Wednesday, September 16, 2020

A Little Honesty

Shortly after my last newsletter I was reading about the Samaritan woman’s encounter with Jesus in John 4. The two of them have what seems to be two different conversations until suddenly she realizes that Jesus is about four levels deeper than she is and dives in. Jesus does the mic drop in convo when he declares “[that] the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and trust, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him.” (John 4:23) I confess, this has always been one of my favorite verses. Such verses lend to a sense of haughty arrogance that says, “Yes, the Father is looking for true worshippers. Worshippers that transcend just he activity and really get what it means to put it all out for the Father. That’s me. I am a true worshipper. I get him.” 

I mean, am I the only one here? Am I the only one that has a selection of verses that just make me feel good about my spiritual self? 

I might be.

But I doubt it. 

Second confession: I have never been able to read Jesus’ declaration and a feel absolutely sure that I had any clue what he was talking about.

So, a few weeks ago I was reading this beloved passage of mine and I was stopped. Like the Holy Spirit let me walk right into a wall while standing by watching. Then said, “Do you know what this means?” 

I bit the bait and finally asked, “What is Jesus talking about here? And what does it really mean to worship in spirit and in truth?” And then I got real with him, “Do I have any clue what it means to worship in spirit and in truth??”

To get some context, the Samaritan woman is asking about where the right place to worship is. She’s asking Jesus to make some sense of this self-righteous separation that has taken place between the Jews and the Samaritans. And it’s Jesus’ response that has baffled me for years.


My roommate and I host a bi-weekly night of worship and prayer. The heart behind it is not to hold another “service time” or obligation during the week. We don’t even have a schedule for the evening. But we pray that the Lord would bring those who we’re to be connected with at the right time. We trust that the Lord will work in His will and way whether that be through song, prayer or scripture. But what’s really crazy is that it’s not uncommon that our worship looks like sharing our hearts with one another, bearing each other’s burdens, shedding tears and enjoying laughter together and, not infrequently, fellowshipping over food. Sometimes one person comes. Sometimes there’s a party. The beauty of it is that all of it is scriptural. I say it’s crazy because often when we think of church, we think of welcomes and songs and announcements, offering and preaching and then lunch. I know I’m overgeneralizing, but you get the point. There’s an associated order. It’s our natural human tendency, we need to know what to expect and what comes next. The Pharisees had an order that looked like fasting and sacrifices, rituals and regulations. Meanwhile the rest of the world that couldn’t measure up to Pharisaical perfection just did the best they could with not knowing. 

But sometimes God just wants us to show up and see what He has planned. We talk about Saul’s disobedience (1 Samuel 15:18-21) because he did what he thought was best with what he thought he knew. I think this is what Jesus meant when he said “The Jews worship what they know. You worship what you don’t know.” (My paraphrase of John 4:22) We all are trying to do the best we can with what we know to give it our best effort. But that’s not what Jesus came to earth for. He didn’t send us the Comforter and Counselor so we could just do the best that we can. Jesus came to live and die and rise; the Holy Spirit dwells within us, so that we would always be present with God in what He is doing now. 

This morning God asked me what it means to worship something/someone. 

Me: To give reverence and honor to said person or thing.

God: How do you show honor or reverence?

Me: If it’s a thing, you put it on a pedestal and make sure everyone can and does see it. You tell people why it’s significant. If it’s a person, you submit to their authority, obey their commands, honor them with your words and actions and all of your life is filtered through the personality and commands of this person.

God: Do you think you worship me well?

Me: I try, but no. I know I’m not that faithful. But the Holy Spirit works in me….


I’m no expert, but I think this might be what it means to worship in spirit and in truth. To know truly who it is you’re worshiping and who you are and simultaneously allow the Holy Spirit to sanctify our spirit to respond in humility and adoration. 

