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1. Even if you have all the power, splendor and resources of God himself, come into the world unattractive, poor and in a social standing generally regarded as powerless.
He grew up before him like a tender shoot,
and like a root out of dry ground.
He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him,
nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.
He was despised and rejected by mankind,
a man of suffering, and familiar with pain.
Like one from whom people hide their faces
he was despised, and we held him in low esteem.
2. Spend decades of your life, perhaps even the most “productive” years, living off the radar in complete obscurity. For example, leave no verifiable records of your actions or activities in your teens or your twenties.
3. Spend time with people who have no power to change things. In fact, make them your partners. And maybe throw in a few people that most of the world would scorn and might not even necessarily trust or believe.
1 Corinthians 1:26-28
Remember, dear brothers and sisters, that few of you were wise in the world’s eyes or powerful or wealthy when God called you. Instead, God chose things the world considers foolish in order to shame those who think they are wise. And he chose things that are powerless to shame those who are powerful. God chose things despised by the world, things counted as nothing at all, and used them to bring to nothing what the world considers important.
4. Do extraordinarily kind and loving things. Things that could make you famous and bring widespread attention to your good work. Then encourage people to tell no one about them.
Matthew 8:4, Jesus heals a leper and tells him to tell no one.
Mark 7:36, Jesus heals a man who can’t hear or speak and tells him to tell no one.
Matthew 9:30, Jesus heals blind people and tells them to tell no one.
5. Even though you know you only have a couple of years to personally spread your message as far and wide as possible, spend time mostly with individuals or in small groups in quiet and intimate settings. You may even consider generally avoiding situations where your message will be heard by great numbers of people, especially if those people will want you to take a widely recognized place of power within the culture at large.
When the people saw him do this miraculous sign, they exclaimed, “Surely, he is the Prophet we have been expecting!” When Jesus saw that they were ready to force him to be their king, he slipped away into the hills by himself.
6. Get to know people. Really know them. Intimately. Their bodily functions. Their foot odor. Their addictions. Their shame. Their jealousies. Their selfishness. Their brokenness. Their weaknesses. Their most ugly habits. Their hatred of you and everything you stand for. And love them anyway. Love them until it kills you. In fact, love them until they kill you.
When we were utterly helpless, Christ came at just the right time and died for us sinners. Now, most people would not be willing to die for an upright person, though someone might perhaps be willing to die for a person who is especially good. But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners.
7. End your mission on earth when your life is still at its prime and just when it seems you might be gaining some momentum and perhaps even a small following. Surrender your life into the hands of the people who hated you. Even though a noble death might make you more likely to be favorably remembered, die a shameful, criminal’s death. Do it for the sake of those who worked the hardest against your purposes, your mission and your message. For your enemies.
The Message (MSG)
You yourselves are a case study of what he does. At one time you all had your backs turned to God, thinking rebellious thoughts of him, giving him trouble every chance you got. But now, by giving himself completely at the Cross, actually dying for you, Christ brought you over to God’s side and put your lives together, whole and holy in his presence. You don’t walk away from a gift like that! You stay grounded and steady in that bond of trust, constantly tuned in to the Message, careful not to be distracted or diverted. There is no other Message—just this one. Every creature under heaven gets this same Message.
8. Do it to make a place for your enemies in your home. To share with them all your inheritance. Offer them your friendship. Offer them a place in your family. And then let them take all that you’ve given them and reject it. Over and over again. And keep loving them anyway, rejoicing when they finally do turn towards you.
20 “So he returned home to his father. And while he was still a long way off, his father saw him coming. Filled with love and compassion, he ran to his son, embraced him, and kissed him. 21 His son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against both heaven and you, and I am no longer worthy of being called your son.[a]’
22 “But his father said to the servants, ‘Quick! Bring the finest robe in the house and put it on him. Get a ring for his finger and sandals for his feet. 23 And kill the calf we have been fattening. We must celebrate with a feast, 24 for this son of mine was dead and has now returned to life. He was lost, but now he is found.’ So the party began.
