 

The idea of redemption is that something broken is purchased and made good or whole again. The Bible tells me that Jesus’ life, death and resurrection purchased my broken life. I now live in that regenerating truth. No matter what happens, Jesus will make all things work for me to make me whole, like Jesus. 

I believe in the resurrection. I believe Jesus is the life that has overcome death. And I believe his resurrection life lives in me.

There’s an image in the Bible that always helps me capture this hope of resurrection. The tree. In the Bible, God’s people are depicted as his plantings, as trees whose roots go down deep and wide into the rich soil of God’s grace, mercy, truth and love. This tree is growing in us through a seed of faith in Christ. And it’s becoming a tree so big and massive, with a root system so wide, no weed, no storm, no disease can choke it out.

What about justice you ask? Shouldn’t we try to make things better and get rid of disease and abuse and corruption? Yes! Yes we should. But the way to do it is through redemption and hope in resurrection. It’s not through vengeance. It’s not through killing off evil with another abusive evil. It’s through Christ’s redeeming love. It’s through a subversive hope. It’s through planting yourself among the thorns of this life, sending your roots deep down into the love of Christ. Do this and your life will plant seeds of faith all around you and spring up new life in that same soil, choking out the poisonous weeds among you.

It’s a vulnerable life Jesus calls us to. In contrast to the self-preserving life that throws babies out with bathwater and wipes slates clean and cuts people off- it’s dangerous and even deadly. But it is the only way. It is the way Jesus is making all things new.

 The hope for our wholeness and the world is not a flood, or vaccine, not a new president or technology. The hope for the whole world and our wholeness is not marriage or singleness or a better local church or routine. The hope for our wholeness and the whole world is Christ’s redemption and resurrection. If we live in his redemption nothing is in vain- no evil, no pain, no suffering, no sin, no loss, no destruction, no disease. If Christ is our resurrection one day His tree of life will choke out all the weeds.

10 things to do with your Bible that will help you grow in faith

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It’s true, you can have a PhD in Old and New Testament studies and be what Jesus called, “a blind guide” because like Paul said, “Knowledge puffs up but love builds up” (1 Corinthians 8:1). Knowing your Bible doesn’t mean you know the one it speaks of (John 5:39).  Nevertheles, you shouldn’t throw Bible reading out with the bathwater of pride. Just throw the pride out and look for Jesus.

For you, the practice of reading your Bible may be hard, uninteresting, confusing, overwhelming, intimidating, etc.  Over the years I’ve been blessed to have good pastors and Bible teachers in my life help me learn how to read my Bible. There are many great resources out there from expert Bible teachers and pastors: Look at the BookThe Bible Project, and online study tools like BibleGateway.com.  And here are 10 practices I’ve grown from over the years.

1. Before you start reading, ask God to give you eyes to see beautiful things in the Bible and ears to hear his message as lived out perfectly in Jesus. “Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law.” (Psalms‬ ‭119:18)‬ ‭ This prayer of the Psalm-writer has become my prayer. God is faithful and happy to open our eyes to “wondrous things” in the message he has preserved for us.

2. Don’t JUST read your Bible- meditate on it. That’s a full blogpost, but in short meditating on the Bible is what the Bible tells us to do with the Bible. And that involves chewing on what you read over time.  Psalm 1 contrasts the habit of chewing on God’s message in the Bible to passively going along with the ways of the world. One results in a fruitful life, the other is a waste.

3. Write down words you don’t understand, and questions you have. Look up the meanings of the words. Ask a Christian you trust your questions. Many times there won’t be answers that you find practical or helpful. That’s ok. Let the question be part of your prayers. Over time you may see answers, or not. It’s a deep well, the Bible. We’ll never drain it dry.

4. Discuss what you’re reading with other Christians. This is so important! The church is a body! People who follow Jesus need each other to grow into maturity and Christlikness. We don’t grow alone.

5. Ask questions of the text? While you’re reading ask, “What does this tell me about God? What does this tell me about the situation? How does this apply to me? How does Jesus model/demonstrate/fulfill this?”

6. Do 1-5 habitually. Starting a new habit is hard. Another reason why we need a community of believers to meditate on scripture well. Use others to help you start the habit. Schedule it in your routine in the morning or evening (or both!).

