When Hope is Lost (A Lesson from Birds)

I have begun the process of changing my mind about birds.

Sure, you may not find a stranger first sentence than that, but those closest to me know that I have this unreasonable phobia of the feathered friend. It has something to do with a mother bird dive-bombing my head to protect her nest when I was five. And no, to answer your question, I was not bothering her nest. I was simply going next door to a friend’s house. But, there is no reasoning with a mother bird. Anyway, my neurosis aside, I am slowly taking steps to rediscovering the beauty (or some redeeming quality) in birds.

An Indiana winter can be brutal and bone-chilling. And it is not made any more bearable by the local meteorologists who giddily, and a bit too affectionately, begin referring to it as a Polar Vortex. The tragedy is they don’t realize that by calling it a “Polar Vortex,” it psychologically becomes twenty degrees colder in our heads. Let’s just be honest here, we do not need “Polar” anything in Indiana, especially when it is already pitch black at 4pm in the middle of December.

But there was a moment a few years ago in late winter, when darkness still owned the morning and the cold refused to let go of everything in it’s grip, that I heard the sweetest song.

Through the shroud of night, before the sun’s first rays, amid the polar chill, a melody of hopeful anticipation pierced the dark veil of winter and announced that spring would soon be arriving.

It was glorious and profound.

The processional of spring, a time of life, new beginnings, and spectacular beauty was coming! And it was being ushered in through song by feathered vocalists announcing it’s arrival.

I, a crusty-eyed morning zombie of multi-layered, nighttime attire (pre-coffee), could not miss this staggering metaphor. When a season of darkness surrounds us and seems as if it will last forever, we may very well begin to believe that this is the way life will always be. But even in the darkness that may surround us, if we are still enough to hear it and patient enough to trust it, there is always the sweet song of the Spirit, leading us in hopeful anticipation, surprising us with beauty in the present, and giving us a glimpse of the life that’s yet to come.

I know it is terribly difficult to discuss how we can learn to see beauty amidst the wreckage when we are in the throes of a painful life situation, whether it be temporary or permanent. But, it is in this place where we must always begin- in the place of our pain, in the place of our suffering. For it is in that place where we can, mostly easily, lose heart, feel lost and defeated, grow wildly cynical, and begin to blame God for our condition or circumstance.

Even more, our pain can become the place from where we begin to live our lives.

The crushing weight of our suffering will always try to convince us that the pain we are experiencing is our only reality and that there is nothing redeemable there, ever. And as a result, the pain we are experiencing can begin to manifest outwardly in our lives into our words and actions, ultimately affecting how we see the world and how we relate to others.

That is what suffering can do. It can cause us to reside in our pain, no matter how great or small that pain is, and then become the lens through which we begin to see people, situations, and the world as a whole. And over time, our pain through suffering can very easily spiral downward and lead to questions and then the destruction of our identity, our worth, and our purpose in life.

Living constantly in the burden and pain of our suffering can either become an end destination or a passageway for each of us.

As an end destination, the pain of our suffering can become a place where we stay in bitterness, sadness, anger, hatred, and unforgiveness.

As a passageway, our pain through suffering can become the pathway to profound life transformation and new ways of seeing the world.

Suffering breaks us down into insufferable little parts where we can either self-destruct or cry out helplessly to God, because we are in a place where we have seemingly lost control. Our sense of self has been shattered. Our identity has been obliterated. And it is in our place of pain through suffering where we can choose whether we make it our final destination or a transformative passageway.

That is the profound mystery of suffering. Suffering strips away any and all control we believed we had over people and situations. And it is in this place, our place of suffering, the place where we have lost all control, where our hearts and minds can either be closed off or open to the healing and transformative love of God.

And no matter who you are or what you have been through, or are currently going through, you can choose what you want to do with your pain, and how you receive suffering. You can let it dominate and control how you see the world and relate to others, or you can use it as a means to be taught and guided into a new and more beautiful way of living.

In hope,

Brandon

are you listening?

 

I had a thought last week- With all of the people who are speaking and writing about how messed up, misaligned, and disconnected the Church is from Jesus Christ… is there anyone within the walls of the Church even listening?

That has been a question I have been wrestling with over the last three years.  And, it is ultimately what prompted me to write a book about how disconnected from Christ the Church has become, but more importantly what it begins to look like for the Church to discover the Kingdom of God and then to begin embodying it.

The beginning point, of which I wrote about last week, for the Christian and the Church has to be Jesus Christ, centrally and unequivocally.  Oddly enough after that post, by buddy wrote a note to me and asked, “I would love to know what inspired your most recent blog post?”  This was my response:

I think the thing that sparked it this morning was seeing tons and tons of people on Facebook and Twitter continually posting the same old, tired articles about how broken the Church is…and never engaging the Church on what it would actually look like to begin changing.  I hope some people will read it and actually have a conversation about it.

