He Grows Hope Slowly {The Heart of the Loving Vinegrower}

If you find me in the garden, you will find me in my sacred place.

In the garden I am reminded how hard the life of growing things can be. We plant, we water, we prune, and yet sometimes for no explainable reason, new life refuses to flourish. I know God understands the pain of planting a garden plagued by frustration and death. When my heart is hurting, it is in my garden that I best hear God’s voice.

Today I needed to hear the hope of the Master Gardener, so in the early hours of the morning I ventured out to walk with him wrapped in my cool blanket of grief and disappointment.

My Father is the Vinegrower” (John 15:1), Jesus tells us. I look at the overgrown rose vine welcoming visitors to my front door with its thorny branches positioned to strike anyone who ventures too closely. It had been planted to frame the archway with beauty and fragrance, but in my neglect I allowed it to grow attended. It branched without form and for months has dared me not to get too close. Overgrown and thorny. I will get hurt if I attempt to address it. Let it be, I tell myself.

unnamed

My Father is the Vinegrower,” I hear again. Then why is this thing so gangly and dangerous? As I survey it, I realize this moment isn’t about the rose anymore. It’s about other overgrown and thorny places in my life. It is about places in the Vine that overwhelm me. Abiding in Christ alongside the other branches isn’t alway fragrant, nor tender. There are topics, like this rose that rather than welcome others in, they wound and exclude.

Father, if you’re the Vinegrower then why is this vine such a mess? Why aren’t we what you envisioned for us to be? 

Enough of this, I sigh. Grabbing my ladder, twine, and pruners, I climb up to begin the work. At first I just try to force the vine onto the trellis, but the newer growth is too tender and it breaks off. My heart sighs, “That would have a been a beautiful bud someday!” So I go for the more mature branches, but they are inflexible and won’t be guided. From this perspective I can see where the vine itself wears scars from its own thorns. Some branches are discolored from the darkness of too much shade, being hidden like they are under the larger, more aggressive branches. It doesn’t take long to discover I will only be able to guide this vine to express its desired form with slow and gentle precision.

After an hour only the vine will know I’ve been there; to others it will look unchanged. But the training has begun with nudges, cuts, and tie-backs. Bearing the scratches and thorns of the work, I hear the words my heart set out to find, “My Father is the Vinegrower.” He grows it slowly and with his tender touches. He avoids the tugs that will break the tender; he knows the cuts that will give the vine the shape it needs. He know it will take time; but he will not neglect his work. He loves the Vine and delights in every last branch as they grow to reveal his beauty. We won’t alway see his work, but he is there–careful and attentive. Our Father is the Loving Vinegrower; his heart is good, his will is perfect, and his ways are tender.

Indeed, He is. My heart knows it full well.

If your heart is discouraged or despairing in a less-than-flourishing place today, take heart. Our Father loves us. He sees. He knows. He grows hope slowly, but always faithfully. He may take his time, but he is the Master Gardener. Wait for it–we will hear his voice in the garden declaring yet again,  “It is very good!” One day.

Are You Blessed? {James Howell Quotable}

The notion of a divine warehouse full of packages (for me!), just waiting for me to back my station wagon up to the door and load up by simply asking is laughably problematic. But the conclusive, eighth Beatitude might teach us that if there were boxes of blessedness to be collected, we might open them and find them to contain, not neat goodies we’d hate to miss out on, but harder realities we might prefer to leave in the bay. The saints who have lived most closely to God have opened their “boxes” and discovered that following Jesus can and does leave you marginalized, ostracized, wounded, in danger, and even dead. If we try to yank out the thread of the final Beatitudes, we unravel the fabric, and think God is boxing up a little kingdom, something comforting, even a grand inheritance–forgetting that promises are for the future, not this minute, forgetting the immense cost of discipleship (James C. Howell, The Beatitudes for Today).

No matter how trying our circumstances, we are blessed. For our poverty, we will be filled. In our mourning, comforted. In our powerlessness, established. Even our hunger for righteousness will be satisfied. Hold on to hope–the King and his kingdom are at hand.

