Below-The-Surface Boo Boos

Tip of My Iceberg

I don’t know what’s wrong with him.

Snot runs like a stream from his nose. His cheeks are rosy and covered with slimy boogers. He can’t breathe and swallow at the same time.

Ryken, at eleven months, either is teething or has a cold. The symptoms look a lot alike. The flushed cheeks make me think it’s a cold. But the fact that he gnaws on everything like a puppy and slobbers like a mastiff makes me think it’s teething.unnamed

It hasn’t slowed him down one bit. A cold would make me a bit of a cranky pants. I’d slow down and let you know why. If my mouth was sore, I’d be a bit touchy. Or snarky. Or both.

Ryken just keeps smiling.

And moving.

It would make it easier to deal with whatever he has if he could just tell us what his problem was. If the issue was clear.

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Have You Considered Job

Grief, it seems, is part of life. The longer I live the more I understand what others before me have said; you are either recovering from grief, or heading into it. The valleys may be short or long, the mountain highs ethereal, but it does seem to be true…life takes us up and down with great regularity. Sometimes that can cause us to question God’s goodness or to raise our fist and vent our angst heavenward, as if it might in some way provide relief. Anyone who has tried quickly finds it does not.

The Bible says Jesus was a man familiar with grief and acquainted with sorrow (Isaiah 53). It is easy to gloss over that to focus on what Jesus did for us on the cross. But in moving too quickly through familiar passages, we lose some of the power of what is being said. Knowing how the story ends can rob us of necessary tension and struggle to which we can so easily relate. It is a loss on multiple levels.

Slowing down, really reading passages, living in the moment, experiencing the emotions of those we’re reading about; that can take the reading of Scripture to a whole new level.

One powerful example is in the account of Job. We’re all pretty familiar with the basic story line. Satan comes to God to complain about unfair treatment; Job only worships God because God protects him. And that isn’t fair. Satan wants to get his grubby mitts on that so-called saint, to show God just what kind a man Job really is. Then, God gives Satan freedom to do almost anything he wants to, except to physically harm Job.

Theologians can debate forever about what this reveals of the character of God and Satan. They can argue about the finer points of Job’s response compared to his friends’ and even his wife. But I think that misses some of the significance of this powerful but confusing book. When we look only at the theology, we can miss the heart. And more than anything, I think the book of Job is about heart. Let me explain…

We talk about post traumatic stress a lot in America right now. And appropriately so. The men and women who have sacrificed so much on the battlefield are struggling with the consequences of those overwhelming experiences. There is no paradigm for reconciling American values with the horrors of war. But soldiers aren’t the only ones who deal with post traumatic stress. Rape victims can. Survivors of auto accidents can. Even mothers of special needs children can. And all of us know the trauma of receiving bad news, especially when it is unexpected. That heavy feeling in your gut…the need to sit down…the inability to think…the confusion and fear and anxiety that grips all at once. If the news comes by phone, every ring afterwards brings a fresh wash of overwhelming emotions. If it was delivered in person, anything that sounds like a knock on the door will cause a sharp intake of breath. The fear is tangible for days, even weeks after. Because that trauma went straight to the heart.

Now back to Job’s story. We know the basics; he loses his oxen and donkeys and camels and all the servants who cared for them, except the single survivors from each group. And we know his sons and daughters were killed tragically when the house they were in collapsed on them, again with only a single surviving servant to bring news to Job. But what we may never have paid attention to is the time frame in which this happened.

The details are recorded in Job chapter 1, starting in verse 13. The following nine verses record the events of a day that undoubtedly lived in infamy for Job…the day his life changed forever. Because, you see, what we often gloss over and don’t consider is that Job received news of the loss of his incredible wealth (similar to the losses that led to multiple suicides at the beginning of the Great American Depression) as well as the loss of all of his children, within a very short time.

