Remember

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The Road

 

This Good Friday morning, I follow Jesus, surely at a cautious distance, as He walks. I wonder now, these long years into it, is there anything cautious about following Jesus at all? Jesus walks, stepping toward, walking into, sorrow beyond all measure. He does so, having long since the moments of creation, relinquished the idea of just fixing it all. He relinquishes again, the thought of just fixing the problem of sin, (and thereby annihilating our freedom to choose) and instead, invites us to become more : more than our sin, more than our weakness or  strength, more than our skill or lack thereof; the object of someone’s admiration or scorn. He invites us to become family; his family.

And so…long since choosing him myself, I follow. His stride is not faint. Though likely weak, his body’s vitality sapped by beating, his step remains confident. Mine, is anything but. Still, I am stunned that Jesus keeps inviting me(us) into the most sacred of His moments: into pain, into the uncertainty of question (Father…Father?). Into times and spaces usually reserved for one’s closest friends and family; opening the door to a communion of ‘knowing,’ rather than simply imagining. What kind of intimate invitation is this? What sacred sorrow might Jesus be inviting me to step into today, knowing fully that he has walked this path before?

I have never, ever, considered suffering an invitation before. Perhaps it functions as a constructive discipline, or necessary evil, but invitation? To feel the weakening heartbeat – then nothing – of laying it all down? Invitation – to breathe the last vapors of self-preservation and feel the faint stirring rise and fall, of other breath. His breath, for he is alive? Invitation – to be entrusted with the sacredness of dying to oneself, in order to give latitude to another’s air, a home to one who had no place to lay his head.

Surely, we did not deserve all this; even this folding and unfolding of the veil. What startling resemblance to swaddling… to grave cloths. Remember.

jfig     4-5/18

 

 

 

 

 

Blanchard

pic cross down

Blanchard

What if…

someone had cut down the cross

before it.was.finished;

that earth-shaking, soulchain-breaking

echo lost… what if?

 

Who am I, then

to bury my hands (hide them)

in pockets deep

before carrying the dank, rank soil of shame?

Even such waste

decomposed

can grow a flower.

 

jfig   4/17

Brokenness and shame, words that are now in the front lobes of our ‘helping conversations,’  make us ask what is true – about brokenness and grief and shame. What is taboo? How do we navigate toward health and wholeness? My poem is meant to convey, that under God’s tutelage, those things that pain us most, can be worked for our, and others’ good. Perhaps I did not say it exactly ‘right,’… but I am more concerned that it be true. It takes careful hands –  starting with those beautiful nail-scarred ones of Jesus to sift the soil of our brokenness. If the poem was of interest, perhaps you would like to read:

2 Corinthians 1:3-11

Romans 8

Your comments are welcome. jfig

 

 

fringe in Gennesaret: a trilogy

The Fringe in Gennesaret

 

Recognition

“After they had crossed the lake, they landed at Gennesaret.  When the people recognized Jesus, the news of his arrival spread quickly throughout the whole area, and soon people were bringing all their sick to be healed.  They begged him to let the sick touch at least the fringe of his robe, and all who touched him were healed.” (1)

In a region called Gennesaret, the recognition of Jesus led to a collective response. Given how much difficulty we have arriving at any type of corporate decision, the fact stands out to me – noteworthy – that upon recognizing Jesus, the people of the region brought all their sick. They didn’t debate, they didn’t do a feasibility study; they didn’t vote, they didn’t even question. They, according to Matthew, went through all the region, and brought all of them. Their sick. Matthew was reportedly a numbers guy, so his use of the word all, seems significant. Given how much attention, how much press, how much tax and NGO money is given to both figuring out how we should care for the sick, and then attempting to execute it; this universal response in the region of Gennesaret, is astonishing to me.

