Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Living the Low Life

God has a thing for the lowly.
  • The lowly he sets on high (Job 5:11)
  • He looks kindly on the lowly (Ps 138:6)
  • The lowly in spirit gain honor (Pr 29:23)
  • The lowly will be exalted (Ez 29:14)
  • Whoever takes the lowly position...is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven (Matt 18:4)
Actually throughout the Bible we read stories of God choosing and using the lowliest people. David was the youngest of his brothers, Ruth was a beggar and a foreigner, Mary was a teenage peasant, most of the disciples were poor fishermen, the people on whom Jesus poured out compassion were the outcasts, the broken, and the harassed. And he counted himself among them. He, himself, was lowly. 

So I've been asking myself, "Jenn, do you count yourself among the lowly?" 

I went to Amazon to see if there were any books on the subject. After all, Jesus talked about and modeled lowliness so frequently, you'd think that "lowliness" would be all the rage among his followers. There were a few books about Jesus' lowliness on the the third and fourth search pages. The first pages were filled with "Lowly the Worm," a Richard Scarry children's book character. Maybe Lowly the Worm has something to teach me, but I didn't see any titles like 40 Days of the Lowly Life, or Becoming the Lowlife God Made You to Be, or Your LOWLIEST Life Now!

As I reflect on what it means to be lowly, I am tempted to sanitize the idea. To turn it into a state of mind rather than a state of being. After all, the word is clearly related to humility, meekness, poverty of spirit. Those words are so much prettier and easier to dress up. And they allow me to keep my dignity intact.

The world trains us to disguise our lowliness, to despise our lowliness, and to do everything we can to deny our lowliness. And it feels like much of the Christian evangelical world feeds us the same lines, only they translate them to Christian-ese. “Work hard and God will bless your efforts.” “God wants you to succeed.” “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life.” I wonder what the martyrs would say to that one!

I’m not against success. I don’t think God is either. I’m against success being a way to avoid the reality of our own desperate depravity and lowliness. I'm against the idea that changing the circumstances of my health or my wealth can (or should) enable me to overcome my lowliness. And I’m really against the idea that God would want such a thing for me.

Because whether I count myself among the lowly or not, lowly is what I am. Christ, who is one with the Father, became lowly through the incarnation. I was born into it. And I’m beginning to realize that the Christian life isn’t about overcoming my lowliness, but embracing it. This is the economy of the upside-down kingdom, where first is last and gold is pavement. 

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Qu'est-ce que tu veux ?

Or à Jérusalem, près de la porte des brebis, il y a une piscine qui s'appelle en hébreu Béthesda et qui a cinq portiques. Sous ces portiques un grand nombre de malades étaient couchés: des aveugles, des boiteux, des paralysés; [ils attendaient le mouvement de l'eau,] [car un ange descendait de temps en temps dans la piscine et agitait l'eau; et le premier qui descendait dans l'eau après qu'elle avait été agitée était guéri, quelle que soit sa maladie.]
 Là se trouvait un homme infirme depuis 38 ans. Jésus le vit couché et, sachant qu'il était malade depuis longtemps, il lui dit: «Veux-tu être guéri ?» Jean 5, 2 à 6
Jésus me pose la même question: "Veux-tu être guérie ?"
Oui! Je le veux. Je ne veux pas vivre sans une transformation profonde dans ma vie. Mais pour y arriver, le soi est obligé de mourir. Le soi qui cherche sa propre gloire..le soi qui fait sa propre volonté...le soi qui a la prétention de se mettre en avant...le soi qui construit son propre royaume au lieu du royaume de Dieu. 
J'imagine que l'homme malade depuis 38 ans a commencé à trouver son identité au travers de sa maladie. Il est, en effet, devenu sa maladie. Suis-je devenue mes maladies aussi ? Perdre sa maladie veut dire perdre le soi. Et si on perd le soi, qui demeure ? 
Seule l'âme, rachetée, constitue notre réelle identité.

En perdant le soi, nous ne devenons pas la moitié de notre personne, nous devenons le meilleur de notre personne. Celles et ceux  que nous étions censés être à l’origine. Jésus veux nous rendre complets. Jésus veux nous délivrer de toutes nos maladies. Et il peut le faire. La question est "Veux-tu être guéri ?"