Three different times Scripture records the phrase, “and I alone have escaped to tell you. While he was yet speaking, there came another…” (vs 15, 16, 17). The final time the words “and I alone have escaped to tell you” Job got word that his seven sons and three daughters had been killed.

All that news was delivered in the span of ten, maybe fifteen minutes…all of it.

Let’s stop here, just for a moment, and put ourselves in Job’s shoes. All of his vast wealth has just vanished. All of it. What confidence do you draw from having a healthy balance in your bank account? What fear fills your heart when the month is longer than the money? What about your possessions…a car, or a boat, or maybe a vacation home or condo…imagine all of those being stripped away, in a moment…does it make you breath a little faster, trying to get ahead of the panic? It does me…even though I want to believe that my trust is in the Lord regardless of my possessions, the thought of all of it being gone makes my breath come a little faster and my blood pressure go up!

Now, imagine all of that happening in one day.

And what is a parent’s worst nightmare? To lose a child. It is never easy; losing a baby at any moment from when two lines show up on the pregnancy test to having them ripped from your arms by tragedy leaves scars that last a lifetime. The grief only gets deeper the older your child is. Personally, my hardest loss was a baby girl delivered at 16 weeks. Her tiny body fit in the palm of my hand. It’s been over ten years, but the thought of that precious baby girl still brings tears to my eyes. But my grief was and has been nothing compared to the loss my parents experienced just months later. My 30 year old sister passed away, quite unexpectedly. It was twelve years ago last March, and my mother can hardly speak of her daughter without being choked by emotion.

And what words always seem to be mentioned, when one loses a child…at least you have more…

But Job…he didn’t lose one child. He lost ten. All in one day. 

Job’s life changed forever, in just one day.

I don’t know about you, but when tragedy strikes at my house, I think about what was going on before, desperately wishing I could go back in time and change something, anything, to take back what happened. Even days, weeks, maybe years later, I’ll think about particular moments and wish with all my heart something could be different. Because I don’t like pain. I really don’t like loss.

The final words of Job chapter one are probably very familiar. Job said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I shall return. The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away; blessed by the name of the LORD.” (Job 1: 21 ESV). But the verse before contains an incredible word. It is translated “worship” but the meaning goes far beyond what our modern day image of “worship” is. The author wasn’t describing a picture of Job raising his hands in response to worship music…

Living in 21st Century America, we don’t really have any context for worship in the Old Testament sense. We can watch the response of American leaders as they meet different dignitaries, but it doesn’t fit a grid through which we can process easily. We can watch movies depicting one person worshiping another, but even that is a far cry from the actual experience of what the word used in Job 1:20 means.

It is the word shachah and it shows up over 200 times in the Old Testament. While it is used to depict worship of both God and people, the common denominator in its use is the posture and attitude of those it is used to describe. They are on their faces before whomever is being worshiped. On their faces. That a position of vulnerability and either total surrender or complete trust.

Job took such a position before the Lord. A position of vulnerability, surrender, and trust.

Sometimes we think that trusting the Lord means we don’t experience the emotions surrounding whatever it is we’re trusting the Lord about or for. We think that somehow trusting the Lord should result in ease, and comfort. I do. I think that trusting the Lord should make my life feel good. But. It. Doesn’t.

Recently, life has been very painful. I’ve wrestled with the Lord not meeting my expectations, either because I want more than to just be held, or because I don’t get the outcome I desire.

Job, however, didn’t see worship and intense negative emotion as mutually exclusive. If you look at the beginning of verse 20, it says, “Job arose and tore his robe and shaved his head and fell on the ground…” (ESV). Tearing one’s robe and shaving one’s head were ancient expressions of intense grief. And yet, Job’s behavior is described as worship…

What does it look like to worship in the midst of anguish? What does it look like to worship in spite of miserable circumstances? It looks like Job, on his face, shaven head in the dust. It looks like tears, and anger, and disappointment. It may even include thoughts of doubt…though Job did not sin or charge God with wrong. It looks like emotion…even overwhelming emotion. It looks like heartache and joy and confusion and pain, without losing sight of Who God is, that He loves us, and that He promises never to leave us or forsake us. What an amazing gift…to know, at a time when we tend to feel most alone, that we are not alone. And to know, when so many say otherwise, that we don’t need to keep a stiff upper lip…we can drop to our knees in agony, crying out in overwhelming grief and still worship, not because life feels good, but because God is good. And nothing is better than that.

