Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Awaiting Pentecost

Monday, April 6, 2009

It was the first Tuesday home after God swept me off to Israel. I sat in chapel, the rows of simple wooden pews spread out before me like lined paper, pristine and awaiting the pen, the glow from the stained-glass windows bathing them in rosy hues. Service had not yet started - only a few people dotted the seats here and there. It was a perfectly insignificant and mundane morning.

Yet...

There was something in the air, an alacrity that I could not connect with any physical source or emotional reason. The speaker was from Puerto Rico. He seemed perfectly ... normal. Dark hair, olive skin, nondescript height - he would be preaching in Spanish and Dr. Wesley was to interpret. There was nothing about the arrangement or the message title or the people gathered that seemed to warrant an almost tangible presence in the air. There was no particular sense of expectation, no emotional charge. It didn't seem like a particularly needy bunch.

And yet...

Something was different. Something was happening.

God was already speaking.

When the preacher began to address the group, he went immediately to the story of Exodus - not surprisingly, to the very passage of scripture I was reading in my devotional time...

"I have certainly seen the oppression of my people ... I have heard their cries of distress because of their harsh slave drivers. Yes, I am aware of their suffering. So I have come down to rescue them ... and lead them ... into their own [land of promise]"

And while the preacher was speaking, the translator began his task of translating, and his voice joined the other in a kind of syncopated song, a call-and-response that echoed through the lofty ceilings and out into the foyer.

And then another voice joined the first two, above and slightly to the left.

"This is my heart revealed for my people," it said. I looked up and a presence in the room seemed to hover above the stage, completely invisible and yet very nearly distinct enough to be an angel with a trumpet and a crown of glory on its head. And it seemed to go on, but it spoke with desire, longing, love and yearning instead of words. I smiled and looked back to the preacher. Did this man know how much God longed to speak the words He had given him?

And even while the three of them spoke together in perfect unison, another voice began to speak, and another, until there was a gathering on and over the stage. One spoke directly to me as if it knew me. It reminded me of my own story, of my Jordan crossing, of my deliverance. Still another began to speak the names of people, some of them I knew, others I did not know but they seemed familiar to me when he said them. As he said each it was as if their stories began to unfold before my eyes, like scenes in a play. Yet another voice began to speak of wonderful things, prophecies and the fulfillment of prophecies.

I need to write this down! I thought. But when I looked down at the empty pew beside me, I had no pencil or pen, nothing to write with or on. I looked back up to the stage and it was as if one of the voices said, "This is mine to speak, not yours." I settled back to listen, then, content that what God would desire to make known, He would make known.

The sermon continued, a medley of what seemed nearly 15 voices, all telling different stories, with one master-story-teller seeming to tie them all together so that one could listen to them all at once and understand perfectly, seeing connections and patterns like seeing a tapestry take shape before one's very eyes. Even so, my mind began to boggle at some point. The wonder of each new phrase and meaning seemed to usurp the last so that it was difficult to hold it all in my awareness. It felt like holding on to sand - it was full and warm and overflowing and the more I tried to hold onto it the more it slipped through my fingers and poured into time. Some, however, stayed with me, like the desire of that first voice, reminiscent of Jesus' cry as he looked out over Jerusalem:

"...how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings..." Matt 23:36-38

"It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners." Mark 2:16-18

And then all the voices came together in one final chorus:

"The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to preach good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to release the oppressed,
to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor."

The hair was standing up on the back of my neck. Chills moved up and down my spine. But I felt surprisingly peaceful and content, yet motivated. I wanted to walk from that place and proclaim the good news.

Because God is here.

I also left that place with a very distinct impression. I was put in mind of Daniel as he was taken into the king's palace and prepared for service. He and his friends readied themselves with a very specific kind of diet of vegetables. Strangely enough, I felt the need to do the same.

Yesterday at church the pastor mentioned in an off-hand sort of way that God wanted to work the miraculous in our lives. He then went on to talk about all the prophets who had been sent before the coming of Christ. It reminded me of the voice of God's longing in chapel. It seemed almost as if God has been wanting to do something very specific for a long time now, something miraculous even if, like the coming of the Messiah, it isn't what we are expecting. He has been whispering it, calling people to participate in it with him, but where are the prophets? Where are those just crazy enough to believe Him and proclaim the year of His favor?

