Laughing at promises

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One of my favorite passages in the Bible is in Romans 4:16-17 where it says, “…to the one who shares the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all, as it is written, ‘I have made you the father of many nations;- in the presence of God in whom he believed, who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist. In hope he believed against hope, that he should become the father of many nations, as he had been told…

I struggle with depression. I don’t always feel like laughing or even smiling. I hear the hopeless thoughts and know what the psalmist meant when he said he pleaded for God to let him hear his voice so he didn’t become like a dead man (Psalm 143:7). The circumstances of our lives can often send us the same message Abraham and Sarah got from their circumstances, “We’re as good as dead!” God gave them an outrageous promise. He said they would have a child when they were obviously too old to do so. God’s promise was impossible in their circumstances. And just as Abraham and Sarah were promised the impossible, we too are promised something that just can’t be in our physical, mental and spiritual condition.

Abraham and Sarah both laughed at the thought that God would give them a child in their old age. Surely they laughed at the scandal of the idea. When I face the impossibility of the promises God has made to me in Christ, my first inclination is not to laugh. It’s to do what Sarah did- doubt and try to do the best I can with what I have and end up with lots of Ishmaels in my life; lots of self-made ways to try and be what only God can make me in Christ. And then when I find myself in the mess I’ve made, like Sarah I’m angry and depressed. I forget what God promised. But when I remember, when I see Christ in the scriptures, in the church, in my life, there is something in me that just wants to laugh.

Proverbs 31:25 says of the woman who fears the Lord, “Strength and dignity are her clothing, and she laughs at the time to come.”

I used to read that and think, “How can she laugh? There are so many bad things. So many hard things. So much death. So much isn’t right in the world or in my life, how can I be a woman who fears the Lord and laughs at the future?” I had this idea that her laughter was a mocking victorious laughter. A sort of, “Haha! Give me your best shot future! I’ve got this!” But as I read about Sarah and Abraham and the laughter that came out of them at Isaac’s birth, I think this laughing at the time to come is an unexplained joy we feel when we believe God, despite all the impossible circumstances in our lives that seem to say there’s no way God can make me like Jesus and make all things right and destroy evil, sin and death. God is doing what he promised in us!

There is no way we can make the things God promises come to pass. But just as God promised and gave Isaac to as-good-as-dead Abraham and Sarah, he will make us who feel the weight of sin and death in our bodies, who were once dead apart from Christ- he will and is making us free (John 8:36), alive (Ephesians 2:5) and whole (2 Timothy 3:17) because he’s given us Jesus. He will finish what he’s started in us (Philippians 1:6). He will make all things new (Galatians 21:5). And we will reign with him forever (2 Timothy 2:12)!

Night sky speech

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The moon looks like your gaze
blazing light through the dark
veil of night
but I know it’s just an illusion.
I see the moon
but I can’t see you.

You must be gazing brighter
in a night darker
tearing the veil
cause I don’t know another way.
I can’t see your light,
but no one else has the words of life.

I won’t be passive about the evil destroying women and children

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First I want to confess, I’m a coward by nature. I, like Pilate, avoid conflict, washing my hands of decisions that might cost me peace. Without the reigns of the Spirit of Jesus in my life, I would trot off down the path of keeping peace, shutting my mouth. I would disguise my passivity, hoping it would come off as piety- seeing both sides of an issue- yet never taking a stand.  That said, I am my mother’s daughter, and when I smell injustice I want to hunt down the predator and rescue the prey from his mouth.  But most of the time this fierceness gets stamped out by the part of me that doesn’t want to deal with the damage my truth-telling might cause- mostly I don’t want to be cut off, or cast out.  This putrid, passive stance would be me without Jesus every day.  But I’m not without him. He exposed me with his words, rescued me with his line in the sand, calling me daughter.  He’s been making me brave ever since, trading my peace-keeping comfort-lust for peace-making confrontation-in-love.

Taking up your cross and following Jesus is not a self-flagellating quality that proves your worth. Taking up your cross and following Jesus is what the Bible Project call, “the way of the exile.” It’s a practice of what they call subversive hope, where by both speaking boldly and serving self-sacrificially, a Christian exposes evil and suffers the pain of another’s sin and judgement.

