On the Outside Looking In

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I love raiding people’s bookshelves when I am a house guest. It’s like a conversation that continues after everyone has gone to bed. Tell me more about who you are and what’s important to you.

My son-in-law caught me perusing his shelves one evening.

“Here,” he said, pulling a thin book out of the line-up. “You will like this author. He presents profound ideas in a palatable way, and he has your sense of humour.”

The author was Graham Cooke. The book changed my life. I ordered more of his books and devoured Youtube videos. He was teaching concepts that confirmed what I felt the Lord was showing me but I didn’t have words for yet. He was also teaching concepts that made me run to the scripture to see if this was true. If it was I was going to have to make some major course changes in the way I thought, and who wants to mess up their head with changes if they don’t have to?

After paying attention to Bible passages I was in the habit of skipping over (to reach my “quiet time quota” for the day) I realized my thought processes needed a major overhaul in some areas.

I was pretty much on my own in exploring this new way of thinking (focusing on how God wants to reveal some new aspect of himself in every circumstance, living in my identity as a much loved child of God, praying as a bride and not a widow, realizing the old sin nature is dead and learning to jettison old sin habits in favour of making choices based on the fact that I have a new nature, understanding that Holy Spirit doesn’t merely drop by for an occasional visit because Christ is in me and I am in Christ etc.).

Progress for someone who needs to ditch a habit of overly cautious (okay, sometimes lazy) procrastination has been slow. I’ve had to back out of a few rabbit trails in my lifetime when I made the mistake of unquestioningly following guides who were more sure of themselves than they ought to be. I am wary of following one person. I don’t believe anyone has the whole picture and I need confirmation from other sources and especially need to learn to hear from the Lord myself before I make big moves. But I like this guy. He provokes me to goodness and living in joyful trust in the Lord.

Imagine my utter surprise when I walked past a little church in my neighbourhood and saw a marquee announcing that Graham Cooke would be speaking there the following weekend. What was a writer and speaker who stood before thousands at events internationally doing here in my small remote city in the Canadian Rockies? It couldn’t be the same Graham Cooke. I phoned and checked. It was! Well, I’ll be… Of course I registered for the conference.

Have you ever been in a place where someone addresses the very issues you have been discussing with God lately? I soaked it all in.

Except for one thing.

Another speaker who accompanied Mr. Cooke talked about faithfulness to friends, family and community. He stressed the importance of honouring them, especially in keeping agreements.

A local group I belonged to scheduled a meeting for the same time as the last session of the conference. A few weeks before they had changed the evening they met on to accommodate my schedule. I had planned to make my apologies and skip the meeting when this guy (bless him) used a hypothetical example so similar to my situation I felt like he had been reading my mail.

I struggled. I wanted to be at the final session. I was so hungry for more. But that evening I walked out of the conference venue and went to the local group’s meeting as an act of obedience. I asked my husband to go to the little church and take notes. He obliged, loving man that he is.

As soon as I could get away I rushed back to the church and just about bumped into Mr. Cooke as he exited the building. He smiled, nodded, got into a waiting car and left.

Someone grabbed me, “Wasn’t that absolutely marvelous? Can you believe what he said? He came here to this little place because he had a prophetic word specifically for us!”

“What did he prophesy?”

“Weren’t you paying attention?”

“I just got here. I had a meeting…”

“He told everyone 55 and older to stand up because the Lord had something for every holding out their hands to receive. Maybe someone recorded it. I’m so encouraged, so thrilled that the Lord remembers us here.”

I was 55. I wasn’t there. I didn’t hold out my hands to receive something special from the Lord’s prophet. I missed it.

I was new to this kind of stuff. I had come to see how prophecy, like healing, is still active and had been very influential and encouraging in the lives of people around me. I, however, had never received a prophetic word more specific than “God wants to be your friend” or other nice things one could write in terms so general they could apply to at least 1/12th of the population reading the newspaper on any given day. This was a specific word, and a good one. And I wasn’t there.

I tried not to let it bother me. But it did. When I got home I cried, remembering all the times I felt like I was left out as a child.