I have certainly been one who has taken the Church to task over the years… and I will continue to do so, in love, because I believe the best days of the Church are ahead of us as we begin to look and speak like the Jesus we follow.  But my commitment is to go out of my way, not just to address the issues, but to help Christians and churches understand what it begins to look like to embody Jesus Christ in our community and the world.  Generalities only go so far.  We have to get specific.   

Our beginning point is Christ and Christ alone- with his spirit being submissive, gentle, loving, peaceful, humble, forgiving, and graceful…and his path being at the bottom, below everyone else in the world, so as to come up from below in humility and service.  The way of Jesus Christ and His Kingdom does not assume the position of honor at the front table rather it humbly takes the unassuming table in the back of the room.  It is an attitude of the last will be first and the first will be last.

There cannot be enough emphasis on this truth for Christians and the Church:  we must become people of the bottom; people who are below; people who are last; people who are in the back; people who are the least.  We are people who put the interest of others before ourselves becoming a servant to all- our friends, our spouses, our children, our brothers and sisters in Christ, those wildly different than us, and our enemies- in order to demonstrate the love of God.  We are not to be loud, showy, boisterous, obnoxious, or holier-than-thou.  We simply follow the low and humble way of the suffering servant and we do it in every situation and every context, for the low, humble, submissive, and loving way changes hearts and minds.

As such, we are to be transformed like Christ to the unfair boss, the slow store clerk, the rude or obnoxious salesperson, the junkie on the street, and the antagonistic loudmouth.  We are to be loving, patient, and long-suffering to those who offend, trespass, or violate us.  God’s love is to burst forth from our lives in such a remarkable and profound way that the world is drawn to this Christ whom they have never known before because they see Him demonstrated through us.  In our own power we do not have the capacity to act in such profound ways; it is only by the power of God working through us that we are able.  It is never us, only God.

Let’s get even more specific- too many times I believe that we as Christians become so identified with the culture of our churches and “the way we have always done things” that we leave the way of Jesus in the dust without ever thinking much about it.  We have enabled, rather than confronted, the small, petty antics that hardly look like Jesus and His Kingdom.  Think about how misaligned and feeble our ways are and how petty our ways look compared to the awesome, transformative, and magnetic ways of Christ and His Kingdom.

If you say you follow Jesus Christ, do you judge people by who they are, how they are dressed, how they look, or how much money they have?  The ways of the kingdoms of the world divide people into classes and judge them for who they are, what they have done, and what they have or don’t have. In the Kingdom of God there is no judgment because we only see others as the children of God.  We also recognize that we are the “chief of all sinners” not any better or any worse than anyone else.

If you say you follow Jesus Christ, are you easily hurt or offended by your brothers and sisters in your church- or- by people in general?  Rather than walking the pathway of humility, peace, and reconciliation do you run away to other churches and hide from your issues.  The ways of the kingdoms of the world encourage pouting and resentment when one gets his feelings hurt.  In the Kingdom of God we work toward humility, submission, and forgiveness with anyone and everyone who speaks poorly of us, hurts us, offends us, or even strikes us.

If you say you follow Jesus Christ, do you get your feelings hurt if you are not officially recognized by the preacher for your service, or accomplishment?  The ways of the kingdoms of the world promote accomplishment, recognition, and accolades for a job well-done.  In the Kingdom of God we are happy and joyful when we can serve our God in secret; in such a way that the right hand does not know what the left hand is doing.

If you say you follow Jesus Christ, do you withhold your offering in protest or organize to force your own way and agenda when you are not in agreement with a decision?  The ways of the kingdoms of the world are bent on political power and influence and teach us that it is best to manipulate in order to get what we want.  In the Kingdom of God we pray together in unity for the Spirit of God to be our guide, so that we may bear with each other in grace and love.  We carry each other’s burdens while seeking God on our knees in prayer together.

If you say you follow Jesus Christ, are you negative about someone or something in the church (or outside of the church) and work to divide one person against another with your words and/or actions?  The ways of the kingdoms of the world work to fracture, hurt, and divide individuals and relationships, pitting one person or group against each other.  In the Kingdom of God we work toward the uplifting, encouragement, and building up of each person in his or her life and relationships.  We work toward the healing and the restoration of people, relationships, and church bodies.

If you say you follow Jesus Christ, are you always demanding the way you like things, forcing your own individual way and your own individual agenda on others and on those within the church?  The ways of the kingdoms of the world teach us to look out for our own interests, the survival of the fittest, and the necessity of taking care of “numero uno.”  In the Kingdom of God we work together in unity considering the interests of others before our own while making sure that each person is taken care of and ministered to…most especially the weakest and most modest parts of the Body among us.

If you say you follow Jesus Christ, do you neglect the cause of the poor, the imprisoned, the widow, the orphan, or the oppressed?  The ways of the kingdoms of the world work to ignore, push, and marginalize those already on the edges of society further into isolation, destitution, and misery.  In the Kingdom of God the outcasts are met where they are at in mercy and grace and welcomed into loving, whole, and healed community that gives worth and value to every single person despite their circumstance.