7. Pray what you know so far from the Bible. If all you know is John 3:16 (which is the whole message of the Bible in one sentence so that’s pretty good) pray and make it personal. Pray the verse for yourself.  “For God so loved Sheila, that he gave his only begotten son…” Pray it for a friend/family member.

8. Do what you know. Don’t walk away from your reading and do nothing (James 1:22). Do what you know God’s word is telling you. And repent when you fail to do what you know. 

9. Tell your kids, other people’s kids, your friends, your neighbors… anyone who’ll listen, what God is teaching you while you read. Psalm 78 is a comissioning of adults who have put their faith in Christ to pass on what God has done to the next generation.  Deuteronomy 6 tells us to teach our kids the word of God that is on our hearts!  Jesus tells us to tell anyone and everyone what we have learned from him, teaching them to obey everything he says (Matthew 28:20).

10. If you can’t read, listen. Listen to the Bible online for free in many different versions. 

There ya go. Practicing these 10 habits that, by the grace of God the church has helped me form over time, has rooted and grounded me in the love of Christ. And has helped me through bouts of depression, guided me through hard times and good times and has given me a nose to sniff out something not right when I hear the Bible taught.  

You may not think of it this way, but when you loved and followed Jesus, a whole new you started growing.  Psalm 1 describes this new you as a tree nourished and healthy, growing by meditating on God’s word day and night. You are a tree God is growing. Let your roots go down deep into the grace that saved you.

 

My cluttered brain and my grey-headed friend

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(My late grandma Oleta and I in conversation weeks before she passed. She was an “older woman” in my life too.)

I have ideas all the time. All the time.  My phone is full of notes I voice-to-text to save for future reference. My bullet journal is full of thoughts, ideas, to-do’s, goals, dreams, plans, appointments, more ideas.  And if I had to draw a chart of what’s going on in my brain and try to organize and prioritize it would look more like a messy bubble map or word cloud.  If I don’t spend time getting the storm of ideas out of my head onto a paper (a bullet journal in my case… post it notes and individual paper notes just get lost at the bottom of my purse or left on the counter) I start to feel foggy-brained and anxious.  And usually this shows up in picking at the cuticles around my fingernails (don’t judge).

This past week, the skin around my nails was torn and bleeding.  Yeah, it’s bad and gross, especially when you’re a nurse.

About once a week, my friend Victoria and I get together to pray.  Actually, we get together and I feel like I mostly dump all the goings on in my life on her and she shares some of her burdens with me. We both close our eyes at a table, sometimes holding hands, and start casting our cares upon our Father, pleading with God to help our unbelief, praying for our family and friends. It’s treasured time.

Victoria and I aren’t “typical” friends. She is 30 years my senior.  She would say she’s a Martha and I a Mary. I would say she’s a strong, older woman in my life. She’s gone before me down many similar paths in life and her humble dependence upon the gospel spurs me on to love and good deeds.

This week I came to her house with my bubble-map/storm of thoughts on two pages of my bullet journal. All committments and desires I had.  All my pans in the fire.  She called it a shotgun of productivity and identified my need for priorities.  She approached God with me in prayer and we called on Him with scripture and confessions of not knowing how to pray.  It was so good.

Why am I sharing that my brain is a dust-storm of thoughts and I pick at my cuticules when I’m stressed and I pray with my 73 year old neighbor? Because we need this.  More people besides me in the church need this!  We need so desperately to depend upon each other.  We need to be vulnerable with each other as Paul taught Titus to teach the church in Crete when he said:

‘But you are to proclaim things consistent with sound teaching. Older men are to be self-controlled, worthy of respect, sensible, and sound in faith, love, and endurance. In the same way, older women are to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers, not slaves to excessive drinking. They are to teach what is good, so that they may encourage the young women to love their husbands and to love their children, to be self-controlled, pure, workers at home, kind, and in submission to their husbands, so that God’s word will not be slandered. In the same way, encourage the young men to be self-controlled in everything. Make yourself an example of good works with integrity and dignity in your teaching. Your message is to be sound beyond reproach, so that any opponent will be ashamed, because he doesn’t have anything bad to say about us. For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, instructing us to deny godlessness and worldly lusts and to live in a sensible, righteous, and godly way in the present age, while we wait for the blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ. He gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to cleanse for himself a people for his own possession, eager to do good works. Proclaim these things; encourage and rebuke with all authority. Let no one disregard you.’ Titus 2:1-8,11-15

He wasn’t prescribing that women should get together for teas and sewing classes and men get together for poker and football.  He was teaching Titus to teach the Cretans… to teach us to be a family, a body, dependent upon each other for muturing into the brothers and sisters of Christ!

