Sep 14, 2012

New Website

Hello Friends!

I have a new website. If you link to mine or are a faithful reader, be sure to find me here:

I will no longer be posting on this site.

Sep 1, 2012

When It's Hard To Pray

We must remember that praying is much more than we are often taught.

File:Praying Hands - Albrecht Durer.png
Remember too that your soul groans and that you can pray through silence. Your wonder at God's earth, your thankfulness for friends, your service to them, your listening ear, your heart that leaps for joy at goodness and weeps over evil--it is a life of prayer. If prayer is a conversation then there are times when you will be listening. Maybe it's your turn to listen. I know I've been in that situation. The soul that loves God communes with's sort of like being in a room with someone you love. You don't always have to speak...but there is a closeness.

Aug 27, 2012

What Does It Take To Flourish Spiritually?

Here, Kelli Trujillo asks me my thoughts:

I’m excited to introduce you to my friend Marlena Graves. Marlena is a writer and mom of two who works at Cedarville University. She is a regular contributor to Christianity Today’s Her.meneutics blog and is involved in Renovare. Listen in on our candid conversation about what it takes to “flourish” — and how to make it through wilderness times.
Marlena, welcome! Tell my readers a bit about yourself.
I contemplate, write, and speak about the eternal implications of our life in God. I am a lover of beauty (especially the beauty of my family and creation) and a justice seeker — trying to overcome evil with good. In addition, I seek answers to these types of questions: What does abundant life look like (John 10:10)? If God is good and we are his deeply beloved children and safe in his kingdom, how then should we live?
See the rest here:

Aug 23, 2012

Maybe God'll Find Him. Maybe he'll find God.

"From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us." Acts 17:26,27

(Homeless man in Anchorage, Alaska. Photo by Andrew Brown - Wikimedia Commons)

His grandma didn't want him. At fourteen, he ate her out of house and home. He took food from the cupboards without asking. So, she abandoned him. Turned him out. He ended up in a homeless shelter. All alone. Without God and without hope in the world. Because of strict regulations about who qualifies for housing, the shelter could only keep him for two weeks.

As the two week mark approached, the shelter called Children's Services repeatedly. "You need to take him," the counselors implored. "He's a sweet boy." Children's Services wouldn't come. And they wouldn't come. They just wouldn't come.

Not even Children's Services wanted him.

Finally, word got up to the top of the ladder of Children's Services; they came to pick him up. He was placed in a foster home. That night, the father of the home had a cardiac arrest. They couldn't keep him. Children's Services came again. This time they acted swiftly in order to put him in another home.

I hope it's a good one.

I hope it's a home where there is some semblance of love and goodness and safety and routine. A home where he won't know the utter despair of being unwanted. Of being despicably worthless in the eyes of those closest to him.

I don't know this boy. I only heard his story, a true story, and sobbed and sobbed. Sobbed my guts out for the millionth time this summer. What can I do? I so desperately want to do something. My insides constrict. They choke up as I write these sentences. Tears spill onto my face. The travesty of it all. The hell of it all. I hold my daughters. They know my love. This is what I want for this boy and all the children and people like him.

I don't know his name; that's confidential. But he has lodged himself in my heart. I pray for him. I beg God to make himself known to him, since God is not too far away from anyone of us (Acts 17: 26, 27). I beg God to take care of him and show him that he is a deeply loved child of God, that he is the apple of God's eye.

I pray he won't believe the lie his circumstances are telling him.

Oh Lord, allow someone to speak and show the love of God to him! Please, God.

I will pray for him throughout my life as I think of him. This one thing I can do.

There are children and people all around us going through hell. People being abused in every conceivable way. People craving the love of God. People craving hope. Why don't we start praying for these invisible ones? Asking God that the invisible ones would be made visible to those seeking to overcome evil with good? Why don't we start asking God to open our eyes so they'll be found by God through us. So that they'll find God through us?

Think of how we can usher fourth Kingdom goodness and light all around us. We can unleash the love and power of God through prayerful action.

This is something I believe to be true: we don't know the eternal implications of our obedience and prayers. I know we don't serve God or pray for others in vain. It's not in vain. It's not in vain, even if right now we see no fruit from our toils.

God is making all things new in and through us. I have hope. Hope for goodness in the lives of those abused and oppressed and forgotten. Nothing is impossible with God (Luke 1:37).

