Friday, May 29, 2015

The Bleeding Woman

*This is the transcript of my teaching for the LifeSprings Retreat, based on Mark 5: 21-34*

Twelve. Years. The woman in this story had suffered for twelve years. I want you to think about where you were and what you were doing twelve years ago. That would have been the Spring of 2003. Now imagine that since that time you had been suffering from a uterine hemorrhage. Not just once a month, but every single day. The gravity of the situation actually doesn’t translate well into our context, because while this would have been a grave physical condition (can you imagine the anemia?) it would have also been a socially isolating condition. 

A bleeding woman was an unclean woman, and unclean women could not leave their houses and they could not be touched. Imagine not being touched for 12 years. Not one hug, not one pat on the back, not one handshake, not a simple kiss on the cheek. Children die from such neglect. And then no hope of marriage or children. No chance of those desires being fulfilled because the bleeding would have made them impossible.

But that still does not give us the full picture. Imagine twelve years of failed medical treatments, treatments that are described in some ancient Jewish history books—and let me assure you, they were invasive and humiliating. Twelve years. Mark says she “suffered a great deal under the care of many doctors.” The treatments did not ease her suffering, in fact they made it worse.

And there’s more. These ineffective treatments were expensive, and in hopes of being healed, this woman had spent herself into utter poverty. She invested every penny in these treatments, to the point where she had nothing left.

The woman in our story was desperate. She was suffering physically, emotionally, mentally, financially. She was at the end of her rope.

There are some in this room that are thinking, “Yes. That’s me. I’m at the end of my rope. And I have nothing left to give.” There are others who are thinking, “Sounds awful. But I can’t even imagine it. My life is pretty good.” Listen to me carefully, and hear my heart, whichever person you are. We are all every bit as desperate as the woman in this story. The only difference is whether or not we are aware of the desperateness of our own condition.

In the book of Revelation Jesus addresses the 7 churches, and to the church in Laodicea he says, “You say ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing!’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind, and naked. I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes so you can see.”

Jesus says to this church—not unbelievers outside of the church—believers insider of the church! This church which, by the way was in a city known for, get this, financial wealth, an extensive textile business, and a famous eye salve. Jesus tells those who have put their confidence in earthly riches, clothing, and medical resources, that they are poor, naked, and blind, and that to have the things which they really need, they must come to Jesus. He is the only source of true wealth, the only one who can take away our shame, and the only source of healing. And the problem with the church at Laodicea is that they didn’t think they had a problem.

Those of us who say, “I do not need a thing” are perhaps the neediest of all. Because we do not know or we fail to acknowledge the depth of our own need. And so we push through on our own strength, believing in our own abilities, blind to the reality of how desperate we really are. Friends, we’re bleeding to death, every one of us. We are broken in every way, and we cannot save ourselves.

Sometimes, when we get glimpses of our weakness, hints of our own depravity, we seek solutions that leave us worse off than before. Like the many doctors the bleeding woman went to visit, we, too, will spend everything we have in hopes of being healed, only to be more wounded. Some go to the doctor of achievement, thinking that working hard and accomplishing great things will remove our shame and give us meaning. Some go to the doctor of drugs, soothing our pain with chemicals so that we can make it one more day. Some go to the doctor of complaining, whining and pouting about how hard we have it, begging for sympathy to validate our suffering. Some go to the doctor of self-righteousness, believing that being good and living purely will earn us the right to be healed. And while we know that Jesus has saved us from our sins, we keep seeking out other means to be healed from our brokenness, all the while denying that we are, indeed, broken.

And so in reading this passage, I think that the first step in connecting to God’s power is coming to terms with our own powerlessness. Can we get to the place where we admit that we are not rich? Indeed, do you agree with Jesus’ assessment—you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind, and naked?

The woman in our story knew she was desperate. She had heard talk of a man named Jesus, perhaps she had heard how he had healed people in other towns. And so with whatever hope she had, faith perhaps as small as a mustard seed, she headed out into the city. Throngs of people were crowding around Jesus, and Jesus himself was, at that moment, a man on a mission. An important mission! He had been called to the home of one of the synagogue rulers to heal the daughter of Jairus. It wasn’t like Jesus was hanging around with nothing to do. He and his disciples are walking with a purpose, but the woman in our story was determined. She shoves her way through the crowd, thinking “If I just touch his clothes, I will be healed.”

Up until this point in the Gospels, Jesus had performed miracles with his words. He healed the paralytic, calmed the sea, and cast out demons with a spoken command. Jairus asks for Jesus to come and touch his daughter, so there is indication that that Jesus was also known to heal by touch. But this woman—she doesn’t want to be seen, she just wants to be healed. She doesn’t ask for a word or a touch from Jesus. Instead she says to herself, “If I could just touch his clothes….”