Thursday, June 4, 2020

Racism and Identity

Growing up in a mixed, black and white household, the racism talk was never far away. There was a constant awareness of differences between culture, race and expectations. One of those expectations was that I would claim one of those races as my own. In my immediate family was the assumption that I would hold to that which I looked like. However, my personality seemed to indicate to extended family and friends that I’d “chosen” the other side. The truth is though that it never made any sense for me to choose a side. To have done so would have been to exclude or ignore an entire half of who I am and, what was more unnerving to me, pretend to be something that I’m not. One of the biggest insecurities that Lord has been gently healing in me is the fear that I can’t be all that others expect, and they’ll discover I’m not all that I seem. When I dig into it, I think this conversation is right where the insecurity started. I can’t pretend to be all black or all white because I’m not. And to do so would to be insincere to who I am and deny who I am at the same time. Stark black and white lines (no pun intended) make life easier for people. I don’t get that luxury. 
The last weeks in our country have taken an eerie u-turn. Right on the heels of a country trying to open back up and “return to normal”, right on the heels of a pandemic that has gut punched our country in very tangible ways, we’re seeing energy and vigor over a social justice issue that has been ongoing in our country. Are there hurts and injustices? Absolutely! Does something need to change! Yes! 
Once again, I don’t get the luxury of choosing sides. 

Last Saturday, as I scrolled through my social media, read the posts, blogs and comments of those that I have called ‘friend’, I found myself staring at that dividing line again. With the voices of society telling me I need to pick a side. My heart hurt. I felt more divided than ever. And I felt muted.
Then I saw something that broke me.
I saw brothers and sisters in Christ attacking the Body of Christ for not doing a good enough job at addressing this issue (or not addressing it at all). I heard hurts and wounds that should have been given opportunity to be healed appropriately, instead being exposed to the world for more dirt to get slung into. I felt the pain of those who carry the identity of Christ screaming at the Body of Christ for not fighting the battles of the world by worldly means. 
What the Lord revealed to me is that the only identity that I can confidently and wholeheartedly cling to is Christ. For any believer who calls on the name of Christ, their identity is in Christ. 
“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ Jesus, he is a new creation; old things have passed away – behold, all things have become new.” – 2 Corinthians 5:17

For us to cling to worldly identities based on race, sex, social status, economic status, nationality, as more important than the identity of Christ is like a butterfly trying to continue living as a caterpillar. The transformation has already happened! And here is the thing:

With Christ as our identity, we the Church, have been called with a purpose – “to love the Lord your God with all of your heart, soul, mind and strength and love your neighbor as yourself” (Matt 22:37-38), “to love justice, seek mercy and walk humbly with your God”(Micah 6:8); “there is no Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male or female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Gal 3:28).

We, the Church, are absolutely called to address social injustice – “Open your mouth for the mute, for the rights of all who are destitute. Open your mouth, judge righteously, defend the rights of the poor and needy. (Prov 31:8-9) – over and over and over and over again (Isa 1:17, Jer 22:3, Psa 82:3, Rom 12:15-18, 1 John 3:17-18 to list just a few). But as the Body of Christ we are called to come bearing the Gospel – not for beating and submission, but in humility and love. 
The Gospel is the answer. 
“He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds” (Psa 147:3)
And the Gospel is powerful enough to work if we let it. God has promised to defend His own.  If our identity is in Christ Jesus, we need only to be faithful and obedient to Him and we will see the work of God here in this world - even in the face of racism.

Saturday, March 31, 2018

Awkward Saturday

There is a tension between Good Friday and Resurrection Sunday, between death and life. For those of us who pause to reflect on the significance of these two days, Saturday holds a tension that forces one to see the evil, the separation, the depth and death of sin. We feel the weight of the cost of sin. At least...I think we should.
For years I struggled with what to do with Saturday. It’s too soon to celebrate, but Jesus is still dead. What am supposed to do with that??
And isn’t that exactly the question we’re supposed to be asking??
When Jesus was hung on a cross to be killed, the disciples didn’t know what to do. They’d given their whole lives. Everything they believed in had been staked on this one person - Jesus.
He healed the sick, raised the dead, gave sight to the blind, made the lame walk, spoke truth and peace and comforted restless, weary hearts. And now he’s gone.
People traveled long distances to see and hear Jesus. People gave up families and livelihoods in devotion to Jesus.
Now Jesus was hung on a cross for death and buried in a rock tomb.
Condemned as a criminal.
Unfairly suffered and died.

Now what do I do?

Let that empty space fill you. Pause.
This is exactly the question that Saturday forces us the reflect on. What do I do now without Jesus?