God be with him. God be with you if you feel all alone, without God and without hope in the world. We'll hope and pray for you, when you cannot do so yourself.

Aug 7, 2012

Throwing Starfish Back In

As I've mentioned previously, I had a baby, Valentina. She was born on June 3. So my posts are not as frequent as they have been in the past. Thank you for your grace. However, I do encourage you to check out some of my other posts. You can click on the categories on the right-hand side of the blog.

The other night, after I fed Valentina around 1 am, I desperately wanted to go to bed. I was tired.

I wanted to go to sleep but couldn't. I was awash in a tide of evil and pain not entirely or even mostly my own. There is deep pain all  around me. Lately, lots of it has manifested--even though it's the summer. You see, I am in a pastoral-like position where I encounter lots of people everyday. I live on a college campus. During the academic year, thousands of people cross my visual path. And every now and then, the suffering of others, combined with my suffering for them, and my own sufferings, washes me away. I am left bobbing up and down the river, gasping for breath. Grasping for a tree branch, a rock--anything to hold onto in order to pull myself out. Bobbing up and down the river, screaming and crying out to Jesus to rescue others and rescue me. I grow weary. I grow tired. Yet, I pray as I am whirled and tossed about. I pray fiercely and fervently for those afflicted and oppressed. I pray for myself and my family.

I have yet to permanently go under.

One of my friends stopped by to visit last night, to see how me and the family and the baby were doing. Her unexpected presence was pastoral care. Her presence--a gift. I confessed my exhaustion and my experience of the night before in the midst of preparing arroz con habichuelas (rice and beans)--my staple food growing up, in the midst of Iliana chatting and performing, in the midst of Shawn trying to catch up on some necessary reading--he had watched the girls all day.

In the midst of dinner preparations and dinner eating and daughter performing and husband trying to snatch a moment for himself--she told me her favorite story. It's about the little boy who was walking along the beach where a bunch of starfish had washed up along the shore. Maybe you know it. I know I've heard it at least once.

There were thousands of starfish scattered along the beach. The little boy's heart broke for them, so he began tossing them back into the ocean. A little while after he began his rescue effort, a man who was walking along the shore stopped, and commented, "Why are you doing this? It's not going to make a difference." The little boy picked up a starfish and remarked, "It makes a difference to this one." He threw the starfish back in. "And this one." He tossed another back in. And so he continued, doing what he could, for the starfish he encountered.

My friend reminded me of what I knew, but couldn't feel--that I do what I can, that I throw the starfish back in.

I can't save all of them, but it makes a difference to the ones that I do return into the ocean (all in the name and power of Jesus).

I do this, all the while knowing and thanking God, that there are many a time when someone had mercy on me--and threw me back in.

Jul 19, 2012

Would You or Your Church Do This? Graceless

In his book, The Good and Beautiful Community, James Bryan Smith tells of how he was asked to speak at a conference on spiritual formation. Many key denominational leaders would be present. He says:

"As I flew to the meeting my excitment increased. I met a dear man at the baggage claim area who drove me to the hotel where our daylong workshop was held. I went into the ballroom with my briefcase in hand, eager to begin teaching. The room was filled with over sixty key leaders from around the United States. If these men can get a passion for this, their whole church could catch a new fire, I thought to myself. One of the leaders of the denomination introduced me, and I stepped to the podium with energy. I shared a funny story, and the room seemed to relax. Then I launched into my main discussion and made the following statement: 'God has offered us many different means of grace--prayer, solitude, silence, the Bible, fasting and many others--in order to deepen our relationship with God, and to develop the character of Christ so that we can live vibrant lives with God and make a difference in our world.'

This was my well-crafted opening. It was also the end of my rapport with this audience. I later learned that they ardently and fervently believe that God has given the church only two means of grace--baptism and Communion. All of the activities I mentioned (prayer, Bible reading, solitude) are not considered means of grace. My tradition (Methodism), and all of the others I had ever spoken to, freely uses that term to describe those activities. But I had never been informed about their position on the issue. All I knew was that the audience was quickly going from concerned to hostile.