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

All Sufficient Grace

In the movie City Slickers, Billy Crystal plays a man in the midst of a midlife crisis. He wakes up on his 40th Birthday, depressed and despondent. When his wife asks him the cause of his despair he says, "Do you ever look in the mirror and realize, this is as good as I'm ever gonna look, as good as I'm ever gonna feel, as good as I'm ever gonna do, and it ain't that great?"

This week in my devotional time with the Lord, I was faced with a similar question. First I was led to read 2 Corinthians 12:7-10, a familiar passage where Paul says something about a thorn in his flesh that torments him and God's all-sufficient grace. I'm sure you've read it. I've read it a thousand times. I've quoted it in sermons. I claimed to understand it. I thought I did.

After reading that well known passage, I found myself confronted with this question: "What if God appeared to you today and told you, 'This is as good as it is going to get.'?"

There are two sides to that question. One side deals with my external circumstances, and includes the sub-questions, "What if I never write a book?" and "What if I never do lose those last 10 pounds?" and "What if I never plant a church?" and "What if I never own a house?" and "What if I never see a revival in France?" and "What if I never run a marathon?" In essence, "What if I never realize my dreams?"

The other side of that question deals with my internal circumstances...my desires for those things. Because if I truly understand the premise of the question, then it means that I am considering the possibility that I never achieve more in life AND yet I continue to live with the constant longing to achieve more. What if I must wrestle for the rest of my life with never succeeding at realizing certain dreams AND never losing my desire for those dreams to come true?

THAT is what it would look like if THIS (my life and circumstances today) is as good as it is going to get.

I guess I always imagined that God either fulfilled desires or freed us from them. But that wasn't Paul's experience. We know that he desired for the thorn in his flesh to be removed, and God did not satisfy that desire. And in response, Paul did NOT write, "So eventually, that thorn in my flesh stopped bothering me.  I learned to like it. I totally lost my desire for it to be removed." He just tells us what God told him. "My grace is sufficient."

In the past, I took these words to mean, "God will help me endure for a while" or "God will make this better one way or another." Now I realize the shallowness of such an understanding. "What if this is as good as it is going to get?" means "What if you must live the rest of your life longing for something, never getting it, and never losing your desire for it?"

"What if you write 754 manuscripts and not one gets published?"

"What if you see hundreds of ways and places to plant churches and you never get to plant one?"

"What if the ideas, the visions, and the potential haunt you every single day of your life, but you will never see the fruit of these dreams?"

Is God's grace sufficient?

Is God's grace truly sufficient to fill in the wide, gaping gulch between the deepest desires of my heart and the possibility that those desires will never, ever be granted? And would I welcome such a grace? A grace that quiets the screaming, thrashing child not by giving in to her desires, but by offering itself in their place?

I 've often heard it said that if a desire goes unfulfilled then it wasn't God's will. While it may be true that it was not God's will for that thing to happen, it does not necessarily mean that it was not God's will for me to desire it. God desires for all to come to faith, but we know that not everyone comes to faith. Even God has unfulfilled desires.

This idea, the idea that God would will for us to live (suffer!) with unfulfilled desire, flies in the face of the Gospel that is so prevalant today. We want to believe that we can have God AND all our wishes will come true. Or at the very least, that God's mercy would compel him to relieve us of those desires that he does not intend to satisfy. Couldn't God just help us not to want the stuff that he doesn't plan to give us?

Today I finally understand that it doesn't work that way. When God told Paul, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness," God was telling Paul, "This is as good as it is going to get. I'm more concerned with perfecting my power in you, and you need this weakness to know my power." But here's the thing I never saw before. That grace...that all-sufficient grace...is the source of the perfect power. And the wider and more desperate the gap between my deepest desires and their possible fulfillment, the more space that grace has to fill. That's why Paul can respond, "Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me."

Suddenly I'm feeling tender towards my unfulfilled desires. I'm no longer seeing them as problems to be solved or regrets to be nursed. I'm seeing them as repositories for grace. It doesn't mean I stop striving in faith. It means that whether my desires are fulfilled or unfulfilled I'll recognize God's grace in the outcome.

If this is as good as I'm ever gonna look, as good as I'm ever gonna feel, as good as I'm ever gonna do, I trust that God will fill the cavern of my longings with the abundance of his grace.