What if Jesus hadn’t come back?
This Saturday would be our every day. This tension, this weight, this hopelessness, would become our normal.
Everything that Jesus preached becomes empty. His wisdom and knowledge are evidence of just another great man killed too soon. The apostle Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15:14, “[I]f Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain.”
Saturday is a day to recognize the weight and significance of Jesus Christ resurrected.
Because the hopelessness and weight knees of Christ’s death is very real. He paid for all of our sins with his body on the cross. And he did it willingly. He died for me. He died for you. But our hope is not in a dead martyr, it’s in a living Savior. His resurrection makes a difference.

So today, I encourage you to stop and let the weight of the Saturday between sit on you. Let it resonate.
The questions.
The regret.
The disappointments.
The sin.

Because we know something that the disciples had forgotten this Saturday - Jesus’ resurrection is coming. We will not be left to live in death and sin and hopelessness.  We have very great reason to celebrate! Take time to reflect on what makes this celebration so great.

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Sotiris: Lesson 4


Six months ago, had you spoken to me about the joys of having plants in the house, I would have smiled, nodded my head in feigned understanding, and then rolled my eyes (maybe just inwardly) at the ridiculous obsession people have with needing to "care for" plants. I mean seriously, do we not have enough responsibilities in our daily lives that we go looking for things to be responsible for???
Mind you, I am well aware of the many paths of argument  - most of them I've been on - this thinking leads to....How are pets/children any different?....God commanded us to to subdue the earth (still not convinced that he meant for us to bring it into our homes, but I digress)....Green is good....I get it. It's not an argument I ever intended to win. But I stood on my conviction firmly. And that was ok. Because it didn't bother me that other people around me were caring for plants, just so long as I wasn't being held responsible for them. You do you, boo. :)
But that was six months ago....
Four months ago, the Lord prompted me to buy a tree. 
At first I thought I was supposed to buy it as a gift for someone else. Then I realized the Lord was telling me to buy it for me.

"Whoa..say wha-?! I know nothing about caring for a plant! What am I gonna do with a tree?"

Well, in recent posts, I've shared with you what Sotiris is doing for me. I'm still not so sure that I know what I'm doing with him. But one thing is for certain, Sotiris has indeed been a gift.
A gift that the Lord intended to use to accompany me on this journey that He's been taking me on. Those of you sympathizers of my plant-avoidance and those of you who may not agree with my rantings but have been graciously humored by them can appreciate the very sudden 180 degree turn-around, can probably imagine my surprise when I realized that each morning I'd wake up and my heart would be filled with joy when I looked over and saw Sotiris sitting stoically. I could see the growth that was taking place; take a moment to appreciate that changes in shape. I would walk over and ACTUALLY TALK TO IT!
That morning, I was stopped in my tracks. Not because I was appalled at myself. No. Now I roll my eyes at myself, shake my head and thank the Lord for getting me out of my own pride and insecurity. But I was stopped when, as I stood joyfully greeting Sotiris "good morning", the Lord whispered,
"Do you know that's how excited I get when you wake up each morning? When you take time to just sit with me? My heart fills with joy. I love to see the growth you're experiencing and the changes in you as you continue to let me bring out of you everything that I've placed in you for the world to see; everything that I created you to be. You bring me joy."
Simultaneously, I'm filled with love and conviction.
Love because I am loved. So fully and perfectly loved, more than I could ever deserve. And it is a beautiful thing.
Convicted because I know that there are times when I don't go to the Lord with the same excitement and joy that He has for me. More than that, if I'm completely honest with you, He's not alway the first one I turn to, and I completely miss witnessing His joy.
But when the Lover of your soul is wooing your heart with eyes that shine with passionate acceptance, a smile so big that you can't not smile back, and arms wide open to draw you in and hold you...when this is what awaits me (and you) each morning, why would I not???
Why would I not go to Him in eager expectation and just as much, if not more joy than what fills me when I greet Sotiris, when I know that I am accepted and loved and desired?

O Lord, restore in me the ability to respond in kind to the joy that you have for me. May I live in and walk in that joy - Your joy. May my eyes be fixed on your wide-open arms.