You know how when you’re having a conversation with another person and one of you has bad breath, it can be so distracting that it’s difficult to even really hear what the other person is saying? If we’re the bearer of the odoriferous breath we may, a bit self-consciously, cover our mouth with a hand, turn our faces slightly in another direction or speak with as little breath expelled as possible, hoping that which comes from us that might possibly offend would not reach the level of their attention.
But the whole conversation becomes a little bit awkward that way. It’s hard to see eye-to-eye when we’re doing everything we can not to stand face-to-face. Sometimes I feel like having a political conversation with someone who knows that I happen to be a person of faith is like doing that strange bad breath dance. I’m so conscious of offending the other person, I don’t articulate clearly enough what my actual position is. Today I read a blog post that insinuated that having religious beliefs is something that should be done outside of the voting booth, but not in it. So for the sake of a clearer and hopefully more authentic conversation, I’m going to put my face straight forward to look at yours and say what I really want to say: My religious beliefs do affect my vote.
That is because my religious beliefs affect my values. And all of us, every single one of us, votes based on our values. Our values are shaped by our families, our cultures, our gender, our experiences, our education, and countless other factors. But religious beliefs are undoubtedly one of the things that help shape our values. And it’s not just me. I hate to break it to you but, whether you have a religious affiliation or not- whether you consider yourself religious, spiritual, agnostic, atheist or none of the above-your religious beliefs (or lack thereof) affect your values. And your vote is affected by your values.
But let me tell you what that doesn’t mean:
- Just because my religious beliefs affect my values, doesn’t mean that when I vote I am trying to impose my religious beliefs on the state. I am simply casting my vote based on my own values, just like anyone else. Asking me to set aside my values before I vote would simply be asking me to put aside my humanity. I believe in separation of church and state specifically because I appreciate living in a place where we don’t do things like force people to separate themselves from their values when they exercise their right as a citizen to vote.
- I am no more trying to impose my values on you than you are trying to impose your values on me. Just as your votes may result in policies which go against my values, my votes may result in policies that go against your values. The nature of a democracy is that each person has the ability to place their single vote, whatever their vote may be and whatever their vote may be based upon. We each have that one single vote. That’s it. (Consequently, we also have a really, really good Constitution for which I am very thankful. It protects us from a tyranny of the majority, which can be a dangerous thing.)
- Just because I have religious beliefs does not mean that when I vote I do not use my brain. If you think that having faith means not having an intellect, I challenge you to find a realm of human achievement where you don’t find people of faith. Arts, sciences, literature, philosophy….we are everywhere. And we do enjoy using our brains when we vote just as well as any other person does (or does not. Democracy is a funny thing like that. We don’t give tests to determine upon what a person will be basing their vote to see if it is appropriate before we hand him or her a pencil and ballot.)
- And just because I have particular values, doesn’t mean I don’t want to keep talking with you about this. Even if you have dramatically different values from mine. I truly enjoy a good, intellectually honest, respectful debate. And if we can agree on those ground rules, I’m all about digging in. Let’s not disrespect each other by assuming we can’t handle an opinion that dissents from ours. My favorite conversations are the ones I’ve had with people who are not threatened by ideas different by their own. That’s the place from which the absolute best policy-making is done. So let’s get at this!
I walked down the dirt road on which my in-laws’ cabin sits and let the beauty of nature wash over my senses. The sun does not not neglect to generously warm each inch of my skin. The breeze offers a cooling balance and stirs the long grasses to release their sweet scent. The ferns on the forest floor stretch out their fronds in endless configurations of orderly beauty against the rakishly disorderly backdrop of the forest floor.
It is all there, whether I choose to enter into it or not. This feast for the senses, almost an embarrassment of riches in a place like the cabin–the sun, the breeze, the sweet grasses, the fern fronds, the birch forest- it all would have existed even were I not here to experience it. This uncultivated beauty is unlike the more civilized variety that we humans maintain or mold by our own efforts. Natural beauty simply IS. By no effort of mine it exists in glorious splendor, free for me and all the rest of humanity to enjoy.