The Kingdom and Gender {Stassen & Gushee Quotable}

There are times when I read something that makes my soul inhale grace deeply and exhale big, big hope. Today it was this:

In terms of church life and work, gender differences are not dissolved but gender as a determinant of roles fades from view in light of the massive goals of aggressive world evangelization and discipling of new believers, doing the healing and delivering and justice-making works of Christ, and practicing the gifts of the Spirit to edify the church, until Christ returns. The criterion for who may pursue these precious kingdom goals is simply the whole body of Christ, with specialization directed by spiritual giftedness. At Pentecost, the Spirit fell upon men and women, as the Old Testament had promised (Acts 2:17-18; Joel 2:28-29). The last thing one wants to do at Pentecost or in the perspective created by the experience of Pentecost is to stifle gifts that might bring advances in the reign of God; too much is at stake. If the goal of the Christ-follower is to seek God’s kingdom, the primary issue is not specifying gender roles but maximizing mission, effectiveness and impact. Again, it must be emphasized that this perspective predates the feminist movement and is grounded not on late-twentieth-century secular egalitarianism but in a gospel and kingdom focus.

Leadership and authority in family life and in the church are to be offered in humility, in mutual submission and in the context of the narrative of how Christ exercised authority. As the glorious Christ-hymn of Philippians 2 put it, in the incarnation and on the cross Jesus was self-emptying, humble, devoted to the needs of others and ultimately obedient to the authority of God the Father (Phil 2:5-11). This connects with Jesus’ virtues of humility, yieldedness to God and justice that we saw in the Beatitudes. All Christians are to imitate this pattern.

Mutual servanthood places limits on the exercise of authority by any Christian in any setting. The model of Christ shapes the perspective within which all authority is employed. Any member of the Christian community can hold any other member, including leaders (or husband or wife), accountable to conformity with Christ’s example. The kingdom or gospel-advancing purpose of the church and the Christian marriage is the goal to which all are committed and thus sets a standard for the exercise of authority. Any use of authority which might stifle spiritual gifts that could advance the kingdom is inappropriate. Meanwhile, with this great freedom to use kingdom gifts comes the responsibility to use such gifts only for the purpose for which they were given. So no merely autonomous or permissive understanding of freedom is envisioned here. Mutual servanthood employs yet constrains freedom, unleashing gifts for responsible use, directs authority, orders Christian community and participates in the kingdom. In love, mutual servanthood creates checks and balances on the exercise both of freedom and of power that preserve and advance justice. This is the best model for all relationships in the body of Christ, including those between men and women, and husbands and wives.

~Glen Stassen and David Gushee, Kingdom Ethics, 2003

Breathe that fresh air in. Exhale hope.

It’s Time for Change {Sexuality and the Church}

If you know me at all, then you know that nothing gets me good and fired up like the topic of sexuality. I think that God gives all of us a wall to watch, a place where we see things others don’t see–we see the beauty that needs to be guarded on the inside and the threats that are approaching from the outside. For me, my wall is sexuality. What it was created to be is so beautiful, but our reality is so broken. So I sit on this wall and some days I lament, other days I fume, but every day I war.

I find myself getting angry over this topic a lot. Just this morning I read how California’s Supreme Court ruled to allow convicted child molesters to frequent parks. What kind of stupidity is this?

See, I’m surrounded by causalities of this war fueled by the sex abuse mindset that our culture has embraced as normal. And because we aren’t doing the hard work of fighting it, there are more and more victims every day. Just so you know, most children view pornography for the first time when they are eight years old. When I was eight, I wasn’t allowed to watch the Love Boat because my dad said, “The men don’t see women the right way on that show.” Well, if that was true, imagine what kind of vision problem pornography is fueling.

I know, this is making you uncomfortable. If you’re even still reading, you’re probably wondering why I keep bringing it up. I’m doing it because we need to wake up from this idea that the brokenness in our understanding of sexuality is someone else’s problem. It is OUR problem and our children need to know this is important to us…they need to know THEY are important to us.

Today, Anne wrote:

Make a ruckus. Make your leaders talk about this.