His grace is sufficient.

This reflection came out of my journaling in response to the writings of Brian Rice, author of Conversations

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Some Thoughts on the Paris Attacks

Dear Friends,

I want to share with you some thoughts about the recent attacks in Paris. First, let me assure you that we are safe. Nevertheless, we grieve with all of France over the violence and the loss of life. We are perplexed, but not in despair. Our hope and our anchor is in the One who is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow.

We know that our battle is not against flesh and blood, but against the prinicipalities of darkness. As one of our teammates keenly observed, "What happened [in Paris] was just a quick peek behind the spiritual veil. There's a war going on. And it's not East vs. West, or Religion vs. Secularism, or Islam vs. Christianity. It's Light vs. Darkness." The current tragedy may be over, but the battle has been going on for years, and it continues today. Many of the French, like all those who do not know Jesus, are helpless and harrassed, like sheep without a shepherd, and the enemy wants to pick them off by fear, doubt, isolation, violence, hatred, division, and anger. Let the events of the past week drive us to our knees in prayer for this beautiful country.

Just last month, in Lyon, I heard Jeff Fountain talk about how to read the times and how to understand and respond to current events in light of the Gospel. He explained that often we (the Body of Christ) allow secular interpretations to define our understanding of world crises, and we miss the opportunity to speak truth into situations such as these. One of my collegues shared a story about a church in Athens that had been vandalized by Islamic terrorists. A giant rock had been thrown through the window and landed on their altar. As church leaders gathered to decide how they would respond, they realized that the could see the rock as a threat...or they could accept it as an invitation to engage their muslim neighbors with the love and grace of Jesus. They decided to view the rock as an invitation, and rather than responding with fear or anger, the church intentionally sought ways to bless their attackers and sow seeds of peace. And love won the day.

So as we the Church universal consider our response to these attacks, I hope that we, too, can welcome the invitation to spread the Good News of Jesus. Apart from him, there is no peace.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015


Happy New Year!

How are those resolutions going? Mine are going great. Maybe that's because I don't have any.

Frankly 2015 seems daunting to me, and if I'm being really honest, everything in me would like to shrink back. It's sort of ironic that after 2014--where I felt God was calling me to "fly," the only thing God seems to be saying to me these days is, "Jenn, don't be a chicken."

A chicken is a flightless bird. Flightless.

While I experienced great joy and tremendous exhilaration in spreading my wings last year, I've also discovered some of the risks involved with "flying." Sure, there are times of soaring on lofty currents, but truly, it takes a lot of flapping to get there. And sometimes, while flapping with all my might, I realize that I'm not sure another current is going to come in time. I (and others) begin to question my mission. I may go so far as to question my existence. Flapping, flapping, all the while, not sure I'm even heading in the right direction for the right reasons. I circle, looking for places to land. And once I'm safely on the ground, I wonder if I really need to fly at all. Flying is fun for a while, but eventually the glamour wears off and you realize it's a lot of hard work. The ground is safe. And warm. And people don't seem to criticize or question chickens. Chickens are left alone to lay their eggs.

So maybe some days I want to be a chicken. But then I hear that unexpected whisper from the Great and Mighty Meddler who always seems to know what I'm thinking. He keeps saying one little phrase to me, over and over.

"Jenn, don't be a chicken."

How do I want to chicken-out? Let me count the ways!

I want to be a chicken when flying means leaving my comfort zone to, say, share the Gospel with a neighbor.

I want to be a chicken when flying means moving to a new city to plant a new church.

I want to be a chicken when flying means defying the stereotypes that define a good "missionary wife."

I want to be a chicken when flying means watching my children leave the nest and move across the globe.

I want to be a chicken when flying means having to do things for which I do not feel qualified.

I am a total chicken!

"Jenn, don't be a chicken."

He says it over and over and over again. Until my eyes well up with tears, and I cover my face with my hands, and I sob. Because I know that I'm a chicken. I want to be a kingdom builder, a light-bringer, a truth-teller, a God-server. But instead I'm just a chicken.

"Jenn, don't be a chicken."

