Friday, February 28, 2014

The Things Time Can't Mend

"There are some things that time cannot mend. Some hurts that go too deep...that have taken hold." 

My husband and I are watching Lord of the Rings for about, oh, the seventh time since we've been married-- but that's beside the point. This quote from the end of the book has come to my mind a number of times in the last few months. It makes sense of my own experience in just twenty-five years on this earth. It resonates with the stories of those close to me. And recently, we watched a film about a man whose life was filled with pain, loss, and injustice-- and then was stopped short by a painful, unjust death. His story ended without vindication, without restoration, without justice. It was a life that time couldn't mend. 

And these things have helped me to realize that sometimes, on this side of eternity, things just don't work out the way they should. Some stories end with hurts that go too deep, with wounds that never heal. Some tensions never resolve. And that is because in this world, things are not as they should be. Whether you've grown up wealthy and privileged or poor and disenfranchised, religious and conservative or liberal and atheistic, you have experienced this sad reality to some degree. Things are not as they should be.  

Christians believe that this is because a foreign power broke the world-- sin and evil wreaked havoc on all that God created. This has corrupted everything we see and experience, right down to the subtle desires of human hearts: from world wars and genocide to common intra-office slander and back-stabbing, we were meant for more. And Christians believe that God took on the very stuff of broken creation in Jesus Christ in order to restore it all to Himself. On the Cross He waged war with the foreign power and won, so that we might be reconciled and re-created in Him, right down to the very subtle desires of our hearts. This dead-and-raised-Jesus changes everything. 

And yet, this change-- this rescue of the world in Christ-- is not yet complete until Christ's return. And so even as a Christian, I can't run to a system or a formula and expect everything to work out for everyone in the here and now; I can't expect every story to end happily if we all just believe or try hard enough or think positively enough. I have to set aside my American optimism at the foot of the Cross which reminds me that the war is won, but not without the shedding of blood. I have to fix my eyes on Christ, who is making all things new now, but not quite yet

In other words, as a Christian I still have to live with loss that will never be fully mended in this life. And as painful as it is, it brings me closer to the reality that this broken place-- including my own broken heart-- is desperate for the final and full presence of Christ to restore it. It gives me permission to grieve fully and deeply-- without needing to slap on a Pollyanna face, at best, or chemically numb myself to the pain, at worst-- and yet it invites me to do so with hope. Because it teaches me how to understand His words, "Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted." 



Thursday, February 20, 2014

Pass the Bread Pt. 2-- The Invitation

Last week, I wrote about how the generosity of a shared meal helped me to experience the gospel as a college student. The truth is, I only came to that realization because of the continued practice of a Shared Meal every week at my church. When I walk in the door each Sunday, I don't leave until Jesus has fed me. And it's amazing that no matter how bratty I've been that week, how lame or weak I feel in the moment, how undeserving I perceive myself to be to come to Dinner at God's House-- I hear the same, unwavering words. "This is my body, broken for you." I need the regular celebration of Communion because it reenacts and reminds me that this-- to be welcomed into the Home of God and to sit at table with Him-- is what it's all about, and it has nothing to do with what I've earned. Rather, it has to do with what God has given. 

As a Christian, this is what I want to share with others when I talk about Jesus: the invitation to experience the same surprising generosity that has and continues to change everything. And I just want to say, as a Christian, I'm sorry if anyone has ever spoken to you about Jesus with the intent of making you feel excluded or disqualified. Please hear the invitation for Jesus to take whatever "disqualifies" you onto Himself-- "this is my body, broken for you"-- so that you can be welcomed. 

I first heard this closing prayer at a church I visited a few weeks ago. It had such an impact on me that it inspired these past two posts. 

Go now in the joy of knowing that you have been included.
Included at this table.
Included as His table.
Included in our common life.
Included in the Life of God;
in the Life of the Triune God;
in the Life shared by the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
Go in the joy of knowing that you have been included
in the inner life of the God Who is love.
Go, find joy in telling others that they too are included!
Go, find joy in bringing all God’s people to His table!
“Do not be afraid, little flock,
for your Father has chosen gladly
to give you the kingdom.”
You are included!

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Pass the Bread, Please


In college, I attended a church where the pastor and his wife really reached out to students on my campus. He would always greet students by name at church, even if he had only met them once before. She came and taught a Bible study on campus every Tuesday night for students who wanted to learn more about the Christian life. But the most powerful thing they did as gospel ministers was—ready for this?—feed us.

I can’t tell you how many dinners they cooked in their home for hungry college students. But I can tell you how many lives-- starting with my own-- were changed by their hospitality. I saw classmates respond with awe at their invitation; “You want me to come over for dinner at your house?” I saw them greedily gobble up plates full of chicken parmesan and fresh chocolate chip cookies; and I watched them slowly open up and receive Love, like flowers in the first sun of spring. 

In the last few years I’ve reflected a lot on why the ministry of a meal is so powerful in communicating the gospel. To be invited to someone’s home for dinner—to sit next to their own children and say grace with them and to pass the bread, please—is to be included in the family. It’s to be known by name, invited in, and embraced. It’s to be cared for and nourished, physically and spiritually. It’s to hear someone say, “Welcome home.” And what I’ve come to realize is that this communicates the gospel because this is the gospel: the invitation to dinner at Someone’s home.

See, to be a Christian is not just to believe things about God, but to be invited to His Table. It's to be welcomed as one of the family; to say grace with new brothers and sisters and to receive the meal that He has prepared for us from His very own life. To be a Christian is to hear God call us by name and say, “Welcome home.” No matter where we’ve been or what we’ve done, no matter how bad we stink or how dirty we feel, He sits us down right next to His own Son and nourishes us, physically and spiritually.

All that’s left for us to do is pass the Bread.  

--- 

"Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door I will come in, we will share a meal together as friends." (Rev. 3:20) 

Have you ever heard the Christian life presented as a shared meal with God? How does that picture impact your feelings about accepting His invitation?  

Monday, February 10, 2014

Today

Today is the eleven year anniversary of my father's death from cancer. The feelings of loss come in waves, each reflective of the season I find myself in. This year, the season is one of awe at the preservation of my mother's life from the same evil, and so my feelings of loss are mixed with unspeakable relief and thanksgiving. Today I remember my father and celebrate my mother; I cry and laugh, mourn and dance. 

And in that sense, today is like any other day for anyone who is in Christ, because there is no day in this world that we aren't wounded by the brokenness that infests it; and yet there is no day that we don't experience the in-breaking power of new creation that changes everything. So I accept today as the pattern of my life until His return, and I accept the joy and pain of living in the tension of now. 

"The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord."  Job 1:21