Tuesday, December 25, 2007

In those days Ceasar Agustus...

This year I have been thinking about Mary and what it must have been like to travel to Bethlehem and deliver Jesus in a stable. I have taken care of many ladies who are "with child" over the past few years. As I have heard their aches and pains and traveled through the 9 months with them, it has changed the way I read the story of Christ's birth.

At about 8 months, give or take a few weeks, most ladies hit the "tired of being pregnant stage". They are willing to do about anything to have the baby. I am not sure that includes riding a donkey. Mary must have been quite large and probably not comfortable in any position, much less traveling on a donkey.

The stable is not a place I would choose to deliver (granted, Mary didn't choose it either!). Besides the obvious reasons, there was no family, no doctor, no midwife- only a husband. Now, most of the husbands I have seen are about worthless for helping during a delivery. They are lucky if they can cut the umbilical cord without passing out! Did Joseph have any idea about what was happening? Also important to note is that there were no epidurals. NO epidurals?! That means Mary was in a LOT of pain and Joseph could do nothing. What did he do? How did he comfort his hurting wife?

Today we treat delivery as a sterile procedure (which, really it isn't). We use gowns and gloves. We have plastic drapes and when it is all over, the mess disappears in a second. I am sure Mary did her best to be clean, but it must have been a challenge. What did she do? Was the straw clean? I wonder how the smell affected her? How long was her labor?

And Jesus. He is the KING of the universe. He created the WORLD. And he came into this earth as a baby. Not a cute, clean, wrapped in swaddling clothes post card, but a naked, goo covered, wrinkly baby. Did he cry right away? Did he have a cone head? Who cut the cord?

I did a delivery last week and was reminded of the helplessness of the infant. God himself come to the world he created in the most dependant, fully human way that he could. He CHOSE to be born in a stable. He chose to be covered in goo, wrinkly and red...for me!

I read the Story different now. I see Mary's agony and feel Joseph's ache to help her. I hold my breath as Jesus is born, waiting for him to cry. And I am amazed. Again. That the love of God is so big that he would send his SON to earth to die. To die for MY sins that I might be considered clean and be in relationship with God. Thank you Jesus. Christmas is Good.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

I am...

"I am because we are. We are because I am. "

The Body of Christ is defined by its relationships. We have relationship with God, with other believers and with the world. At times these relationships are not all that they could be. As Americans, we are notoriously bad about relationship. We live in a culture of "I". Our motto is "I think therefore I am". We are defined only by ourselves, our accomplishments and our individual characteristics. We define ourselves without placing value on our community, family or history. We value self independence above relationship with others.

Over the past few weeks I have been challenged in this area by several different people, in several different venues. It seems that God is speaking. As We, the American Church, seek to live as Christ Followers and desire to impact our worlds, we must redefine ourselves. An African proverb defines self as the following. "I am because we are. We are because I am." In their world, it is impossible to define ones self outside of the context of community, family or history. A person is not an individual, rather a link in an intricately connected world. This perspective is missing from the Church. We are not individuals who happen to meet at the same time, at the same place every Sunday. We are, rather, a network of believers designed to live life together. We are designed to share joys and sorrows, to encourage and correct one another. I do not know how to live this life.

I have seen the loneliness that comes from individualism in my neighborhood. The desire to "belong", to be a part of a community drives young women to sleep around, searching for validation in a man. It leads bright, straight "A" students to gang life and the consequences of crime. It keeps women in abusive relationships, hoping against all evidence that "this time will be different".

We must learn to live in community. Our nation is crying out for hope. Our friends are crying out for a sense of belonging. We, the Body of Christ, must become that hope. We must become that belonging. It will not be easy. It involves giving up self and serving when no one notices. It means being available when it is not convenient. It means being a friend to those who society deems unworthy.

This is the example of Christ. He came from the glories of Heaven as a squalling infant to the indignity of a stable, a place fit only for animals. He lived among the marginalized and ate at the house of sinners. He paid the ultimate, painful, price for our selfish sins on the Cross. He died the death of a thief and conquered death that we might have Relationship with God. Yahweh. The King. Jehovah. This is the Ultimate Relationship.