I found myself at the altar that morning and the woman who prayed for me claimed my voice for the kingdom of God. That night I found myself in prayer with a friend who claimed my body for the purposes of God. Interestingly enough, both of those very things had once been claimed by another. Those who know me know the story I like to tell about how I pretty much stopped talking as a kid - and didn't start again until I was about 25-years-old. (I like to tell the story to explain why I seem to have so much talking to make up for.) And those who know me also know the story of a suicide attempt that left me in a coma for 36 hours. Once upon a time, Death had claimed me. God has taken me back like the land that was returned to its rightful owners during the year of jubilee.

As a final note, I've mentioned changing my diet to largely vegetables, very apologetically, I might add, thinking people would find me odd. But it seems that every time I have mentioned it I have gotten fairly similar responses...

"I have been feeling the same way, thinking the same thing..."

Um. Excuse me? It's one thing to say to your friend, "I've been feeling like I should love my neighbor" and they respond, "me, too." It's quite another thing to say, "God's been telling me to eat vegetables," and have others say, "yeah, me too!" But three other people are going to eat vegetarian for a time, one more is considering it, and still another complete stranger has already started, she said, because God told her to do it while awaiting Pentecost.

I am almost afraid to speak lest my words take root and bloom in the very air around me and I have to come up with some way to explain the hanging garden to the disconcerted passerby. That is how fertile the time and how ripe the work of the Spirit.

Winds of pentecost flow
spread the perfume of your embrace
stir the tongues of flame to spark and grow
to feast upon your grace

Fire of pentecost rise
find the tender of our hearts
ignite the power of the Spirit
for freedom to impart

Tide of pentecost flood
the thirsty land cries out
bring with you the silt and sow
the seed that blooms in drought

Prepare, o child of God
your hunger He will sate
His promises are come
so for pentecost we wait

Monday, April 13, 2009

Jesus the MAN

Saturday, March 28th, 2009

An excerpt from a letter to those who made my trip to Israel possible...

...I wanted to take a moment to write and share with you just a little bit of the impact your gift has had on me. In the midst of what must be an unbelievably difficult time for you, you sought to be a blessing to another, and in so doing, you shared something with me that I would never have had the opportunity to experience otherwise.

Because of your generosity, I walked the shores of the Sea of Galilee where Jesus called his disciples, where he spent many a day preaching or fishing or talking with friends, where he built one last fire and cooked breakfast after his death and resurrection.

Fish.

The Word made flesh and raised from the dead stood and cooked fish on this beach! I could practically smell the smoke and see the flames from my vantage point on the rocks looking out over the waves. The same wind that pulled at their robes tousled my hair as I pondered the beauty of that place...

Here, Jesus began to be real to me in a completely different way than he had been before. No longer a Sunday-School-story or even a distant-Savior-who-lived-in-some-other-time-and-in-some-other-place-far-removed, he appeared right before my eyes as Jesus the Man. He built campfires the way my mom used to when, growing up, we camped at the lake in the summer. He pulled his cloak close around him against the wind even as it tangled his hair. He sat in an intimate conversation with Peter right after the unbelievable ordeal he had been through, asking him, "Do you love me?"

And what an ordeal he went through - that is an understatement! Only a few days after walking that shore and 'meeting' the Jesus who lived and breathed and waded in the sea (as well as walked on it!) enjoying the sun, we visited the dungeons and the pit where they would have kept him as he awaited his trial before the Sanhedrin. We went down in and I witnessed just a fraction of the darkness he would have experienced. They described for us what it would have been like, how the prisoners would have been standing in stale, contaminated water - Jesus with many others, all unbathed and pressed in together, the only source of light and air a tiny opening in the roof over-head. We all stood in the bowels of that prison, all 55 of us, and read Psalm 88.

O LORD, the God who saves me,
day and night I cry out before you.

May my prayer come before you;
turn your ear to my cry.

For my soul is full of trouble
and my life draws near the grave.

I am counted among those who go down to the pit;
I am like a man without strength.

