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?