I had almost no eye contact within a minute of that opening sentence. Within fifteen minutes I saw heads shaking in disagreement. Thirty minutes into the talk a man actually stood up, turned his chair around, and sat with his back turned to me. He could have actually left the room (three men did that at about the forty-five minute mark), but he wanted to make a public proclamation of his disgust. I had violated a sacred principle; I had unknowningly taken a theological position that was contrary to theirs. I was wrong, in their eyes, about the use of a phrase, and they needed to shame me publicly."

Smith  goes on to say that he took a break and then was asked not continue the conference. He flew home immediately.

Sadly, I know of churches and denominations and people who would do the same.

Jul 12, 2012

Nouwen on Christian Leaders and the Temptation to be Relevant

These are Henri Nouwen's words from his book, In The Name of Jesus. It is a book for Christian leaders.

"Jesus' first tempation was to be relevant, to turn stones into bread . . . . Aren't we priests and ministers called to help people, feed the hungry, and to save those who are starving? Are we not called to do something that makes people realize that we do make a difference in their lives? Aren't we called to heal the sick, feed the hungry, and alleviate the suffering of the poor? Jesus was faced with these same questions, but when he was asked to prove his power as the Son of God by the relevant behavior of turning stones into bread, he clung to his mission to proclaim the word and said, 'One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God' (Matthew 4:4) . . . .

Beneath all the great accomplishments of our time there is a deep current of despair. While efficiency and control are the great aspirations of our society, the loneliness, isolation, lack of friendship and intimacy, broken relationships, boredom, feelings of emptiness and depression, and a deep sense of uselessness fill the hearts of millions of people in a success-oriented world . . . . And the cry that arises from behind all of this . . . is clearly: "Is there anybody who loves me? Is there anybody who cares? Is there anybody who wants to stay home for me? Is there anybody who wants to be with me when I am not in control, when I feel like crying? Is there anyone who can give me a sense of belonging?

It is here that the need for a new Christian leadership becomes clear. The leaders of the future will be those who dare to claim their irrelevance in the contemporary world as a divine vocation that allows them to enter into a deep solidarity with the anguish underlying all the glitter of success, and to bring the light of Jesus there.

Jul 7, 2012

Do We Leave Casualties?

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” John 16:33


Some of us have suffered tremendously. Others not so much, at least not comparably. But do we ever ask ourselves how much suffering we've caused others? Have we left a trail of casualties littering the landscape behind us as we move forward? Though many speak well of us, are there some who think we are one of the cruelest people in the world, negligent, naive, or else one of the biggest hypocrites?

Biting remarks, lack of sensitivity, failure to seek forgiveness, neglect of those closest to us, an over-arching blindness to our own sins and the ability to point them out in others, are all examples of things that induce suffering.

Life is hard, even for believers. Jesus said that we have trouble in this world. The thing is, for those of us who seek to follow on the heels of Jesus, we need to take care that we are not adding to the trouble. We must overcome evil with good and reconcile with those we hurt--if possible.

May we not add to the evil or trouble already in the world. May we not be stubborn or hard hearted, or as the Exodus says, "stiff-necked." Let us stop blaming others and accept responsiblity for our part in others' suffering.

Jun 28, 2012

How Spiritual Discernment Works

This is an excerpt from Ruth Haley Barton's post over at Gifted For leadership:

Cultivating the habit of discernment means we are always seeking the movement of God’s Spirit so we can abandon ourselves to it. Sometimes abandoning ourselves to the will of God is like floating down a river: we relax and allow the current of the river to carry us along. At other times it is more like trying to run the rapids or ride a large wave: we must keep our body and mind attuned to the dynamic of the water so we can ride it to its destination rather than being toppled by its force. Either way, we do not set the direction or the speed of the current; rather, we seek the best way to let the current carry us in the direction God has for us.