I walked and I felt the tongue of my soul thirstily lapping up all that was around me, I started to wonder why I am made like this. Why is natural beauty the food that feeds my particular soul? In my life as a mother of three young children there are a long list of things I need to do in order to receive the benefits of healthy relationships, a passably hygienic home, meaningful work, even recreational pursuits require a lot of effort at this time of life. For every single arena of my life there is a litany of requirements for maintenance.
Yet the beauty of nature excites and soothes. It inspires and humbles. It wraps around my senses in endless varieties and provides satiation. But I do nothing to receive such a lavish feast as is provided by a place where natural beauty prevails.
I do not need to pay nature in order for it to administer these gifts to me. I do not need to feed it. I do not need to work for it. Entertain it. It seems as if it would balk like a strong but good-natured grandfather if I tried to coddle it.
Natural beauty requires nothing of me. In fact is one of the few things, perhaps the only thing, that I feel no sense of guilt as I enjoy it. It is undoubtedly good, so I feel no shame as I bask in it and I do not accumulate debt as I accept its gifts. I can be free to receive what it gives me with no sense of needing to reciprocate. It takes nothing from me, not even requiring my appreciation of it as sometimes I feel about beauty that has been produced by human hands.
Natural beauty does not require me to maintain it in order for it to be.* It existed before I came along. It will exist after I am gone. It is remarkably persistent, tenacious even. Fire consumes acres and dainty, green tendrils begin to shoot through stricken soil soon after. Disasters occur to wipe out entire landscapes, but natural beauty reappears before humans can even begin to rebuild. Destruction may seem to have overcome, but glitter spills in night skies above and the sun will rise amidst a never-identical show of enigmatic shades of color the next day. Natural life will unfurl its tentacles wherever chaos strikes and slowly but surely begin to re-order itself.
And for a soul as hungry as mine, it is a blessing and a wonder that inherent in the character of natural beauty is that it is perpetually available. There is not a time of day in which it does not exist somewhere around you, most likely within immediate reach of at least one of your senses: loamy soil’s scent, a dancing tree’s shadow play, smooth stone rubbed between finger and thumb. It. Simply. Is. Moment upon eternal moment. Cycles of light and life never ending. The beauty of nature is there to take in.
As I round another curve on that dirt road only to arrive upon another landscape ripe with pleasure for the senses, I realize that I cannot think of any other thing besides natural beauty of which I can say this is true of its relationship to my soul: It requires nothing of me and yet my whole self- mind, body and soul- feel saturated with enjoyment of it. I receive so much without giving a single thing to it but my attention. And even if I do not give it my attention, it still exists within my reach for whenever I do tune myself to it again.
And as I turned back on the path towards the cabin again, the brilliance of the sun’s reflection on Lake Superior dazzled my eyes. In the same sort of flash I realized why this natural beauty is food for my soul. Because the beauty of nature is, to me, as clear a picture of God’s grace as I can seem to experience. And none of us can survive even a moment without grace. Grace is that which is present around me at every turn, whether I call it or not. Whether I recognize it or not. Whether I do anything to deserve it or not. It requires nothing of me and yet exists for me in the tick and tock, hum and drum, press and pull of every moment. This is what grace is: It is the thing which is there for us to receive freely and be filled.
I may not always be tuned to appreciate it, but as sure as natural beauty IS whether I choose to tune my attention to it or not, so is Grace.
Open your eyes and there it is! By taking a long and thoughtful look at what God has created, people have always been able to see what their eyes as such can’t see: eternal power, for instance, and the mystery of his divine being. So nobody has a good excuse. Romans 1:20
What feeds your soul and why?
*Though, of course, if we are not stewards of it we do squander it. But sometimes I question if humans have the ability to completely destroy it. Though our efforts contribute, a hand greater than ours truly holds the power of life and death. And I think we see this common grace and the faithfulness of God in the persistence of natural life despite our best and sometimes worst efforts.