I have struggled my whole life with a pervasive sense of being on the outside looking in. Never fitting in. The girl from the religious family playing the records while other children danced at school. Too young, too old, too small, too big. The girl allergic to birthday cake and ice cream. Cinderella without a godmother. Never going to the ball.

It takes a while to recognize a set-up, especially a God set-up. I didn’t tell anyone about my great disappointment for quite a while. But the Lord used the occasion to point to a hole in my heart that needed healing. And he has been doing that. He’s also giving me connections in places I never expected, with people who understand.

One thing I have learned that I didn’t know before is that one of the jobs of a New Testament prophet is to teach people how to hear God’s voice for themselves. In Old Testament days the Holy Spirit came upon men and women to deliver a specific message. Since few had the Holy Spirit directly communicating with them, the role of prophet as  conduit became extremely important. Messages from God were few and far between. Centuries even. You couldn’t afford to miss one.

Things have changed. Jesus changed them.

Waiting for a prophet to tell us what God wants to say to us is a kind of abdication of our privilege to ask him ourselves. When we do hear from those who have heard God’s encouraging words for others, it’s nearly always a confirmation of something we have been feeling but haven’t assembled in usable form yet. It’s wonderful, but it’s a bonus. Holy Spirit himself makes his temple in hearts that are open to him now. And he promises to never leave.

When I asked the Lord sometime later why I was left out that evening, I felt him comfort me and say I wasn’t left out of the promises given. They are for me as well. I can claim them. It’s just that he didn’t want me to be distracted or tempted to worship the messenger. He wanted me to seek Him so he could tell me himself.

It’s all about relationship.

This weekend there was an event in Anaheim which I longed to attend. Many of my new friends who support Graham Cooke’s ministry are there. Again I made the decision to honour the needs of family and friends first and stayed where I have commitments. I am tempted to feel left out again, but when the Holy Spirit living in me connects with the Holy Spirit living in others, even though we are not in the same room, there is unity in the Spirit. I’m not on the outside. We are one in the Spirit. We are one in the Lord.

The Church, the Body of Christ, is wherever his people are, including here, today, on the internet, with you.

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Absalom: When Rebellion Thwarts Reformation

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Twice this week I heard this question: What makes you angry?

Both times the men posing the question suggested paying attention to the circumstances that raise a flood of righteous indignation.

“It could be a clue to your calling.”

I didn’t have to think long. What makes me angry? When the cries of the victims of injustice, when the wounds of the abused, when the silent tears of those imprisoned in mental anguish or in circumstances they cannot control are ignored or downplayed by people who have the capacity to help. When people who brag about leading a loving community misuse their power by exploiting their charges I am livid.

Recently I read a rant by a popular writer who can obviously relate to my anger. He blasted away at hypocrisy and corruption and cover up within the institutional church.

“Wow, Lord! This is good. I totally agree. This guy is absolutely right.”

God’s still small voice response shook me.

“So was Absalom.”

“Absalom? The son who rebelled against his father the king?” I asked.

“Beware the man who calls out to victims of injustice to follow him saying, ‘If I were in charge…’”

I re-read the story of Absalom in 2 Samuel 13 to 18.

David harp statue IMG_9841Absalom was right about injustice and corruption being covered up within the kingdom. He had first-hand knowledge of this. The prophet Nathan exposed King David’s crime of taking what was not his – Bathsheba, the daughter of one of his valiant friends and the wife of Uriah, who was out fighting for him. It couldn’t have been easy for a faithful servant to tell the king that his decision to cover up his sin by committing a greater one, arranging Uriah’s murder, would have serious consequences in his family for a very long time.

Later David’s eldest son, Amnon, also abused his power when he took what was not his. He raped his half-sister, Tamar, Absalom’s full sister. David was very angry, but he did nothing that gave the appearance of justice being done on behalf of his daughter.

Some say David couldn’t act because Amnon and his cousin/adviser made sure there were no witnesses, and in those days, and often in these, a mere woman’s testimony was not enough. Some suggest David did not take action because he was still in the throes of depression over his own sin. Some pose that Amnon, as first-born, was in a position of privilege, and even though God continually broke the expectations of society by choosing a younger son for a task, David was still intimidated by primogeniture culture (the eldest son inherits everything) – and because Amnon was still his boy.