We are in a fight. We frequently point blame to the media and to pornography and to sex as the enemy. These things, especially sex, are NOT the enemy. Sex is a beautiful thing that we’ve been given to express love to our spouse. The media and pornography are simply tools the enemy uses to break us down, to addict us, to cause us to carry shame instead of strength and hopelessness instead of hope.

Our enemy is Satan. Plain and simple.

(I really encourage you to go read her whole post. Please.)

Make a ruckus. Yes. That is what we need–ruckus makers. Our silence on this matter is deadly. We have to start talking about it. Loudly. Too many have been wounded; we need more warriors. Now.

The next generation needs us to reclaim and revitalize the broken down walls of our sexuality and restore them to the beauty, goodness, and truth of the Kingdom. The work can’t wait. It needs to begin today. It’s rally time.

This conversation isn’t just about sex. Yes, that’s what our culture has made it. But we need to claim it back. The conversation needs to be deeper and wider. It needs to be about robust definitions of men and women that lead to wholeness and holiness. It needs to be about addressing intimacy and belonging needs. It needs to be about addressing loneliness in a way that makes the sex abuse mindset irrelevant and ugly. It needs to be about us understanding Jesus correctly and then mirroring his advocacy with tenacity, strength, and grace in one another’s lives.

Maybe you’re afraid. I am too. But I’m more afraid that we will do nothing than that we will do the wrong thing. Let’s not cover our eyes and pretend the whole thing away. I agree with Anne. Talk to your leaders. Ask them why they are silent. Get educated. (This is why I’m teaching the parenting class on sexual wholeness. Anne has a great list of resources…check them out and gather your tribe.) Talk to your children. Seriously, get the conversation rolling. Pray–fervently.

Will you please do the hard work of climbing up that ladder of discomfort and fear to join me on the wall?  It’s not a rhetorical question. I’m really asking: Will you join me in this? Those on the inside need us. Those on the outside need to know the closer they get, the uglier it’s going to get because we have something beautiful for which we are fighting. For the King and His kingdom!

I will leave you with a Marva Dawn quote: “What liars we are if we see something that should be changed, but don’t really want God to work in us to change it.” 

Gutsy Love {For Conversations about Sexuality and Intimacy}

On my desk sit books upon books about sex. Yep, you’ve got it. Sex. All these books stacked up and some overflowing on the floor. I myself have sat at this desk with these books now for many hours in preparation for an upcoming parenting class about sexual wholeness. I’m going to be blunt, because that’s how I roll: I’m burdened by the depths of our collective brokenness.

unnamed

We are so far off from what God has created us to be that it’s painful to listen to the grammar to which we (and by this, I mean the Church) has resorted to describe our sexuality. What is intended to be beautiful has been reduced to a sterile, clunky, and shame-filled vernacular of confused messages. No wonder our children grow up with no idea on which hook to hang their sexuality. Is it bad? Is it good? Shhhh! Don’t talk about it.

In some ways, I’m glad we’ve already pushed our children from the proverbial nest. We did our best to direct them to God’s best ideal and now it’s their turn make choices consistent with what they understand His desires to be for them. {Granted we still speak into their lives, but parents occupy a different space in their adult children’s lives.} But I tip my hat to today’s parents–you’ve got your work cut out for you.

Sadly, the Church has lagged way behind the culture’s conversation in regard to sexuality. Waaaaaaaay behind. Conversations of sexuality in the church are often non-existent or relegated to the “biblical roles of men and women.” Moms and dads are still figuring out how to have “the talk” (as if though it were just one) while the culture is openly espousing many, many opinions on topics that for way too long have been kept locked away in the taboo cupboard in some secret passage way behind the church custodian closet. If we feel overwhelmed and confused as adults, image how our children feel.

Naturally I listened yesterday and today with interest as the Twitter board lit up with comments from the Southern Baptist’s inaugural Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission Leadership Summit on Sex (You can see the tweets on Twitter #erlcsummit). I was bummed. The conversation felt like a play back from things that should have been said twenty years ago. Nobody is going to be excited about a sandwich made from day old bread. Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know–it’s a start.