But I don't know how to be anything else. I'm a big, fat land-loving chicken who once dreamed of flying, but now thinks maybe flying is too hard. Is it really worth it? Oh, Jesus, I know there are many others who were born to fly. Send them.
But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. Therefore, as it is written: Don't be a chicken.
I may have paraphrased the end of that passage from I Corinthians 1, but I think you get the gist. God uses chickens. But we can't stay chickens. We start as chickens--every one of us, I'd guess. But once he calls us to fly, he gives us wings that actually work.

The question is, will we use them? 

Sunday, December 28, 2014

The Suitcase

If I had to choose an ornament from my tree to represent 2014, I suppose I would choose this one. A suitcase. Which is ironic because one of the things I hate most in life is packing a bag. I love to travel. I hate to pack. I put it off to the very last minute, and it is about the only time EVER that I actually resort to whining. But I'm learning to accept packing and suitcases as a regular part of life these days. 

In 2014 I:
  • crossed the Atlantic 6 times
  • took over 20 trains
  • set foot in 4 countries
Compared to those who travel for business, my miles are fairly conservative. But compared to my life ten years ago, where I rarely left Spokane, my miles are significant. I can't even count the number of times I've packed my suitcase, as the above numbers don't take road trips into account. But I do know that there were only three months out of the year (Feb, Mar, Jul) that I didn't use my suitcase, and there were many months (May, Jun, Aug, Oct, Nov) when I used it multiple times. 

And mostly I like the activity. I love the things that I get to do, the ministies with which I am involved, and the people I get to meet and serve. It all comes at a lovely season in life, as my boys are becoming more independent and I have been able to begin seminary and make greater investments outside of the home. The travel itself can be exhausting, but the reasons for the travel are extremely invigorating...life-giving. After four and half years in France, I am finally finding my sweet spot. 

The Lord gave me the word, "fly" for 2014, and apparently it had both literal and figurative meaning. Being married to a pilot, I have many tiny airplanes hanging on my tree. So why did I choose the suitcase instead of un avion? I think it's because the flights represent the changes and transitions, but the suitcase stays the same. In the suitcase, I have my essentials. No matter where I go, the clothes I bring are pretty much the same. I pack my necessities, and while I don't have much, I always have enough. Seasoned travelers--of which I am becoming one--travel light. They quickly learn that having too much is not an asset, it's a liability. 

This has been a year of learning what is essential. Of clinging tightly to the things that matter, and releasing freely everything else.  

There is already a decent bit of travel on the calendar for 2015, not to mention a move. We will be relocating--still in France--to plant a church in another village. I suppose the suitcase may be a lasting icon for my life. In some ways, I was made to be a vagabond. In other ways, my feet long for a place to root. A nest that feels like home. A place to belong. Suitcase people belong everywhere and nowhere all at once. I need to let my heart find its continual rest in Jesus while my body practices perpetual motion. And I'm learning to lean into the comfort of the few brave souls that God has given me as refuges--they are like spiritual docking stations located around the globe. These people carry me with their prayers, sustain me by their encouragement, and bless me with their love. They know how a kind word spoken at the right moment can traverse any distance. They help me stay connected to my source. 

So as the year draws to a close, and I replay with wonder the joys and the sorrows that have graced 2014, I'm thankful. Thankful for suitcases and docking stations. For meetings and partings. For God's kingdom work around the globe, and the tiny role I get to play in his redemptive drama. 

And now, I kid you not, I need to go pack. 

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Counting by Subtraction

We count our blessings by addition. That's how it's done.

But I wonder, can we also count our blessings by subtraction? 

Can we look at the things that have been taken from us, and count ourselves blessed? Can we see the grace of God by what he gives AND by what he takes away?

Often when we pass through the valleys of life well-meaning people will tell us to think of those who have it worse. In the beloved movie White Christmas, Bing sings, "When my bankroll is getting small, I think of those who have none at all, and I fall asleep counting my blessings." 

Is this how we are meant to traverse the trials of life? There are two major problems with this approach! First, it reveals a tremendous lack of compassion for those whose struggles are greater than my own. The fact that I have it better than another person is no reason to rejoice! That thought should double my grief, not ease it. Second, this approach fails for the one is at the bottom of the pile. Finally someone has it worse than everyone else. Where is their consolation? I don't think that God ever advocates the comparison technique. It's great to have perspective so that we don't become completely overwhelmed by a hangnail, for example. But we can't grade God's grace on a curve. His grace and love are always 100% for every living being. 

