Hungering and Thirsting

Hungering and Thirsting: To strengthen our will, or awaken our true need?

We are in the middle of the month of Ramadan, a month of fasting from sun up to sun down for all Muslims worldwide. It commemorates the first revelation of the Qu’ran to their prophet Mohamed. It is also one of the 5 Pillars of Islam.  It’s purpose can be summed up in these statement:

“If man can control these desires in this month, which are usually permissible for him, then he can surely control himself from other desires which are not permissible throughout the remaining months.” (Zain)

“To develop and strengthen our powers of self-control, so that we can resist wrongful desires and bad habits, and therefore “guard against evil”. In fasting, by refraining from the natural human urges to satisfy one’s appetite, we are exercising our ability of self-restraint, so that we can then apply it to our everyday life to bring about self-improvement.” (Ali)

“To attain nearness and closeness to God so that He becomes a reality in our lives. ” (ibid)

“To learn to refrain from usurping other’s rights and belongings. In fasting we voluntarily give up even what is rightfully ours; how can then we think of taking what is not ours but belongs to someone else?” (ibid)

“Charity and generosity is especially urged during Ramadan. We learn to give, and not to take. The deprivation of fasting makes us sympathize with the suffering of others, and desirous of alleviating it; and it makes us remember the blessings of life which we normally take for granted.” (ibid)

The purpose of fasting is to create a hungering and thirsting. As fasting cuts off the earthly needs, it tends to open our eyes to see our spiritual ones. Many religious leaders received great revelations after fasting many days, and not just those of Judeo Christian background. Buddha and Mohammed received revelations that began their “ministry” after fasting. Moses and Jesus also started to lead and teach after fasting.

But what is the real purpose of fasting? Is it to strengthen the will and improve ourselves? Or does God have a greater purpose? Isaiah 58 is a chapter about the LORD’s fast, in it He says,

“‘Why have we fasted, and you see it not? Why have we humbled ourselves, and you take no knowledge of it? ’ Behold, in the day of your fast you seek your own pleasure, and oppress all your workers. Behold, you fast only to quarrel and to fight and to hit with a wicked fist.
Fasting like yours this day will not make your voice to be heard on high.
Is such the fast that I choose, a day for a person to humble himself?
Is it to bow down his head like a reed, and to spread sackcloth and ashes under him? Will you call this a fast, and a day acceptable to the Lord?
“Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the straps of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover him,
and not to hide yourself from your own flesh? Then shall your light break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up speedily;
your righteousness shall go before you; the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard. Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer; you shall cry, and he will say, ‘Here I am. ’ If you take away the yoke from your midst, the pointing of the finger, and speaking wickedness, if you pour yourself out for the hungry and satisfy the desire of the afflicted, then shall your light rise in the darkness and your gloom be as the noonday.
And the Lord will guide you continually and satisfy your desire in scorched places and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters do not fail”

The point of fasting, is the same as any other any other Christian discipline, to create a hunger in us that cannot be satisfied with earthly things. The only thing that can satisfy this hunger is Jesus, and His resurrected life living in us. And that resurrected life should be so obvious, that others will be able to see Him in us. How can it be seen if we are not able to resist the temptations of this world? After fasting for 40 days and 40 nights, Jesus was able to withstand satan himself. If Jesus is alive in us, so will we. How is our life different that those of devout Muslims? They fast and pray, probably more that most of us, and seek the face of Allah, and hunger for righteous. So what is different? While Muslims do all these things for rewards, in this life and in heaven,  the Christians do things for the glory of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. I think it can be summed up in a statement from T. Austin Sparks,   commenting on 1 John 5:11 “This is the testimony: that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son.”
“The expression and manifestation of His risen Life signifies that you are the embodiment of the thing which you declare – that besides the doctrinal statement there is the living expression. Thus the resurrection and the lordship of Jesus are bound up with this expression which is called the “testimony.” The testimony is not a system of truth. It is that extra factor to the statement and presentation of truth which is the power of a Life which conquers death. How, then, will you prove that Jesus has conquered death? The proof of it will be a death-conquering Life that expresses itself in you.”

Zain, Maulana, June 27,2013; http://haqislam.org/the-purpose-of-ramadan/.
Ali, Maulana Muhammad, http://www.muslim.org/islam/ramadan.htm.

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A Letter to the Dead

Walk with me into your imagination. There are three doors; let’s go through the first.

You used to be alive. So alive!

But now you lie on a field of corpses, numbered with the dead. The moonlight glints and glances off the armor of the living as they move about in war, calling out, fighting, recovering, regrouping, and planning.