Read the rest here

Jun 24, 2012

Disappointment with God and Life ~ Connie Smith Jakab

An honest reflection from my friend Connie Smith-Jakab over at Culture Rebel:
Before my dad passed away six years ago, God led him to this scripture: “You will see your children’s children…” (Psalm 128:6)
When my dad was given this verse, he had a one in three chance to live with the cancer he had. I suppose he decided to share this with me to give me hope and comfort that he would live. A month later, he died.
As you can imagine, I questioned God about this. Why give my dad this scripture only to have his life end? I’ve struggled with this question till about two weeks ago.
I struggled with wanting to have kids. Many women want kids and are excited about it. For me, I wanted to excel in my career and ambitions that the thought of kids scared me. I thought I’d never be able to achieve all I wanted to after I had them. We finally had our first son when I was 31 years old. We had just moved to Calgary to be with my mom as everyone in our family had died and she was alone. Moving to Calgary was very hard on me. I was 8 months pregnant and had nothing to do when I got here except walk my dog. I felt very alone. It was like my life had ended. When my son, Ben was born it seemed like I would never taste my dreams again.
It is now four years later, and our son Christopher was just born in October. Again, after having my first son I struggled with having another. As Ben grew older, I started to gain more freedom to pursue dreams again. The thought of going back to square one was overwhelming and sad for me. It seems each time I’ve had a child there’s been a journey of death to myself as a part of the process. I was enjoying being in ministry again and at the time of Christopher’s birth, God again removed it from me.
My journey for the last five years has been death. Death in my family, death to my dreams, and death to self. If this sounds depressing, don’t worry, it gets better! Through this journey I am discovering that God loves to turn death into life.
I’ve been so driven my whole life to achieve. To excel beyond mediocrity--I still have that passion inside of me. However, something I’ve learned is that God’s purpose and dream is THE ambition. And for me to invest all my energy into MY dreams can be foolish – if it means forgetting the family He has given to me. If, by me pursuing my own ambitions causes me to forget my sons, then it really can be all lost.
Who’s to say that all that I’ve been through and will go through isn’t so that my sons can grow to be strong in the Lord? Wouldn’t it be amazing if they grew up to do far greater things than I could imagine! For God to release THEM! Ironically, if God asked me what my greatest desire is, I could honestly tell Him; For my sons to know Him and live their lives for His glory.
For two years I didn't speak anything to God other than, "I'm so sorry." Somehow I believed my father's death was God's disappointment in me. Shame turned to bitterness, bitterness to emptiness. I would run as far away from God as I could. Out of the blue, one day I started to pray for God to give me a desire for Him again. To this day, I don't know what prompted my heart to pray for this because it was not my desire. I prayed this prayer daily for one year before I felt a hint of desire to live for God as I once did.
For me to come to this point in my life where I am willing to say, “It is well with my soul” shows progress. For me to say: “Ok God, if I never get to do what I wanted to accomplish, it’s ok.” Even though I struggle even writing that sentence I know that God will use my life for His purposes as long as my life is focused on HIS purpose and not my own.
For my dad to share with me that God told him, “You will see your children’s children” gives me hope that my sons will grow to serve God. That one day, they will stand before Jesus and receive the crown He has for them. My dad WILL see them – in heaven. Before, that verse made me mad. It brought tears of disappointment to my eyes. But now? That verse gives me hope for my greatest desire. And not only that, it reminds me that to live this life for me will not be of any gain. But if I will see my role as a mom as a chance to raise up two strong, mighty men - how amazing is that! That’s not mediocrity; it’s greatness wrapped in what looks like a simple package.

It is well with my soul.

Jun 17, 2012

The Immense Value of a Father's Affirmation

I am linking to a post by my friend Marlene Molewyk. Click on the link below to read the rest:

The Immense Value of A Father's Verbal Affirmation

I know my father loves me, but I've rarely seen it in his eyes. Instead, the emotions I usually see when he looks my way are disgust and anger, because I've made spiritual, career, and childrearing choices that reflect who I am, rather than who he wants me to be....

Jun 14, 2012

Why Are Christians So Mean? Keri Wyatt Kent

Keri Wyatt Kent is an excellent writer on many topics including spiritual formation. In this blog, she reflects on Christian Venom. She writes:

Fellow Redbud Writer Halee Gray Scott has a very interesting and controversial post up on the Christianity Today's women’s blog. Its generated a flood of comments, many of them simply mean.

Of course, she picked a controversial topic....Understandably, the mean comments come from people of a wide variety of orientations and beliefs. But my question is this: why do Christians, whom Jesus said should be known by the LOVE, act so hateful?

Read the rest here.

Jun 10, 2012

My Way of Jesus's Way? Having Full Life in Jesus

Some practical guidelines in the Jesus Way. Here is an excellent sermon by Charles Stanley.

Practical Guidance in Following Jesus

Jun 8, 2012

The Meek Will Inherit the Earth: The Way of the Humble

"Humble people do not force their way, ignore authority and wise counsel, step over people to get what they want or manipulate situations. Humble people surrender to the Lord with the trust and understanding that he will chart a way that is good and that he will fulfill his promises to them."