Not only is the woman aware of the depths of her desperateness, she is also aware of the heights of Jesus power. Twelve years of constant suffering, and she has a faith that compels her to simply reach out and touch his cloak, just the edge of his cloak! And so she risks public humiliation, she uses up the very last vestiges of her physical strength, she musters all the bits of her shattered faith, and she stretches out her hand to touch his cloak. She does it because she knows that he is her only hope.

The bleeding woman grasps for Jesus. 

What are you grasping for? Because we are all grasping for something. 

Where will you spend the last bits of your energy, your time, and your faith? Do you run to FaceBook to see if anyone “likes” your status? Do you fish for complements from your husband? Do you look for approval from your colleagues? Do you run to your bank to see if anyone has made a donation to your account? Do you reach out after comfort foods, do you lose yourself in novels, do you go for a run? Do you call a friend? Do you watch a movie? Do you check your email? What are your grasping for? And can it really give you what you need? Do any of these things have the power to heal you?

Or do you reach out for Jesus? Will you do whatever it takes to find him, to see him, to reach out and touch him? Do you believe that a brush with the Savior can change the direction of your life? Or do you think that while Jesus is a nice guy and that his work on the cross was nifty, he really doesn’t have much to offer you in the here and now? Do you sit in your pools of blood and watch him pass you by because you know he has more important things to do, and you just don’t think that making a spectacle of yourself is worth the effort?

If the first step in connecting to God’s power is recognizing our own powerlessness, perhaps the second step is grasping for Jesus. If a touch of his cloak can fully heal the effects of a 12-year disease, what is possible by in the indwelling of his very Spirit? Do you get it? The Bible tells us that the same power that raised Jesus from the dead is available to you and me. And we say we believe it. And then we live powerless lives.

You see the bleeding woman did not sit in her house, close her eyes real tight, and say, “I believe.” She acted on her belief. She took her faith to the streets. Perhaps this is why we are constantly reminded that faith without works is dead. I’m betting that if she had simply sat at home with her faith, she would not have been healed. Nor could she have sent a friend. How often do we ask a friend to pray for us, when we ourselves haven’t even talked to Jesus about our situation?

On the other hand, the key is not simply faith in action, but the object of our faith.

When she touched the edge of his cloak, she was healed. The power of Jesus healed her, and Jesus felt the power leave him, and he sought her out. He asks, “Who touched me?” and the disciples look at him like he’s crazy because the crowd was all around him and people were pressing against him in every direction. In other words, everyone was touching him. Everyone was touching him, but only one received his power. One touch was different. It was a touch of faith.

So finally the woman reveals herself and tells her story. The whole truth. And then Jesus calls her, “daughter.” This is the only time recorded in scripture where Jesus calls a person, “daughter.” It is a tender moment, filled with compassion for her truth. Jesus, stops in the midst of his important errand to help the dearly-loved daughter of an important religious leader to comfort and to bless a nameless woman, and he calls her daughter, as if to say, “You, too, are dearly loved.” 

Then he tells her about what she just experienced. You see, he wants to make sure that she understands what has just happened. He doesn’t want anyone starting to believe crazy things like that his cloak was magic. He wants her to know that her faith in action is what gave her access to his power. And that was why she was healed.

The Christian faith is full of paradoxes, and this is just one of them. We are completely dependent on the power of Christ AND we are called to seek him out with all of our strength.

In his book Conversations, Brian Rice writes about this paradox. He writes, and I quote, “The Christian life always involves the dynamic tension of God’s gracious activity in your life that empowers and enables you with resources, gifts, and energy you do not possess on your own, AND, your personal responsibility to do everything that God has commanded you to do.”

Apart from Jesus we can do nothing, he is the one with the power. We can’t control his power, steal his power, earn his power, manipulate his power, or demand his power. But we can access his power. We access his power when, recognizing our own desperate condition, we put whatever measure of faith that we have into action and grasp for Jesus.

This, my friends, is how I have come to understand spiritual disciplines. For years I saw spiritual disciplines as daily to-dos. Boxes I needed to check off. Tasks that I “should” accomplish to be right with God. I even had the wrong idea that if I practiced spiritual disciplines, it was like putting money in a vending machine. Put in the right combination of change and goodies would pop out. So I did my “duty.”

But now I know that spiritual disciplines are not chores. The bleeding woman did not venture out into the crowds because she was obligated. She was not trying to impress Jesus. She just wanted to be healed and whole, and she had finally realized that Jesus was the only source for true healing and wholeness. So she gave everything she had left to connect to him.

Spiritual disciplines are our means of grasping at the cloak of Jesus so that we can be healed. They’re hard, but we don’t do them to earn goodies or to achieve some level of righteousness on our own. We do them because we know that we are desperate and that these disciplines will bring us into contact with the healer. They’re hard, but not too hard for those who are desperate.