But you feel no pain. What is going on? How did you get here? You look backwards into memory and you see yourself there, so bravely fighting your Lord’s battle. There was so much purpose under his banner, so much camaraderie among your fellow warriors, and now…

You can’t even pinpoint the wound that got you here. Death seemed to have come upon you slowly, silently, and unseen. What does it feel like? Well, it doesn’t really feel like anything, actually. How interesting… death had been the ultimate shame to you once, when you had your sword in hand and rose early each morning to hone it. The thought of death had been frightful, awful and unacceptable. And yet now, lying there in comfortable, relinquished black slumber, you don’t care. There’s an ugly hollow inside of you, but doing something about it just doesn’t seem worth the effort.

You don’t care. That’s it. And you shouldn’t, should you? There’s nothing technically wrong with your condition. You’re not fighting against your Lord. You’re just… resting. Will you wake up? Sure, you think. Maybe. Later. Right now I don’t care.

You see a soldier younger than you run up. You had once encouraged him, sparred with him, taught him how to fight. The smile on his blood-stained face vanishes when he sees you…

Oh, deal with it, you try to say. But you’re dead; he can’t hear you. Suddenly you feel a prick of embarrassment. It happens, kid. People’s fire runs out! You wear thin. You just watch! It’ll happen to you too.

Tears are in his eyes. He squints, and blinks. In silence he turns and walks off, bearing a load of defeat just a bit too heavy for him.

He’ll get over it, you think. Anyhow, there’s not much I can do about it. I’m kind of powerless. More embarrassment. Good God, why all the feeling, suddenly? I’m fine here! I don’t need to change! I don’t want change!

But then you see your Lord. And you feel naked. Oh whatever you do, don’t look at me. Lord, don’t you look at me! I don’t want to be seen!

He looks at you. There’s a touch of disbelief in his expression, then a touch of shock, and then sadness.

He sheathes his sword and takes a step towards you.

No, no. Go away. Can’t you see I’m dead! I’m fine this way.

He pauses.

That’s right. I don’t want it. I am dead. Dead. I’m done fighting for you. Find someone else.

Your Lord leaves.

There. Better. You feel pain. Embarrassment – no, not even embarrassment; you feel raw, heartless shame. I’m staying here. Find someone else. Your heart is breaking… maybe it wasn’t so dead after all. I’ve been defeated! I’m done fighting. I don’t want to get back up… yes, yes I do. I definitely do. God, how I want to get back up!

You want to wriggle, to turn, to get up, to run, to leap! But you seem bound to the ground. You want to speak, shout, scream, but your mouth refuses to function. You’re dead. God, get me up! Get me out!

Not even your fingers will move. You concentrate on it, you channel all your mental energy into it. Nothing happens. You panic. You’re locked there in a stubborn body, helpless, desperate, scared… dead.

 

Shut that door, open another one.

You’re in water – deep, dark water. You’re far under the surface, and you’re in pain.

The underwater cave echoes the talk of fish and other things. You can see the light up there, coming from a distance and shattering on the tugs and swirls of the sea.

You know how to swim, and you’re running out of air. It’s starting to be scary. Why, then, are you still?

Why, your backpack, of course. It brought you down here in the first place, when it fell off and sunk, carrying with it a lot of the stuff that’s really important to you. Memories and memories around objects. Pictures, habits, trinkets, expectations, mindsets and hopes – not to mention money. It’s a good thing you found it.

But oh – it’s so heavy! It’s dead weight, and now it’s snagged on a rock. You jerk at it. You heave. A column of dancing bubbles leaves your mouth and hurries up towards the light – you wonder if you should follow the example. Pain. Just go! Something urges you. Go now. Drop everything and go!

No. You’ve got to take the backpack. It means too much to you. You tug again. Your lungs are trying to convince your mouth to open up and let them be filled. You clench your teeth. Your lungs are on fire. It’s really hurting now.

 

Shut that door. I’ll let you open the last one; it’s yours. If you are worn out, exhausted, complacent, or careless, this door opens to where you’re at right now.

If you cannot yet see how a dead man is a drowning man, I can only tell you this: both know there is more, and both are in torment.

If you still cannot relate, then I will speak for myself. Try to stay with me as I ramble a bit.

To the dead: I know there’s something bigger than me out there. I know there exists something that we cannot explain nor comprehend, that is independent of our worship, our acknowledgement, even our whole world. I’ve been baptized in the river of doubt, and come out clean on the other side. I’ve known the power that rained down ice and fire on a desert land, and I have heard it whisper to my soul in a forest by a creek.

