The Blood Cries Out

There is a well-known story in Numbers 13 and 14. The Israelites finally get to survey the land God had promised to their ancestors, but as they scout it out, they find it filled with scary, giant people. They’re afraid, and so even though God promised to deliver them into the land safely, they refuse to go in. Because of their disobedience and fear, God exiled them to wander in the wilderness for 40 years.

It’s a familiar Sunday school story, but few pay attention to the peculiar verses that follow it. After learning about the consequence of their choice, the Israelites change their minds and try to take the land anyway. The result is utter defeat and a battle with epic losses.

It is in this story a large number of Christian Americans find themselves right now. It’s easy to read this story and laugh at the Israelites. Fools! How could they disobey God so blatantly, and then rush into the very thing He warned them He would not protect them from?

But God makes it clear how He wants His people to live and rule in His world. And when humans distort God’s goodness and design in favor of living on their terms, the result is always removal of the safety and security of home. An exile into a dangerous place we no longer recognize, a place where we are vulnerable, exposed, and scared. It is a road that leads to certain death.

In the days that have followed the breach on the US Capitol, prayers and hymns flood my social media feeds. There are posts of outrage and disgust, pictures of continued protests, calls for the tyranny to end, for justice to be upheld, for hatred to stop, for blessing to be poured out, and peace restored. But America does not deserve these things. America does not deserve God’s blessing.

On Wednesday, I did not join the Christian leaders who called believers to pray for the safety of our congress, our police, our leaders, or protestors. And I’m not ashamed of that.

I will not pray for the safety of those who chose to violate the law and ransack our nation’s Capitol. I will not pray for the safety of congressmen and women who have spent the better part of a year arguing and fighting about their own agendas while hurting people suffer another day. I will not pray for the safety of police officers who have, as a whole, turned a blind eye towards the brutality and unwarranted force they have been accused of perpetuating.

I cannot ask God to bless America. I cannot pray that He will protect us from the evil we have welcomed into our backyard.

I will not ask God for healing during a pandemic while we sit around fueling our disease with junk food and chemicals, willingly destroying our immune systems. I will not pray for wisdom for our leaders while we passively allow them to continue in their lying and conniving behavior, all as we herald the praises of whatever corrupt regime is on the way out or in. I will not pray for peace when violence is the method we employ to gain it. I will not ask God for justice in our elections when our black and brown brothers and sisters receive none in our streets. We cannot continue to bash in the skulls of unborn infants or deport the exhausted and starving immigrant at our border, sacrificing human lives to the god of our own convenience, and expect that God will strike down the evil in our temples of democracy. I cannot join fellow Christians in praying for others to see the truth when our own eyes are glued to our news feeds instead of His word. I cannot ask God to heal our land when our land is drunk on the blood of the innocent.

Whether we admit it or not, in the past year Americans have experienced oppression on their own soil like never before. We have cut off people’s livelihoods and locked down their backyards. We have abandoned people to die, needlessly and alone. Terror has erupted across our cities, our minority neighbors left even more victimized and villanized in its wake. We’ve cultivated new (and perpetuated old) social norms that defy common sense. In deep sadness, we cry out “this is not the America we know,” but it is the America we made. The reality is that we have long nurtured a way of live that robs people of dignity, and now we face the consequences of our dehumanizing actions.

To my praying and patriotic friends, we must recognize that the blood that flows down the Capitol steps is the same blood that flows down Main St. And it is all over our hands. But now we want God to come through for us. Now we want His justice. Now we want His blessings and His promises.

And so we find ourselves in Numbers 14, exiled in a wilderness of our own making. Life in a hostile environment, the bodies piling up around us, souls we doomed ourselves.

The hope, for me and many others, is Jesus. Actively, Jesus invites us to participate in renewal, unity, and goodness on His terms. We may have inherited the consequences of our grandparents failures. And we will undoubtedly pass on the outcome of our present horrors to our children. But every generation is given a chance. An opportunity to partner with God, to do things the way of His son. He won’t bail us out of our misery, and He won’t bless our evil. But He will offer us a chance to change. To seek real peace, to transform our minds, to live in goodness by the power of His Spirit in a world that is killing itself. It is to Him we owe our allegiance.

I cannot join in the petition to ask God for His protection, His blessing, or His justice for this nation. No. The blood of the innocent cries out louder than I, and I am drenched in it.

I can only beg God for His mercy, His forgiveness. I can only mourn this Babylon we’ve built with our own hands. I can only sit with a smile on my face, reading a choo-choo book to my toddler, praying for the strength and wisdom to raise children who can image Jesus in this ever-distorted world. I can only ask “How long, oh Lord?” How long until the City of God comes to transform the cities of men?