Can You See Me?

Can you see me? Because I want you to. But, as badly as I want you to see me, I’m terrified that you will; if you see me, then you can reject me. And rejection hurts.

image courtesy of josef.stuefer via flickr

image courtesy of josef.stuefer via flickr

The really crazy part is, if you don’t see me, I still feel rejected. And it still hurts.

I want to be seen, but being seen is scary.

Do you know me? Do you really know me? Maybe more importantly, do you want to know me? Because I want to be known. But, my fear of rejection overshadows that desire, too.

courtesy of istock. Used by permission.

courtesy of istock. Used by permission.

Do you see me now? Because some of the time I don’t want to be seen…not really. Being seen involved being exposed. And being exposed almost always means pain. If you really see me, you will see that I am not perfect. To be seen is to be vulnerable. And vulnerability is very scary.

I think vulnerability is scary for anyone, but it is especially scary for me. You see, growing up someone very close to me told me that once people got to know me, they wouldn’t like me. So, the very thing I longed for, the very thing we’re designed for, became an incredible source of fear and pain. I needed to be seen, but being seen would mean being known, and being known would mean rejection, and rejection means pain.

Yet, to a one who needed to be seen, God has become El Roi…the God who sees.

And what is more precious than to be seen by the very Creator of the Universe? What can be more amazing? Even just thinking about it makes my head spin!! The Creator of the Universe, the One who holds everything together, arguably the most important being in the Universe, sees me. Not only does God see me, He knows me. 

God knows me in ways no human being ever will. He sees not only my appearance, He sees and knows my heart. 

He sees and knows my heart…and He loves me anyway. He loves me so much that He sent Jesus to die for me, to set me free from the pain of sin and death. How incredible is that?! 

I still struggle with fear of rejection. But, as I begin to more clearly understand the depth of God’s love for me, and as I learn to live in light of His love instead of in fear of man’s rejection, the sweetness of the fellowship is beyond description. And it is anything but painful.

What is a Missionary?

For whatever reason, the definition of “missionary” has been coming up often of late. And I have a problem with the common definition.

You see, I’ve been called to serve as a missionary to my own hometown. It wasn’t my first choice. My first choice was overseas…Africa or India. But God called me to Spokane. I speak the language. I “get” the culture. I’m an “insider”…not an “outsider.” I grew up here. Which means, according to the popular definition of missionary today, I am not a missionary. I raise support, just like a missionary serving overseas. I live by faith, just like a missionary living overseas. I’ve left behind worldly possessions and my dream career to devote my life to serving others, just like some missionaries serving overseas. But, according to the definition I’ve been hearing lately, I’m not a missionary.  Because “missionary” is defined as someone who goes to a different culture and learns a different language.

Does that mean that Americans don’t need missionaries? I’m pretty sure we can all agree that isn’t true. Then does it mean only people from other countries and cultures should tell Americans about Jesus? I’m pretty sure we can agree that isn’t true, either.  Actually, if you want to get really particular, the popular definition would exclude the Apostle Paul from being considered a missionary.

Yes, Paul was sent as a missionary to the Gentiles. But Paul was a Roman citizen…by birth. That means he had a fairly high level of familiarity with the Roman culture. And, he was a native speaker of at least three languages; Hebrew, Greek, and Aramaic. So, it is a pretty good guess he spoke a language that could be understood by most of the people he was ministering to and vice versa. He traveled to most of the known world in the First Century, but it was known because it was part of the Roman Empire. It was more like traveling between states in the US than it was traveling between nations in Europe, the Middle East, or parts of Asia.

