Alone Together

Self-sufficiency is an illusion.

Galatians 6

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Independence and self-sufficiency are nifty catch phrases people use with varying motivation to describe a person who can handle life on their own. Most often, these terms are used with a positive connotation: praising someone (usually oneself) for being able to supply their own needs, provide for anyone they hold responsibility, or embrace their freedom from a situation they are leaving behind. When did we become convinced that being alone in life was such an honorable position?

We are not created to do life alone. None of us.

The world Jesus is building in His model on earth is not one of compartmentalization or segregation. Jesus brought us together. He shared meals with the outcasts and spent time with the deplorables. The design of the church body is to replicate and expand this unity to embrace everyone in our communities, our nations, and to the ends of the earth. This should be easy, right? Just be nice to each other! Train each other, encourage and support each other. Simply be a good friend! Ha…..what a royal mess we’ve made of that one. Pride takes over and we let ourselves be convinced that to life is to be in competition (one of my favorite strategies implemented by Uncle Screwtape through Wormwood in C.S. Lewis’s ‘The Screwtape Letters’). We separate ourselves from each other because we are ashamed to admit we struggle with any aspect of life. Those of us who have mastered this ability puff our chest and fly in like a superhero coming to save the day by telling people how to fix their problems. Many of those experts are church leaders.

The church is not an organization and it’s not a hospital. It’s not a business or a social club. The church is designed to be a home, and your home is where your family lives. Your family, coming together with open arms, celebrating each other’s victories, dealing with its conflict, growing despite the times of dysfunction. The church is your safety. Leaning on each other’s shoulders and standing firm to have each other’s back, the church is designed to be a unified force to lead people home.

Share your load, take another’s hand and offer your own. Come home.

You are not meant to be alone.

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Out From the Shadows

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John 8:12

What is the point of confession? Isn’t it just a twisted form of religious masochism, laying out all your mistakes to be flogged by everyone more “righteous” than you? That’s what the church really thrives on, isn’t it? Pointing out how Jesus has made them much better humans than the rest of us? Anyone who admits failure is made an example of, “SEE! You don’t want be like that guy, look how humiliating his sin is! Don’t throw your life away like that.”

I had a conversation with a friend recently about this very thing.

Have you ever been in the dark? I mean really dark. A space where literally zero light is present. I have. Touring Linville caverns in the mountains of North Carolina, our guide led us to an area deep in the mountain where we reached the water bed which slowly carved out the space we stood. After a word of warning, the guide turned off all electric lights. This was my first experience with true blackness. Even when you hold your eyelid shut while lying in bed at night, your mind do not experience this depth of darkness. In color theory, our minds perceive color when the receptors in our eyes receive light waves. White is the translation of receiving all spectrum wavelengths (all possible colors) at once. Every color we name ‘black’ is really just a shade of another color. Stare closely and your mind will begin to decode the light waves and pull out the hint of blue, yellow or red that is present in the deep hue you are looking upon. True black is only possible where no light waves can enter. In this cave was true black.

Something else was present in this cavern. A life form that called this space home, somehow thriving in the blackness. Trout.

These trout lived in blackness for all of their existence (until humans interfered and added electric lights for tourists). Surviving in utter darkness, the biology of the trout began to change. Just as our senses will strengthen and compensate when one of the five are lost, senses which go unused dissipate from lack of use. The trout which lived in this cave were blind.

What does any of that have to do with confession? Being consumed by darkness.

Confession is less about someone hearing us as it is about us hearing ourselves. God doesn’t need us to tell Him when and how we mess up, He watches it happen. It’s no surprise to Him. When Adam and Eve hid in the garden, God came asking “where are you?” Do you really think God was stumped in a game of hide-and-seek and couldn’t see the couple crouching under a mass of palm leaves? Not hardly. This question was fired directly into Adam’s heart. Where did you go? What happened to the man I made you? How did you lose your identity? Genesis 3:8-10

Darkness is heavy. There is a weight to it we feel in our emotions and through our spirit. The longer we spend under that weight, the more it effects our physical body as well. Heads hang, shoulders slump and backs become arched. Setting does this weight and escaping the dark frees us to stand with our head raised again.

Jesus is the light of the world. Confession is an invitation to bring that light into your life and illuminate every part of you; the good, the bad, and the repulsive. God isn’t interested in a clean and polished fabrication of the best parts of ourselves. He wants every piece of us.

Law reveals guilt, love reveals grace. The smallest source of light can chase away darkness. No amount of darkness can be added to conceal light.

 

The Gardener

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The heart of our problem is a problem of our heart.

Galatians 5:16-25

If we live by the spirit, we must keep in step with the spirit. What does that even mean? Is our purpose to Mamba through life with Jesus like a super-spiritual Dancing with the Stars??

No….

Keeping in step is a figure of speech meant to encourage us to align our hearts and desires with those of our Creator. Throughout our lives, seeds become planted in the soil of our spirit. We have the option to nurture these seeds (or not) and it is our responsibility to discern which plants should grow and which need to die.

How do we know what seeds deserve life and which do not? We must look beyond today and consider the fruit they will bear. Every plant is designed to produce a specific crop. Some produce in order to feed other organisms, some plants are complimentary and their purpose is to grow a biological product that is required to reproduce in cooperation with another plant. Tomato plants yield tomatoes, apple trees grow apples, but you’ll never pluck a sweet Muscadine grape off of a poison ivy vine…..

What fruit are we designed to produce? Our fruit is based in love and unity. These fruits build each other up and reject any notion of placing ourselves on a pedestal above another life.  Galatians 5:22-23

YOU will be known by YOUR fruit.

The Sculpture and the Sculptor – Bearing with one another

Bearing With One Another

Sometimes, the person you want God to remove from your life is the person you need most.

Everyone encounters difficult people on this journey called life. Are you sitting down?  Sometimes you may be the difficult person for someone else. Paths do not cross without leaving a trail, some kind of imprint, on each other. What if we viewed these impressions left by other people as marks that shape us? Even the painful ones.

A sculptor’s mediums cannot shape themselves, they are simply material. Unformed shapes, unrealized potentials, piles of stock longing for attention. Pressure and pinches shape clay, blades and abrasives form wood, extreme heat molds metal, hammers and chisels chip away at stone. Pressure, pinches, abrasives, heat, chips…..considered alone, none of these sound very pleasant!

What would these mediums become without the process that changes them into the works of art meant for them? Nothing. Forgotten piles of material collecting dust in a closet. The pain of being worked and formed gives the medium meaning, the process creates beauty.

The people in our lives do the same for us, and us for them.

The next time you’re faced with that person that pushes all of your buttons, that grates nerves only they can reach, or simply turns your stomach to look at, consider what they are forming in you. Embrace that change, grow with them.