Christmas is the season we celebrate the Birth of Christ and the beginning of what is the most amazing relationship in history. Unfortunately, it is a season that is commercialized and it is a season that caters to self gratification. My prayer this year is that we remember that relationship is more important than self. That no matter how independent we are, We Are because of our family, our community and our history. Because We Are, we have the ability to impact our communities and bring the healing relationship of Christ to a world that is so desperately searching. It is not a task that is possible alone. It is only by living in community, as the body of Christ, that He can do amazing things through us.

"But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus My Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ-the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith. I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow to attain to the resurrection from the dead.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Stay in Babylon

Again I find myself in Jeremiah. The Lord is Faithful to speak through his Word.

Jeremiah 42:1-43:7

The remnant of Judah was afraid. They had just been attacked and murdered. They were afraid of war, famine and persecution. They were going to escape Babylon and find sanctuary in Egypt. After they started their journey, they came to where Jeremiah was. They stopped to inquire of the Lord what he would have them do. They spoke to Jeremiah and said. "Whether it is favorable or unfavorable, we will obey the Lord our God, to whom we are sending you, so that it will go well with us, for we will obey the LORD our God." (42:6) 10 days later the Word came to Jeremiah.

"This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, to whom you sent me to present your petition , says: 'If you stay in this land, I will build you up and not tear you down; I will plant you and not uproot you, for I am grieved over the disaster I have inflicted on you. Do not be afraid of the king of Babylon, whom you now fear. Do not be afraid of him, declares the LORD, for I am with you and will save you and deliver you from his hands. I will show you compassion so that he will have compassion on you and restore you to your land.' "'However, if you say, 'we will not stay in this land,' and so disobey the LORD your God, and if you say, 'No we will go and live in Egypt, where we will not see war or hear the trumpet or be hungry for bread,' then hear the word of the LORD, O remnant of Judah. This is what the LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, says: 'If you are determined to go to Egypt and you do go to settle there, then the sword you fear will overtake you there and the famine you dread will follow you into Egypt, and there you will die. Indeed , all who are determined to go to Egypt to settle there will die by the sword, famine and plague; not one of them will survive or escape the disaster I will bring on them.'""

This is a powerful promise. The people have to choose between obedience and continuing in the plans they have made. They must choose between faith and what seems to be the most logical. They accuse Jeremiah of lying and continue to Egypt. It is easy to read this passage and judge them for choosing to follow the plans they have started, to choose logic over faith. Yet how often do we start a project then ask the Lord to bless it? How often do we weigh the options and choose what is most logical?

I am in Babylon. I try to find a way to Egypt, looking, planning, and dreaming of a greener pasture. Yet, the things I fear: loneliness, singleness and being too comfortable, I will not escape in Egypt. The Lord alone can satisfy me. He alone will provide for all of my needs. Oh Lord, forgive your daughter for seeking to leave Babylon. My heart is untrusting, KNOWING yet struggling to BELIEVE the promises are true. You have shown me your heart for the world and I long to go, yet I remain here. In Babylon. May I learn to trust your provision, your timing. My King, lead your daughter in the way that you would have me to go. I will stay in Babylon and seek your face. Hear the cries of my heart and be my provision. For you alone are God. Lead your stumbling daughter in the way you would have me to go, for I am your servant. I WILL STAY IN BABYLON.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

For I know the Plans I have for You...

“’For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the LORD, ‘ plans to prosper you and not to harm you,, plans to give you hop and a future. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you,’ declares the LORD, ‘and will bring you back to the place from which I carried you into exile. ‘”

This is a famous passage among Christians. It is often used at graduations and times of life change claiming that the LORD has Good in store for those who follow him. It is not a promise that should be used casually.

This passage is taken from a letter from Jeremiah the prophet in a time when the people of Judah and Israel were exiled in Babylon under King Nebuchadnezzar. In chapter 27 Jeremiah prophesized that it was the will of the LORD that Judah would serve Babylon. Nebuchadnezzar was in fact a servant of the LORD. This was a part of the Plan the LORD had for them. I can not imagine that the people who were in exile felt that exile was a part of prosperity from the LORD. They were a foreign people in a foreign, PAGAN land. They were the Chosen people of YAHWEH- how could HE allow this? 70 years in exile is a long time. Yet they were not merely to endure but to live life in the fullest. In Jeremiah 29: 4-7 the exiles were told “build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the LORD for it because if it prospers, you too will prosper."