And then there's this:
This joy is not just for me. It's for all of God's creation. Because ALL that He has made is good. But sometimes I'm blinded by the hurt and the pain and fear, and I lose my joy and forget that God rejoices over those around me just much. The ones that I'm praying for...the ones that I work with...The ones that I do life with...they can be discouraging sometimes. Sometimes it's hard to hold on to hope. It looks easer to throw my hands up. But Jesus has left the 99 sheep to find the one (or two or three or four) and bring them home. It was joy that spurred him on to die. It is joy that leads him to pursue and intercede now. And that joy comes from a place of pure, perfect love.
So when discouragement, frustration or impossible circumstances set in, fix your eyes on Christ and see the joy in his eyes. He hasn't given up on them or us. And neither should we.
Walk in His joy.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

A Letter To The Church

Judgement can be a subtle thing.
Not always. Sometimes it's pretty brazen.
But it's the subtle judgements, the ones that seem rational, logical, fair, that can get us tripped up.

"But Ray, wait...what's wrong with rational, logical and fair? Those are good things!"

Absolutely! They are good. No argument.
We spend our lives in various ways seeking out and expecting rational, logical and fair. But who gets to hold the standard for rational, logical and fair?

Now, let me quickly interject that what I am NOT saying, is that you should not use your brain. Judgement, sound judgement, is necessary and expected. This is the judgement that leads you to make wise decisions, stay away from harm and basically live a healthy and protected life. 
But that's not the kind of judgement that I'm talking about. I'm talking about the judgements we make against others and situations where we stand in the position of judge and jury (and sometimes executioner). The ones we make when someone's seeming inconsideration on the road has you so angry that you deem it necessary to declare "foul!", and name the penalty. And while, in this case, the penalty may only be a tongue-lashing of a few course words inside the safety of your car, our spirit has just that quickly fallen into the sin of judgement.
And yes, it is a sin.
The rational. The logical. The fair.
“Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother's eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?" (Matthew 7:1-3)"
 And the reason is simple: to stand in judgement of anyone is to stand in the place of God. He, as absolute justice, has stated the standards and he is the only one in a position to judge how well we meet those standards (which of course we cannot do, that's why we need Jesus). So when we take the role of judge away from God, we put ourselves in God's place (idolatry) and declare God incompetent (ouch!).

With all that said, I need to make an apology to the Church, for I have judged you, and judged you severely. I have judged your heart. I have judged your worship. I have judged your commitment to our Lord. I have judged your teachings. I have judged your gatherings. I have judged you to be a thing that I did not want to be a part of. And I am sorry. 
So incredibly and heartbreakingly sorry. 
I am a child of God. Saved by grace through faith, and not a thing more. I have a deep love and passion for the Church - a burning desire to see the Church awaken and step into all that God's purposed for US. But I allowed that passion to turn into judgement when, instead of celebration, I found disappointment.
Bonhoeffer says it this way in his book Life Together:
The serious Christian, set down for the first time in a Christian community, is likely to bring with him a very definite idea of what Christian life together should be and try to realize it. But God's grace speedily shatters such dreams. Just as surely as God desires to lead us to a knowledge of genuine Christian fellowship, so surely must we be overwhelmed by a great disillusionment with others, with Christians in general, and, if we are fortunate, with ourselves. (pp26-27)
But instead of being disillusioned by myself and my great visions, judgement came and I lost the "promised Christian community". That judgement bred. It bred into all sorts of ugliness - insecurities, discontentment, anger, withdrawal, distrust, and more. And I have clearly seen the effect of my judgements against you in all of these ways in my own life. But I am not so naive as to think that my judgements have not also hurt you. 
I know that this might surprise some of you, but I do not have the words to convey the depth of my pain at the revelation of my judgements against you. "I'm sorry" just doesn't even begin to do justice. 
I'm sorry for the judgements that I've made against you and for the hurt that I've caused you. 
I want you to know that my love, my desire and my passion for the union between us and our Lord to be made manifest on this earth is as ever-burning as it was when the Lord lit me up years ago.
Dearest Church, I ask you for your forgiveness. And I thank God that He doesn't give up on us - even when our judgements convince us that "right is right, therefore I'm right." I'm so thankful that he's removed the blinders from my eyes to see you in all your splendor again. 
You are beautiful. You are set apart. You have been called with a purpose.
Church, I pray that together we can shine the light of Christ ever brighter into this world and reveal more of God's glory.