And despite it all, the thrill has left me. It has abandoned me to dry logic and reason. The emotions have dried like a puddle under an angry sun. I walked the desert I had once scoffed at while in a land of rivers and greenery.

To the drowning: I have nearly drowned before, in water, yes, but also in a sea of hopelessness. In my stubbornness I have held on hard to the things that drown me, things I valued more than my need to breathe. These things will kill you, hide from you, and eat you.

I was dead, yet still alive enough to be drowning.

So why aren’t you happy there at the dark end of the tunnel, at the end of the box canyon, at the dead end of the alley? Maybe your faith, your drive, your dreams, were all just an illusion like you’re telling yourself out loud. You’re too worn out. Why don’t you give up and accept it, then? Why don’t you just surrender to fate? Why can’t you just be fine with being ‘dead’?

Because you’re not just dead; you’re drowning too.

You may not hear it yet, but your lungs cry out for air, your limbs reach out for life, and your heart screams out for meaning. This is not all there is! I was born for more! I have a life to live, a war to fight!

What do you do, then, when you feel like all your strength has left you? When your efforts appear fruitless? When no matter how hard you try, you cannot achieve breakthrough? We all know that life brings defeat – sometimes so thoroughly that you’re broken under it. Here’s how to raise from the dead.

Let go! Realize that your choice is between the backpack and the air beyond the waters. Things in this life will be precious to you, but they will never be as precious as the calling God has for you. Never.

Grab hold! Choose to be chosen. If he is far away, give chase! If He has passed you by, run after Him! You don’t have to understand. Take a grip of God and tell Him that you’re not letting Him go until he blesses you. Tell Him you’re not satisfied. Tell him you will not stop at anything short of a miracle, nor live a life that is anything less than the most epic story ever written.

Strip everything away, till all I have is You. Undo the veils, till all I see is You.

I will pursue You, I will pursue your presence. Open my eyes, search me inside, ‘cause I can’t live without Your presence.

I’m pressing into You, so do not pass me by. I’m breaking through the boundaries, oh I will not be denied!

There are people that need you. There is a battle that will be lost without you.

To the dead: come alive. For the sake of the world, shake yourself, breathe, and come alive.

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LOVE IS LIKE A STORM

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I was a pastor’s kid for seventeen years. And that pretty much explains everything there is to know about me.

Being part of a ministering family is both a privilege and a responsibility. Shepherding the body of Christ and reaching your community is a daunting task that is challenging on all levels – spiritually, emotionally, physically. Looking back, I remember joy and worship, listening to my dad preach and hearing the heartfelt prayers of others. I remember tears when prayers were answered, when someone was facing a trial, when a baby was born. I remember watching people grow and mature, allowing God to shape their future. I remember looking around our little group, my heart happy and content, thinking, “This is my family.”

But family doesn’t always stick together as it should. And if I’m honest, what I remember most is hurt.

Throughout the years in the ministry, I saw the worst side of people, including myself. I watched friends and families float in and out of my life, and more often than not the exit was not a peaceful one. My family endured gossip, slander, accusations, betrayal, and unforgiveness, and I had to learn the hard way how to react to such things. There was no lack of struggle in that area.

Nevertheless, I am so thankful to have been a pastor’s daughter. The Lord used both the joy and the hurt to shape me into the person I am today. But that’s not to say the good didn’t come without some bruises, and the most difficult lesson – one I continue to wrestle with every day – is that love is hard.

Loving people is easy. But loving people when they betray you, when they gossip behind your back, when they suddenly refuse to speak to you and you don’t know why, when they believe lies about you, when they seem to change into a stranger overnight – that’s rough. You’re confused, you’re hurt, you’re angry, and the last thing you want to do is extend love to that person. I’m saying this from experience, from the times I trusted people with my love and ended up getting burned. Some days I was simply tired of loving people. I wished I didn’t have to. It hurt too much to give my love to someone only for them to throw it away as if years of friendship together meant nothing.

What I’ve learned is I can’t change people. I can’t shift their thoughts, their opinion of me, their actions, their words. I can’t make them like me. Sometimes I can do nothing but love them.

That may sound lame on paper, but here’s the deal: Christ-like love is the most powerful form of outreach we possess. Everything Jesus taught while He was on earth means nothing without love (think of the famous 1 Corinthians 13). The Bible was written because of His love for us and His plan to return and take us to live eternally with Him. Love is what provoked the Creator of the universe to come down out of heaven and die to save people who hated Him. I know people can be cruel, and there are times when friends – friends who claim to serve the same God as you – betray and sting and abandon. But Jesus understood that more than anyone, and His response was still love. Love is who God is (1 John 4:8). If we choose to react in anger and bitterness, we are rejecting the fundamental essence of God.