“And when they had crossed over, they came to land at Gennesaret.  And when the men of that place recognized him, they sent around to all that region and brought to him all who were sick and implored him that they might only touch the fringe of his garment. And as many as touched it were made well.” (2)

So deep was their recognition, that they brought; but they also assumed, presumed, hoped –  that if the sick could touch even the hem of Jesus’ garment, they would be healed. Matthew offers a picture of the keepers of society, the civic leaders recognizing a power larger than themselves. Upon our moment in history, when the presumed integrity of civic leaders – those entrusted with the care of societies and peoples – is fractured nearly beyond hope by broken promises at best and cruel and vicious intent at worst, this is a startling picture. All at the recognition of Jesus

I’ve been a caregiver on multiple fronts for many years; not formally of society, but in vocation, with family and friends, amongst the terminally ill. There is no one-size-fits-all to the healing arts we call medicine. Desperation might cause one to take risks for oneself; to grasp at an unproven alternative when all the reasoned approaches have failed. But caregivers do not take risks with their loved ones lightly. Those risks are taken with yearning for the salvation of the loved one’s dignity firmly lodged in the caregiver’s throat. Which means the people of the region, bringing their sick and begging Jesus to allow them to touch his garment, were bringing their sick wrapped in the fabric of their hearts.

And then we read…all. All of them were healed; as many as touched it. There is nothing in our society that heals all; not chemo, nor psychotropic drugs, not naturopathy. At our house we don’t even use the same anti-inflammatories. What was it in Jesus’s garment, stirring the dust of Gennesaret as he walked, the fringe caught, and caught again; that healed the sick, and some of society’s ills as well. What is it that one grasps, fingers tangling in the fringe?

(1)”Matthew 14:35 (NLT) – When the people recognized Jesus.” Blue Letter Bible. Web. 8 Jan, 2019. <https://www.blueletterbible.org/nlt/mat/14/35/p1/s_943035&gt;.

(2)”Matthew 14:35 (ESV) – And when the men of.” Blue Letter Bible. Web. 8 Jan, 2019. <https://www.blueletterbible.org/esv/mat/14/35/p1c/s_943035&gt;

~ ~ ~

Dust

PICRW level2

 

flepht, flepht, flepht…the footfalls of Jesus stir the dust that lines the streets of Gennesaret. Dust stirs again, the sweep of his robe whorling small puffs of sand. Pebbles trickle across the path. Grit. Soon footfalls crescendo, as the message sweeps throughout the region, “Jesus is here!”

The sick, borne along the path on the strength of the townspeople’s mercy, now lie in the dust. Able voices plead for the broken, “Let them touch your robe – even that will heal them.” Their pleading falls to the earth, echoing in desperate cries, “Help me walk, help me breathe, help me to see. The sick one’s position on the path, is a plea for mercy, for all those who would see him well; those who long to witness a miracle – any miracle; those steeped in compassion; those weighted by life’s inconsistencies. “Help us, Jesus” The sick are not the only ones gasping for air…

So the blind bring the blind, all to finger the dirt and dung and blood threaded through the fringe of the garment worn by Jesus. The dried brokenness of the stiffened hem scratches, serrating each palm. Such an earthen journey – that of Jesus – his robe gathering up the dust of temptation and loss, the sorrowful mucous of dead cells and dead dreams, the crumbled decay of sin. Yet he does not flinch. Rather he waits, eyes of compassion; until one can reach to finger his wounds – those he enlisted on our behalf; his body, his cells, that we might be healed.

~ ~ ~

Traveler

There was a time when, unknowingly, I was afraid to get too close to the path; I feared to touch, for dread that the brokenness would somehow infect me. Unknowingly – because I did not yet know how well I reside among the broken. I don’t think I was afraid of being cut exactly, by an errant jagged edge. I was afraid that I would not be enough – that I would lack the strength , or the necessary wisdom, to pull together shattering pieces, and yet remain intact. Looking down at my palms, I see that I was right. In and of myself, without the love of Jesus flowing through the arteries there, I never will be.

But something has changed. How fully I belong among the broken, crying out to Jesus, presuming, hoping, that He is enough. I had not realized that Jesus could walk by to see me groveling in the dirt, his tangled fringe grasped in both begging hands, and yet, with eyes of compassion, find himself reflected there. I did not know that under his loving gaze, one can be broken, and still be whole.

The threads of fringe cross my palm. “Look at my hands,” this traveler exclaims, as in detail she examines the stains. No nail holes here… instead I encounter his suffering, all the suffering that Jesus will carry to the cross. In Gennesaret I am healed, fingering the world’s brokenness. For suddenly, I am free to grasp my own – to measure its width across his garment, stain upon stain, stiffened red. My soul is transformed, his palm laid upon my brokenness, and returning “Life.” I watch as his palm is laid across the sorrowful heap of another, roaring, “Hope.” There is another, quivering with fear, who upon his touch, begins to inhale the blessings of “Peace.”