So I need to take up a cross and say something: Deliberately destroying the life of an unborn human being is evil.  Saying that, I hear my friends and my passionately-left, now-with-Jesus grandma’s argument that the evil done to women is too great and that if someone has to die, it shouldn’t be the woman or girl.  I see both sides. I can’t help it. The self-preserving nature in me would see both perspectives and say nothing. But Jesus, who said to the woman at the well, “You’re right. You’ve had 5 husbands and the man you’re with now isn’t your husband,” and then offered her his life, won’t let me be silent about the evil destroying women and their children.

The argument that Pro-Life anti-abortionists are hypocrites because they don’t do anything but protest abortion and make women in vulnerable positions feel condemned is an attempt at diversion. In a tweet thread I read today (can’t remember who wrote it) the writer pointed out that just because a person stands openly against abortion and for the life of the unborn doesn’t mean they are not doing their part to support women and girls in crisis with unwanted pregnancies. It doesn’t mean they aren’t for life-preserving sacrifices for the elderly, the disabled, the immigrant, the poor and the marginalized.

The argument that women in crisis shouldn’t have to go through the torment of pregnancy and child-rearing or the torture of giving their child up for adoption comes down to a belief about suffering and human worth. If you believe that the woman’s life or quality of life is more valuable than the unborn child’s life or quality of life then you believe the child should suffer the death required to keep the mother alive and well. But if you believe that someone is going to have to die in this sin-bearing relationship of mother to child, and you believe it should be the strong who lays down their life for the weak, then the mother should be the one to suffer the daily death and maybe even the ultimate death to give a child life.

Giving life to another always involves some dying to self. It’s just the way life works. Even seeds have to die for plants to be born.

I’m reading the Dignity Revolution right now (finally). Last night I read this:

“…I wonder, had I been a German Christian, living under the rule of the Third Reich, would I have possessed the unyielding conviction to resist the pressure to conform, to see the Jews as less than human? Would I have had the courage to step forward and affirm in my actions the dignity of those being sent off to their deaths, even at a high cost to my own privilege?” (Chapter 2)

It’s easy to look back on the Holocaust and be aghast at the atrocities, condemning those who were explicit, implicit and passive in the evil done to Jews. It’s so obvious. How could they have thought it justifiable? The same way we do.

One day, just as Karen Swallow Prior wrote at Vox, posterity will look back on me, on us, and be appalled at the evil we perpetuated, justified or did nothing to speak against or stop.  As I live in the presence of the One who laid down his life for me, I cannot be silent.

Today, I saw a clip from a PBS documentary on elective abortion.  In the short clip, a woman early in her pregnancy with twins took the first of the two medications that would kill her unborn babies. And she knew it. And at the end of the clip she said, “What I hope I feel, is a sense of peace, not only with myself and the decision that I’ve made, but also a sense of peace with these two beings that I’ve chosen not to bring into the world. Thank you for choosing me. And I’m honored to be given this gift of life. And also I can’t do it right now. I can’t accept that mantle in terms of the other lives that I’m taking care of and I’m responsible for.”

Life is always born out of someone else’s sacrifice, someone else’s sort of death.  Confusion breeds evil. This woman’s confusion about where life comes from, and who should die has her believing the evil that says, “Life. You can take it or leave it. It doesn’t have to cost you anything.” But the truth is all life is born at the tearing, the bleeding, the breaking, the dying of one for another.

I hear the critics of my convictions about abortion crying foul and I am listening. I’m examining myself. I’m asking what I can do to apply my belief about suffering and sacrifice and life and human worth to all human beings, no matter their sexual orientation, color of skin, immigration status, age, religion, income or addictions. I believe I should die. I should lay down my life. I should be willing to suffer so that others might live. I believe husbands should do this for their wives, and leaders should do this for their followers and mothers should do this for their children, and Christians should do this for their neighbors.  All of them.