I am set apart with the dead,
like the slain who lie in the grave,
whom you remember no more,
who are cut off from your care.

You have put me in the lowest pit,
in the darkest depths.

Your wrath lies heavily upon me;
you have overwhelmed me with all your waves.
Selah

You have taken from me my closest friends
and have made me repulsive to them.
I am confined and cannot escape;

my eyes are dim with grief.
I call to you, O LORD, every day;
I spread out my hands to you.

Do you show your wonders to the dead?
Do those who are dead rise up and praise you?

Selah

Is your love declared in the grave,
your faithfulness in Destruction?

Are your wonders known in the place of darkness,
or your righteous deeds in the land of oblivion?

But I cry to you for help, O LORD;
in the morning my prayer comes before you.

Why, O LORD, do you reject me
and hide your face from me?

From my youth I have been afflicted and close to death;
I have suffered your terrors and am in despair.

Your wrath has swept over me;
your terrors have destroyed me.

All day long they surround me like a flood;
they have completely engulfed me.

You have taken my companions and loved ones from me;
the darkness is my closest friend.

Standing in that pit I was well aware of the dark times I have known in my own short life. How many times have I read the Psalms, their words giving expression the the cries of my own heart? And even as I remembered those times, I remembered how God was with me in them. That day in Jerusalem in the bowels of the earth, it was almost as if Jesus was opening up his heart and allowing me into his dark place with him, too. Hearing his agony as expressed through the psalmist made it all the more poignant, all the more vivid and human. Christ shared his suffering with me.

We ended that day at the memorial museum documenting the tragedies and horrors of the holocaust. The atrocities visited on Jesus' people, God's chosen ones, painted a picture of the atrocities inflicted upon Christ when he was tortured and crucified. They shared in Christ's suffering as well, in ways that I cannot even conceptualize - nor would I if I could. It was a somber day, but one that I will never forget.

It completely reframes the call that God has placed on my life to minister to his people, to take up my cross and follow him. Many of those who made this pilgrimage remarked that one does not have to go to the Holy Land in order to meet Jesus. But in a way, I met a Jesus there that I had not yet known. It was as if a long-time friend decided to open up and let me in a little, to share his burdens with me, to share his suffering, yes, in order to share his heart. It was like that moment when a special someone you've been getting to know reaches over and reaches out and really allows you to catch a glimpse into his world. You're blown away by the beauty and the magnitude and the richness of one person's life, and you're humbled to be a part of it even for a moment.

As followers, we are the blessed who believe in Christ without seeing; he meets us where we are. But because you chose to give, I found myself invited by Christ to come home with him, the way a fiance would bring his beloved home to meet his parents, his people, and see the place where he grew up. It is a special and intimate thing, a treasure. Thank you for that opportunity...

Thursday, April 2, 2009

The Rest of the Story

Tuesday, March 31st, 2009

I wish I could capture for you just what kind of miracles God has been orchestrating...

I wish I could do justice with my testimony to that which God is doing in our midst...

I got to go to Israel!

The things that had to happen, that had to come together in order to even put such a thing on the radar, let alone bring it to pass, it was nothing short of a parting of the Red Sea.

"We need to do this," I said to my best friend when I first heard about the trip. But we both knew we couldn't come up with that kind of money. And then school and internship demands discouraged me from giving it a second thought, and the dream disappeared on a horizon of life.

But if I were to do the story justice I would have to go further back.

Five years ago a woman approached me after a prayer service and told me that God prompted her to give me something - a packet of information about Israel, about visiting and participating in prayer for God's chosen people. It planted a seed in my heart and mind - not just the idea of visiting the Holy Land, but the idea of praying for God's chosen ones.

Interestingly, two years later I made a friend whose family lineage is Jewish. He started talking to me about God's people, about the Jewish laws and customs and culture. He allowed me to catch a glimpse of God through their eyes, even to the point that I got to hear the story of Isaac and Rebekah from a chubby Jewish lady in the old oral tradition. It was delightful!

And interestingly, that story is one of a promise fulfilled...