If you say you follow Jesus Christ, do you still dislike or hate those whom you have labeled as enemies…seeking to avoid, not forgive, and/or get revenge against them?  The ways of the kingdoms of the world label and divide and actively pursue retribution against anyone who is seen as an enemy or adversary.  In the Kingdom of God every person in the world is a beloved child of God and a brother or sister to whom we extend grace, love, and forgiveness as we embody the way of Christ equally to friend and enemy.

If you say you follow Jesus Christ, are you a “minister” who seeks attention and puts your way before others in order to receive special recognition from the congregation.  The ways of the kingdoms of the world promote and give special attention to great leaders for their accomplishments and accolades, celebrating the achievements of one man.  In the Kingdom of God each part of the Body is equally important with no one part being any more important than another.  Each part of the body uses his or her God-given gifts, with all praise and attention going to God.  As a result, each of us ought to submit to one another, washing one another’s feet in humility and service as Christ would do for us.

This list of questions could go on and on forever, but don’t miss the point.  As followers of Jesus Christ, as those who have been made new by the Holy Spirit, as those who operate by a new set of standards in the Kingdom of God, we must confront and die to the wicked ways of the world and be the Church God has made us to be.  For His salvation has allowed us to embody presently, not the old, worn-out, and self-interested ways of the kingdoms of the world, but the Life-givingKingdom of God.  And this is the way we ought to live every second of the day.

Praise God that He can move in such spectacular ways in spite of our lack of cooperation.  Praise God that He does not give up on us when we continue to fall so miserably short of His ways.  Praise God that, even now, that He continues to patiently wait for each of us to surrender our hearts and our lives to His reign and His rule and His Kingdom!

peace…

Brandon

family…

I sat down at the dinner table after a long day at work.

I looked at my two beautiful daughters.

I saw the smile of my nine-month old baby boy.

I watched my wife put the final touches on our meal.

And as we joined each other around the table one of my daughters began to pray…and this overwhelming feeling came over me. It wasn’t simply thankfulness and appreciation. It was something different.

So different that I immediately jumped up after the prayer and began quickly typing what I was feeling. Here is what I wrote:

As I go home and sit around the table with my family, I know that no matter the war that has been waged against me throughout the day. No matter the forces that have come against me. And no matter how much I have been torn to pieces- the healing, restorative work of God through my family mends me and makes me whole again. I can courageously face another day, another week, another year because I have a family ready to receive me and shower me with love and acceptance. Praise God!

I am incredibly fortunate that I am able to experience this each day. And, I pray that I never take it for granted. It is not lost on me how many children and adults around the world do not get to experience this slice of heaven on earth…and it breaks my heart.

My heart breaks for…

The broken families.

The orphaned children.

The widows and widowers.

The parents who lost a child or children.

The loner without a family.

The homeless individual.

The individual locked behind bars.

The social outcast.

The disabled who have been abandoned.

I don’t think it is by chance occurrence that we read about Jesus communing with these very people- because every single person is valuable and needs a family who loves them, nurtures them, values them, prays over them, and allows the healing power of God to make them whole again.

The compassionate hand of our loving, nurturing God does not leave us alone and broken but welcomes and invites us into the most important thing on earth… family. And not one person, no matter the situation or circumstance, has been left alone without a family. For our Lord assured us that, “[He] will not leave [us] as orphans (comfortless, desolate, bereaved, forlorn, or helpless).”

The Spirit of God invites us in to a family.

The Comforter opens wide His arms and holds us when we are broken.

The Counselor gives us wise advice and guidance as we move along our journey.

The Helper gives us assistance and instruction when we are having difficulty.

The Intercessor groans, pleads, and prays on our behalf when we don’t have the words.

The Advocate works on our behalf with our best interest in mind.

The Strengthener lifts us up and encourages us when we have nothing left to give.

This is what I experienced at the dinner table that night- the Spirit of God working in and through me, but maybe more importantly, through each person in my family on my behalf and in my favor. I was loved. I belonged. I experienced a richness and fullness that could never be understood or experienced apart from God.

And it is through the Church that the Spirit invites everyone into a family.

The Church is the one place on earth where…

Broken families.

Orphaned children.

Widows and widowers.

Parents who lost a child or children.

Loners without a family.

Homeless individuals.

Individuals locked behind bars.

Social outcasts.

The disabled who have been abandoned.

Are welcomed and invited.

Are comforted and encouraged.

Are guided.

Are assisted.

Are prayed over.

Are advocated for.

Are strengthened.

Are mended.

Are loved.

And no matter the war that has been waged against us throughout the day. No matter the forces that have come against us. And no matter how much we have been torn to pieces- the healing, restorative work of God through this family mends us and makes us whole again. We can courageously face another day, another week, another year because we are a part of a family that receives us and showers us with love and acceptance.

peace…

brandon