Until I was among people who nearly all had some form of apparent brokenness, I was unable to fully examine my own. Nor could I allow Jesus to touch my wounds, whether self-inflicted or otherwise. In bringing the weary pain of others to God, I have often experienced that while I might think myself helpful in their rescue, it is God who is undoubtedly, in some regard, rescuing me.

Jesus…healer, I do not want to underestimate the power of your resurrection, made manifest, as you restore the image of God in us. Our brokenness, our return to simple dust, is a trail that you have walked, gathering up sorrow upon sorrow, braving the shards of our jagged edges, and holding our secrets; exchanging them all for your holiness. You have found us on the path, whether running, or carried there; the hem of your robe a grasp on the new life you offer. Our grasp is a plea, embodied, that you would heal us; even as you have embodied our sin. We confess our brokenness, and our sin. We are dust. But we are your dust, borne by you, in sorrow and in love to the cross of our making. We cling to you in hope – forever. Amen;

jfig   1/19

scripture reference: Matthew 14:34-36

You might also like to contemplate Matthew 27:32-54; Hebrews 2:10-18

 

imprints

 

Imprints

Early in December, as the reality of winter set in, it became apparent to me that there was a ‘thing’ in my life I could not fix.  Since the situation had resisted my efforts to grow it in a healthier direction for over a year, it occurred to me that perhaps I was not meant to fix it at all. Perhaps it would be better for everyone involved, if I allowed the winter, at least as far as my active role was concerned, and trusted Jesus to do his work of making things grow, whether I could see it happening or not; to trust Him to fix it.

Although I don’t think I’m prone to icons, I hung this cross around my neck, (I could fold my fingers  around it) to remind myself to trust. To pray certainly, but the goal was to put Jesus in a bigger role in the situation’s life, and me in a smaller role. So I hung the cross around my neck, and every time anxiety arose regarding the situation, I quietly gripped it. It put a few dents in my skin because it is constructed of nailheads, but basically it was a good reminder.

Less than two weeks later, our family was faced with a moral crisis.  I held onto the cross tighter during the day. I clutched the cross during the night. I prayed, ” Jesus, I can’t fix this, either.  I don’t even know how to begin…”  I prayed a lot of other prayers, too.  I cried and prayed, and fasted and prayed.  I have begged and prayed. And our friends have prayed. You get the idea…

Now it is 3 months and 4 days later. Over night, we made a very simple, humble decision out of those prayers about how to love God and our family well. Then this morning  I woke up early to get ready for church. When I reached down to peel off the cross before getting in the shower, there was not just a little temporary dent from the corner of a nailhead, but a henna-colored tattoo of three stations of the cross burned into my left breast, right over my heart. I stared at it, dumbfounded. When my husband came in, he stared at it, dumbfounded, “What …is that?”

pic-imprint-e1521414617416.jpg

I don’t  know what all it might mean; but in the setting of  having waited and prayed, and fasted and prayed; at the very least, perhaps it is an indication of God having imprinted the work of the cross on our situation. Perhaps He is imprinting the cross on our hearts. Perhaps waiting and trusting is exactly where we are supposed to be; our situation ‘unfixable,’ but our hearts malleable to the work of the cross. The cross of Jesus Christ – symbol of a deed so profound it transforms crisis to life-altering victory time and time again. The cross can change fear to hope. Rework grief to revelation. I do not yet know the full extent…but there are these imprints of the cross.

jfig  3/2018

journey: is love really pink?

Joy – quiet, beautiful joy, this elbow room of grace –  falls into our month by waiting, and praying, and watching one another choose grace, and the assumption of positive intent.

Woe – how easily we offend.

But this morning, after he chooses grace, I choose to wait… while you, God of all questions, offer a picture:

Wait…at 7:00 it is still dark, though one can hear the geese.

@ 7:08, and 7:09 muddy, burnt clouds of orange frame the South Pass. They rise, as does the sun, and grasp the edges of night’s blanket.

Wait…

I wait, walking… and wonder about pink. But while my back is turned, bold light seriously shakes the clouds. Nevertheless, pinkless, I walk toward home content. There is light. There is beauty. A gebillionth day God has made something that he called good.

Wait…7:53 and suddenly the sky is streaked with pink. I go searching for more – at the  windows up and down, but the glow remains saffron. Aaaah, burnished with time… but born in the fresh pink of grace. Thank you, God of longsuffering love, for grace applied.

pic RW journey

jfig; somewhere on the journey of marital love

longings…

longings

 

The seraphim cover their eyes.