45 is a number

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between 16 and the day after tomorrow
it’s a disorienting fog
a miry bog
to get bogged down in numbers
of years
years that go by fast
days that go by slow
slow as the answer
that hasn’t yet come to my prayer

prayer
pray
for
days
and days
and years
and then you’re 45
and you pray more like
a person lost in the fog
starting to recognize
the sound of feet sinking in
deep
deep in the same spot they
got stuck in last
year at 44

why do you keep going round
and round like
hands on a clock
tick
tock
stop
turn around
take a step
out to the side
side by side
with the one
who got you this far
down the road
the road is not going
in circles
just time

but you are running a race
it’s long past this
place
you keep retracing
retrace his steps
keep on because
45 is just a number
along the road
the road
narrow
with a finish line
line up
look up
up where he
saw you and smiled
and said
“It is finished.”

Man shall not live by Prozac alone

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In March, Fathom Mag published an article I wrote about my own struggle to concede my need for an anti-depressant. A wise pastor and friend helped me to see that medication was not an alternative to provision from God. It was a provision from God.

I’ve been taking Prozac for a couple years now and it has helped me function at a more healthy level. But my depression didn’t go away with antidepressants. I still wake up feeling somewhere on a scale between numb to hopeless for no apparent reason. Some seasons of depression the darkness is thick and paralyzing. Sometimes, despite it’s disorienting fog, I can still hear the birds and walk step by step in the light I have. Medication and counseling have both helped me function through times of depression. But nothing has re-lit the smoldering ash pile in my heart like God’s word.

We Are Not Just Souls

We are not just souls. We are bodies too. The gnostics believe in transcending the body to reach a higher deified goodness too good for all things physical. But Christians don’t, or shouldn’t believe that. Although I think we often do, which is part of the reason why I’m not the only Christian who’s had a hard time accepting medications for help with a mental health problem.

We believe in a risen Christ. He isn’t floating around in some ethereal existence. He has a body. A scarred body. And we believe we too will be raised into an ever-living body like his. Our God dwelt among us in a body. He ate, slept, suffered and died. And he walked on physical, resurrected feet out of a sealed tomb.

We Are Not Just Bodies

Just as we are physical, we are also spiritual beings. We need food and water and sometimes medication. But we also need God. We need his word. We need to hear him and talk with him. We need relationship with him.

Prozac has helped my physical need for serotonin. But God’s word has been my rock when, despite the medication, my world feels like sinking sand. God’s word has been the light I know is there even though I can’t see it. God’s word has been my hope when I feel numb. God’s promises have been my assurance when I feel alone. God’s word has given me words, fruit of lips as it were, so I can praise my Redeemer when I feel blank. My feelings will never match the worth of Jesus, so even when I feel nothing, when I speak God’s word out loud, I acknowledge the truth with my broken body and spirit.

When Jesus, hungry from 40 days of fasting, was tempted, he didn’t say, “Man shall not live by bread alone but by every word that comes from the mouth of God,” because we’re not supposed to eat. Jesus went on to eat bread, but he depended upon God’s word to overcome the spiritual testing he was going through. And in this life, full of testings of our faith, depression being one of them, we need food, and sometimes Prozac. But we cannot counter the temptation to give into faithlessness with antidepressants alone. Just as we need food for our bodies, and may need antidepressants for our ill brains, we need God’s word to withstand the temptation to let depression win.

There are many passages of scripture that are helpful in depression. But here are four key passages I recall and repeat when I find myself in it’s fog.

1. Psalm 42. The whole chapter is helpful, but particularly these words:

Why, my soul, are you downcast?
Why so disturbed within me?
Put your hope in God,
for I will yet praise him,
my Savior and my God.

When I’m depressed this psalm forces me to question myself and preach to myself. Sometimes it’s all I can say. And between the question I ask my soul and the answer I tell myself I am helped to press on in the fog.

2. Romans 8: 28-39 All ten verses… but these clips really spark a flame of hope in me.

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose…

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?…

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

There is so much help here. These words stare depression in the face and say, “Do what you will, but you only serve her. She’ll conquer you. Because she’s mine. Christ died for her, and lives for her. Nothing, not even your poison, can separate her from my love.”

3. Micah 7:8-9

Rejoice not over me, O my enemy;
when I fall, I shall rise;
when I sit in darkness,
the Lord will be a light to me.
I will bear the indignation of the Lord
because I have sinned against him,
until he pleads my cause
and executes judgment for me.
He will bring me out to the light;
I shall look upon his vindication.