What I have struggled with is simply loving someone doesn’t seem like much. It feels helpless. I want to react, defend, plead. But what could possibly be more powerful than responding to a person’s hate with the same kind of life-changing love God has for us? That is what we are called to, what we were put on this earth to do. We are to represent Christ. Something so impactful as His love, something so essential to our existence and creation and purpose, could never be so passive as we are tempted to think.

The love of Christ is a force to be reckoned with, a gift we all possess and are capable of giving. It is a mighty wave that melts unforgiveness, wipes away pain, and restores souls. When someone has hurt you, let your response be nothing but this kind of love. When you love, you are being the light on this earth Jesus called us to be. You are pouring out grace where there is none. You are glorifying your Father in heaven.

“Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.” – 1 John 4:11

Jesus loves us with an everlasting, unconditional love that changes our lives and impacts our hearts. It should be our mission to spread that powerful love to others, especially when it is difficult. And beloved, the time will come – perhaps it already has – when you will make such a mistake that requires someone you know to forgivingly love you. We’re all in this together, friends.

I’ve heard it said that there is no song louder than love, and I believe it. When you can do nothing but love someone, remember love is not nothing. It is not helpless. It is far from passive.

Love screams. Love burns. Love erupts.

Your love is crashing over me

Surging like a raging sea

Immerse me in the wonder of Your love

A downpour of unending grace

Consuming all my reckless ways

My sins submerged

Your love has saved my soul

Your love is like a storm.

(“Gracious Tempest” – Hillsong Young & Free)

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The Hidden Mission Field

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Processed with VSCOcam with c1 preset

I remember hearing her story for the first time. Seventeen, unmarried and pregnant by a boy who promised he wouldn’t leave, except he did. She was afraid, alone and seeking Jesus, at the church she’d attended all her life. But this church, all they saw was the baby in her belly and the missing ring on her finger, and there was no room for someone like that. So they froze her out, until she ran.

I was furious. Why would anyone do this? How dare those people decide she didn’t deserve the same grace they did? How could they not understand how much Jesus loves her?

In all my justified indignation, one thought never crossed my mind: how much Jesus loves “those people”, too.

There’s a mission field today no one’s talking about, and it’s not the deserts of Africa or the Amazon jungle. It’s the church.

Mission field? But everyone in the church is already saved!

Matthew 28:19-20, the Great Commission, commands us to “go and make disciples”. This isn’t a simple conversion and whoo, job’s done! A disciple is a student of someone else, a pursuer of their teacher. So to “make disciples” is to take the name and character of Jesus Christ and make it known to every person around you. To love as He loves.

And Jesus loves the church.

I think we understand this in a general sense. We take prayer requests, bring meals, write an encouraging note, hug a friend who’s hurting. When someone has a spectacular moral failure, the church usually seems to find a balance between grace and loving rebuke.

But what about the ugly, mundane, frustrating sin?

What about the people who seem willing to tear a church apart over power games? What do you do with the woman in Sunday school who bulldozes over everyone else to be “right”? The seniors who resent the young people, or the young people who mock the seniors? The classmates who bless you to your face and gossip about you behind your back? The leader who’s an egotistical bully? The deacons mismanaging the money? The passive-aggressive pastor using the pulpit to attack his flock?

There’s a lot of dissatisfaction with and challenge to the church today, especially among us young people. I believe that’s okay, even warranted. The church has a bad rap for tolerating sin inside its doors while condemning anyone outside. We see that, the gap between who Jesus is and how His body acts, and we want more. That’s healthy. But I would caution us not to fall into the opposite trap, of compassion for the lost and judgment for the found. God loves you and me, enough to die for it, when we are not “more”. When we’re less. That’s the very message we take to our schools and workplaces and neighborhoods, to the inner-city shelter and the orphanage and the hospital. And yet it’s so hard sometimes to take this message to the church. Ugly behavior is understandable from a non-believer, but when someone’s met Jesus and they’re still this awful, what can you do?

As much as I’d like to say “hit them on the head with a frying pan”, the reality is this: frustration with the lack of Christlike love in the church is a call to show Christlike love to the church.

What does that love look like? Simply, that Jesus knows. The lies, the pride, the quiet selfishness. He sees every terrible thing done by people who call Him Lord, and He still stops in front of the church and says “This one. She’s who I want as My Bride.”

“But Jesus, she’s so broken, so self-centered, so petty—”

“This one.”