We had one of those fights yesterday that was based on an old theme in our marriage. It sent us down a well-worn path, the soft, grassy buffer of newlywed naivete had long worn away from it. It’s a path that’s we’ve trudged many times before, choking on kicked-up dust or getting entrenched in the deeper muck when it rains. Ruts have been worn and on darker days one or another of us might get hurt tripping and falling into one. Exhausted by the end of it, sometimes it doesn’t feel worth the effort to clean up again all the way before we get on to the next thing. We think we’ve washed clean enough, forgiven enough, but the time is too short before we’ll put on those dirty, wet walking sneakers again and blisters result. And then we’re rubbing against raw on our next trek.
This thing is not something that is about a difference of opinion and I don’t even know that it’s totally about a particular sin either (though it certainly is true that without sin we wouldn’t feel this disunity). We’re coming up against a fundamental difference in who we are and how we see the world. Talking about it doesn’t seem to help and ignoring it doesn’t seem to help either. I’ve prayed about it (a lot) and we still don’t seem to be able to find unity. SO, where does that leave us?
I’ll tell you where it left me at about 4am this morning when I woke up after something fell off our bed to clatter loudly on the floor: feeling hopeless. Wondering if he’ll ever really get me. Agonizing over how to live a life of one flesh with a person when it feels like the only way to fit together is to kill off some part of me. But maybe then without that gangling part of Me, could we at least be a more neatly fitted We?
I try it sometimes, just kind of a light neglect, not exactly starving that part that doesn’t seem to fit but maybe putting it on a rigorous diet. It doesn’t work. Instead the opposite seems to happen. The more I ignore it, the more it demands to be seen. It takes on a life of its own over there in the periphery to which I’ve relegated it. Flashing all sorts of colors and morphing into shapes and dimensions unexpected, it’s impossible to kill it. It’s so alive. It’s even kind of winsome, doing its own charming thing in the corner. Like a toddler in a time out after I’d forgotten I’d put it there too long, it starts singing some beautiful song to itself and I just want to join it. It’s no use. It’s just an inextricable part of who I am.
So what now? Does this mean I chose the wrong life or that God dealt me a harder hand? I honestly don’t know. Theology is tricky like that. But I know that the more married women I connect with, the more I realize that this kind of marital imperfect-fittedness is not rare. In fact, I think it may be the norm. There always seems to be something that husbands and wives don’t get about each other, even in the best of marriages. And we learn to live with them, hopefully appreciate the differences even, because we’re committed and because we chose love and we continue to choose love every. single. day.
But what about that pain? What about wondering if we’ll ever be understood, appreciated, “gotten?” What about the deep and fulfilling intimacy that we think marriage should be?
The answer was made undeniably clear to me this morning. It’s nothing new, but it’s the kind of bread I need to eat daily in order to be sustained by it. I subscribe to a service called Go Tandem. It’s awesome and it makes it really hard to ignore Truth in the midst of my busy life. It sends me mini, individualized devotionals throughout the day. I get texts and emails and voice messages and calls at times I’ve chosen. It’s just the right amount of intrusive. (And free. Sign up now, I know you’ll love it).
Anyway, usually I get one automated call in the morning around the time I get out of bed. And then if I don’t answer, it sends me the same message via email. Well today, I got this same call THREE times in a row. And then I ALSO got the same email THREE times. Now that’s just weird. Actually, it’s just God. The message was clear and the Messenger was beautifully and faithfully relentless in His pursuit of me, like the most devoted of suitors. I could barely hang up the phone before the call came through to me again. And then appeared in my email. Again. Ok, that may seem a bit stalkerish. But sometimes I need that because I’m dense when it comes to feeling loved.
I pasted it below, but basically it was a reminder that my husband isn’t meant to totally get me. He’s not meant to fulfill me. He’s not meant to complete me. If he could, I might be too easily satisfied and neglect to go after the real prize: a profoundly deep, intimate, fulfilling relationship with God.
You Can’t Complete Me
Hear from God
|Listen to today’s CallIt’s so easy to look to other people to satisfy our needs. Let’s be honest, they’re here, human, tangible. But don’t fall for that junk! Jeremiah explains that only God can truly meet our needs–and he will!
This is what the Lord says:
“Cursed are those who put their trust in mere humans,
who rely on human strength
and turn their hearts away from the Lord.
They are like stunted shrubs in the desert,
with no hope for the future.
They will live in the barren wilderness,
in an uninhabited salty land.
