Looking for Easter

Looking for Easter

 

“Calvary is Judo. The enemy’s own power is used to defeat him. Satan’s craftily orchestrated plot, rolled along according to plan by his agents Judas, Pilate, Herod, and Caiaphas, culminated in the death of God. And this very event, Satan’s conclusion, was God’s premise. Satan’s end was God’s means. “

Peter Kreeft, 1986

I am on my second Lenten season of reading through Bread and Wine, an incredible collection of writings by ancient and modern Christian writers, philosophers, activists, theologians, and leaders.  I am in love with my mornings of directed readings.  The book is broken up into six sections:  Invitation,  Temptation, Passion,  Crucifixion, Resurrection, and New Life.  It has 72 articles, and I am slightly behind because I usually marinate on one article a day.  72>40, so I need to step it up, but I feel that I am drinking from a fire hydrant as I soak up the wisdom of those who know a heck of a lot more than I do.

The quote is an excerpt from today’s reading, and I have always found something wonderfully exhilarating about what Kreeft terms “Christian Judo.”  Jesus remarkably used the enemy’s power against him, in that he willingly stepped in as the passover Lamb, wielding the keys to the kingdom.  This is the hope that surfaces when it seems that all hope is lost.  This is the shift that I had the privilege of experiencing in the heart of my three-year-old as we watched Aslan willingly lie down on the stone table as the ice queen slaughtered him in the Disney rendition of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.   I told my daughter ahead of time not to worry, that Aslan would come back to life and “save the day.”  She can watch any movie as long as she knows that the good guy will save the day in the end.  Can’t we all?

In the depth of the dark night of Aslan’s slaughter, as Lucy and Susan were weeping into the shaved, cooling skin of their murdered beloved Aslan,  Lily sought reassurance. “Mommy, you said that he would save the day.  When will he? Are you sure?”

I responded, “Wait for the sun to rise, sweetie.  The stone table will break, and he will be alive again to save the day.”

Her anticipation was palpable.  My daughter was longing for Aslan to cancel out the evil magic that had rendered him the lamb to be slaughtered on Edmund’s behalf.

We both exhaled sighs of elation and relief as we saw Aslan’s profile rise over the stone tablet with the rising sun.  This was Lily’s first portrait of kingdom judo.  And this is the beginning of perfect love casting out fear for my three-year-old.

The enemy’s power is used to defeat him. Not only is the enemy defeated, but his own efforts to destroy us are thrown back in his face as the means by which our redemption is made possible.   Only God can do that. It is the greatest twist in the history of time. The death that the enemy thought would undo all of God’s plan was actually the death that opened up the opportunity for death to be crushed and turned on it’s head. This is the fragrant essence of hope. This is why we hope. In our seasons of death, we rejoice, because we know kingdom Judo. God’s secret weapon, His trump card, is always safe in His hand, and He will play it when the enemy is finished with all of his moves and thinks arrogantly that he has won the game.

This sickness, these shortcomings, and these areas of brokenness are indeed the undoing of me. And in this undoing, I am made whole because the ends becomes the means to God’s redemptive, overarching stunning plan of life destroying death. We don’t have all the answers, but we have the final answer. Life wins. Death dies. The love that surrenders to death actually releases the power that dethrones death. No fear is needed. Fear is negated and made obsolete.

We can exhale the fear of death’s finality when we see the cresting of our King on Sunday morning as He pulls out His trump card,  His deeper magic, and says, “See?  I hold the keys to life and death.  Why were you afraid, beloved?”

And I sigh with my daughter, able to freely take a deep breath for the first time, releasing it in trust of a Lord who breathes life into death, into me.

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Prayer and Healing

I have a confession.  I can’t always remember what I have written about in the past, and I abhor reading my own writing, so I may write about the same issues over and over and have no idea that I am repeating myself.  My illness causes “brain fog” which includes issues with memory, and then my low oxygen also contributes to the decline of mental function.  My husband has to listen enthusiastically to the same stories on repeat, and only occasionally reminds me that I’ve shared them ten times before.  He is super-gracious.  He also has to hear the same “spiritual revelations” over and over.  They certainly feel brand-new to me, but he claims that I had that same revelation a month ago, and the month before that one, and actually every month over the past year.  At least never get bored.

My poor husband, and probably, you poor readers, might get bored frequently with my Fifty-First Dates fashioned writing.  Just call me Drew Barrymore, stick a DVD in the player every morning replaying my life and my hallmark moments for me, and call it good.