If you don’t have an “older woman” or “older man” in your life pointing out your need for some priorities, praying with you, confessing and listening to your confessions, pray and start looking for them.  They’re there. They’re in your church.  They might have grey hair, or seem unapproachable because they’re from a different generation or culture or whatever.  But that’s what you need!  You need them. And boy do they need you.  The older men and women in the church need the younger men and women.  We need each other.

Confessions of a comfort addict

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I’m getting nervous ya’ll.

On Monday I start the capstone class for my BSN. I’ve been trying to sit with this uneasiness and discern where it’s coming from.  I’ve decided it’s just the discomfort of being stretched beyond my zone.

I’m a comfort addict.  And a chronic conflict-avoider. Those scriptures about God being the God of all comfort and his children being peacemakers I can easily twist to say God doesn’t want me uncomfortable and we’ll just sweep that problem under the rug and try to forget about it.

Lies.

Can’t do it.

I might try twisting, but the truth just snaps back into place and stings.

God is a God of all comfort and he leads me through very uncomfortable stretching so I can experience HIM as my comfort, not my circumstances. And Christ is the Chief Peacemaker, promising to bless me if I follow him in making peace. But he leads me in doing this by taking up a cross, bearing pain to deal with my sin and the sins of others. Loving, forgiving and enduring.  He doesn’t lead me in heaping up more and more trouble under the rug of my life.

So what does my passivity and comfort-lust have to do with my capstone class and completing my BSN? It has to do with entering the stretching zone knowing full-well, this is leading me to less comfortable circumstances and more cross-bearing.

There’s comfort in staying in a position I know well and could practically do with my eyes closed.  There’s much poking, prodding and acid-stomach  in stepping into a position of formal leadership in nursing, which is where I sense I’m being guided.

But there’s a whiff of refreshment blowing in the wind as I turn down this rocky road.  He who began a good work in me, will be faithful to complete it. He is working all things together for my good to conform me to the image of Christ.  And one day I will see with my eyes the Scar-Bearing King of the Universe, who bore a bloody cross to lead me, and scandalously, he will say, “Well done! Sit here. What can I get you to eat?”

Blessed are those servants whom the master finds awake when he comes. Truly, I say to you, he will dress himself for service and have them recline at table, and he will come and serve them. ‘ Luke 12:37

Take me with you Jesus!

subversive hope

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(image credit here)

 

If a kernel of wheat
falls,
dies
in the dirt,
you said,
it will grow.

Here we are
under the dirt
in the dark
soiled milieu
of their waste
and death.

Here we are
silent.
They build
roads
and sidewalks
concrete curbs
over us.

The weather
changes-
heat,
rain,
frozen days
and then
warmth again.

And here we are
starting to crack
shedding the shell
of our protection
loosing to all we lack.

But it’s still silent below.

Steps of boots
and heels
dropped phones
squealing wheels
horns blaring
curses out the window
asphalt covers where we
were silently sown.

Our stratification
raises a question-
Is there more
going on than
flattery, greed
oppression and boredom?

Everyone carries on
no one thinks to ask.
Like Dave said
they’re ants marching
busied by their tasks.

But below
here we are
pushing aside
dark earth
with pale
cellulose
no pride.

We grow despite
the lack of light
and germinate
somehow
someway
through concrete.

And when one
of them
passes by
and is drawn
by Providence’s eye
to look upon our
verdent head
pregnant with bloom
conquering our tomb,

they’ll bend down low
and stop marching
and see new life
amidst pride emerging
and they will know
in that moment
there is such a thing
as subversive hope.