I wonder – do they peek

between their bony fingers

stripped lean for flight?

 

And Moses the cleft conceals

yet you can see, his feet,

as breathless,  he waits

while You walk by.

 

My heart sighs

neither, then, should I

surely – neither should I.

But oh, the longing is there

whispered …

Oh, God, I would love

to ‘see’ your face..

even a trace, fingered blind.

 

You replied.

 

 

 

jfig   1/19

 

photo 1/24/2019  Whatcom County, WA

 

burning coals…

 

rw pic grace 2

A few years ago, there was a TV series called “Burn Notice,” in which a spy is disclaimed by the US government. Burn Notice: “We have no further use for you… what did you say your name was?”

I have felt this way, related to my sin and failures: a deep burned-out despair in my gut that it is all over. A fear that I have failed to such an extent that there is no going back (or forward for that matter). I’m disappointed in myself, and certain of others’ utter disappointment in me, So I wallow in the ashes of burnt hopes and dreams….

But God doesn’t see it that way. He has a different version of burning coals.  God offers Isaiah a dream job; to be his messenger. It is conveyed in the imperative, but still… The only drawback is that the circumstances seem no-win: provide public service to people who don’t want to be served. Instead, they want to be fed the apple. The same one that Eve wanted, and that I want and maybe you want on any given day: to be our own little gods, doing what we want, when we want, how we want; yet still miraculously fed and protected by God against all odds.

But instead of leaping at the opportunity, however poorly stacked, to advance his status; Isaiah looked at God, looked back down at himself, and asked, “How could someone as unholy as me, ever speak for someone as holy as you?” And God took – in the hands of a seraphim –  a burning coal, touched Isaiah’s lips, and said, “I took care of that.” Really? Someone as holy as you, wants someone as unholy as me… to speak for you…on the world stage…because Jesus atoned, and that’s enough?  (See Isaiah 6.)

So Isaiah,  instead of wallowing in the burnt out ashes of his past and possible future failure, said, “I’ll do it.” Somehow, all he could see was God with the big G, and not the worrisome details about god with the little ‘g’. Burning coals were enough for him, and the claim that God could, and in fact wanted, to use him.

Then there’s Peter, rash and boastful. I cannot imagine what it felt like after…to betray the friend with whom he had walked and talked and witnessed do miracle after miracle. Peter is drawn in, by another disciple, to the courtyard of the high priest.

Simon Peter followed Jesus, and so did another disciple. Since that disciple was known to the high priest, he entered with Jesus into the courtyard of the high priest, but Peter stood outside at the door. So the other disciple, who was known to the high priest, went out and spoke to the servant girl who kept watch at the door, and brought Peter in. The servant girl at the door said to Peter, “You also are not one of this man’s disciples, are you?” He said, “I am not.” Now the servants and officers had made a charcoal fire, because it was cold, and they were standing and warming themselves. Peter also was with them, standing and warming himself.”

The high priest then questioned Jesus about his disciples and his teaching. Jesus answered him, “I have spoken openly to the world. I have always taught in synagogues and in the temple, where all Jews come together. I have said nothing in secret. Why do you ask me? Ask those who have heard me what I said to them: they know what I said.” When he had said these things, one of the officers standing by struck Jesus with his hand, saying, “Is that how you answer the high priest?” Jesus answered him, “If what I said is wrong, bear witness about the wrong; but if what I said is right, why do you strike me?” Annas then sent him bound to Caiaphas the high priest.

Now Simon Peter was standing and warming himself. So they said to him, “You also are not one of his disciples, are you?” He denied it and said, “I am not.” One of the servants of the high priest, a relative of the man whose ear Peter had cut off, asked, “Did I not see you in the garden with him?” Peter again denied it, and at once a rooster crowed.

“John 18:15 (ESV) – Simon Peter followed Jesus and.” Blue Letter Bible. Web. 17 Jan, 2019. <https://www.blueletterbible.org/esv/jhn/18/15/s_1015015&gt;.

What must it have felt like…to deny the friend with whom he had walked and talked and puzzled mind-bending questions; to have witnessed life and death miracle moments, and now be drawn in to another; only to conclude with a mutter, “No, I am not one who ever followed Jesus…anywhere…at all.