Skim the stuff that I’ve covered before.  I pray that my memory is not quite as bad as it seems, but I suspect that I circle around the same mountains frequently.  If I say, “Hey look at that gorgeous tree!! I’ve never seen anything quite that exquisite!” , you can respond with, “Oh yeah, we saw that about two weeks ago in this same spot.  We are going in circles.  Moving on.”  Then you can lead me by my precious little hand to a new path that we haven’t traversed.  Deal?  Okay.  Thanks.

Now that I’ve gotten my caveat out of the way, I can’t seem to remember what I was going to write about today.  Oh, yeah.  Healing.  My doctors are concerned.  I’m teetering on the edge of a danger-zone, health-wise, and that is lighting a fire under their butts.  This is good and bad.  It is good in that they may actually start really investing some energy in figuring out what is making my poor body malfunction so tremendously (now that they have significant documented evidence of the level of malfunction and the danger of the malfunctions).  It is bad in that my body is in a state of extreme limbo and there are critical issues that are becoming evident.  This is scary.  I don’t want to die, not anymore.  I want to be a wife and a mommy and a living human being.  I don’t want my heart to stop beating.  So I feel that I am being taken seriously.  Good and bad.

It is intuitive to assume that when one is sick, she thinks about healing quite frequently.  One will probably also encounter many people who speak of healing, who desire healing, who are praying fervently for her healing.  Most often, it is solely physical healing, because physical infirmity is the presenting issue.  Thus, over the past two years,  I have wrestled mightily with the issue of physical healing, God’s sovereignty, God’s will, God’s goodness, living in a fallen, broken world, and the purpose of pain and suffering.  I have looked at so many different perspectives on these matters.  Fortunately, I have not encountered many people who have thrown out condemning messages.  No one has come up to me and asked piously, “Who sinned?  Was it you, or your parents, or someone else who brought on this illness?”, as  Jesus’s disciples inquired of Him regarding the man blind from birth.  No one has said, “if you have enough faith you will be healed.”  No one has condemned me for not being healed yet, and no one has even said that it is all in my head (that has only been alluded to by a few friends).  I have been spared so much judgement and opposition, for which I am so thankful.  I would have been hard-pressed to endure much criticism or condemnation from others as most of my condemnation comes from my own mental arsenal of lies.  People, for the most part, have been understanding, kind, and compassionate.  I still struggle with what healing is supposed to look like for me, what to ask for from God, and if there is a larger picture of healing that I am missing because I am too close to the picture.

Last night, a dear group of ladies (powerful prayer warriors) offered to pray for me and for my husband.  We met them at the church and took turns being prayed over.  As the three warriors prayed over my husband,  I entertained our little ones in the nursery, and then we switched places.  These women mean business when they get together to pray, and my husband was in the sanctuary with them for an entire hour.  It was fast approaching the children’s bed-time, so when my turn came, I requested the abbreviated version of what Jordan received.  As I was voicing my concern about the kids’ bedtime and not taking up too much more time, I realized that I was coming up against an issue of worthiness.  I felt unworthy of extended prayer. I put the brakes on my request for a shorter prayer time, and I told them to pray as long as they felt led to pray.  It is a vulnerable position to put one’s self in, to be prayed over.  First of all, there is the whole “laying on of hands” thing.  We all know that I’m not one for being touched.  Then there is my control-freak nature that has to step down into a place of submission and passivity, or so I thought.  So as the praying started, I bowed my head and tried to take a passive position, just to let these warriors do the battling over me.  Ten minutes in, I felt a stirring in my Spirit to engage more actively, to softly whisper the name of Jesus, to breathe prayers of agreement, and to whisper prayers of the Spirit as He lead the way.  In actively engaging in the prayer session,  I felt a new investment in the prayer time.  I felt like one of the warriors going in for battle.  I was fighting alongside them, no longer a passive recipient of prayer.  I felt an overwhelming energy and joy rising up in my soul.

As the ladies continued to pray, I was aware of an overwhelming focus on physical healing.  I don’t believe that the focus on physical healing was bad, or out-of-place.  I’m not sure what I think of it honestly,  but I felt the Spirit whispering ceaselessly, “I want so much more than just physical healing for you. Do you see what I’m doing within your illness? I am healing you.”  I knew that He was calling me to praise Him.  He is so unbelievably faithful, and His faithfulness has been more evident during the past two years than I have ever seen before I got sick.  I did not feel a sense of urgency for physical healing.  I felt gratitude, deep, mirthful, joyful, soul-embracing thankfulness.  This seemed out of place for the type of praying that was going on.  I prayed out loud, the ladies prayed more.  They prayed scripture, the armor of God,  Psalm 91, and parts of James.  I am in agreement with their prayers.  They were theologically sound, and they flowed from hearts of love.  I am so thankful for the opportunity to be prayed over.  In addition,  I felt like I had a bit of a different vantage point.

