Finding my Hinds Feet – The Shore of Decision

I am sitting at a writing desk right now in a little closet office adjoining the guest room I am occupying for nearly two weeks. I’ve been here for three nights already and it’s only just starting to feel real. So I am here to tell the story of how I got here. Because our God is too faithful not to document His goodness.

Writing Nook

Just over six weeks ago I was riding down I-10 with my sister at midnight, listening to the latest album from Jonathan David and Melissa Helser. At the beginning of “Cageless Birds” Melissa recites a poem that grabbed my heart and would not let go.

Standing on the shore of decision

looking into the face of adventure

desire to abandon all I know

what pushes me is rooted somewhere between misunderstanding and knowing

knowing that what I want to understand is not within my reach

so I ponder my escape

not knowing what lies ahead

adventure in theory is full of excitement and bleeds with passion for life

but adventure in reality is full of breathless moments

silent nights, and wounds that leave scars of memory on a heart

can I go the distance?

can I give all my mind to get what the messenger is saying?

can I surrender my knowing?

will I survive the humility of ignorance to obtain a treasure that earthly gold cannot buy?

will I ask the question honestly

even if the answer convicts my soul and sends me to the land of repentance?

All of these thoughts flood my mind…

as I stand on the shore of choosing

in the distance of my wondering I see with clear eyes a flock of wild, beautiful birds

swooping in my direction

as if they see me and are coming for me

how strange it is that their eyes are full of clarity…

Song birds wake up

you’re not in your cage anymore

bound by your shame anymore

the walls that held you in prison

the gate is flung wide open

start singing, start singing, start singing, start singing

cageless birds

I’ve felt for several months like I am in a state of transition, but I wasn’t sure of the exact direction I was to go. All the doors I pushed on seemed firmly shut. I wasn’t sure what to do next, but the restlessness in me was relentless. That night on I-10 a moment of clarity came swiftly. I decided to try to apply for the Helser’s 18 Inch Journey program even though they’d stopped accepting applications months before. My age will disqualify me to apply next year and I at least had to ask if there was any shadow of possibility that would allow me to attend.

Unfortunately, the answer was no, the 18 Inch Journey was not accepting applications. But that moment of clarity was not fruitless. Asking the question was a proving ground, a test to determine if I would seriously consider leaving behind my comfortable life for a period of time before stepping into the next stage of my life, site unseen. There were other options.

I’d read about L’Abri several years ago from a blogger who attended. Studying theology in the shadow of the Swiss Alps seemed too far fetched a dream for anyone without a trust fund. But I visited the site again and after a few quick calculations realized that spending a couple of months there wasn’t as far out of my reach as I assumed. It was comparable to what I was prepared to spend with the 18 Inch Journey. So, after just a week of thinking about it and talking it out with my sister, I sent off an inquiry to L’Abri, just to see if they had a spot available for the dates I was considering. I didn’t want to dream or plan any further until I knew if it was possible. I didn’t want to want it too much.

And this is where the story gets more interesting. To be continued

Advertisements

Going Bare: Is it Good?

By Lin Kristensen from New Jersey, USA (Timeless Books) [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
 I’m not a theologian. I’ve not been trained in exegesis or hermeneutics. Typically, when I do a word study it is compact, focused on one use of one word and drawing rich meaning from that place. I am not the person to talk to if you want an exhaustive analysis. Having said that, I’ve now done an extensive study on the word “naked,” and have concentrated specifically on where and how the word is used in the Old Testament.
 
I found that there is more than one word for “naked” in the Hebrew and not all of them mean the same thing. Some are nouns, some are adjectives, but some are verbs, action words that are used to describe the act of uncovering someone. ‘Arah and ‘Uwr are used in instances of taking away someone’s protection, laying them bare, forcing them to be vulnerable, and even violating them. Generally when those active forms of the word are used they are not associated with anything positive. Nakedness defined in this way couldn’t possibly have been a good thing.
 