If I start there-- if I begin with the belief that come what may, God is always acting on my behalf with amazing grace and unending love, then I look at my trials through different lenses. In fact, I think we need such lenses--corrective lenses--to see our life and our circumstances more clearly. 

So while 2014 has been a beautiful and blessed year in so many ways, we have also had the privilege of walking a difficult path, where regret threatened to overwhelm us. But the mighty hand of God proved greater and stronger than all our shame.

Many of you know that back when we lived in the States, our house flooded severely. We lost everything on the ground floor of our home and it took more than six months to rebuild and refurnish. Because our house was situated in a 100-year flood plain, and because the house hadn't flooded in 80 years, we figured that we had suffered our one flood for our lifetime. We put great care into every detail of the rebuilding, believing that this would be the home where we would spend the rest of our lives. And then God called us to France. So we rented out our home, believing that keeping it would allow us to continue paying off a mortgage so that when we finally retired we would have a paid-for house. 

But the house flooded again in 2012. By this time we were in France. Renters were left homeless and we were left without renters for another 4 months of renovations, which we managed to negotiate from France because we had enormous help from dear friends in Spokane. 

Once again restored, the house was happily occupied by a young widow and her four children. She loved the house! And we were thrilled to have such a great renter. The only problem was that house needed a new roof. We had saved some towards a new roof, but we were far from having the full sum. Then David's beloved Granny died and left us an inheritance. While it wasn't millions, it was probably the most money we had ever had at our disposal in one lump sum. We thanked God for his provision, and we spent every penny of it on a new roof for our house. That was in October of 2013.

Then, in 2014, the house flooded again. Severely. Twice.

 That made four floods in eight years. Clearly, the "100-year flood plain" designation was no longer accurate. We looked at having the house raised and numerous other options, but in the end, we couldn't find anything that would work.

So we found ourselves with the grave realization that we could not continue to rent out a house that flooded every other year. We could not sell a house that flooded every other year. Nor could we afford the mortgage on a house that flooded every other year when God had called us to be missionaries in France.

We didn't regret buying the house, because there wasn't a single day that I lived in that house that I did not sense God's hand of grace on our lives there. We had many, many happy days in Spangle. But we did regret the fact that we were helpless to repay a loan on a house that was no longer habitable. And we did regret that fact that we had just put a beautiful new roof on an uninhabitable house. And we scratched our heads and wondered how that inheritance--which had seemed like such a blessing at the time, had slipped through our hands into oblivion. 

We did our best to keep up on the mortgage while we explored options, but in the end, the only option that made sense was what the bank called a "Deed in Lieu of Foreclosure." The bank got the house and all of the insurance money for the last two floods, and we walked away without any further mortgage obligations. We couldn't even take the new roof with us. The fig trees failed to blossom....

Yet, I will praise him. 

There is no amazing twist to the end of this story. Sometimes God works a miracle and turns a lousy situation into something great. But sometimes lousy is the end of the story. The story of our house, our retirement plan, our new 30-year roof, ends in loss. 

Yet, I will praise him.

Because his love for me is not revealed through my circumstances. His love for me is revealed despite my circumstances. His care for me is sure. He knows the plan in full, I only see parts. My house is gone. But my feet are sure. Like the feet of a deer. He makes me able to walk on the rocky cliffs.

In fact, I think I finally understand what Paul meant when he wrote, "Whatever were gains to me, I now consider loss for the sake of Christ." 

The cost of true discipleship is not cheap. Following Jesus costs me everything. I know this. But do I hold my blessings in an open hand? Am I in love with the blessings or the bless-er? And if all the blessings were suddenly gone, would I still praise him? His love for me is unconditional...but is my love for him unconditional? 

Yet, I will praise him.

I will praise him because he saved me. He fills me with joy and he grants me his peace. His love is inexhaustible and his grace is greater than all my sin. He makes my feet like the feet of a deer, which means that wherever he leads, I will follow. But if I want to go to the heights with the Lord, I need sure feet and empty hands. And so when the Lord takes something dear from my hands, I can be sure he is taking me to the heights. And I can praise him.

Can you count your blessings by subtraction? When he takes something from your hands can you count the loss among your blessings? What have you lost this year? Yet, will you praise him?