Click on the link to see the guest post from my friend Natasha Robinson over at A Sista's Journey. She has some great thoughts on the namesake of the is blog: wilderness.

I just gave birth to our second precious daughter, Valentina Graves. So, I'll be featuring/linking to guest posts from some very good people. I am glad I can introduce you to them.

May 31, 2012

God's Will & Our Assignments: Servants Aren't Celebrities

These days I often hear "It's not about me; it's about him." It's still a popular, over-used, even if well-meaning, Christian slogan. It has become cliche. But recently, this cliche has burrowed into my soul. As I considered my desires about where I want to end up, I had this thought, "If I am to be a servant, then I must do the master's bidding, not my own." God's will, his cosmic plan, isn't all about me. It's about him and his kingdom. It's about us and all of creation. We can verbally assent to the idea, we do all the time, but do we know what it means?

God has many things in mind as he brings forth his kingdom. He is redeeming all things. I am included in his kingdom coming, in his redemption. I am a beloved daughter. As I obey him, his life-giving waters flow through me into the lives of others. But his kingdom coming and my definition of personal, even kingdom success, are not always the same. Nor are they always at odds.

God isn't careless towards me or about me and my desires. He often blesses me by granting my requests. However, sometimes he and I might interpret blessing differently; sometimes he'll bless me differently than I'd bless myself if I were he because I am not. And who is wiser? Me or him? I am a small, yet intrical and infinitely loved part, of his family, of his kindgom, of his living story.

Of course, I have my own ideas about the part I want to play in God's story. But he's the author. My job is to serve him--to obey the assignments or part he gives me, even if it is a bit part. I am to be a his faithful servant and the servant of all. I can't wander off and do my own thing. I can't rewrite or edit the story. If I try, not only is it is to my own detriment and destruction--it is destructive to my brothers and sisters, to the kingdom.

And the thing is, I can barely conceive of the grand scheme of things--the story. I just can't imagine it. Oh yes, scripture tells us how it will end. It gives us some of the cosmic highlights. However, scripture doesn't give us a detailed description of how God's will, his story, will unfold in our lives.

Are we content at playing the minor roles? Will we be faithful to what we are called to do when life doesn't pan out the way we think it should? Or will we throw in the servant's towel, exchanging it for mastery of our own lives?

Servants are often overlooked, invisible, underappreciated, and mistreated. They are to work hard for the master's will, not their own. They are to respect the master and not talk back. They're obscure.

Servants aren't celebrities.

God's great reversal is this: whoever is greatest in the kingdom of heaven will be the servant of all--not a servant of herself or himself.


the last shall be first.

Originally, posted 2.2.11

May 28, 2012

Surrender the Outcomes to God: Rob Bell via Cathleen Falsani

I think about this topic a lot. We're tempted to make something of ourselves even as ministers (whatever form your ministry takes).

I happened to read this great report that Cathleen Falsani submitted about a talk and Q&A featuring Rob Bell. Here's an excerpt from the article (you can read the rest here: 'Surrender The Outcomes')

“Surrender the outcomes of your presence, your influence, your work, your leadership,” Bell said. “They may drink the coffee. They may not. That’s just how it is. When you come to terms with this, then you’re actually free."

In other words, it’s not about you.

"If, as a pastor, parent, or person, if you do what you do because you’re called to do it — without expectations, without needing a particular response, without hitching your wagon of joy to someone else’s reaction (or lack thereof) — you free not only yourself, you liberate others as well.
A pastor who needs the constant approval of her or his congregation isn’t free. And neither is the congregation."

“But you know, if they have found joy simply in doing the work, when they have found their center and their joy…you know it’s a gift with no strings attached. They are free and you are free,” he said. “It’s intoxicating."

Eugene Peterson goes into a pastor’s convention and just slays it,” he continued. “You’re like, ‘What was that?!’ You know why? He doesn’t need you to like him. He doesn’t need anything from you. And that’s why you want to hear him over and over again.”

Yes. But innovators such as Peterson come under unbelievable criticism. Where do you put that?
“Pioneers are crucified,” Bell said.

One of the men in the audience interrupts: “How do you know whether you’re being crucified because you’re a pioneer or because you’re just wrong?”
Bell smiled.