Even with all the confidence I’ve gained in my body this year, I would still feel violated if you came up to me after a shower and stole away my towel. I would attempt to cover myself. Involuntary nakedness is one of the most unpleasant forms of exposure. It’s something none of us desire. And we should not seek to forcefully expose anyone in our lives. Confrontations such as that are full of shame, reproach, and many more unpleasant things. You will not find in me an advocate for this form of the word.

 
Unfortunately, the negative verb for nakedness is the only filter through which many Americans have been taught to view their bodies. But what does God think of our bodies? That’s really the question I want the answer to here.  I want to filter my view of myself and others through Him – not through my perceptions, culture, shame, or upbringing. So, in order to better understand what God thinks of nakedness, I isolated the places where the word “naked” is used as an adjective, to describe someone’s state of dress (or lack thereof). There are two words for this, and they are the ones most commonly used in the Old Testament: ‘arowm and ‘eyrom. There is nothing particularly revelatory in the definitions of their definition. They simply mean “naked” or “bare.” Very straightforward.

Out of all the places where these words are used I can’t find an instance where God condemns nakedness. If anything, He remains neutral when it is mentioned. Some of His people certainly condemn it. They use it to shame and punish one another. But it seems to me that the only place God comments on our bodies as He made them is in the Genesis account, where He declared us “good” in His image. It was under that benediction that Adam and Eve knew no shame. As far as I can tell, His declaration of our bodies as “good” did not change when the knowledge of good and evil entered humanity. God clothed us for protection in the wilderness when He banished us from the garden of paradise. And the last time I checked “Thou shall not see nakedness” didn’t make the 10 commandments. I’m not inclined to put words in His mouth that simply are not there.

God’s view of His created image in the earth did not change when humanity became sinful. We are the ones that changed. We are the ones that hid our nakedness. We are the ones that allowed shame to create barriers between ourselves and God. How many times will the same scene from Eden be re-enacted? 

“Rebekah, where are you?” 

“I heard you, but I am afraid, because I am naked. So I hid myself.”

“Who told you that you are naked?”  

What a heart piercing question. He knows the answer, but He asks anyway.  And still He does not condemn us for our nakedness. Adam and Eve were condemned for their disobedience, and in a heartbreaking turn of events removed from His constant nearness and fellowship. But God created us for Himself, for His pleasure, and that didn’t change when sin came into the picture. Rather, it set in motion the plan He had before He even spoke the light into existence – His plan of beautiful redemption. 

Ever since the flaming swords were ignited, God has been diligently working to bring us back into meaningful covenant with Himself. All throughout the old and new testaments we recognize the call He makes in the cool of the evening.

“Draw near to me. Come out of hiding. Let me cleanse you. Let go of your clothing. Be naked. Let me clothe you with righteousness.”  

I want to respond to His call. Not from my hiding place, but out in the open. I want to lay my fear aside and stand before Him just as Eve did, but with Jesus, the Last Adam by my side. Because of His sacrifice on the cross, I know I can approach Him with confidence, naked and completely vulnerable.

Hieronymus Bosch – The Garden of Earthly Delights – The Earthly Paradise (Garden of Eden) Public Domain

May I speak frankly? I’m no longer talking about nakedness in a strictly metaphorical sense. In the last 8 months my mind has been renewed and my view of the body has been transformed by application of the truth that God calls the body “good.” I have learned experientially that there need not be anything sexual about the sight of the unclothed human form. I’ve come to appreciate the body for the masterpiece of art that it is, with all of its graceful curves and lines. It still takes my breath away.

I realize this is controversial. The easy thing for me to do would be to go on letting you think that I’ve only applied my word for the year in intangible ways. But that isn’t the truth. I dared to examine conventional views of nakedness, both those taught by the church and the society of white privilege I grew up in. When I removed the lie that western culture has taught me about nakedness and replaced it with God’s declaration of goodness, I was amazed at what happened in my heart.
  