I can only imagine what Peter might have felt, from the despair I feel to fail the ones with whom I live and breathe every day; the ones who know how I have failed in the past, and that I likely will again. The ones who are still here anyway, thirty years later… I can imagine staring into the fire and wondering, with Peter, if one will ever feel warm on the inside, ever again.

But the burning coals of invitation, find Peter again:

That disciple whom Jesus loved therefore said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on his outer garment for he was stripped for work, and threw himself into the sea. The other disciples came in the boat, dragging the net full of fish, for they were not far from the land, but about a hundred yards off.

When they got out on land, they saw a charcoal fire in place, with fish laid out on it, and bread. Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish that you have just caught.” So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, 153 of them. And although there were so many, the net was not torn. Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.”

“John 21:7 (ESV) – That disciple whom Jesus loved.” Blue Letter Bible. Web. 21 Jan, 2019. <https://www.blueletterbible.org/esv/jhn/21/7/s_1018007&gt;

And this time, Peter leaps. Instead of wallowing in self-pity and despair, Peter counts the invitation real: to bring himself (and all his baggage), his need to perform (anything), and the real offering to contribute. He comes to a breakfast of grace and hope and continuing purpose. An invitation to follow. See John 21:1-19.

Long into my own journey of following Jesus, following in close company with others; I can imagine staring into the fire with Peter. While I sometimes feel a twinge of desolation while I wait for the coals to really take hold; if I am willing to take the leap into the grace of Christ my Savior, there is hope.

One thought further… the burning coals of Jesus invite me  into purpose, into fellowship, into overflowing grace. The thing that holds me disconsolate, is the thought that I must somehow be perfect, or perhaps even deeper, that it is my right to be perfect, and to be seen as such.  That somehow, along with Eve, I should be granted permission to eat of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, and therefore, be like God in this knowing. How I struggle to be in the right. Perhaps you do as well. The God of Isaiah, Jesus the friend of sinners, and the Spirit of the living God, invite us instead to be graced.  These feel like ‘big girl’ thoughts. I invite your comments. And I close with a prayer for us all.

Jesus, we journey in places that test us; tripping headlong like Peter, often at the slightest provocation. Our fears pull us down fast. Help us to be willing to follow; to see in you,  the burning coals of grace. Help us to move closer, to accept the searing definition of your purpose, and to watch, reassured, as moment by moment by moment you walk in the footprints of your Father’s will. Amen

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

astonishment…

 

Things that astound:

The idea that Jesus is not overly concerned with my filthy rags before seeking to grab a meal with me, continues to consume my thoughts. It is JUST REALLY AMAZING in the context of his holiness / my lack thereof, that he would keep choosing to engage me, a sinner; perhaps because I am finding it such a challenge to stay on level ground. Or maybe it is in thinking about how much time and energy I have spent trying to clean myself up, only to realize he really doesn’t care; or not so much that he doesn’t care, but he is not at all put off by my stench. Granted, I’m a set-free sinner, but one who continues to get tangled up in the nets of selfishness, wounded pride, arrogance, worry, anger, the despair of failure. I feel like a retro vending machine – SO MANY BUTTONS TO PUSH on me…

My reflection didn’t start there. I was simply thinking back over God’s faithfulness through the challenges of the past year. There were a few – personal, family, public, community. The list of astonishing ways in which God has faithfully shown up. began to grow… 

I really am stunned that God would choose to hang out with me. One because I’m kinda boring; and two, because I keep making the same mistakes over and over again. You’d think he’d give up… The ‘dinner with a sinner’ is grabbing me because it’s the same mistakes, but the attitudes behind those mistakes are starting to be revealed, and well, it isn’t pretty, nor socially acceptable, nor polite…

provision. The list within a list. Material: One of the ways my husband reflects God is that he is an amazing provider. He works, diligently. I think in 30 years, he has taken approximately 7 sick days, 3 of those post surgery. That’s 2.1 hours per year.  His daily efforts take care of our family,  but also other families, sometimes with little thanks from anyone. His wages pay for food and clothing and electricity and healthcare and educations. His thoughts provide wisdom. There is a lot of thinking of the other in him; of me, our kids, or what would be best for our family. Space – God has shown up to provide needed space – tiny moments of it, or rooms worth at the neighbors for visiting family. God has pushed wide the borders of our thinking to allow much needed processing space: time for asking honest questions and grappling with the answers. Friends – even though, due to confidentiality, I don’t share everything that is going on with me or someone else I love; God has provided friends whose laughter and discernment have held me up in the lonely places. Counsel of the Holy Spirit – this one gets its own asterisk.