I certainly can’t make complete sense out of suffering, any form of it.  I don’t believe that God’s perfect will involves illness, death, and sin.  My experience of suffering, however, shows me a picture of God that I have never seen before.  My brushes with death have offered a depth of agony that has been met with an equally powerful vision of God’s goodness and grace.  The desire to share in Christ’s sufferings is legit, to share in Christ’s death, so also to experience the power of the resurrection.  There is this trump card that He holds that He flashes to those who are in the depth of suffering.  It’s like He’s winking at us, saying, “Don’t worry.  I’ve got this.  No matter what happens, I am making all things right.”  I have never had that glimpse of God’s hand of cards until I was at the utter end of myself.

I don’t know.  I will keep praying for physical healing.  I want to be strong and healthy and capable.  Of course I do.  I don’t thrive in vulnerable places, like illness.  I also know that our vulnerable places are the soil in which our master Gardener loves to plant the seeds of the Kingdom.  So if I need to stay vulnerable for kingdom growth, I’m good with that.  If He physically heals, I will praise Him.  If He heals in other ways and chooses not to physically heal,  I will praise Him.   My Savior lives, and He redeems, and He heals.  Sometimes His healing just looks a little different than what we expect.

The Descent from the Mountain

Oh Lord, how many are my foes! Many are rising up against me; many are saying to me, “There is no help for you in God.”

But You, Oh Lord, are a shield around me, my glory and the one who lifts up my head.  I cry aloud to the Lord, and He answers me from His holy hill. 

I lie down and sleep;  I awake again, for the Lord sustains me. 

Psalm 3: 1-5

Throughout the summer, we have had prayer night every Wednesday night as we are preparing our satellite campus for launch in the fall.  The sanctuary is lying fallow for the summer, in preparation for the coming birth of a new worship center.  In the sabbath rest of the building, we have established an informal time of individual prayer, followed by corporate prayer and communion.  Our average attendance is four to five individuals.  Two of those are my husband (the pastor) and me (the pastor’s wife).  My husband likes to say that we are small but mighty. I think that we are small and weak. I think that God loves using the small to display the His might.  We considered cancelling the prayer time in the beginning of the summer due to low attendance ( the poor nursery workers carve out the time to come and care for the pastor’s kids and no one else).  But, shoot, it is easier for them and it’s free child-care for us.  So in all reality, it is a win-win.

Really, though, we came to the conclusion that the numbers don’t really matter.  When two or three are gathered together in His name, He is in our midst.  And, boy, did the scripture become a reality this summer.  Unstructured prayer time is not super exciting in the church.  In my experience, people shy away from it.  It is quiet, there is no one leading, and you have to really use your own brain and heart.  This gets tricky.  It also involves stepping out of the solid and into the fluid.  That is scary.  I know, because I shy away from it.  Every single Wednesday,  I have strongly considered and weighed out the possibility of staying home from the prayer time and sending my husband and the kids.  I have good excuses.  Like being sick.  That’s my best excuse, and it is ALWAYS legit.  But despite exhaustion, pain, fevers, dehydration, and everything else in the book of chronic illness, I have found myself somehow sitting in the passenger seat of our car wondering how I managed to get ready and go without bailing.  (Hint:  It’s always God).

In the beginning of the summer, I would sit in the car and kill time before entering the building.  I felt so much anxiety about going into the prayer time.  When I got in there, I prayed on my knees or in a chair.  Sometimes,  I couldn’t actually go into the sanctuary.  It was too overwhelming.  I would sit in the narthex or a classroom to pray.  As weeks progressed, however, the sanctuary called me more and more.  Some days, God would call me to the exterior of the building to lay hands on the bricks and pray in tongues and sing worship songs.  The tears started a couple weeks ago.  A power that I can’t explain has begun to stir my spirit on Wednesday nights and bring me to my knees at the altar.  Last night, it landed me smack under the wooden cross in the right front corner of the sanctuary.  I wrote in my journal, prayed, and opened my Bible to the Psalms.  This book of poetry holds new weight in my life during this season of suffering, confusion, limbo, and waiting.  I opened to Psalm 3, and God plucked a chord in my spirit that resonated with the chord that David plucked as he authored this melancholic yet triumphant Psalm.  I have never before in my life experienced the word of God exuding such life as I did last night.  I cannot understand what happened in my heart as I read the words in that Holy Bible, but it was nothing short of crazy absurdly supernatural. “But thou, oh Lord, are a shield for me; my glory and the lifter of my head” morphed from words on paper to the most passionate cry that my heart could mutter.   I read those five verses over and over again.  I repeated them through snot and tears for thirty minutes, and I felt the electrical presence of the Most High God.