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” – Matthew 5:8
 

He purified my heart, and I realized that the spirit is not all that matters. The body is redeemed as well.  Suddenly I was able to recognize His image when I saw another person, no matter what their state of dress. I let go of the perpetual filter of judgment over what someone is (or is not) wearing. It’s become so much easier to see the beauty in them and love them. 

Surprising isn’t it? Rather than sending me into dangerous shadows of shame and sin, the word “naked” has set me on a path of greater purity, wholeness and redemption. I don’t speak theoretically; I’ve tested this, at first thinking it was too good, too easy to be true. I’ve seen more nakedness this year than ever before in my life, completely free from the conditioned response of lust, shame, comparison and judgment. “Naked” is changing me in ways I never could have anticipated. 

But if I’m being honest, I don’t want to be alone in this. And quite frankly, the truths that I’m learning are too good not to share. I have found so much healing; so much has been redeemed. I dared to lay aside the comfortable cultural view of our bodies to see through His eyes. So I want to dare you to do the same.  Examine your own heart and mind to find out why you believe what you believe about the human body. Experiment with what you learn. Test it. I’m willing to bet that you’ll be surprised.

Feel free to ask any questions or raise objections. I’d love to talk about this with you.

Read the rest of the “Going Bare” series here

In which I no longer need Him.

I’ve not been where I felt I “should be”. Spiritually, that is. In the last few weeks the stain of sin has felt unshakable. I am aware of every misspoken word. Punishing myself mentally for letting them slip that way and analyzing them endlessly, worrying that I’ve offended someone or tainted their view of me.

So when I stood in the sanctuary of my church I lifted my hands, praying desperately that they be cleansed. I must repent. I must have a pure heart before Him. How else would He hear me? I don’t know how many songs passed while I offered these furtive pleas with no relief. I kept waiting for the feeling of absolution. Or if I couldn’t feel forgiven, I at least wanted to feel sorry. Guilt wasn’t enough. Shouldn’t I be crying or something?

In a last blanket effort just to show God “I mean this.” I cried out, “I need you. I need you! I just need you.” They were words. Ones that I have spoken countless times over many years as part of my ritual of repentance.

He responded to me with a question. “Why? Why do you need me?”

He wasn’t harsh, because I would have found comfort in that and dismissed his inquiry. For years I have taken refuge in the rebuke of God. I figured as long as He is correcting me, He hasn’t given up on me. For months I have expected the scourge but received comfort instead.

I thought, “What? Why? Does that even matter? Isn’t it enough to know you’re needed? I am acknowledging that I can’t do this on my own. I need your help. What’s wrong with that?” I felt defensive, afraid of His rebuke. After all, we sing, “I need thee every hour.” Our dependence is something to be lauded, isn’t it?

“No. Why? You need me to what end? For what purpose? You need my help. For what?”

I began to understand. “I need you to give me clean hands and a pure heart. I need you to make me presentable. I need to be clean so that I can stand before you. So that I can lift my head in front of you. So I won’t be so ashamed. So I can serve you.”  I want to be cleaned up, and feel cleaned up to my standards so that I can then stand before the very one who cleaned me up to begin with. I decided He couldn’t use me as I am. And I decided when I was presentable enough to represent him.

He spoke again. “You need me for what I can do for you. You need me cleanse you. But what about me? Do you really need me? Will you forget about me once you’ve been purified to your satisfaction?”

I’ve ruminated on that question for a while. I can see that’s exactly what I’ve done. I have cycled through seasons where I simply don’t “need” Him as much as I do in others. I would never admit that to anyone, not even myself.

It’s frightening to think that despite years of walking with the Lord, I’ve only had a utilitarian relationship to Him. I want there to be an exchange. My sorrow over my sin for His sanctification. And only when I feel sufficiently sorry, do I allow Him close enough to comfort me, to speak to me.