Another complaint I have about defining a missionary as someone who goes to a different culture and learns a different language has to do with strategy. The goal of Cru (the ministry I serve with) has been to find “insiders” or “people of peace” to help open doors for building a movement, whether on a college campus, in the city, or on a foreign field. The ultimate goal is not only to find “insiders” but also to raise up national leaders, because it is more effective. In the end, the goal is to fulfill the Great Commission, maybe even in our generation, isn’t it? If this is true, we want to invest our time as wisely as possible, don’t you agree? Which begs the question; who would you want to invest in? Someone who knows the language and culture so he can begin ministering right away? Or someone who needs several years of language and culture training before they can begin sharing about Jesus.

Even more frustrating to me than the issue of strategy, however, is one of discrimination. This may be difficult to articulate, but the basic gist is this: defining missionaries as “outsiders” who travel to foreign cultures and learn new languages suggests that nationals need outsiders to lead them to Jesus. The “foreign missionaries” are the leaders and the nationals are the followers; a very top-down, authoritarian perspective. While the shortsightedness of such a philosophy has been demonstrated in the family and in business, we somehow miss the reality of it in the Church, and especially in missions. Missionaries can serve in a village or people group for decades, learning the culture, learning the language, translating the Bible, and establishing a Christian subculture. And leading. For decades. Without equipping the nationals to lead their own people spiritually, when that foreign missionary leaves or dies or is gone for whatever reason, the people are incredibly vulnerable. I spent time on a foreign mission base with an organization who set up shop on the campus of another denomination that had left for some reason. The people knew about Jesus, and could repeat the lessons they’d been taught. But in the vacuum of leadership left when the first denomination pulled out, the people had concocted a creative brew of Christianity and animism that left many in the village spiritually dead. It didn’t need to be that way. Indeed, it shouldn’t be that way.

The reason I’ve heard for narrowing the definition of a missionary is because not everyone who follows Jesus can or should be called a missionary. I agree with that. Some are called to service in missions or full-time Christian service. Others are not. Some are called to be teachers, or preachers, or evangelists. Those who are called can be set apart like Paul was; chosen to bring the Gospel to a particular people group or region, whether called to the marketplace, the classroom, the boardroom, or somewhere more exciting and spiritually “romantic” like the jungles or desserts of Africa. And that is where the definition should end. Narrowing it down to only include those who go to a different country and learn a different language excludes many who have been set apart and sent out. It hinders the effort to fulfill the Great Commission, in our generation or otherwise, on a number of levels.

If you want to understand more about why I think our efforts to fulfill the Great Commission are hindered by a narrow definition of who is a missionary, check back often. I have a great deal to share on this topic…

Facebook Christians

Earlier this year, nine people were murdered in cold blood by the heinous act of a madman. Those targeted became heroes, as did the war veteran, Chris Mintz, who stood between the gunman and his targets in a valiant but ill-fated effort to avert disaster.

The reason behind the shooting remains something of a mystery, and accounts differ on why the nine were killed. But, it has been suggested (and quickly adopted) that those nine were shot in the head because they claimed to be Christians.

Not all see such assumptions as valid, and at least one blogger has undertaken the painful process of digging through social media to find out if there is any validity to the claims or not. While that author writes for an atheistic blog, and was looking to disprove the theory that Chrisitans were targeted, in the end, it brings up an important question…if you were being judged by your social media profile, would there be enough evidence of your faith to convict you?

Would people who never knew you look at your posts on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter and conclude that you knew and loved Jesus? Or, would they have reason to doubt your family’s claim that you were a Christian?

A few of those murdered had a profile that could be considered “spiritual.” From that the blogger concluded that those individuals might even object to being hailed as “Christian martyrs.”

What conclusions might someone draw about you? More importantly, what conclusions do you want to be drawn? If you don’t like how you’d be judged by your social media profile, what do you need to change?