Depression is not sin. But I am a sinner. Depression is not a form of God’s indignation I’m made to bear. But my brokenness, the world’s brokenness, including depression, is all the result of sin in God’s image bearers.  When I sit in the deep darkness of depression I can remind myself, and my enemy, that Christ is my light. And one day I’ll be free from this darkness and see his vindication.

4. Psalm 143. Again, the whole thing. But these words are poignant.

Answer me quickly, O Lord!
    My spirit fails!
Hide not your face from me,
    lest I be like those who go down to the pit.
Let me hear in the morning of your steadfast love,
    for in you I trust.
Make me know the way I should go,
    for to you I lift up my soul.

This is the prayer of the depressed. God has given me something to pray when I can’t smith together a petition of words.  This says exactly how I feel when depression comes- like those who go down to the pit. And this helps me remember what I need even more than medication- to hear the word of God. To hear him say, “I love you.”

Every Morning

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He struts,
raises his decorated neck
making himself a little taller,
and trumpets his proud shout.
And before he’s crowed not three times
– just once-
I’ve already denied
What I once announced with pride.

The dawn of my failing faith belongs to the birds.
They raise a mocking chorus.
Whistles and tweets,
chirps and chatters
singing of my defeat.

The breath of heaven scatters my hair across my face
bending the young Sissos.
I hear that rushing quiet voice

I have prayed.
I have spoken.
Go in my power.
Ride on my wings.
Let my voice be all that you need.
Get up and feed my sheep.

Remind me Lord every day
when the cock comes to announce I’ve strayed,
that you have borne my betrayal
in your crown of thorns
and you have commanded from your cross
mercy no accuser can dethrone.

A Response to Psalm 45

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Jesus, You are the most handsome of the sons of men
because you speak grace and truth
not flattery.

You’re not cruel.

Might and splendor and majesty are in the way you walk.
Bending at the knee down to my
dirty feet
where you wash me clean.

You don’t ride out using your power to protect your position
-though you have every right.
You ride out for truth in meekness- in your rightness-
to save me!

Your arrow struck me
I was your enemy
My heart quivered
I fell to my knees
But you lifted me up

“Come with me daughter”
Your eyes healed my pierced
and hardened heart.
You made it new and tender

I can smile now
in fact
I can laugh when I remember that act.
Every approach I make
to feast at your table
meek with bread and wine
making me able.

My Psalm

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How long?
How many more days do I have to cry bitterly
asking you how long?

My heart is sick
my hope is deferred
my heart hopes
for what I can’t conjure.

How long must I try to find a quiet
place to get away from the constant
strain of this yoke pulling me one way
when I’m trying to follow you another?

I am your lily among thorns
torn and worn
weary
still
reaching
for a place that doesn’t hurt.

How long?
How long do I have to wait
for him my love to requite?

What if it’s eighty years?
What if it’s tomorrow?
What if I die in this sorrow?

Only one I know
that can make love
out of death grow.
And that’s you Lord
Nail scarred, hands and feet,
standing in the strength of
death’s defeat- My Lord!

Evidence of the Resurrection

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On Easter Sunday an unbelieving loved one sat with me in church while the gospel was heralded and the very doubts and questions he has were exposed. This of course has created some interesting conversations in the last couple days. Questions about evidence. He wants evidence of the resurrection.

I know there are smarter people than me who have done the research and present compelling evidence for the resurrection. But as I’ve been praying about my loved one’s questions and seeking wisdom from the scriptures, the most obvious evidence is right here. Me.

In Matthew 28:16-20 Jesus is about to ascend to the Father and he doesn’t say, “I’ve left you all this evidence of my death and resurrection. Now go. Convince everyone with this evidence.” No. He says, “I’m sending you! You are the evidence I’m alive. Now go make disciples in my power. I am not dead. I am with you.”

Christian, you and I are the evidence Jesus has left on earth that testifies to the reality of his resurrection. If Jesus wasn’t alive we would have no power to love like he loves. We would have no power to repent and take up our cross and follow him. We would have no power to make disciples. Jesus is with us. One day we will see him face to face, but until then, it is the fruit of the Holy Spirit in our lives that is the greatest evidence that he is alive.