Maybe David hoped that if he ignored it someday the whole thing would just go away.

It didn’t go away. It became worse. Absalom took things into his own hands. He arranged for Amnon’s murder. Then he fled.

David mourned for two sons.

The story of David and Absalom’s uncomfortable estrangement and later reconciliation is told in 2 Samuel 14. By this time Absalom was a full-fledged manipulator. He used appearance, charm, popularity, intimidation – whatever it took to move himself toward a position of power. He sat at the gate and listened to people’s complaints of unjust treatment, something the king had apparently been failing to do. garbage streets Jerusalem IMG_1241Injustice was piling up like garbage in the dark corners of Jerusalem. The failure of authorities to listen to the common people and deal with injustice is fuel for rebellion. How many times is this lesson repeated in history?

 

Absalom began to build an army of malcontents.

But wait? Didn’t David do the same after he fled from Saul? He did, but there was a difference. Although he wailed loud and long about unjust treatment, David never took justice into his own hands. He would not touch God’s anointed. He honoured the office, even when King Saul was reduced to a dangerously unbalanced giant wounded ego. David knew he was more popular. He could have made a bid for the hearts of the people to back him up in military take-over. But he waited for God to hand him the scepter. He honoured the king who was trying to kill him.

Absalom couldn’t wait. Absalom dishonoured the king who disappointed him. Absalom led a rebellion. Absalom publicly shamed the women in David’s household. Absalom died. He fell victim to his own symbol of beauty and by the hand of the man who once took up his cause.

 

I can relate to the popular writer who is dismayed by the lack of love or fairness and the willingness to hide corruption in churches. I haven’t been in a place where I felt unsafe in years but I know from the past what it is like to see women and children’s stories of abuse dismissed or “re-framed.”

I have seen a pastor badger a woman on staff of a Christian organization to confess her part in seducing the elder who raped her violently, even though she had been beaten. She lost her job. There were no serious consequences for the man.

I have hidden victims of incest in my home who were coerced to change their stories because they were told it would be their fault if the family broke up and the step-father was subject to ridicule or prosecution.

I have seen men falsely accused by bitter ex-wives who knew how to garner sympathy but neglected the children kept away from their daddies.

I have seen men on the verge of bankruptcy because another member of the congregation cheated them out of weeks of wages – and nothing happened to the thief.

I have seen teenagers thrown out of the house when they told a someone they were gay or that they had an abortion.

I have seen people become slaves to cult leaders with bad, bad, bad theology who prey on spiritual vulnerability and need for acceptance.

I know what it is to cry myself and not be heard, and I know what it is to be loved, healed and restored by people who cared.

But I’ve also known the horror of feeling I had to betray a friend’s confidence because she chose to protect her husband’s reputation over her child’s sexual safety. I know the utter agony and extreme pain of hearing someone I cared deeply about screaming that I had ruined her life as the police took him away. All these years later I cry just thinking about it.

As a teacher, foster mother, and friend I have heard stories that make me want to cover my ears and scream, “Don’t tell me! I don’t want to know!! Shut up! Just shut up! Shut up because now I am obliged to do something about it and I know how this goes!” But I listen and I act. I understand how the prophet Nathan must have felt.

I know it is worse to leave the garbage festering where the next generations play than to deal with unpleasantness. Hidden corruption in the church is threatening our ability to live and breathe and unite in trust and love for each other. God is exposing it for a reason – love.

I can relate to the popular writer’s rants, and I can relate to the pastors and staff who don’t want to know because taking proper measures might cause years of building to crumble. In the end, as painful as it is, we must stand up to protect vulnerable lambs in the flock while still seeking rehabilitation and restitution for offenders.

I also know the sickly sweet voice of the enemy entreating, “Are you angry? I can help you with that.”

