Thursday, April 19, 2012

Epiphany

I had an epiphany yesterday.  It was in fact a banner day for me my dear friend Leanne pointed out as we wrapped up our LIFE group meeting last night.  I have been struggling and wrestling with God for a long, long time now. The subject being peace or more precisely a lack there of.  I know from reading the Word of God that God does give peace to his people, a peace that passes understanding and I have experienced that peace many times in my life.  It is a gift that I seek out and bask in whole-heartedly.  Lacking that peace has caused many sleepless nights and frustrated prayers and conversations.

When I first began to pray about whether or not we should move to Gabon God was curiously silent.  I wrestled for about three months asking God to direct and lead us as we sought out answers on moving to Gabon.  Finally one day after listening to a Derek Webb song entitled "New Law" that ends with Webb singing 16 times, "do not be afraid" I cried out to God once more to give me an answer to my prayer.  I was seeking His will and isn't that what I was supposed to do?  God finally spoke to me in a still small voice that said, "Seek me alone, not just my answers."  It was a startling realization that I had been using God as a magic eight ball of sorts, shaking up prayers and wanting a clear answer to appear out of the murky blue liquid that would say to go or stay.  I wanted assurances that I could take to the bank.  Instead God's gentle rebuke revealed my motives and reminded me that I was not seeking Him alone.  I wanted answers more than I wanted to be with Him, more than I wanted to worship Him, more than I wanted to step out in faith with Him.

Don't get me wrong, we are to pray for answers, however, that should not be the ultimate reason to pray and seek God.  He loves us with an everlasting love and wants to dialogue with us, He wants invited into our everyday.  He delights in speaking to us.  But what I was doing for three months was a white-knuckled demand for answers about my concerns.  Once again I find myself seeking after something from God, white-knuckled and demanding.  I want God's gift of peace but not necessarily God Himself.  I want pain medication to mask my pain instead of therapy to heal my brokenness.  God is all about healing not about medicating pain.

I am miserably uncomfortable in this life I live here in Gabon.  The heat and humidity sap my strength and language and cultural differences are formidable.  Homeschooling then sending my kids away to school has been hugely challenging then heartbreaking and the aviation ministry has been fraught with delays and stops and starts.  Friends and teammates have come and gone, organizational changes are afoot.   Divorce and illness has blackened the landscape near to us and rained it's devastation on us until we were thoroughly soaked.  Is it any wonder I haven't felt very peaceful?  Yet I know that God gives peace to his beloved and it is a peace that passes understanding.  I feel I deserve that peace and I have been quite bitter that God has seemingly withheld it from me.  I have questioned the lack of peace and wondered if it means we are not in the center of God's will and how we went wrong if so.

Years ago when we were in youth ministry we took our youth to a ropes course.  It was a beautiful Fall day in PA.  The leaves were brilliantly dying in a dazzling array of flaming colors and the air was crisp.  We were in the midst of a challenge and that challenge was for the kids to climb a tower hooked into ropes that would hold them if they fell.  You know the type.  I can't speak very intelligently about the rope harnesses and the carabiners and belaying.  Yet there I was holding tightly to a rope belaying for a kid climbing ever higher.  Belaying is the simple but very important process of holding the rope and climber in the event of a fall.  There's all this business about a guide hand and a brake hand while holding the rope.  I didn't understand all the technical aspects of it but I did understand that I was to hold the rope to keep the climber from hitting the ground in the event of what could be a deadly fall.  I held the rope with a white-knuckled grip, straining and cramping my hands and arms.  I said to the expert standing nearby that I needed a break as I was shaking with the effort of holding that rope.  He gently explained to me I was holding on too tightly and I could relax my grip.  I remember thinking that it was a classic problem of mine, making things much harder than they need be.  So with some difficultly I relaxed my grip and found that the student was safe and wouldn't fall to the ground in a disastrous manner.  In fact my fear melted away and I enjoyed cheering the student on to the top of the tower.  It was a small victory for me that day as I learned to literally loosen my grip.

As you can imagine many years later in another country on another continent I am having to relearn to loosen my grip.  I am exhausted from nearly four years of straining effort as I have white-knuckledly held on to the "ropes" here in Gabon.  My epiphany yesterday was simply hearing God tell me to loosen my grip.  I was reading Andrew Murray's book, "The Master's Indwelling" when I came across this passage, "The almighty power of God is working in me.  I only need to get down, and be quiet; I need to be more submissive, and surrendered to His will; I need to be more trustful, and allow God to do with me what He will."  Give God His way with you and let God work, and He will work mightily.  The deepest quietness has often been proved to be the inspiration for the highest action."

Wow, I've been at it again... making things harder than they need be.  I've been straining and shaking with exhaustion thinking it all depends upon me, thinking if I loosen my grip disastrous results will surely come.  I've been seeking peace in the midst of this strenuous effort to medicate the pain and suffering and blaming God for not coming through.  He has been with me all along.  He wants only the best for me.  I so appreciate his patience with me and his steadfast resolve to not leave me where I am but to bring me higher and higher.

"Oh, learn to accept God's will in everything!  Come learn to say of every trial, without exception, 'It is my Father who sent it.  I accept it as His messenger' and nothing in earth or hell can separate you from God." - Andrew Murray

Already I feel more at peace than I have in a long time.  May I continue to loosen my grip and accept and surrender to God my everyday.  Tell me stories of where you have found peace that passes understanding.