“But blessed are those who trust in the Lord
and have made the Lord their hope and confidence.
They are like trees planted along a riverbank,
with roots that reach deep into the water.
Such trees are not bothered by the heat
or worried by long months of drought.
Their leaves stay green,
and they never stop producing fruit.”
Satisfaction only comes from God.
Please don’t judge me too harshly, but there was a carpenter ant crawling across my bathroom floor today and I squished it with my sandal. And I felt a pang of sadness and still have a vague sensation of lingering guilt about it. But I felt no differently about that particular ant than I would about any of the other ants in the whole world that could have been wandering across those tiles at that particular moment.
Sometimes I wonder, am I like that ant? Just this one human being among billions of humans on the earth or maybe trillions if we look across the span of time. Am I anything more to Him than a tiny creature whose existence is meaningful in relation perhaps to the others who share my space and time but not very significant in the grand scheme of things? Does it matter if it was me who was inhabiting this space and doing this work in this moment or could it have just as well been any other human being doing the same thing to basically the same end? Does my individual existence, my personal purpose or a relationship with me as a single entity matter to Him? Or He mostly just concerned with the larger picture, beautiful and awesome picture that it might be?
I had a professor who was an atheist until he attended a conference about the cosmos and he listened to scientists in a field not his own discuss the way the world was put together. And he wondered at the way it was all so purposeful. So not random. And he said it changed him. He knew there must be some sort of Greater Force out there, putting it all together. Holding it all together.
It has never been a challenge for me to experience God like that. I see God in the grand, sweeping scale of the universe and I can look across the span of history and see the ways He has brought beauty out of destruction or how compassion overcame brutality. I can see that His love for the human race has conquered death and disease and war and hatred. That His love for us has held off the tide of destruction that we have created in our own arrogant ignorance: the way we consume and destroy and pursue always more because it’s never enough at the cost of all things holy. Instead of letting us obliterate ourselves and the earth, He is faithful and gracious to us. He lifts the sun up from the darkness each day and He coaxes the tender buds of life from the death freeze each winter. For it all. For the Universe. For all of us. For humanity. But was it for me?
What I struggle with is seeing Him as personal. I can see where His beauty and His might are poured into the world in a grand scale: Mount Everest and The Grand Canyon and the Pacific Ocean and the Milky Way. I can see how His love for humanity is reflected in creation but it is hard for me to discern how this kind of love is personal. Is it for me? And in the same way, I can see how the love that He poured out on the cross is a lavish kind of love for humanity. A son slain for his enemies’ sakes. He who was perfectly good sacrificed for all that was wretchedly wrong. But I wonder sometimes, was that really a sign of love for me or was it a general display of love for all of humanity? To sacrifice One for the good of many, this may be considered general benevolence, but is it indicative of a personal love? Of care for each one? Would Jesus have died even it were just for me?
For me and for any others who feel like an anonymous ant crawling across the bathroom floor of the universe today,
God who clothes grass in the field, daily trodden upon and then finally fodder for the fire, with greater splendor and glory than even the most majestic of kings, please show me that you desire to make beauty with my life as well.
God who says that He would leave ninety-nine sheep in the field to go after just a single one, please find me where I’ve gotten lost in the wilderness. Come and scoop up this foolish sheep and rejoice over me with singing and quiet me with your love.
Let me know in my deepest heart of hearts that you formed me, fearfully and wonderfully, crafting every part of me from a single cell,
and that you have a plan for me and that not even one day of my life-even the day that turns to a week that turns to a year that feels wasted- is outside of that plan. That plan to use every single bit of pain, every ounce of talent, every hope and fear and foible and success for good.
Help me to truly believe that you are intimately acquainted with all my ways, that you even number the hairs on my head and know my words before one escapes from my tongue and that you care for me as if to capture every tear that falls from my eye.
Give me a sense of this truth: That your thoughts towards me, towards just this one single ant in a crowd of many, are too vast and numerous to be counted.
And help me to live in the reality of a love for me that is lavish. A love that rejoices each time I turn towards you. The “let’s throw a party in heaven” kind of love.