“If you’re being crucified because you’re wrong, I wouldn’t call that crucified. I’d say that’s just really sharp critique,” Bell answered.

May 27, 2012

Justice, Peace, & Joy in the Holy Spirit

Earlier this morning, I shared, via Twitter and Facebook, one of my favorite verses about the kingdom of God. It's Romans 14:17b: The kingdom of God is justice (righteousness) and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.

Our friend and New Testament scholar, Michael Pahl, asserts that the following might be a better translation:

Love the "justice" for dikaiosune  - given the collective (and not individualized, privatized) nature of Paul's statement there, I wonder if a good translation might be something like, "The kingdom of God is justice and reconciliation and celebration in the Holy Spirit." Now that sounds like a kingdom, and a kingdom worth seeking first.

I really like Michael's translation and commentary. May God's kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven. And may Pentecost remind us of what an inestimable and never fully comprehensible gift the Triune God has given us: life--the eternal kind of life.

May 25, 2012

Spectrum of Suffering, Communal Comfort & the Divine Conspiracy of Goodness

"She gave this name to the Lord who spoke to her: 'You are the God who sees me,' for she said, 'I have now seen the One who sees me.'  That is why the well was called Beer Lahai Roi; it is still there, between Kadesh and Bered." Genesis 16:13,14

I am waiting for our second, much-prayed for baby girl, to come. Though I know not the day or the hour, it is the season and she can come any moment. Somehow, I am managing to write, right now.

I know not everyone that desires biological children can have them. My friend, Anna Broadway, reflects on this from the perspective of a single woman approaching "late maternal age" in her article, "Banking on God Alone: Why I Won't Be Freezing My Eggs."

Shawn and I were told that we probably couldn't have another child either (see my review of Jennifer Grant's book: Love You More for further details).

Each of us goes through different wildernesses of suffering throughout our lifetimes, and we often feel all alone. God and friends may seem cruel, distant and uncaring. Sometimes with the loneliness there's a loud silence that threatens to drown out our very being (Lesa Engelthaler has a great article on Growing in the Darkness and God's silence). I've felt lonely even in my much-prayed for pregnancy, because for most of it, I've been sick and immobile and isolated  (though I live on a college campus) and unable to write much (even on this blog). Thus, the fewer posts. Do forgive me.

This experience though has led to me some of these thoughts:

It is true: wilderness (there is a spectrum of suffering within it) is often isolating and alienating. I am not saying that God causes the suffering, only that he can use it, even suffering we've brought upon ourselves. And while no one can really go through sickness and disease or depression or divorce or loss or unfulfilled dreams for us, we can lovingly come alongside one another and offer the comfort of our gentle presence. And that we must do. When we are in a bad way, almost paralyzed by suffering, every second can seem like an eternity. That's why we need one another.

Here are some good resources written by those who have suffered in various degrees. Perhaps they'll come alongside you in this moment:

1. Ellen Painter Dollar's work and reflection on love, disease and suffering 

2. Amy-Julia Becker's reflections on suffering: disability and downsyndrome and perfectionism

3. Elizabeth Corcoran on divorce/loneliness

4. Ed Dobson facing death and rethinking what it means to be a Christian

5. Trina Pockett on finding out during her fourth month of pregnancy that she had cancer spreading throughout her body

6. Jenny Rae Armstrong's Christian Primer on Emotional Abuse

7. Ben Witherington on losing his daughter

8. My reflection on the death of a dream

9. Amy Simpson on being real when we are in pain

10. My reflection on depression and depression among college students

11. Judy Douglass on "Conversations With My Prodigal"

Though we'd never wish our suffering upon someone else, there is some comfort in knowing that we alone do not suffer and that God can and does and will redeem that suffering. That myth, that we alone have gone or are going through this, often keeps us from sharing and sometimes ends in suicide because of the despair we spiral into when we believe there is no hope. (If you are reading this and are in such a state, I beg you to reach out to another person. God deeply loves you and will move heaven and earth to show you--often through the aid of others.)

Not everyone is in the wilderness of suffering; but there are all sorts of people in it at the same time and unaware of the presence of others. Sometimes, we have not the energy to get up and offer the little yeast, oil, and water that we have left to these other travelers. We can maybe pray that someone else will be generous with what they have when we are curled up, expecting to die where we are. Sometimes we can't even pray that because we don't have the energy.