And I  hear a warning from Abba, my heavenly Father, “There is a higher way. Do not take justice into your own hands. Do not join up with an army of angry, invalidated unheard victims as a force for reform. Unless you are part of the process of honesty, repentance, forgiveness, and restoration you are not working for the kingdom. You are working for yourself. And that never ends well.”

 

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Breaking Away

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Look who I found hiding out in Idaho? Well, everyone needs a break, I suppose.

Today, with the news still full of stories about the consequences of the UK’s vote to break away from the E.U., is the day I congratulate my friends to the south on their celebration of breaking away from our common parent country.

Today I am also sorting through stuff in my basement and I’ve come across a file of genealogy research – the family history of breaking away. It seems my grandmother’s great-grandparents broke away from the Americans.

Every once in a while it’s a good idea to ask, “How did we get here?” It’s all quite bizarre really.

Warning. I’m going to overgeneralize, but I’m talking about roots and patterns in the big picture. Usually, the way something is established is the way it is maintained.

I discovered, quite by accident, that my father’s grandmother was not First Nations as we supposed. Her surname was Towne and the Towne family line in America is so well researched the genealogy sites don’t bother to charge for the information. I could follow a straight line from Andrew to Andrew Elijah to Andrew to Stephen to Stephen to Jacob to Jacob to William Towne and his wife, Joanna Blessing, who were part of the new Puritan colony in Massachusetts. Three of their daughters were tried as witches in Salem. Two were hung.

This shocked me! I was raised in an environment that was anti-American. I had no idea I had American roots, let alone connections to the Mayflower Puritans and the Salem witch trials! Our source of Canadian identity was the statement “We are not Americans!”

Then I followed the trail and realized that sometime between the American Revolution and the War of 1812 my ancestors broke away from this new independent country and moved to Renfrew county in Ontario where the United Empire Loyalists settled. Violence and persecution chased them.

When my great-grandmother was a child her mother died. Her father was away working as a logger and when he returned he found the children alone in the cabin having buried their mother themselves. Since he couldn’t care for them he split the children up amongst distant relatives. One of his daughters was sent to live with a family in New York. Apparently she was treated cruelly. She was not permitted to go to school and slept in the barn. At the age of thirteen she ran away and headed north looking for her father.

After living on her own in the bush all summer Algonkin people found her. They took her in and raised her, teaching her the skills of living off the land. Later she married a Scottish hunter/trapper and raised her own family thirty miles from the nearest road. She had skills. Dad says at an old age she made him moccasins and was still an incredible sharp shooter. Her N.Y. experience added (unfairly) to the family lore about the nature of Americans. How easy it is to pass on the burden of our pain to our children.

At the same time I learned the reason we couldn’t trace one family line past a certain grandfather was that there was no record of his father. An astute cousin did notice, however that his mother and maternal grandfather had the same surname. It was not uncommon for illegitimate sons of wealthy Englishmen to be given a tract of land in Canada as their hidden inheritance.

Now I don’t believe in generational curses. That’s Old Covenant stuff. Jesus sets us free from the law of sin and death, but I do see patterns of temptation that follow family lines – especially when unforgiveness is passed on. I noticed this when studying church history as well. It is amazing how often a group that breaks away in protest manifests problems in the same area that caused them to break away within two or three generations. When we insist that “we are NOT them” we set ourselves up to become them.

My husband was invited to a Southern Baptist Independence Day/Sunday school picnic while he was working in Phoenix one summer. He told me about someone getting up and reciting the entire Declaration of Independence.

“I had no idea this thing goes on and on about why they hated the British so much and especially the king. I thought it was about their vision for their country. No. It’s mostly about protesting their treatment by the British government. It’s rather bitter.”

We have many friends in Canada who were either born in the USA or who had a parent born there who recently found themselves in deep trouble with the IRS. Apparently they were supposed to have filed tax returns in the States even though some of them had never lived or worked there.  The tax collectors demanded that foreign banks turn over private information on these folk. It cost some shop owners thousands in accountant fees to prove they owed nothing. When they were advised to contact their congressman about the threat of heavy fines (and other heavy-handed consequences the tax people are known for) they protested, “We don’t have a congressman! We don’t live there anymore. This is taxation without representation!” Oh, the irony.