I wish that words could sufficiently convey my experience of coming face-to-face with the goodness of God last night.  If they could, however, it wouldn’t be quite as heavenly, would it?  I suppose that it is okay that I cannot fully communicate or even grasp what happened at the foot of the cross, in the crux of my sickness and brokenness.  That is mostly how God works anyway.  But I left with a clear assurance:  He is so unbelievable GOOD.  Our God is GOOD.  My God is GOOD. He is so GOOD.  Hear me.  He is a good God.  Did you get it? He’s good.

Moses came down from Mount Sinai with a radiant, shiny face.  I feel like last night was my own version of Mount Sinai.  My face, however, I’m pretty sure was not shining. It had black streaks running down it from not water-proof mascara (one would think that I would learn).  I was thrilled and overjoyed and completely dumbfounded.  We know, however, that any change in emotional (or spiritual) homeostasis likes to trigger buckets and buckets of adrenaline to be dumped into my system.  So, no, I wasn’t like Moses. I was like my POTSIE self after a God-encounter.  My reaction was not nearly as cool as Moses’.  I was just vibrating out of my seat as my inhuman supply of norepinephrine created in me a human hummingbird.  The physical ramifications of my God-encounter were excessive, if you ask me.  Really, can’t a girl visit the mountain of God every once in a while without a crazy POTS flare-up afterwards?  No? Okay.  No problem.  I’ll probably keep going up there.  It’s totally worth it.  The flare-up only lasted for about five hours.

This post is not elegant (I had hoped it would be, but it’s not).  I just wanted to get it out into the world.  He is our shield.  He is our glory.  He is the lifter of our heads, no matter what our backs are bent down by.  And if you missed it earlier, God is Good.  Got it?

What Can We Do?

I am angry, probably out of my brokenness, possibly slightly out of conviction. I am angry at our culture, our society, and our churches. But I am tired of raging. I need to do something.

I am also torn between two theories: The first is this: We live in a fallen world. We see through a glass dimly. Our vision of God will be unclear in this life. So we live in hope and eager expectancy of the life to come, or we forget that there is so much more than this world. My second is this: The prince of this earth has cast a darker shadow over our western culture. We are jaded, upside down, inside out, and backwards in our view of things because of the massive spiritual battle that is being waged in the heavenlies. Because of this and because of our hardened and calloused hearts, we are living not only in the shadowlands, but also in a place of spiritual blindness and confusion. The enemy has tricked us, and we have stepped into his trap. We are quarrelling about matters that are trivial while we are missing the Glory. We are blinded because we have chosen to look at the wrong things.

I imagine that our condition is a result of a combination of these two theories. It is probably neither one nor the other, but my heart is heavier than a boulder, and my chest aches with the pressure. I am yearning for some light in this darkness.

These thoughts are not by any means original or revolutionary, but in my own heart, something needs to change. I can’t find the light, and I can’t find the truth. Looking at the condition of our country and our culture, I believe that I need to fight through prayer. Somehow, prayer is infinitely powerful, and if this is a battle that is not of flesh and blood, we need to engage appropriately. I reason that this engagement needs to be of a spiritual nature: On our knees.   This is probably already taking place, and I don’t know about it, but I have a vision for an underground prayer church. I believe that we need an army of prayer warriors, who are around the clock waging in this battle against the prince of this world. We are fighting valiantly, but are we fighting in the appropriate realm? We don’t need to fight one another. Denominations don’t need to battle. Liberals and conservatives don’t need to battle. We are not the enemy. Humanity is not the enemy.   We are on the same side, so lets start praying with one agenda: Letting the Light penetrate the darkness. The darkness seems to be winning, and it is infinitely less formidable than the power of the Light. This is silly.

I am not sure what this needs to look like, but I think that it starts with some seriously bruised knees and open hearts.   I think that it starts with humility and desperation. This is not new. It’s not revolutionary in the world of Christ-followers. The saints have fought and continue to battle on this front. But I believe that more of us, including myself, need to join with the saints on their knees. This is where I face-plant before the throne. And I believe that the darkness will not be able to stand against the Light.