Friday, March 9, 2018

Sotiris: Lesson 3

New Experiences Bring Growth

I know that this isn't really a news flash for those of you reading - new experiences bring growth - but in light of the circumstances, I caught a glimpse of a little profundity in a very common truth.
When I fist started looking up instructions on how to care for Sotiris, my indoor tree, what I found stated that when the weather is warmer than 40 degrees, it should be outside. *insert snarky look* 
The key to caring for your indoor plant is making sure it gets plenty of time outside....yea well, ok!
It's all good anyway. I would NEVER want to deprive this tree of a good dose of sunshine, so no worries. However, I got Sotiris in the winter, and weather is not exactly permissible for much outside time during the winter. So I've taken to only putting him outside on "good days". And finding little nooks for him to hang out in throughout the house when he can't go out. The thing is, even outside there are so many options on where to set him to soak up some sunshine and warmth!
So one morning shortly after getting him, I took him outside and said, "Let's go somewhere new today....Maybe sitting someplace different will be good for you."
Well, as soon as the words came out of my mouth (because, yes, I do speak audibly to my tree), it was like lightening flashed and suddenly I could see the growth that has taken place in every new location/experience in my life. More than that, I saw how even the scariest and most uncertain situations had wonderful impacts in my walk with Christ and revealed more of who He is to me. This was all in a split second of course. So then I paused....

Sotiris is a prayer tree. A symbol of the faithfulness and growth that I'm praying and trusting for in those who have yet to surrender their lives to Christ. So when I walk with him in the mornings to whichever chosen location, that time is spent meditating, reflecting, praying and listening to the Lord specifically over those individuals. Thus, this profound moment of new experiences wasn't about me at all. It was about those who have not yet come to know Jesus as both Lord and Friend, Savior and Master, wholly Just and fully Gracious; it was a direction for my prayer to turn that Christ might be revealed. Before I knew it, I was praying:
Lord, give ... the new experiences that open up challenge and enable growth. And when it seems difficult, show them your strength. When it seems scary, wrap them in your arms. And when they feel all alone, may they know that You will never leave of forsake them, and that they are being covered in the prayers of those who care for them. Most importantly, may they come to see their own need for You in their life. Amen.
 And I knew, as the prayer was being spoken that this was one of those dangerous prayers. The kind of prayer that asks the Lord to move in a mighty way that requires humility and courage on the part of the receiver. Because when God answers these kinds of prayers, we're not naturally inclined to lean into the pain and uncomfortability of it. The most trusting of us, have to teach our spirits to lean into that faith that we cling to in these moments and tell our souls that it is well. Praying this over those who have not come face to face with the majesty and grace and peace of the Lord Jesus, is like asking my best friend to shoot the neighbor with a paintball gun while the neighbor walks around the yard blindfolded. It seems so cruel!
And yet...
There is purpose and peace in the Lord's leading to pray such a prayer. We don't come to accept Christ as Lord by living a peaceful life that "seems" completely manageable. When we mostly have it all under control as best as we can, we don't go looking for help. It doesn't mean we don't need help. We just don't typically ask for help if we think we can do it on our own. It may seem cruel to ask for a storm when what we really want is the calm of flowery fields. But when you love those too much to let them continue walking around blind to their own need, sometimes you have to pray the dangerous prayers, ask the Lord to do the hard things and beg that their hearts will see and receive Him when His presence becomes revealed. 

I chuckle each morning as Sotiris and I walk through the house searching for the place to sit and warm and grow and be fed that day, because I know that others in the house will probably get a giggle when they come across him in a new location. But it is SO intentional. Because this is a lesson that I don't want to ever miss. For me. For you. For those that I'm praying for. 
Each mornings search begins the process when I pray for wisdom, strength and blessing. New places and situations can be terrifying, but there is so much more to be gained. 
When we trust.

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Newsflash: It's Not Enough!