comfort. It is in the nature of life as a Jesus follower to persevere. I think. The other day a friend suggested that it might be good (in the midst of that) to allow God to provide me comfort. The next day, just to reflect, I scratched out a list.  The depth and breadth of ways in which God regularly provides me comfort was astonishing. Things like the owl who tu-whoos deep and long into the night, the deep waters of the smile of a child. Even more astonishing was that on my list were places that sometimes feel hard, difficult, conflictual. But there they were on my list as places that provide comfort – not surface comfort, but deep, resonating consistent comfort – like a tuning fork for my personhood. Tim.

Counsel of the Holy Spirit. When we built our house, the tile mason found fossils of God’s creation in the entryway slate. It seemed apparent, that this was to be God’s house, his welcome at the door. I, however, am a stressed hospitalitarian. I like to cook, but I am not so good at greeting. We have other family members who rock that aspect of it, so I guess we are covered, but it is a skewed distribution for sure. 2018 has been a year FULL of hospitality, and it has stretched me to live into God’s story in the entryway. My prayers have been: God, HeLP! What is this supposed to look like? Where is your priority? Can you hold the wicked witch of no sleep at bay? God has answered every prayer…seriously. Astonishment.

When we built our family, we knew they were God’s, too. There have been a few questions…Why? When? Will you?  He seems to answer many of those with ‘Wait’. In the meantime, his faithfulness, his counsel to help us navigate, has been evident EVERY DAY. I don’t know anyone else who can sustain EVERY DAY like God can. There was evening, there was morning, there is a sun and dawn…

The Blossoming of Extraordinary Capability. It amazes me to watch God take the wraps off someone, and let their talents, gifts, capability explode. Or just blossom quietly in the nutrient rich soil of being true to who one is and what one believes and values. Our oldest daughter got married this summer. She and her husband value community, and so they planned a wedding that invited people into the process, sometimes letting go of their own expectations more than they imagined, to let someone else contribute a gift. The week looked really different than I had imagined, but there was a whole lot of blooming going on.

The wedding is just one example. Time after time, I have watched someone really young pull off something amazing with hundreds of details. How do they make these things happen??? At church this morning, our young pastor told us that from Genesis, God was purposing for us to be makers with the stuff of his earth. Hmmmm…

The Art of Orchestrating. As a mother of youngsters, on a household budget, I used to pride myself on being able to ‘make something out of nothing.’ I could put real food on the table, out of bits of this and that, and not have anyone say, ‘Yuk.’ Although I do remember suggesting that if my children didn’t like what was being served at home, perhaps they should check the menu at the neighbors (my husband said I couldn’t offer that…)

That is nothing, however, compared to what I see God miraculously putting together out of bits of dust. How does this Triune God orchestrate just the right word, for just the right soul, at just the right moment out of 11 billion moving people? He does it way too often for it to be coincidental that the chapters of 2 persons’ stories collide with meaning and hope. Or that nano-bytes of information drop into the correct diverse palm with split second timing. Does it surprise you, that in an individualized society, capable of fiercely guarding one’s own ideas and opinions, God can with a word, change that same one’s perspective? “Way too often,” is part of what is astonishing. Is there anything that his glance cannot touch? I think I will close with the following exclamation:

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, neither angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

“Romans 8:1 (ESV) – There is therefore now no.” Blue Letter Bible. Web. 30 Dec, 2018. <https://www.blueletterbible.org/esv/rom/8/1/p1/s_1054001&gt;.

Nothing can get in the way of God showing up – faithful. May the God of hope astonish you with the depths and precision of his life-changing love. May his faithfulness to show up midst the challenges, along the twists and turns of your journey to trust, give you an ever-deepening knowledge of who he is, and what he does, and perhaps, what he does not do. May you be amazed, to dine at his table, and find him good company. May your mourning turn to comfort, your despair to hope, as you trust in him. Amen

jfig   12/18

 

 

 

 

 

levelling: a winter ponder

We have been studying Isaiah. Talk about scanning the height and breadth of the heavens. Into that expanse creeps an Advent message:

A voice of one calling:

“In the wilderness prepare the way for the Lord;

make straight in the desert

a highway for our God.

every valley shall be raised up,

every mountain and hill made low;

the rough ground shall become level, the rugged places a plain.