When my ancestors broke away from religious tyranny they had no intention of becoming tyrants themselves, and yet in less than one generation a government backed by crazy fear-based religion hung innocent people accused of witchcraft.

When the United Empire Loyalist forefathers broke away because they opposed solving disputes with violence they ended up being part of the crew that burned down parts of Washington in the war of 1812.

Both countries, which in the 19th century were run by descendants of landless non-eldest sons and bastard sons and peasants craving property, have a history of taking for themselves land legitimately belonging to First Nations people. Sometimes they used violence, and more often, in Canada, fraud, legal loop holes and long delays. They even deliberately plied with whiskey, introduced disease, and destroyed the family unit by forcing children into residential schools.

Yesterday I read a report that ordinary people can’t afford to live in cities like Vancouver anymore because the best land is being bought up by foreigners who are even craftier than they were. Oh, the irony.

Both countries are now populated, for the most part, by the children of refugees and immigrants who fled the hopelessness of rigid class structure and rule by the elite. Now descendants of these very people have become the new oligarchy, the ones who hold the wealth and power and who decide who will be in charge of the government, the courts – and the tax office. Oh, the irony.

How do we break the pattern? By recognizing it, confessing to sin we have accepted as a normal way of doing business, by offering repentance (metanoia -change) on behalf of our forefathers and choosing to think differently. Where possible we need to issue apologies and make restitution.

The same goes for denominations formed as a result of protest, rebellion, sneakiness and lack of honour for those who have given us our roots. If you leave a legalistic church without reconciling differences don’t be surprised if your children or grandchildren have problems with rules -either having too many or too few. If you leave because a church is wealthy and doesn’t care for the poor your grandchildren could find themselves in a mega-church with catered prayer meetings at $25 dollars a pop, or becoming professional beggars looking for more ways to fund raise..

Just watch. I’m not making this up.

I’ve done this before, but I want to make it public again today. I forgive the British government for depriving my ancestors of the right of freedom of religion and recognition as sons. I forgive the American government for acting violently toward my ancestors. I forgive the family that abused my great-grandmother. I forgive the church I was raised in for not understanding the needs of the poor among them. I want to break the pattern of both distrust and complacency that I have accepted as normal in relationships with authority of all kinds.

Especially today, I want to apologize to Americans for decades of dinner discussions that expressed fear and distrust and offered more criticism than prayer. I have dedicated myself to praying for you for the past few years and I will continue to pray

GOD BLESS AMERICA!

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Leaning

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The nurse reminded me to keep my head above my heart when she handed me the page of post-surgical instructions. I chuckled. People have been trying unsuccessfully to convince me to do that for years.

“I’m serious. You could hit the floor if you bend over to pick fluff off the carpet. It takes a while for the anaesthesia to wear off. Take it easy for a couple of days.”

So, armed with the excuse to avoid work I put my feet up and watched a live-streamed event from Los Angeles all day on Saturday. What I saw caused my heart to rise well above my head.

I can’t explain it. When I saw a delegation from Korea pour out their hearts in prayer for America, I wept. When I saw First Nations people forgive white men for horrors brought upon them and join with Jewish people to drum and blow shofars I was undone.

Yes! Yes! There is something about honouring roots that will heal this land. I don’t know how I know, I just do. My spirit leaps at the sight of Aboriginal people dancing in praise to the Creator – perhaps because the Algonquin people rescued my great grandmother when she was a child. They raised her and taught her how to live off the land while loving and respecting it. I am so grateful. My heart also wants to stand up and honour people who have survived hundreds of years persecution by misled religious people to discover the real Messiah.

I wept with the representatives of African American people from troubled cities who offered forgiveness and I travailed with Black women who cried out for their children. I was amazed at the sight of Armenians and Turks with their long history of hatred making efforts to reconcile. I saw steps toward unity when Roman Catholics and Protestants embraced each other and the shards of many splinter groups recognized one Lord, one faith, one baptism.