I think we forget that He has seen His Bride’s ugliness for two millennia and He keeps choosing her anyway. I think we have made Communion a remembrance of a rescue that happened once, 2000 years ago, instead of a rescue that happened yesterday and is happening today and will happen again tomorrow. I think we understand that Jesus told us to wash each other’s feet, but we’re shocked when those feet are dirty.

Why is this a surprise? When did we stop understanding that the only beautiful thing, the only clean thing, in any of our outwardly pristine churches is Jesus?

The sole difference between the church and the unsaved drowning in sin is that we know where our Lifeline is coming from. What good is that lifeline if we throw it to the souls struggling in the waves, but we don’t take the hands of the person next to us (even if they’re complaining and spitting water) and wrap them tighter around that same salvation? What might happen if the first thought in our minds when Christ-followers fail, especially if it hurts or inconveniences us, was that same whisper—“this one”?

Yesterday, our local newspaper ran an article on the outpouring of love that has come from churches across my city, all races, all languages, all denominations, in the aftermath of the horrific Charleston shooting. I couldn’t stop rereading it, because I’ve never heard a reporter from this ultra-secular, anti-religion newspaper take the tone he did in this article. As he transcribed the words of the prayers and the love messages to Charleston and referred to the church as a “family”, he sounded…awed. As if he didn’t understand what he was witnessing, but couldn’t tear his eyes away.

Our God said that love for each other would be the signpost of His church to a watching world, and “even the gates of Hell shall not prevail against it.”

So the next time we walk through the doors of our churches, let’s be missionaries.

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Feed Just One

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Processed with VSCOcam with a6 preset

‘Twenty-somethings’ is the term used to describe those who find themselves at the edge of the great chasm in life that hangs between childhood, being cared for, and figuring things out on your own. Many of us are here, looking for a calling, finding ourselves with all of this time we never had before. We have been thrust into this uncharted territory where we are now allowed to make our own decisions, let our hearts lead the way to new places. And for many of us, this means a heart that longs to follow God’s purpose for our lives and for the world around us.

It seems the number one prayer request for people in our generation is direction in life and ministry.

But as summer begins, I look around me and see several young people I know headed for the mission field. Its cool to be in a place where you’re connected to all these people as family. Its humbling to be around the twenty-somethings who have raised their hands and said, “Lord, send me! I will go!” Who have given their time, the break from school, sacrificed taking summer classes or getting a summer job to go and speak the goodness of the Lord to people across the seas.

And here is our little handful of earth called America, where so many of the issues affecting third world countries are here too. And that thought is humbling as well. Would we ‘go’ for this land? Can we, the twenty-somethings, look at poverty, hunger, and homelessness, confusion, depression, and a self-filled American church and tell all these things to bow at the feet of Jesus?

Yes.

I believe we can. I believe that we can reach out beyond our circle and find a hand. I believe we can do something to effect change to our own backyard, and atmosphere of the overseas fields be changed in turn.

I heard a missionary speaking once about his model for outreach in other countries. He talked about how it wasn’t our goal to just go ‘over there’ and get some wild, unfamiliar culture to say yes to Jesus, an unfamiliar god. The goal was that once the mission team left, this village would be empowered to in turn reach out to their own country. I want to see that wildfire type of love. I want to see the love of Jesus poured out like splashing water from a pitcher, not an eyedropper. The outpour doesn’t only have to begin in Africa, or India, or China. We can have that here.

Community outreach is the simplest form of missions we have. If everyone took care of their own backyard, imagine the peace that would be present. Imagine the palpability of the kingdom on Earth.

Imagine a swell of young people saying yes to making that happen. At this point in our lives, we have the biggest opportunity to change the world, to be God’s hands and feet. Your impact does not have to be large to be powerful. Mother Teresa said it this way: “If you cannot feed a hundred people, feed just one.”

Three years ago, I wouldn’t have known that mothers in poor cities in Texas and Nicaragua both need groceries, and both of these tasks are equally as important to bringing the Kingdom to Earth. I wouldn’t have thought that teaching the same song to kids in Africa and America would make the Father’s heart so happy.

What he wants is a family. A community. What He gave His life for was to unite us with Him, but also with each other. When those across borders and our own neighbors become our family, then we will know the community Jesus died for.

So wherever you are, you have the opportunity to change someone’s day, someone’s outlook, someone’s mindset. Someone’s life. Outreach is not limited by oceans or nation borders, just as the word suggests. And neither is the Holy Spirit. Wherever you go, He will follow. And wherever He leads, we will go.

 

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