And the glory of the Lord will be revealed,

and all people will see it together.

For the mouth of the LORD has spoken.” (1)

There is some aspect of levelling that occurs in getting ready for Jesus. In Luke 3, as John the Baptist goes about preaching a baptism of repentance and forgiveness, this prophecy is quoted as ‘and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.’

Last time I checked, I was still part of ‘all flesh;’ woefully, the part that is STILL in need of repentance and forgiveness and salvation. Levelled. Having been a Christian for over three quarters of my life, I feel like I should have it figured out by now: plumb, level, straight. Some piece of my soul plummets when I trip over the uneven, gnarly roots of sin STILL in my life. It is winter: cold, dark, and lonely. No party here.

RW pic level

RW pic level3

Into this melancholic place, though, shines a light. One of the recurrent themes of Isaiah has been God’s undeterred mission for justice and righteousness; the lifting of oppressions. We see Jesus answering the religious establishment, when he is asked why he hangs out with sinners:

“Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” (2)

Jesus seems to draw a line between sickness and sin, suggesting that all that which oppresses is not external. (Please do no hear me say that sickness is always indicative of sin. John Cpt 9 clearly indicates otherwise.) Oppression is a deep word – one that most of us can sit with for a moment. It presupposes injustice, but does not rush to sling blame so much as sees the one oppressed. It is at risk of becoming commonplace, however, and I think we sometimes miss that oppression can come in a vast number of forms. Anything that sits on our chests so that we cannot freely breathe. No wonder we can relate. A light dawns, that perhaps this message of a savior of the sick, is for me. Perhaps Jesus would rather meet with the sinner in me, than the sanctimonious. He’d rather dine with my brokenness than any saintliness: that which oppresses, in me, or through me. Maybe he endures my hustling to clean myself up before I’ll approach him; flattering myself to somehow earn his favor or expecting others to do the same; but would much prefer the raw and broken Jenny, instead of so many layers of stiff white, but no less dirty, bandages. Perhaps he’s not all that squeamish about my wounds; whether self-inflicted or otherwise. Perhaps he’d like to bring a little mercy…HERE.

Various translations of this God statement read differently. In Hosea, God speaks judgement on the unrepentant, concluding: “For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.” (3)  Is it possible, that God does not want me to keep throwing away pieces of myself, untended by him,  because I cannot scrub them clean enough; but rather asks me to enter into his way of steadfast love. Steadfast love… HERE? You mean…you and me…the sinner in me? Is that even possible? And is that way level? Enough so that I might stop throwing away pieces of others as well?

Then he added, “Now go and learn the meaning of this scripture: ‘I want you to show mercy, not offer sacrifices.’ For I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners.” (4) This is my winter ponder. Who is the object of this mercy? Could Jesus be talking about a multi-dimensional culture of mercy, rather than one direction? Could we abide in that kind of space, fill it out and breathe there?

The winter night sky of Isaiah makes it clear that, mercy-allowed, God still does not dispense with righteousness; but it is a righteousness of his making, not our own. He is hungry for righteousness to be fleshed-out in us. This Advent season, perhaps God would like to dine with the sinner in each of us;  our offering the unworked, rough places to his levelling, that we might remember from what place salvation comes.

Blessed are the poor in spirit. This is me, God, perpetually unable to make myself right or plumb, or gracious. Unable to level my heart to kindness, or remove the roots of anxiety and selfishness. Yet you came, undaunted by our culture of woe, bringing the kingdom of heaven with you. Come again, Lord Jesus, into these rough places in my soul, into the poorness of my spirit. Lift, miraculously, the power of sin’s oppression, and establish your culture of mercy, in me and through me. Amen

Scripture references are typically sourced from Blue Letter Bible, for ease of reader access. (1)

  1. “Isaiah 40:1 (NIV) – Comfort comfort my people says.” Blue Letter Bible. Web. 18 Dec, 2018. <https://www.blueletterbible.org/niv/isa/40/1/p1/s_719001&gt;.
  2. “Matthew 9:13 (NIV) – But go and learn what.” Blue Letter Bible. Web. 18 Dec, 2018. <https://www.blueletterbible.org/niv/mat/9/13/s_938013&gt;.
  3. “Hosea 6:6 (ESV) – For I desire steadfast love.” Blue Letter Bible. Web. 18 Dec, 2018. <https://www.blueletterbible.org/esv/hos/6/6/s_868006&gt;.
  4. “Matthew 9:13 (NLT) – Then he added Now go.” Blue Letter Bible. Web. 18 Dec, 2018. <https://www.blueletterbible.org/nlt/mat/9/13/s_938013&gt;.