I’m sad too. Sad that we so often miss that the conversations about sexuality aren’t about sex. It’s really about longings and desires to be loved, embraced, and to belong; to be found as a person of worth; it’s the God-instilled ache of the heart for intimacy in a relationship that reveals beauty and joy and togetherness in such a way that words aren’t powerful enough to define. And honestly, the Church ought to be writing the dictionary for that conversation…but we’re not.

When it comes to matters of intimacy, (and here I speak of non-sexual intimacy), we are awkward, discomforted by closeness. I think of my mentor Marva (although I’ve never personally met her) and her astute observation:

As persons have lost skills of interpersonal relationships, the poles of technology and intimacy have become reversed. We recognize that intimacy is missing from our lives, so we advertise our technological toys with sexy models and try to make our technology more intimate with personal names. On the other hand, we do not know how to express intimacy, so we have to find technological assistance to do it. Sexual union formerly  expressed the culmination of many growing intimacies–intellectual, spiritual, financial, recreational, creative, social, spiritual–and marked a committed covenant relationship. Now persons turn to sexual intercourse as a way to begin to know one another, and technical manuals are written so that it can be done as effectively as possible. The whole act of union carries an entirely different meaning.

What makes sex “good?” Is it its efficiency –that is the chief criterion in our technological milieu–or its extreme, albeit momentary, physical pleasure? I am distressed that our contemporary culture would reduce the beauty of an expression of lifelong fidelity to one’s spouse to a mere experiment in sexual gratification. There are other ways to express affection for one’s friends, to experience tenderness and intimacy, to enfold others haunted by their cosmic loneliness. 

Please listen to what Marva says next–because if we, the Church, are going to enter the cultural conversation with any credibility we have to first look inward and ask ourselves if we revealed love as beautiful in our communities. Do we love one another well? Have we made love to be fluff and convenience or are we persisting to love one another in places that are messy, uncomfortable, and reeking with the odor of loneliness that our brokenness, and primarily, our sexual brokenness has made for us? Have we unwittingly made sexual intimacy the only way for our children to experience a sense of being wanted?

Marva continues:

The Church has a wonderful message to proclaim–the hope of eternal meaning, the love of persons in deep relationship because God loved us first, the faith that we are accepted on the basis of the merits of Someone perfect and not because we have successfully managed to be the most efficient. Everyone in the world is longing for the Hilarity of that kind of hope, that fulfillment of being loved, that content of faith that will not change.

The superficiality of many parish fellowships belies the biblical possibilities. Why do Christians have such difficulty in truly loving one another, in being glad to belong to one another, in experiencing the empowering Hilarity that the grace of God and true community confer?

God freely chose to love each one us. We respond to the wonder and Hilarity of that by loving him, but also by seeking to become more loving toward others. Relationships that float around on the surface deny the reality of God’s gutsy love, a love so full that it compelled Christ to suffer depths of degradation and cruel crucifixion to demonstrate it to us. (Marva Dawn, Truly the Community)

Gutsy. That’s what I think we need more of. Gutsy conversations. {With our kids. With each other. Let’s get to talking about it! It’s time for us to take back our voice.} Gutsy commitments. Gutsy postures of humility for the sake of others. It’s time. We’ve been silent too long.

God, Where Are You? {For When You Feel Forsaken}

I’m over at Pick Your Portion today sharing this:

To be forsaken. Abandoned. Ignored. Disowned.

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
 Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning?
 O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer,
 and by night, but I find no rest” (Psalm 22:1).

When we read the languish-laden words of the Psalmist, do we not wonder how it is that David, the man after God’s own heart, was unable to compose a cry to bend the Father’s heart? And then, how do these once prophetic words fall from the parched lips of the dying Son, the man of God’s own heart? How hard it is to understand.

If you’ve ever felt like heaven has been sealed up from your prayers, then this post is for you. To read the rest, join us at Pick Your Portion.

What to Do When We Can’t Agree {Spurgeon Quotable}

Gallery

From Spurgeon The rarest harmonies of music are nothing unless they are sincerely consecrated to God by hearts sanctified by the Spirit. The cleric says, “Let us sing to the praise of and glory of God,” but the choir often … Continue reading