But if God has not appointed us to physically die in this moment and thereby enter the eternal rest in the rest of eternal life, it might be that we just need to rest from our toil and striving (I will soon post my friend Natasha Robinson's post about wilderness rest). We need to let God take care of us and he will, as I've said before, send ravens, perhaps in the form of people or even angels, to minister to us. It's okay to rest and to be--even if our souls are sour and in despair. God remembers we are human.

I believe this is true, even for those who are in the most impoverished and loneliest of places and circumstances. Did not God alone come to Hagar and Ishmael when they were expecting to die all alone in the desert, with no one else around (Genesis 16) ?  God hears and sees those who cry out to him.

Often I pray for those somewhere in the world who are all alone, in pain or despair, being abused, crying out to God. I pray that he would hear them, that he would send angels or others to minister to them. That good would overcome evil. If I see them in person, I try to do what I can--though I know that in this too I fall short of the glory of God--of what Christ calls me to do. I fail often. God, forgive me.

Even now Lord, please, through me or others, send your help because you are the God who sees!

A person obviously need not be a Christian to do good unto others. God uses all sorts of people to overcome evil in the world. Remember Cyrus in the Old Testament? God's attitude and actions in overcoming evil with good in this world is what Dallas Willard calls The Divine Conspiracy (one of the best books I've ever read and will have to reread about ten times). God calls us to join the divine conspiracy and if we're honest, we are daily recipients of this conspiracy. Christians should be leading the way in goodness so that all might glorify our Father in Heaven and perhaps turn to him. If we're able, while we're in the wilderness, let us give of what we can and also receive what is given to us. Let us not hesitate to take the rest we need or to enjoy what comes our way. Such things are good gifts of God.

The Lord bless you and may you receive his comfort. And perhaps in this suffering you can manage to, what my friend Caryn calls, Grumble Hallelujah. If you cannot, remember, God knows we are human and he will not kick us when we are down or condemn us. A bruised reed he will not break nor a flickering wick will he cruelly (or at all) blow out (Isaiah 42:3).

*In the following weeks, I'll be posting some guest articles from friends who have gone through one wilderness or another.


May 19, 2012

The Blessing of Being A Needy Child of God ~ Like Baby Birds

I read this beautifully insightful reflection by Amy Kemp. It was very encouraging to me and so true. I had to pass it along to my own readers and anyone who stumbled upon this blog. Let us, like baby birds, open our mouths wide and receive from God. Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

May 10, 2012

Considering Adoption?

I'm  due to have our second child, a little girl, within the next few weeks. It has been a hard pregnancy. Not on the baby, but on me, mama. And if my delivery is anything like last'll be a long road. For the first five months of this pregnancy, I was terrifically ill. So ill in fact, that I had to have a twenty-four hour Zofran drip attached to me for a good while along with at home nursing care. Zofran is used to alleviate nausea for those undergoing surgery and cancer treatments. It is also used for pregnant women who are really sick. The Zofran drip kept me from throwing up, but I was still extremely nauseous and suffering the side effects that resulted from the Zofran. I did very little for five months and got off of it as soon as I could.

But still, our family is grateful that we are pregnant! Just last July 2011, I had exploratory surgery. The doctor was checking to see why we hadn't been able to conceive again. My daughter, Iliana, was four years old. The doctor wasn't sure if the problem was with me or my husband. He had used the word "secondary infertility" with us. Meaning, we've been able to have one child, but could not conceive another. Those words were hard to hear.

Already, I had started identifying with Hannah in scripture. We have one beautiful daughter (so in that way I am not like her) and I thought having a second child would come easily. It didn't. There were nights when I cried and cried and pleaded with God to give us another child. My husband, daughter and I prayed together, too. Iliana ofted asked us, "Why is God taking such a long time?" She had no doubt that he'd answer. We had no doubt that he'd answer, either. Iliana would have a sibling whether biologically or through adoption. After a while, we gave up hope of conceiving and decided that we would adopt a baby--something I've always desired to do.

But we were scared. Horror stories about adoption abound. We were scared because we didn't know if we could handle a child with severe physical or behavioral problems although we wish were the kind of people that possessed such capabilities. Yet these are the very children who need parents the most. And we were hesitant to wait too long because our daughter was getting older day by day and we desperately wanted her to enjoy her sibling, to not be so far apart that they lived different lives. We felt pressure and we felt rushed. Moreover, we wondered about finances. We are still paying off undergraduate student loans, so we'd be limited in adoption options (or so we thought).