Have you ever had a small child, say three or four years old, walk up to you and say, "I'm hurt"?
You look up from what you're doing to see what they're showing you and find a dirty, bloody gash. Maybe it's just a scrape; you can't really be sure. But what's certain is 1) this child has been hurt, 2) the wound is not immediately fresh, and 3) said child seems to have somehow missed the significance of the need to clean and tend such wounds.
You attempt to check the wound, but they flinch. You ask questions to find out what happened and, with a bit of patience, begin to piece together what might have happened. You compassionately respond to encourage beginning the cleaning process when said child responds with, "'s bad." And walks away to carry on with activities of the day.
For a brief moment, you sit in shock, asking yourself a dozen rapid-fire questions..
"Why would you not want to clean the wound?"
"When did this conversation end? I thought we were still talking.."
"Do I chase them down and force the cleaning process or do I let them be and tend to it later?"
These are just a few of the questions...there are probably a dozen more that could probe your mind as you watch that child walk away, depending on the situation and severity of the wound....

It's a bit of a comical scenario, I know. But I've worked with and cared for enough children to know that situations like these actually DO happen. And what I'm beginning to discover is that more often than not, I am that child going to the Lord with my wounds. My wounds though look like fear, and judgement, and anxiety. My wounds look like burdens to measure up, accomplish goals, prove my worth/value/identity. My wounds are deeper than flesh and bone and often cut to the heart. It goes something like:
Me: God, this hurts...
God: It sure does
Me: I don't know what happened....just all of the sudden it started hurting.......and I can't make it stop
God: Do you remember ....? Or the time when .... ? And how .... made you feel?
Me: Oh. Yes. That makes sense. I guess that did hurt a bit. And now whenever .... happens, the pain comes back - sometimes bigger
God: Yea. Until now you haven't trusted me to be able to heal it. Can you trust me now?
Me: *thinking for a moment* Yea. I can trust you. *Leaves*
And without actually giving that wound to the Father to tenderly care for and heal, I walk away.
Still wounded.
Thankfully, the Lord is not one to leave his children wounded when they're willing to let him work, so He pursues. And when He catches up to me, it's something like: 
God: Will you cast your burdens (wounds) on me because I care for you? (1 Peter 5:7) A lot. Here, I'll take your burden and you can have my yoke (burden/wound) - it's easy and light. (Matthew 11: 29-30) Jesus has already done all the work so there's no pressure for you to accomplish anything or prove yourself. You can just rest confidently that you're covered and taken care of. I'll heal the wounds that you give to me and you can be whole - the way I created you to be. But you have to give me your burden because you can't carry both. I think you've been walking around wounded long enough.
Me: Ok! Oh....this feels weird.
God: You've been walking around carrying that burden for so long that you've gotten used to bearing the weight. But I never meant or desired for you to carry that weight. You were created to live and love in freedom and truth and righteousness. This is what that feels like....
This is the message that's been getting hammered into my heart lately:
It's not enough to simply tell God that we're hurt. 
He knows. Often He knows the 'why' better than we even do. But if we're not willing to find out the 'why' AND release it to Him, there's no casting burdens. We're just updating God with old news.  
Our culture tends to shy away from acknowledging emotions. Sometimes they peak without our control or permission and we quickly have to shut them down. But emotions are not bad. They're telling you about something bigger going on in your soul. And if you don't listen to the emotion, how will you know the pain in your soul?
You can't let go of something you don't know you're holding. 
I want to encourage you tonight to take the time to process those emotions that come flaring up throughout your life. That person that you have to deal with but always agitates you. Those situations that make you wholly uncomfortable and make you break out into hives. Those pains you've been carrying since childhood... God wants to mend them. He's outside of time and space, there is no point on the timeline that He can't bring healing to. Do the work. Ask the questions. And EXPECT the Lord to answer. He will meet you and He will not disappoint. 
I'll admit, it's not always easy. Sometimes it hurts a little. But a little pain doesn't mean the wound is getting the worse. I've heard it said "God is not going to re-traumatize you". He wants to get you cleansed and looking more like Christ - genuinely and not of our own disappointing and heavy-laden will-power. 
After 30 years of life, I'm finally learning to trust my emotions enough to let the Lord bring healing to some dark places. After all, wholeness and healing is what sanctification is all about.