But more than the silver threads of circumstance, if I were to tell the story well, I would have to tell you my testimony, a testimony about a woman who was in bondage but who didn't even know it. I would have to describe for you a young girl with a broken, impoverished heart, enslaved to death much as the Israelites were enslaved by the Egyptians. She made her life in the darkness of isolation much as the Hebrews made lives for themselves while slaves. And just as God had compassion on their suffering, He heard the cries of her heart and He was not content to leave her there. No, He is never content to leave us where we are, even when we do not know any better, even when we do not know what to ask for or how to pray, even when we think we are okay.

God saw me in the pit. He saw me in bondage. He saw me in my solitude, entrapped in a codependent view of love and broken relationship. He saw me bound by legalism and ensnared by my own self-righteous judgement. He saw me swallowed up by the grave and he reached into my darkness and pulled me out.

It hurt, by the way. It hurt for these lungs, full of earth, to expel the death inside of them and breathe instead the stinging air. The mud scraped from my skin left it raw and smarting, naked in the emptiness of space. I longed for the safety and embrace of the grave. I felt exposed and afraid.


And then there was the part where I began to acclimate to new life and yet was acutely aware of the dirt that still clung to me, the mud that caked between my toes and fingers, that hid under my nails or still sucked at my feet, while I was not able to do a thing about it.


No, it is not a pleasant experience, being brought to life. It is not easy opening one's eyes to the daylight when all one has known is the night.

But then there is the moment when you first smell the fragrance of a rose and it intoxicates you. There is the moment when you first taste the water of a fresh, cold spring, when first you feel the kiss of the rain, when suddenly you hear the true majesty of thunder or see fireflies appear like magic sparks out of the air. There is a moment when you first know love. It descends upon you like a flash flood, filling you up until your knees buckle and you are sitting on the floor looking at the sky, tears streaming down your face in wonder. It steals your breath away until you can't feel your toes and you gasp because you've never known such painful bliss. There is a moment when you first discover something so precious and so beautiful and so small and fragile that you forget to breathe lest you disturb it.


There is a moment when you start to feel alive. That is what God had for me. That is why He would never be satisfied to leave me in bondage. That is why He was not satisfied to leave His people in Egypt. And so He brought them out.

If I were to really tell you the story, I would have to tell you about the vision He gave me when He brought me out of bondage, a vision for fellowship. I would also have to tell you about Africa, how one day I knew nothing about it and the next day I was going, a freak event that took me to meet a people - a people who would turn my heart to minister to my own, to invest in those around me.

Impoverished Africans filled with the Holy Spirit spun me around to look at the beauty and potential of my land and my people. If God had already dismantled my very identity and rebuilt it in His image, then it was in Africa that he dissolved my mythos and gave me a new imagination, a whole new framework for making sense of my story in the world.

He gave me a message for US, for THIS people, THIS land, THIS time:

"You have much to offer;
God's heart is to live through you, to bring life through you!
Open your eyes, oh great sleeper,
and see the work He has for you to finish,
see the love He has for you to give.
See the passion He has birthed in you
and the difference you can make!
The nations ache for you
- they need you -
not your money or your ideals but YOU..."

And then, in Israel, God revealed what the world needs us for.

But the story would not be complete if I did not tell you about the couple who was betrothed for 8 years but never married. It sounds random, I know, but this couple, they are a picture of the body of Christ, Post Modern American Christians, if you will. We have been a people betrothed but never married, promised but never filled. I met this couple last year. They were content in the life they had made for themselves. He even bragged at what he had accomplished by his own hand, this living death in relationship, this false purity, this word without power, this distorted sexuality and self-righteous condmenation of all that is actually good. He called death life and life death.

You see, he was in bondage and he didn't even know it.

And God whispered again, "I see you in the pit. In the darkness of the grave your heart cries to me and I am not content to leave you there." And God reached into the earth and breathed life into his lungs...

And Exodus began all over again.

And what was the significance of meeting this couple? It was as if God was saying to the young man, "Fulfill your promise!"

For that is the message God desires to send to the world:

"I will fulfill my promise; I am a God who fulfills His promises!"

And that is what ties it all together. You see, that is what the ministry in Tel Aviv is all about, the one I heard about five years ago from a stranger. They are praying 24 hours a day, crying out, "Fufill your promise to your people, O God!"