What impressed me the most was tens of thousands of people under the age of thirty who stood in line at 4 a.m. and then stood in the rain for fifteen hours, and stood shoe-less with footwear held in the air as a demonstration of their dedication to go to the streets to demonstrate the goodness of God beyond the walls of the church. They have a desperate need to turn away from division and strife and powerless Christianity with mere theoretical grace and toward love and hope and demonstrations of the real thing. So do I.

 

As I sometimes do when I am watching a video or listening to a podcast, I doodled. I planned to try painting in watercolours since I haven’t done that for a while. I started a simple sketch as a basis for a painting, but I kept adding to it. I didn’t have a theme in mind, and I have never drawn a depiction of Jesus – mostly because I don’t like relying on any artist’s interpretation, so why should I add mine, but that’s the way the drawing went. In the end I decided to leave it as a pencil drawing.

I guess I was thinking about John the disciple, who referred to himself as one who Jesus loved, leaning on his Master at the last supper, because there he was in the drawing. In my mind he was just a young man with a wannabe beard. He had no idea what lay ahead. None of them did. All John knew was that Jesus loved him, and he was safe.

That’s all he needed to know.

I watched the crowds of young adults at the Los Angeles Coliseum respond to worship and make commitments with nothing more to go on than the knowledge that Jesus loves them. But that’s all they need to know. Secure in that knowledge they can move mountains.

Like John and the ten remaining disciples and the other people who were transformed when the Holy Spirit came in power, I do believe this generation will change the world.

My head may try to stay above my heart, but it can’t. My heart tells my head to get into alignment with God’s purposes because the drums are beating, the shofar is sounding, the wind is blowing and the fire is falling. The world will know that Jesus didn’t come to condemn them, but rather through him they can be saved. God loved us enough to send his only son so that whoever believes in him will have life -eternal life, abundant life. We can lean on him and be safe.

An old song just came to mind:

What a fellowship, what a joy divine,
Leaning on the everlasting arms;
What a blessedness, what a peace is mine,
Leaning on the everlasting arms.
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What have I to dread, what have I to fear,
Leaning on the everlasting arms?
I have blessed peace with my Lord so near,
Leaning on the everlasting arms.

Leaning, leaning,
Safe and secure from all alarms;
Leaning, leaning,
Leaning on the everlasting arms

Let All the Earth Rejoice

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The splendor of the King
Clothed in majesty
Let all the earth rejoice
All the earth rejoice

He wraps Himself in light
And darkness tries to hide
It trembles at His voice
Trembles at His voice

How great is our God, sing with me
How great is our God and all will see
How great, how great is our God

– Chris Tomlin

This morning I am downloading photos from my camera as I listen to live streaming of a gathering of believers from around the world. A delegation of Koreans is praying for North America. They were singing Holy, Holy, Holy and How Great is Our God as this photo came up.

My heart cries out to the Lord with them. With tears.

How I love the Korean Church. They can pray!

 

Avoiding the Ditch

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We who live in the mountains often complain about how slowly tourists from the prairies drive when the road is curvy and about the way they speed up when they come to passing lanes in straight stretches. Unkind words may have been spoken about recreational vehicles that get between locals and their work sites.

The problem is that we have “ditches.” Deep ditches. Deep, deep, deep ditches. Understandably, the thought of speeding down the road a few feet away from the precipice of a gorge you can’t see the bottom of is intimidating to people not accustomed to it.

Okay, it’s intimidating to a lot of us who live here too. Driving over the Kootenay Pass still freaks me out, especially in winter. I wish they would put up barriers on the edge of the cliff, but it probably has to do with the need to shove snow from avalanches over the side.

There are not-as-high high places that used to frighten me when we first vacationed here when I was a child. I don’t even notice the height (or more accurately, the depth) now. I remember being in awe the first time I looked down on a rainbow, still white knuckling my way up a steep incline. I guess driving in these conditions does teach one to be aware of the ditches and the need to avoid going too far in either direction.

I watched one of those road accident close call videos the other day. What struck me is that many incidents of loss of control were the result of over-correction. In order to avoid going into one ditch the driver over-reacted, swerved sharply, and ended up in the other.