Lyrics to A New Law :

(vs. 1)
don’t teach me about politics and government
just tell me who to vote for
don’t teach me about truth and beauty
just label my music

don’t teach me how to live like a free man
just give me a new law

(pre-chorus)
i don’t wanna know if the answers aren’t easy
so just bring it down from the mountain to me

(chorus)
i want a new law
i want a new law
gimme that new law

(vs. 2)
don’t teach me about moderation and liberty
i prefer a shot of grape juice

don’t teach me about loving my enemies

don’t teach me how to listen to the Spirit
just give me a new law

(pre-chorus/chorus)

(bridge)
what’s the use in trading a law you can never keep
for one you can that cannot get you anything
do not be afraid
do not be afraid
do not be afraid

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Re-hydrating in the tropics

"Lectio divina is the strenuous effort that the christian community gives to rehydrating the Scriptures so that they are capable of holding their own original shape in the heat of the day, maintaining their context long enough to get fused with or assimilated into our context, the world we inhabit, the clamor of voices in the daily weather and work in which we live" -- Eugene Peterson "Eat this book"

Confession- I struggle to read the Bible in an alive and vibrant fashion, often I am left dehydrated after reading "living water".  I have felt frustrated and have often given up only to try again.  Don't get me wrong, I believe in the Bible and I believe it has the way, the truth and the light within it's covers.  I just struggle to unlock the life that I know lives in the Word of God.  I have experienced it from time to time.  I have faith and believe but my ability to stay tuned into and focused on the printed Word of God is often anemic.  I know there is a promised land in the crinkly thin onion-skin pages.  I want to inhabit that promised land.

I've been reading Eugene Peterson's "Eat this book".  It has let me know I am not alone in my often fruitless and frustrating Bible reading.  He says, "There is a sense in which the Scriptures are the word of God dehydrated, with all the originating context removed - living voices, city sounds, camels carrying spices from Seba and gold from Ophir snorting down in the bazaar, fragrance from lentil stew simmering in the kitchen - all now reduced to marks on thin onion-skin paper."  I am a romantic and somewhat of a mystic, I love sight, sound, texture; living by my senses is when I feel most alive.  Yet, I love the written word, specifically God's Word.  Yet Peterson points out, "...it is not only timbre and tone and rhythm of the personal speaking voice that disappears in the act of writing it is also the entire complex intricacy of other voices buzzing in the background, children interrupting with demands and questions, thrushes singing, the sound of the rain on the roof, the fragrance of juniper burning in the fireplace, the bouquet of the wine and texture of the bread that accompanies conversation at the table"

Peterson goes on to say, "... we do not read the Bible in order to reduce our lives to what is convenient to us or manageable by us - we want to get in on the great invisibles of the Trinity, the soaring adorations of the angels, the quirky cragginess of the prophets, and ... Jesus."  Somewhat stung I realized that in fact most of the time I want convenience and manage-ablitiy in my day to day.  Here I thought I wanted adventure and passion and to really live but in reality I mostly want uncomplicated ease.  Moving to African has not accomplished that in the least.  I have been mostly miserable since moving here with bright spots of adventure and growth dotting the dismal landscape of my inner life.  Sad but true story.  Steve said to me after having another tearful conversation about the state of life here that I was stuck.  I was not living the life I could be living.  Something has been holding me back... I believe he is right.  I strongly suspect that something is a someone and that someone is me.

It's easy to blame things and other people for the ways discontent within life.  I am very good at making mountains out of mole-hills and listing all that is wrong and focusing and fondling my troubles like a pet of some kind.  I use books to escape my everyday.  Peterson quoted Walter Ong earlier when talking about the written word, "We are the most abject prisoners of the literate culture in which we have matured.  Even with the greatest effort, contemporary man finds it exceedingly difficult, and in many instances quite impossible, to sense what the spoken word actually is. He feels it as a modification of something which normally is or ought to be written."  And Peterson remarks, "Which, of course, is why many of us prefer words written to works spoken.  It is simpler, we are more in control, we don't have to deal with the complexities of difficult, neurotic, or insufferable boring people. If we don't like what we are reading we can shut the book and pick up another - or go shopping, or take a walk, or spend an hour or so in the garden."

The caveat of my discontentment may lie within my desire to have clean lines and easy strides, in my aversion to messy relationships and not being able to know the ending of trials that will answer all or most of my questions.  I want wrapped up neatly predictable story-ending formats to rule my days.  Most problems I struggle with seem unending.  I can't see around the next bend.  I have no assurances that those I love won't fall into tragedy and heart-ache.  I am looking for security and safety in a broken world.  I need God.  I need faith that believes in the end all will work out, that there is a happily ever after for all of eternity.  I need daily communion with God that is alive and active.  I need to hear his voice.

"Jesus' lead-off parable in each of the first three Gospels emphasizes that the centrality of the work of God in our lives is not about reading but about listening: "Let anyone who has ears to hear listen!" (Matt. 13:3-9; Mark 4:3-9: Luke 8:5-8)  The punch line of each of John of Patmos's sermons to his seven churches is similar: "Let anyone who has an ear listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches" (Rev. 2:7, 11, 17, 29; 3:6, 13, 22 NRSV).  Listening is what we do when someone speaks to us; reading is what we do when someone writes to us.  Speaking comes first.  Writing is derivative from speaking.  And if we are to get the full force of the word, God's word, we need to recover it's atmosphere of spokenness."  -Peterson

I want to hear His voice with my whole being.  I want to live a life led by the Spirit.  I want to not be stuck in the murky mire of discontent.  So that is my current hope and prayer. I will keep you posted on this quest for alive and vibrant faith.  Feel free to write if you have struggled similarly.  Have you found ears that listen?  My dehydrated spirit is seeking hydration of the living water.  I have faith that God will answer this cry of my heart.  He is a good God and loves me with an everlasting love.