The Gaping Hole in the American Church: Part 1

At the conclusion of a bible study group I recently attended, someone sought me out saying “After listening to you today, I thought for sure you’re a pastor’s kid!” When I told her I wasn’t, she immediately asked if I was a pastor’s wife. At that point I laughed and explained I’m a normal person who just studies a lot. She was blown away and told me she didn’t realize an average person could know that much about the Bible. It was a compliment I treasure, but it left me uneasy. A person’s family background shouldn’t hold them back from becoming a serious student of anything, especially the Bible.

A week later, I received different feedback. I had a brief interaction with someone I barely know who pointed out the ways my observations from a passage in the New Testament fell short, alluding to how unqualified I was to speak on the topic. I was appreciative of the feedback, but left disappointed at the lie chewing holes in the fabric of the American church today.

It’s not the first time I’ve heard comments like either of these, and while they no longer surprise me, they do sadden me. Because the first question we ask a  person who shares from the Scriptures shouldn’t be what their qualifications are or what church their dad preaches at.

Well intended or not, these kinds of comments show the narrow-minded, churchy way of thinking Christians are notorious for: that the only people who are gifted enough, qualified enough, or knowledgable enough are the special people who’ve been to seminary. And so if you haven’t been to seminary, then you must not know enough to run a bible study. Or teach a class. Or lead a ministry. Or counsel the pastor.

The concept of lay leadership is virtually absent from the American church. It is so much more than being on the greeting team or in the worship band. It’s beyond a friendly smile in kid’s ministry, passing the communion tray, or being on a planning committee for next season’s retreat. To be clear, all of those jobs are important. Volunteers are the backbone of the organized church. You simply cannot run a modern church service without them, no matter how many people show up on Sunday. Volunteerism is vital, and reveals much about a church’s spiritual health and attitude toward service.

But we must not confuse volunteerism with leadership.

Unfortunately, lay-person involvement rarely progresses beyond the typical volunteer positions that come with the in-and-out tasks of operating a church facility. We in the church are not quick to grow new believers to maturity and delegate the responsibility of multiplication to them. That might be too hard. Instead we leave them in their somewhat menial positions, eager to hire out the big responsibilities of shepherding the flock to the professionals. Show me a church where the everyday attenders are also mature believers, teaching on a regular basis. Or even more, a pastor who is actually training unpaid leaders to preach, counsel, or oversee and then expecting them to do so. In 25+ years of following Jesus I’ve almost never seen church where this is the norm.

And yet it’s what Jesus asks. He expects us all to be pastors of our families, counselors in our communities, teachers to those who look up to us, and servants to anyone in need.

But for so many of us, it’s easier to farm that out. More often than not we expect our paid church staff to do those things while also providing opportunities for us to pitch in when it works for our schedules. Or, on the other end, we actually desire to be leaders but feel inadequate or ill-equipped, too inexperienced and lacking confidence to step up even in small ways.

And perhaps the worst evil of it all is that our church leaders (both paid and unpaid) allow us to live this way. They rarely hold believers accountable, calling us out in our complacency, mostly because we will run them out if they do! A passage in Judges 17 takes a sobering look at what happens when God’s people hire their spiritual leaders, and it’s a difficult story to swallow in light of the mass amount of pastoral burn-out, turnover, depression, and even suicide that exists within the American church. These people have dedicated years of their lives and thousands of dollars to earn them a job where their brothers and sisters abuse their abilities.

We have paid our leaders to be mature for us, holding a standard and putting on a show we approve of. But in the process, the body of Jesus is languishing in spiritual weakness, vulnerable to deception and attack. Is it any wonder we often look no different than the world crumbling around us?

But the Good News is Jesus. He has equipped His followers with gifts from the Spirit, who is eager to work in humble hearts and ready to move in the body. We all have gifts valuable and precious—young, old, male, female, educated, uneducated, working class, upper class, black, white, tie-die….none of it matters! All of Jesus’ followers are critical parts of His kingdom. But we cannot all be babies. We cannot all sit around and hire people with degrees and training and time to do the work we should be doing ourselves.

Friends, we do not need more believers showing up to small group having not read the Scripture passage for that week. We have enough of those. We do not need more self-righteous critique of our leaders or more self-loathing among our prayer circles. We do not need more qualified people leading the unqualified.

We need a priesthood of devoted men and women who are faithfully doing the work daily. Our Lord has called us to bear His name, to image Him in everything we do, and to help our brothers and sisters do the same. This goes beyond just being nice and moral and trying to volunteer at church once a month. It’s a practice that involves complete transformation of our minds and lifestyles. And it takes time.