After the break, we are going to get practical. We’re going to move into “how to” mode by exploring the idea of a Rule of Life, which is a way of engaging in spiritual disciplines that encompasses all of who we are. But as we begin to look at practical application, I want us to keep in mind the image of the bleeding woman reaching for the cloak of Jesus. Be moved to action by your faith in the goodness and grace of Jesus and your desire to be whole in every way. Do not be moved to action by a faith in your own abilities or a desire to look good in every way. The bleeding woman did not grasp to win the approval and applause of others. She was not looking to impress anyone. She would have preferred to be invisible. This is how we engage in spiritual disciplines. We don’t do them publically, and if done well, no one will know that we are doing them. No one will know, except that you will be changed by the process. Healed. Whole.

Before the break, I want to give you a few moments to reflect on your own desperateness.

Where are you feeling weary and discouraged?
How are you poor?
What is broken in you and desperately in need of healing?
Where are you isolated and alone?
How are you wounded?
What have you suffered?

And what are you grasping for?

Monday, May 25, 2015

LifeSprings Retreat

This past weekend I had the amazing joy of serving as the speaker at a LifeSprings International Women's Retreat. The caliber of women that are seated in this photo is absolutely exceptional. If they hadn't been such Spirit-filled models of grace I'd have been completely intimidated, for they came from at least 10 different countries and they are doctors, lawyers, IT specialists, missionaries, authors, entrepreneurs, and engineers. They work in places like Mercedes-Benz and the United Nations. Beyond their professional roles they are sisters, mothers, daughters, aunts, and grandmas. They are from multiple denominations, Catholic and Protestant. Above all, they are lovers of Jesus who are giving their whole lives for the sake of his glory.

We spent the weekend learning about the power of God--and how we are meant to live in that power. We marveled at God's goodness, drank in his love, received his kindness, and renewed our faith in his all-sufficient grace.
I made new friends, women with whom I plan to stay connected because they are so totally awesome and they have MUCH to teach me! I delighted in the instant depth of relationship that is experienced because of our sisterhood in Christ. 

I also cherished the time with this dear friend, who came along for the ride. She was a constant source of joy and encouragement and I'm so thankful for the time we spent together.

Over the next couple of days I'll share some the notes for some of my messages here. 

Saturday, May 16, 2015

The Work of the Sabbath

Life is full. I resist using the word "busy" because it has too many negative connotations. I delight in and gladly welcome the wealth of opportunities that are before me at the moment. Yet. Yet, I am at risk of being overtaken, overwhelmed, overcome.

The To-Do list is long and growing while deadlines are fast approaching. I'm beginning to worry that I won't get it all done in time. I'm starting to fear that I won't do it well. And so I woke up this morning tempted to do something that I almost never do: work on my Sabbath.

You see, in crunch time, I start to think that if I put in a few extra hours on my day off, I'll be doing myself a favor. I'll be taking the edge off of the teetering pile of tasks so that life will just be a bit more manageable come tomorrow. After all, who can even relax while being haunted by waiting work?

Some days sabbath is easy--a welcome respite. But some days sabbath is hard. It is an act of outright defiance againt my sin nature--a refusal to believe the lie that my life work is more important than my life.

Sabbath is a brazen act of faith that screams, "NO!" to the spirit of self-importance. Sabbath is a peaceful protest against the tyrrany of the urgent. Sabbath is trust in action through intentional inaction. It is not a luxury for the lazy, but God-ordained time-out for the workaholic.

It goes against every fiber of human reason, stands in opposition to prinicipals of productivity, and defies the laws of time management. But Sabbath is probably the most fruitful weekly endeavor one can pursue.

And so today I will rest.

I will not work on PowerPoint presentations for tomorrow''s sermons in French and in English.

I will not write the final message for my speaking engagement at a retreat next weekend.

I will not download the conference materials for the European Leadership Forum that is just around the corner.

I will not work on the meditations for the Learning Community in the first week of June.

I will not read books for school, or write responses to emails, or compose a newsletter.

I will not bathe the dog or change my sheets, though both have been long neglected.

Instead, I will set all of those things aside, trusting them into the capable hands of a God who never slumbers nor sleeps. I will struggle to rest so that I can endure the rest of the struggle. And by my rest I declare to my soul, "You are NOT in charge! Sit still, be quiet, and breathe. The LORD of the Sabbath is near, behold him, adore him, receive him. There is no greater work than this."

Instead of working on the Sabbath, I will let the Sabbath work on me.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Anyone Out There...