breath

pic RW breath

original art: Elizabeth Figgie: http://www.elizabethfiggie.com

Our lungs have, on average, 274-790 million pulmonary alveoli (in zeroes, that’s 790,000,000) through which our lungs and bloodstream exchange oxygen and carbon dioxide. The alveoli seem vulnerable in that their surface is a single-cell thick, but that vulnerability allows them to readily make this exchange with blood capillaries (their endothelial layer also one cell thick). That vulnerability initiates the distribution of oxygen to the cells of our body which utilize the oxygen for energy production. Each cell. Can you imagine us trading any other life-sustaining substance with so little security? It is no wonder that life feels fragile at times; vulnerable, weak, depleted.

In contrast to the vulnerability,  the capacity of 790 million hot air balloons, and the lift that might fuel, feels a bit astounding. Even more astounding, is the thought of whose air I might breathe. What kind of potential for living resides in the cavity of my created chest, if I were to breathe, knowing it was the breath of God filling my lungs, my alveoli inflated by the Spirit of the living God?

Isaiah 42:5 reads:

 “This is what God the LORD says— the Creator of the heavens, who stretches them out, who spreads out the earth with all that springs from it, who gives breath to its people, and life to those who walk on it:”

This word breath is described by the Hebrew-Chaldean Lexicon as the Spirit of God imparting life and wisdom. Really? Pure, holy air – available to ordinary mask-wearers? The air we breathe, and the respiratory process,  is not some atmospheric curiosity. It is an intricately designed miracle, both fragile and protected, by the one who created it. Our alveoli have repair cells, and surfactant secreting cells to protect the balloons from collapse. Not only did God create the process, but he also protects its function. WHY? Because He wants to give us life, not defined in single measure, but filled to the millions.

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. John 10:10 NIV

At times, God has spoken as a numbers guy – counting the hairs on our heads, the sands on the seashore. I’ve no doubt he knows EXACTLY how many alveoli reside in my chest, and that there is some significance to 790, 000,000. Okay, maybe I only have 538,000,000, but what if I were breathing deeply enough of the breath of God, to fill each one of those? I also imagine he has his own definition of full…

What if, when Jesus spoke the following words, he were speaking to me, or to you…

“Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you. And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.”

How far and deep could the breathe of Jesus go, if he were breathing life in me, deep into the weighted places in my chest?  I’ve seen this, seen friends breathe Jesus air into the vulnerable places of their lives, and exhale offerings of rare beauty to those around them.  And what is the significance that as he breathes, Jesus speaks about dispensing forgiveness? If you don’t have a Jesus breather in your life, maybe you need one. Or maybe you would like to become one?

Spirit of God, breathe on me, breathe in me. Fill my lungs with the oxygen of your making, the fuel of your intent. May all that feels vulnerable in me, be filled with your breath, that I may be truly alive. When I exhale, may it be something of your creating. Amen

I got some of my science info from https://www.kenhub.com.
Frequently, I use https://blueletterbible.org for cross-referencing and study, and so that further scripture reference is readily available to you:
  “Isaiah 42:5 (NIV) – This is what God the.” Blue Letter Bible. Web. 26 Nov, 2018. <https://www.blueletterbible.org/niv/isa/42/5/s_721005&gt;.
“H5397 – nĕshamah – Strong’s Hebrew Lexicon (NIV).” Blue Letter Bible. Web. 26 Nov, 2018. <https://www.blueletterbible.org//lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm?Strongs=H5397&t=NIV&gt;.
“John 10:10 (NIV) – The thief comes only to.” Blue Letter Bible. Web. 3 Dec, 2018. <https://www.blueletterbible.org/niv/jhn/10/10/s_1007010&gt;.
“John 20:21 (ESV) – Jesus said to them again.” Blue Letter Bible. Web. 3 Dec, 2018. <https://www.blueletterbible.org/esv/jhn/20/21/s_1017021&gt;.

jfig   11/18