We need to stop going to church and start being the church. We need to take the burden off our wonderful paid pastors and staff, and take up the responsibility for our own growth, becoming people who meditate on the Word day and night and offer ourselves as servant-leaders in kingdom of the God we claim to love.

Someday when my daughter is older, I hope she is never asked a question about her qualifications or her upbringing, as if the only people who can do anything impactful in the church must be well-educated or pastor’s kids. I hope she is looked upon as a wise leader worth following because she faithfully follows Jesus. I pray that by the time my sons are grown men they can open their Bibles anywhere and teach anyone without being professional pastors—I pray that that’s the norm within the church.

I pray by the time my children are grown that pastors have stopped measuring their success by how many people come back each Sunday, and more by how many people leave prepared and willing to go multiply themselves, wherever and however that looks. And in the mean time, I pray I can somehow inspire, encourage, and equip God’s people to love their God, love their neighbor, and seek God’s wisdom for themselves, no matter what their life experience has told them so far.

The gifts of our King surpass the greatest treasures of this world. And He’s bestowed them on us all. May we humbly ask Him to teach us how to use them and then actually go do the work.

The Glory of Summer

It’s mid-August and the back-to-school rush has begun. Perhaps it’s the relaxed routine is driving parents mad. Or maybe it’s that most American families have been without the structure of school since late March. But here in my home, we’re hanging onto summer. It’s just been so very good.

We swam, we hiked, we played ball. We’ve had nights spent outside too late, running with friends in the backyard. There have been popsicles and ice cream, BBQ’s and picnics. Many sweaty, red faces and dirty feet in the bathtub at the day’s end.

Every day I watch them ride ahead of me on their bikes. All three have grown stronger, taller, faster. Asher has said the phrase “Wait for me, guys!” more than anything else this summer. And then been out of breath as he speeds to keep up with the big kids, his dark tan deepening with every minute under the gorgeous golden rays.

Ayla’s hair has bleached into soft, caramel locks. Her fairy garden–now totally overgrown with weeds–sits tucked in the flowers, holding onto her many magical wishes. If I stand there long enough, I can still hear the echo of her happy melodies she’s sung there all summer, squatted down in the foliage. I close my eyes tight, and try to etch her precious heart in my memory forever.

And as the blue sky stretches above us, Crew has expanded our summer with his endless ideas. Every day his thoughts bubble over, exploding from his brain like a rocket and moving onto the next thing just as quickly. He is bright and cheerful and so incredibly chatty.  What would I do without him?

Every day we take a walk, Huck content to watch the world from the stroller. Chubby little legs peeking out at the bottom, small little voice babbling away to himself. We’ve laughed with friends, and dug in the sand, and cooled off in the lake. Our garden has been an oasis of delight, providing both food for our table and work for our hands.

And of course there’s the share of scraped knees, bee stings, and endless games of tag. There have been water gun fights, jumping rope, and lots of swinging. Our home has hosted birthday parties and meals with friends. And as I stare out the window now, it’s four beautiful faces dripping with watermelon juice in the shade. Blue sky above. Green earth below. Sunshine all around. It’s breathtaking, all the goodness.

Soon the air will get crisp and the sun will descend faster. We’ll crack open the books and make chili and wait for that enchanting first snowfall to come. But right now, we’re still soaking up summer. We’re still taking that moment to stop and feel the cool breeze blow through our sweaty hair. We’re playing at the park during those golden hours after dinner. We’re sitting at the beach, letting the waves tickle our toes. We’re breathing in the air during thunderstorms and getting completely soaked washing muddy garden produce. And we’re turning on a mid-day movie when we are too hot and tired to do anything else.

School will be there when we are ready. The routine, the agendas, the politics, people’s opinions, the endless openings and closing and latest restrictions, and the headaches of life right now–they’re all still there, waiting for us.

It’s true that this summer the entire world went crazy. But I guess I’ve been too crazy about my world to notice much.

Right now, they are nine, six, three, and one. And they are the glory of summer.

 

The Mountains Among Us

The day we left the mountains behind us broke his heart a little. We drove away with all our possessions crammed in a moving truck and said goodbye to those majestic peaks. It was all he could do not to sob like a baby heading up the canyon and away from our home as we knew it.

Mountains are his thing. Growing up in the flatlands of Kansas as a kid, he found himself in the mountains when he left home as a young man. He built trails, he led trips, he hiked up to the places where the oxygen is thin and makes your lungs burn with every step. He even donned a backpack and trekked for weeks in a place so remote it literally hadn’t been mapped. There aren’t many places left like that. Fresh ground never trod by man’s footprint. Places where a man can conquer the world simply by stepping forward into it. 