For anyone out there who keeps up on my reading list and thinks that perhaps I may have given up reading books in 2015, rest assured I have finally updated the page. Besides noticing the many amazing books that I have been reading for seminary, you will notice an obsession with the Masie Dobbs series by Jacqueline Winspear. These are detective novels set in post WWI England, and they are total book candy. Nothing challenging, but highly entertaining, they provide light-hearted study breaks from my intelectually stimulating course reading.

Image result for maisie dobbs

For anyone out there who still doesn't know where we are moving this summer, let me enlighten you. Destination: Lyon! We are very excited to be joining a church planting team that will plant in the center of Old Lyon.

For anyone out there who wonders if I ever indugle in the delectable delicacies found in French bakeries, let me assure you, I do. Though not often, because, well, who can stand the calories? But every now and then a splurge is in order. Last week I enjoyed a variety of macarons. Strawberry, coffee, pistaccio, and vanilla were among the mix.

For anyone out there who needs to know how to renew a passport when living in France, I feel your pain. I sent mine off two weeks ago because it was due to expire June 1 and I need to travel to Poland May 19-June 4. They said it should take 10-14 days, but what I forgot to take into account is that every-stinking-other- day in the month of May is a HOLIDAY in France. There are more holidays that working days, and I am starting to get concerned that I may not have my new passport in time!

For anyone out there who wants to know where I've been spending my creative energy this week, I'm working on a project that Chandler calls "Hobbes 2.0." I made a Hobbes for Graham for Christmas, and Chandler is laying claim to this little guy.

Friday, May 1, 2015

The Problem with Facebook

I wonder sometimes what Facebook is doing to us. Or rather, if our engagement in social media is changing who we are and how we live life. Because actually, Facebook is a passive tool. We are not victims, but actors. So let's own our part.

I've recently seen some articles and videos about the discrepancy between what people post on Facebook and the reality of their experience. Facebook, for most of us, is a snapshot of life, whether in words or photos. And whether taking a portrait or a candid photo, we typically try to look good. And so I'm not sure why anyone is surprised that most Facebook posts are, well, cheesy. We're mugging for the camera, so to speak.

But there are also those who use social media as a platform for complaint. Rather than putting their best face forward, they indiscriminately post verbal vomit for the world to read. Still, this is a choice. This is the face that are choosing to reveal.

The problem is not whether or not we can take Facebook posts at face value. We can, for the most part. The problem is when we believe that Facebook tells the whole story--both ours and theirs. Because it doesn't. And actually, it shouldn't. I have Facebook friends that I've never actually met in real life, and sharing my life at any depth in that venue would be at the least inappropriate and at the most dangerous.

So while I love Facebook for quick updates on who is going where, and what they ate, and who has a birthday, and who's kids won what prizes, and who got a new job, and who knit a new sweater, and all those other little snippets...I don't look at Facebook as a basis for real relationship.

I may be able to read a prayer request on Facebook, but I can't lay my hands on your head and pray for you.

I may be able to smile at your funny experience on Facebook, but I can't share a belly-laugh with you.

I may be able to appreciate your amazing vacation, but I can't hear the enthusiasm in your voice.

I may be able to join your cause on Facebook, but I can't see the passion in your eyes.

Facebook is like reading a menu. Real life relationships are like eating a meal.

And the problem is not with WHAT people post on Facebook. It doesn't matter if the description in a menu is flowery and detailed or blunt and to the point. Reading the menu can't satisfy our hunger. The problem is believing that our hunger for relationship can or should be satisfied by a menu.

We need to be living out real lives in community with other people. We need to hear each other's voices, see the tears in each other's eyes, and we need to touch each other. We need to laugh together in person, we need to eat meals around the same table, we need to walk through the same fields. If Facebook is your main source of community, then I hate to tell you, but you don't have a community.

Our brains and bodies were created for connection with other human beings. This isn't just psychology, it's biology. In their book A General Theory of Love, the authors (all of whom are medical doctors) talk about the fact that humans are not able to live solitary lives, that we actually need the physical presence of other human beings in order to be stable. They write that "people cannot be stable on their own. Not should or shoudn't be, but can't be....Total self-sufficiency turns out to be a daydream whose bubble is burst by the sharp edge of the limbic brain. Stability means finding people who regulate you well and staying near to them" (86).

I think we need to stop fretting over the "accuracy" or "transparency"of  Facebook posts. What we need to think about is staying near to the people who regulate us well!

The menu can never take the place of the meal. Let Facebook be what it is. Glance through it if you like, post a comment or two. Then shut down your computer, turn off the iPad, silence the SmartPhone, and meet a friend for coffee. Take a walk with a neighbor. Pray with a family member. Give yourself fully to the people in your midst, rather than constantly being divided between electronic connections and real ones.

We are losing something of life because we settle for reading the menu of friendship instead of feasting on the real thing. Don't blame Facebook. There is a "log out" button.