I’m fascinated by history and the way a reaction to one extreme ends up becoming another. When people are carried along by the momentum created by unresolved anger even a small correction can set them on a trajectory that lands them in as much trouble as the first problem.

I see this pattern repeated throughout church history. An angry group of people break away in protest to excesses in one area and within a couple of generations find themselves trying to crawl out of the opposite ditch. For example, one group, who rejected the ostentatious benefactor-backed wealth of the monasteries at the time, angrily walked out in protest and went to live in communal poverty on less arable land in remote places. Within a hundred years their work ethic and creative solutions to farming swampland and steep hillsides turned them into wealthy landowners who didn’t handle riches any more generously than the group they rejected.

I see this pattern in parenting. One generation says they will never be as rigid as their parents and the next says it will never be as laissez-faire as their parents were. Flip and repeat.

I see this pattern in the arts. One movement admires painstaking detailed rule-following workmanship and the next reacts by rejecting “derivative work” and going for free-wheeling uninhibited expression. They have labels for each other. Most of them end in “ist.”

I see this pattern in politics. But I’m not going there today. Why? Because when you are in the middle of a drastic course change motivated by angry rhetoric, shots fired from both ditches can be doubly dangerous to moderates. Cross-fire and friendly fire and collateral damage and all that. It can even start wars.

This is what I have learned observing the long view of history: Nothing that is established by reaction and rebellion lasts.

A newly formed splinter group that leaves an old group on bad terms without pursuing forgiveness and resolution to the conflict first is guaranteed to find themselves being similarly divided in time. I think it’s the reap-what-you-sow principle. Worse than that, reactors need “enemies” to continue to justify their stance. Mutual enemies become a common cause and provide a type of fuel. It is easy to create an enemy where there once was merely a friend or neighbour with a different opinion and keep them locked in that position. Hatred can be passed down like clause six in a will. Many wars have at their root unforgiveness over a dispute between neighbours who have been dead for centuries.

Sometimes righteous anger can be a good motivator for change. Often people are not willing to make corrections until the situation becomes uncomfortable enough that they have to get up and move. Anger is a secondary emotion. It is like the warning light on the dashboard that lets us know that something is not working.

The problem occurs when correction is applied in high emotion and movement is catapulted too far by angry reactive rhetoric and blame. Anger congeals into bitterness and hard-heartedness. This has the effect of pushing people further apart and entrenching them in defensive positions that are more extreme than they intended them to be. It also makes life miserable for other travellers on the road who come under pressure to choose sides.

Did you know that moderation (self-control) is a fruit of the Spirit and therefore a weapon that can fight a spiritual foe who desires to divide and conquer? The political spirit behind a lot of conflict is bent on using deceit, seduction, loyalties, alliances, mocking, manipulation, fear -oh, especially fear- to divide, conquer and gain control. It shows up in churches, businesses, charity organizations, and governments and school yards. It operates through bandits and people who mean well. Jesus called it the “the leaven of Herod.” He said to be beware of it, because, like yeast, it can permeate everything.

I remember being told over and over in a dream that it is the nature of God to be creative and not reactive. He created us to create and rather than react. That’s why we are told to return good for evil and as much as is possible with us to be at peace with all men. That’s why we look for creative solutions first (although I personally believe that protecting the innocent against outright evil might require us to sometimes physically stand in the gap.)

Moderation is not about compromising with sin or enabling evil; it is about being transparent and honest about problems without casting blame, loving whilst avoiding taking up other peoples’ offenses, protecting the weak without enabling helplessness, encouraging honourable behaviour toward everyone without forming unholy alliances, and avoiding careening across the road into opposite ditches because of angry reactions.

Because some ditches are very deep.

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Now What?

Perplexed

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These are my ear buds for the iPod that holds my precious music. This is what they look like when I go to use them. Tangled. No matter how carefully I set them down, they end up in a convoluted wad. Every single time. (It may have something to do with sending them through the laundry process tucked in the pocket of my jeans, but hey, they still work.)