The mountains called to him, and he went out into them. Exploring and finding himself, his vocation. He would return from his explorations bent on etching out a living from the crags and cracks that loomed high above his head. He learned that a livelihood could be made from photographing an adrenaline rush. That entire budgets existed to show off the grandeur of the streams that flowed from the hallowed peaks down to the mighty oceans. The mountains–they became his destiny. They were his food. They were his religion. They marked his identity and gave him a purpose to pursue something greater out there in the Wild. 

The mountains shaped my husband and called out something within him that nothing else ever will. And he misses them, I know. 

We left the mountains behind for the rugged shores of a great big lake. It’s beautiful here. And cold. No fast-paced city at the foot of a lofty range. The country sky is our night scene now. There’s no real skiing or climbing. We have state parks and scenic views. The gardens are breathtaking and the winters have an untamed raw beauty all their own. Summer is heaven at the lake. Trees tower overhead, bluffs poking out into the rippled waters below. The people are honest and kind. And our family is here too, so he’s learned to morph his business into something that survives the rocky shores and lush forests of our new home.

Some would say he went soft. Gave up a life of freedom and adventure for the chains of a family. He collected a wife who doesn’t earn an income and a lawn that needs to be mowed. He’s got four kids, with appetites and needs and little legs that can’t go fast. Can’t go far. Certainly can’t climb up to those high places where he once stood surveying his life, the world literally at his feet.

And he’s ok with that.

You see, out there in the wilderness my husband discovered what so many men have missed on their coming-of-age treks through the woods. As a young man he may have found himself in the mountains, but he did not lose himself there. While he may have left behind a scenery so special to him, he took along the lessons of that landscape. 

Now he looks out on a different vista, fraught with all kinds of new challenges to tackle and majesties to behold. In one direction the view sweeps off into the future, four little peaks, all uncharted. All untamed. Each day the sun rises on these glimmering little mountains, promising adventure, treachery, and hope for the years yet to come. And though the journey is slow and the slog is long, he knows the thrill of making it to the summit. That’s what keeps him going on this path of fatherhood. The climb he is on now is one that will make him a real man, one who can lead generations onward into the unknown, laying down his own rights for the benefit of those who come after him. These four peaks are the toughest terrain he has ever tackled and the most rewarding footprints he’s left behind.

 

And at their center stands a mother mountain, the one landscape he must learn to navigate so well, he could do so with his eyes closed. It will take a lifetime to map her out. To learn her highs and lows, her vulnerable spots, her rocky slopes, her glowing meadows where her heartbeat can be felt underfoot. The mountains may have called him out, but she calls him home.

They say there aren’t many uncharted, wild places left in the world where a man can really go searching and find himself. But my husband would disagree. For him the most life-changing mountains are not the ones he left behind, but ones living, breathing, and rising up in his midst. He would say it’s  the mountains among us that make us who we are.

And as I watch him traverse his way through life, really it is him who has risen up, becoming a mountain himself. A man of enduring resolve, an icon on the frontier that is our family, and a majestic pointer to the One who’s glory he reflects. 

A Mother’s Prayer

The Lord bless you, and keep you,

The Lord make His face shine upon you, and be gracious to you.

The Lord turn His face toward you, and give you peace. Num. 6:24-26

My His blessings rest upon you and a thousand generations, for your family, and your children, and their children, and their children. Generation after generation.

When you wake up, when you lie down, when you go out or come home, when you cry in pain or laugh in delight, know that He is with you. Always with you.

May His presence go before you, behind you, and beside you, surrounding you forever, and filling you deep within. He is for you, like I am for you.

May He show you His face, and turn your ears to His voice. May you know Him, may you seek Him, may you find Him, and may you love Him.

In your triumphs and your failures, in your weakness and your victories, in your wandering and your resting, He is working goodness for you.

Dwell in His lovingkindness, search out His wisdom, walk empowered by His breath, rest in His promise.

Yahweh, bless them. And keep them. And make your face shine upon them, and be gracious to them. Please turn your face toward them, and give them peace. Let your favor rest upon their shoulders, generation after generation, to their families, and their children, and their children, and their children. May the legacy of the gift and inheritance of renewal be to them a promise that endures and a blessing that multiplies. Give them a home and a life in the realm of your glory, a house along that mighty river of life, and a spirit made whole.

 

 

 

*Portions of this prayer were inspired by Kari Jobe’s song, “The Blessing.” Highly recommend!