This week the Lord showed me that this concept of exchange for grace is what He turned over tables in the temple for. But the fathers house is not a place for trade. It will never be “even”. And as long as I try to make it “fair” I am robbing myself, robbing Him, of true relationship.

I am completely disarmed. I have no argument left. My only choice is to approach Him with a humble heart and simply accept the grace He has offered without argument. And in this I will learn to know Him, rather than need Him. 

Formulas and Faith

I don’t enjoy math. In high school I memorized formulas long enough to pass the test and promptly forgot them. But I’ve found myself looking for formulas in my walk with God.When I approach a problem or have a question I want God to give me steps A + B + C that will equal a calculated result.

For example: as a teenager I craved an abiding, constant relationship with the Lord. And in my mind, the way to get that was this:

read bible + pray more – sin = ABIDE

But the reality of an abiding relationship with the Father is so much simpler than that. Please don’t misunderstand me. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t read God’s word, pray and resist temptation to sin. But those works alone do not achieve the end I desired. For years I tried to turn my faith into works and it got me nowhere. I thought, “If I only do these things more I will be the kind of Christian I want to be.” I do I willI want… My motivation was myself. My trust, and ultimate disappointment, was in my own ability.

There is no formula for abiding in Christ. The relationship I have with Him now is not the result of anything I have done. I can’t point to a certain time when a switch flipped and I “got it”. All I know is that I grew desperate for Him. I stopped trying to figure out with my head how to walk with Him, and I just started seeking – unscripted. I cried out from the depths of me, humbling myself and coming to Him broken. And somewhere in that He met me. I can’t point to one thing I said or did. I didn’t “pray enough”, “read enough”, or “stop sinning” before He met me. It was all Him. I can’t take any credit.. and now.. my desire to read the word, pray and resist temptation flows out of my relationship with Him.

If you’ve been a Christian for any length of time you know the agony of trying to “figure out Gods will” through formulas and plans. We want to make the decisions that please Him, so we pray, we fast, we wait, we lay out the fleece for His clear direction. There have been times in my life this process has paralyzed me with fear of stepping out of His will. We want the “audible voice” or the “handwriting on the wall”. And sometimes He is gracious. He gives it. Sometimes “the formula” works (think of Gideon). But sometimes I think the Lord lets us have what we want and redeems it, for the glory of His name.

I’ve been reading in 1 Samuel lately where the nation of Israel asked the prophet Samuel for a king. They were tired of being ruled by judges and through prophets. This grieved the heart of Samuel but the Lord told him to give the people what they wanted. And we all know the end of the story. The people got Saul (who was good when he obeyed God), then they got David – the man after Gods heart. And eventually Solomon – the wisest king the earth has ever known. Gods name was made famous through the reign of these kings, and many after them. As long as a king submitted himself to the Lord, God got the glory due Him.

Gods “ideal plan” was to rule Israel himself through judges and prophets. But He gave the nation their king. And He redeemed them. During that time He made the nation of Israel a banner of His faithfulness. His Son came from the lineage of kings that were established then. I don’t think anyone could say that this plan was “bad”. If there was a “formula” in this situation for “the perfect will of God” the nation of Israel didn’t follow it. But still God was glorified as long as the nation and its king submitted to Him. Does He ask any more of us?

I think I can say the same thing about my life. There have been times that I moved ahead and made decisions that may not have been “Gods perfect will” but they were not “bad” inherently. I cannot say I regret these things because He has so beautifully redeemed me. So I’m going to stop looking for formulas. I need to remember that His ways are not my ways. Despite my disdain for math, “my way” is to find the formula, to lay out the plan, to make lists and stay organized. But His ways are higher. I’m learning to trust Him. Sometimes that will mean He lays out His plan clearly. And sometimes it means I step out blindly, with only His light to illuminate each step of faith as I take it. I know the voice of my Shepherd and I can trust Him to guide me, even when I have no idea where I’m going. I don’t have to know every step before I take it. And I’ve come to find that’s okay.

I know I’m not the only one. Do you look for formulas?