This was a part of the promise given to those who seek the LORD with all their hearts. The “good” did not necessarily fit their definition. Yet, the LORD was faithful and the trials and difficulty of living in a foreign land were, very purposefully, a part of his plan for their life. When we claim this promise we often think of “good” as plenty of money, no problems, a good job etc. It is a “good” defined by our culture. We would be wise to see that his plan is often not ours, that his good may be defined differently than ours. We may absolutely trust that he loves us and has a plan for us, but at the same time, it may not be a comfortable good. Even more important to understand is that this is the promise given to those who sought the LORD with ALL their hearts. To those who did NOT turn their hearts fully to the LORD was a far more chilling promise.

Jeremiah 9 17-23, “yes, this is what the LORD Almighty says- ‘I will send the sword, famine and plague against them and I will make them like poor figs that are so bad they cannot be eaten. I will pursue them with the sword, famine and plague and make them abhorrent to all the kingdoms of the earth and an object of cursing and horror, of scorn and reproach, among all the nations where I drive them, for they have not listened to my words,’ declares the LORD, ‘ words that I sent to them again and again by my servants the prophets. And you exiles have not listened either,‘ declares the LORD. “

These are not the words of a God who believes all faiths are equal-there is ONE true God and He is a Jealous God. These are not the words of a God who turns a blind eye to sin- this is a Righteous, All Seeing God. This is not a God who punishes unjustly for Sin, but a Just God who hates sin yet at the same time has made a way for the redemption of those who seek him whole heartedly.

Do I believe that God has plans for his people? Absolutely! I believe with all my heart that God has good in store for those who seek him. Yet I am appalled at what we as the Church define as seeking him. We must listen to His word. We must turn from the World. I John 2:15-17. “Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For everything in the world-the cravings of sinful man, the lust of is eyes and the boasting of what he has and does-comes not from the Father but from the world. The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever.”

As I look at the Church through the eyes of Christ, I see very little difference between the Church and the World. We dress with the same immodesty, we live the same self-absorbed lives and we do not seek Christ whole heartedly. There is no distinction. There MUST be a distinction. May those who love the LORD repent, may we turn to Him and seek Him with all our hearts. May we be the means to call our Church, our City, our Nation to repentance.

Forgive our apathy oh my King, forgive our lack of faith. May we hear Your voice, do not be silent in this time of need. Holy Spirit, anoint your people that we may live a life that honors you. Move among your people in this City that we many know the blessing of your presence.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Where is the Church?

I am naive. I am entrenched in a Christian culture that has isolated me from the culture of my country. I have struggled to understand the promiscuity that I see in my clinic. 13 year old girls who are pregnant. 28 year old women who are grandmothers and raising the children of their children. I had an epiphany this last week. I had thought it was the younger generation reacting to fatherless homes, broken homes, the sexuality portrayed on TV. It is much deeper. It goes back generations. There is no morality. There is no shame associated with promiscuity, with sexually transmitted diseases. There is no shame in your children knowing your promiscuity. I understand why the choice to not be sexually active is not really a choice. It is not a choice that is validated by their role models, by parents. By parents!? The consequences of promiscuity is more than the physical diseases that bring people to my office. The emotional and spiritual consequences run far deeper and are not easily dismissed with a few pills and a shot. I must ask. Where is the Church? Where are those who will speak truth? Where are those who will speak love? Why is this not something that causes us to weep, to pray, to act? Are we so comfortable in our Sunday meetings and our American culture that we do not speak the truth? The role of the church is not to shame people, but to speak truth in love. Have we confused love with silence? How will they know they are sick when the symptoms of moral depravity are glorified by television, by our culture? How will they know that their longings will not be satisfied with what the World offers when the Church is indistinguishable from the World? When they do not see the Church? How will our culture change unless the Church weeps as Christ does? How will our culture change unless the Church gains a voice? How will our culture change unless the Church longs for Christ as a bride longs for her bridegroom? Forgive us for our silence. May my patients hear me speak words of truth, love and healing and not condemnation. May they see in me Jesus, Jesus that weeps for them, that longs to bring healing and restoration. Jesus who calls sin Sin. Jesus who made redemption possible.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Welcome to my Blog

Greetings Friend! I am not sure what this will be to be perfectly honest. There are so many things that I want to express. I don't know if it will be a journal, a record of a spiritual journey, simply random comments on my day or perhaps a travel log. I anticipate that it will be a combination of all of the above. I trust that you will enjoy reading what is on my heart and mind.