And that is what I learned about the entire Jewish culture - it is built around the consummation of a covenant.

And that is the word I received in Africa, spoken on behalf of those in bondage in this culture in the United States - in bondage to pornography, apathy, and distraction: God has demanded that these wicked taskmasters let His people go! He has a promise for us and He longs to fulfill it!

That is what I learned in reading about Abraham, that through us, through the blessing of His people, God will infiltrate and bless the world! I see now that by fufilling His promise to us, to the gentiles, He is painting a picture of the consummation of His promise to the Jews. In the same way that God blessed the nations that rejected him by blessing and fulfilling His promise to Abraham, now through the gentiles God will sneak back in and bless those who reject Him still, His chosen ones!

It is a beautiful irony. God will set us free and fulfill His promises to us as a proclamation, a prelude to the consummation of his promise to Israel.

And seeing this, how can I do anything but preach His Word? How can I not proclaim to those who are in bondage and may not even realize it, to those who have been called but have never received His Spirit:

"I have seen you in your oppression, in your pit.
I have seen your yoke of slavery, your darkness,
and heard the cries of your hearts,
and I am distressed," says your God.
"I am not content to leave you in your bondage.
Come out! Come to me!"

For "The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to preach good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to release the oppressed,
to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor."

Luke 4:18-19

Surely it is the year of the Lord's favor, when all who desire freedom shall be granted it and all who long for promise shall be given it.

When I came to Kansas City, God told me to collect stones along the way, just as He instructed the Israelites as they crossed the Jordan. When I arrived at KC First church, they invited me to take a stone from the altar in an act of committment to pursue something very specific - the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. When I left for Africa, that was exactly what I sought. What I found was the precursor: Fellowship, the call to be a part of a circle of apostles. Now we gather, a ragamuffin group, riff-raff, misfits, in His name.

I don't pretend to understand it, but God is finishing what He started. The prayers of the here-and-now apostles sent me to Israel and I did not know what to expect. But I have found what I have been looking for. The Holy Spirit moved in a way I cannot fathom and I've come back hearing things I've never heard before, seeing things that were only hinted at before.

Even with all of these words, still I would not have told you enough to truly tell you the story. And so I will close with this strange string of events:

The couple that has been together for 8 years but has never married - I sought to bless them but they did not understand. We had a heart-breaking falling out and it has weighed heavy on my spirit. But it was actually in this falling out that God spoke a call over me to be a pastor.

As a random side-effect of embracing that call, my entire life has been rearranged, changing my internship requirements so that suddenly, I found my calendar clear....

Then, because of a random work email, someone invited me to Chipotle. And then because of that invitation, I ended up in a conversation with two friends about Israel. The first friend felt prompted to pray,though she didn't let on. The second friend? She happened to be the one in charge of the trip...

What I didn't know was that, while this conversation was going on, two of God's people were engaged in a life-threatening fight with cancer, a fight that would ground them, literally, and keep them from going on this self-same trip to Israel. And, in spite of their difficult circumstances, they felt prompted to donate their tickets ... two tickets ... to two students. So they called the trip coordinator...

my friend...

...and my friend called me.

And because I was given an amazing gift, a blessing, I finally got to bless that couple ... the one that still isn't married. I got to bless her in spite of him, in spite of past hurts and disappointments. I got to bless them the way God wants to bless us, His people, the way God wants to bless Israel. It all points back to God.

Last night, she asked me why I had chosen her to go on this once-in-a-lifetime trip. I wish I could tell her...

Because God ordained it. Because He told me to. Because He is offering to you a fulfillment of His promise, if you will but accept it. Because you are to be a message of hope to others. Because you have been called.

But "To bless you," was all I answered. Maybe someday she will know the rest of the story.

And speaking of the rest of the story, while I was gone, two more friends who had also been estranged were reconciled. And the two people who battled with cancer? It turns out that because they stayed home, they were present for the last moments their father spent on this earth. They got to say goodbye.

And the cancer - it is gone.

That's what God does. That is what God is doing. Glory be to God.

And I haven't even described what I saw in Israel!