When I spoke with my loved one the other day as he expressed his doubts, I said, “Look at me. Look at my life. Am I a credible witness to you that there is a power at work in me to love and live like Jesus?” This puts me in a position of dependence on the Holy Spirit. It doesn’t mean look at me because my life is perfect. It means, “Lord, I’m yours. For your name’s sake, lead me in ways that testify to my loved ones that you really are alive.” It’s saying, “Jesus you said you were with me always. Be with me and be the evidence in my life and in the church that testifies to my loved ones, you’re alive!”

Paul did this. Three times in the New Testament he tells the churches he’s writing to, “Look at me.” (1 Corinthians 4:16, 1 Corinthians 11:1, Philippians 3:17). It’s a bold move to call people’s attention to your life as evidence that Christ is alive. But it’s what Jesus sent us out to be. We are his people, alive in the Spirit, because he is alive. He is with us everyday empowering us to be witnesses that he is alive!

Revive your heart for Easter: Look to seeds and plants

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I’m not an apologist. I don’t know all the arguments for the evidence that the resurrection of Christ really happened. But I do know what happens to a seed when you push it into the earth.

Throughout the Bible the image of seeds, trees and plants are used to describe the life of a person in the family of God. In the gospels, Jesus uses the example of a grain of wheat being planted in the dirt as the metaphor for what must happen to all who believe in him (John 12:24). And in 1 Corinthians 15, Paul uses planting a seed in the ground as evidence that the resurrection is real.

Dead People Don’t Get Up, But Seeds Do

As a nurse I’ve been around dead people. To see one of them get up and walk, fully alive would be crazy. It just doesn’t happen. Growing up hearing the story of the resurrection of Christ, the thought that Jesus, fully dead, got up and walked out of a sealed tomb has become familiar. The story of this impossible, universe-shaking event has become as common to me as watching spring plants bloom every March. Christ’s resurrection doesn’t shake me like it would if one of my dead patients got up and walked home fully well.

I have to pray and intentionally approach the story of the resurrection of Christ with a desire to be awakened by it. I want to feel the wonder of the scandal of the resurrection of Christ. I want to respond with the joy and awe fitting for such an event.

One way I am helped in responding to the story of the resurrection of Christ, is by reading what Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 15. Here Paul defends the reality of the resurrection of Christ and the future resurrection of all who believe in him. He uses the imagery of a grain of wheat, dying in the ground and being raised to its new plant life, to help the skeptical and doubting people at the church in Corinth.

Most of us don’t notice the everyday occurrence of seeds becoming plants. The last time we were probably in awe of the miraculous transformation of a seed into a plant was in elementary school when we learn about the parts of a seed and how it germinates. But this very elementary lesson God uses as a message all around us teaching us the reality of resurrection life.

Jesus died. He died a brutal death. And it’s absolutely impossible for a dead man like Jesus to regain a beating heart, breathing lungs, a functioning brain and ambulating body. But in God’s economy it’s no more impossible than a seed in the ground breaking apart, “dying” and then sprouting through the soil into it’s glorious new body.

The resurrection of Jesus is the miraculous first germination of the new man. The resurrection of Jesus is the beginning of the new creation. The resurrected Jesus is the new body all our planted lives of faith in Christ will become. The resurrected Jesus is the new man we who believe in him are becoming. Though we die daily, we will live forever as the new planting of the Lord we were always meant to be.

We weren’t meant to be seeds only. Just like Jesus wasn’t meant to die only. We’re meant to be Holy-Spirit-fruit-bearing trees of the Lord.

So, dear one, next time you look outside and see all the things that live because a seed once “died” in the soil, think of Jesus and your future. One day you and I are going to blossom in the new life that is ours in Christ.  Because he is alive, we will live too.

Response: Take time to meditate on what Christ has done for you and the reality of the resurrection by reading John 19-21 and 1 Corinthians 15. Then go outside. Look at all the life that has popped up out of the ground from seeds that died in the dirt. Pray that the Holy Spirit would increase your joy and hope in believing in the resurrection of Christ and your future resurrection.