This phrase caught my attention recently:
“We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair…” (2 Corinthians 4:8 ESV)

The apostle Paul wrote this to people he was urging to make changes. They needed to learn to relate to others based on love. These changes would transform the way they “did church.”

Did he say “perplexed?” (Actually he said aporeo which apparently means not knowing which way to turn, or how to decide, or being stymied about what to do — or to be perplexed.) The word perplexed comes from the root idea of “through entanglement or intricate entwining.” Like my earphone cord.

But I thought Paul was the one who had it all together, the one who had a direct line to God and always knew what to do.

Apparently not. Apparently he, and the ones who ministered with him were, on occasion, perplexed. But not driven to despair. He humbly acknowledged that they were like fragile flawed jars of clay because God chose the weak of the world to make sure people knew it was Jesus Christ and not them who was the source. For the sake of the gospel they were willing to live in that uncomfortable place between well-that-didn’t-work and what-now-?.

For someone who wants a firm handhold in the future before taking the next step into the unknown this is both discouraging and encouraging. Discouraging because not even spiritual giants like Paul had all the answers and encouraging because not even spiritual giants like Paul had all the answers. He was willing to endure being perplexed the way he was willing to endure affliction and persecution and hardships – out of love. Someone told me that if you want to receive Jesus’ promise of peace that passes understanding you need to understand that you won’t always understand.

I find myself in that uncomfortable in between place. A while ago I took a step of faith into unfamiliar territory as I am learning about hearing God’s voice for myself and leaning more on Him for wisdom and discernment. I stopped going to the traditional services under the steeple on Sunday morning. (I didn’t leave the people because they are my brothers and sisters in Christ and family is family. You can’t divorce brothers and sisters, but I have discovered that’s the assumption many make if you aren’t in the pew for that hour and a half a week.) I felt the Lord was asking me to step back for a time to gain a broader perspective. He wanted to show me something, a bigger picture of what he means by The Church that I couldn’t see inside a section of distinctiveness protected by administrative berms that sometimes don’t let fresh water in or stale water out. I’ve met a lot of sincere followers of Jesus here outside the berms and I am not without fellowship, but it’s not comfortable place.

Yes. He has shown me a lot. My eyes have been opened – but I can’t talk about it.

I can’t talk about it because, although everybody sees the problems in other denominations or fellowships, nobody likes being told they have parts missing on their ship. And every isolated group has parts missing. We all have holes.

We are like a town that has learned to live with the smells from the pulp mill and frequent serious collisions on that really bad corner by the bridge but still believe our community is the best because we have a new state of the art hospital and our team won the cup last year. It’s not all bad. There’s really good healing stuff and stuff to cheer about and really stinky stuff and even dangerous stuff. It’s just tangled.

You can’t repent of sin you don’t acknowledge and lately I have been facing the challenge of untangling ideas and separating truth from false beliefs in my own life. Repentance means exchanging the way I think for the way God thinks. I have parts missing on my boat, and having that painful fact pointed out has also been a part of this process.

Now I’m perplexed. I’m standing on a point on the road where I do not yet see a clear answer, and I don’t know where this is taking me. The now-what? point. The point of asking over and over, “Did I hear you right?” Are these ear buds working?

But there is more. I know in my knower that God knows what he is doing. Every day I meet another person with the same desire – to know Christ more deeply. Everyday I read about someone on a similar journey of hope.

Perplexed, but not driven to despair.

And because the Lord is relentlessly kind he brought a song by Misty Edwards and Paul Moak to my attention. The lyrics, in part:

Can’t pretend that I am blind
Can’t go back and erase the mind
Naivety and wide-eyed wonder are far from me
But at least now I see
It’s like I’m walking on a tightrope
Stretched across the universe
Way too high to go back from where I came
Overwhelmed at the miles I’ve yet to tame

I’m too far in to turn around now
And I’ve got too far to go to sit down now
Too far in, too far to go…

 

I know, I know You’re with me
You surround me, You surround me
Your invisible hand is around, around
In this uncomfortable in-between
Where I’m too far in to turn around now…

Misty Edwards and Paul Moak, Little Bird album, Forerunner Music, 2014