Not long after we started seriously contemplating adoption and before I found out I was pregnant, I received a copy of Jennifer Grant's book, Love You More: The Divine Suprise of Adopting My Daughter. It was a Godsend.

While skillfully weaving together her adoption story (from the perspective of an adoptive parent with three biological children), Jennifer also takes a tender, yet realistic look at adoption.

This book has so many insights and is so well-written that it has been hard to select what I want to highlight. But I'll give it a try.

In chapter five, Jennifer says something stunning about those contemplating adoption, something that I've never heard:

"...I hope they come to adoption because they want to grow their families, not because they want to save the world. If your desire is to save the world, adoption is quite possibly one of the least effective ways to do it."

She goes on to say that there are more efficient ways to help the world's poor than adoption:

"Seventy percent of the world's poor are women and their children. Empower them with microloans, education, a farm animal, or job training and you will see whole communities rise from poverty....To make the world a better place invest in charitable organizations that equip women in resource poor settings to succeed."

I had never heard it put quite like that. Part of the reason I've wanted to adopt is because I feel that adoption is a way of fulfilling God's command to care for the orphan. And I want to obey the Lord. I often think about the children in the world, including those in my local community, who don't have mommies and daddies, or healthy mommies and daddies, or parents who can holistically provide for them. And my heart aches. So I frequently ask myself, "What is my role? What would God have me do?"

After reading Grant's work, I am reminded that there are many good ways to care for orphans and to help children flourish. That's not to say that she lets me off of the hook; she only says that adoption might be the least efficient way to help these children.

But then what about adopting children with a variety of special needs including physical limitations and behavioral/mental problems or those who have HIV? There are so many and these are the children least likely to be adopted.

Through storied observation, Grant reflects on the lives and personalities of those who adopt special needs children-- without idealizing such parents. No, these people aren't saints, there are very hard days, but the best have systems of support and realize that they are making a commitment for the long haul. For the most part, they truly take joy in their children instead of seeing them as burdens.

Honestly, I don't know if we are cut out to adopt a child with severe special needs. I have some friends who adopted children with special needs. It has been difficult and will be a life long commitment. I think God has a special place in heaven for them, a great reward, and I am sure they'd say that they've depended on the love of God to love their children well, even when they've had to call the police to get a child under control because of mental illness and behavioral problems.

So why do I further appreciate this book?

First, Jennifer Grant considers the moral and legal dilemmas surrounding adoption and even how the problem of evil plays into this whole situation. Not all adoption agencies are upstanding. Some children are kidnapped in order to be sold into adoption. Adoption has a dark side because sometimes neither biological nor adoptive parents have any idea that they're being exploited--along with the children.

Secondly, it is a well-written and informative book because it interweaves Jennifer's family's personal slice of life story of adopting Mia (the joy, the pain of waiting, the pain of other people's comments) with global considerations and practical advice for those interested in adoption. In reading this book, one truly gets the big picture, not just Grant's story. Being the good journalist that she is, she has done her research.

So whether you just want to learn about adoption or are considering adoption, I highly recommend Love You More: The Divine Suprise of Adopting My Daughter by Jennifer Grant.  Moreover, if you know of those hoping to adopt, I highly recommend passing this book along to them. It is quite a gift. 

While we are not going to adopt right now (I am about to deliver our second child), it is something we'll continue to consider. But also, I'll keep in mind the insights I gathered from Jennifer about helping the world's poor and/or orphaned children. No, that's not right. I won't just keep in mind these insights, but translate my knowledge into action.

I received this book from Thomas Nelson to review (and I am glad I did!).

May 9, 2012

What Flows From Your Pain?

This is a wonderful post by Angie Mabry-Nauta:

"The place where your pain lives is the same place from which your empathy flows, he explained. Because you hurt, you understand and can feel compassion for those who feel similarly. Out of your pain your call is born, in essence; just as out of Jesus’ death came new life."

Read the rest of the wonderful post here:

May 3, 2012

Anxious Person/Artist? Listen.

This is a beautiful meditation by renown artist Makoto Fujimura. He recently spoke at Biola's chapel service. If you are anxious and looking for the beauty/goodness of God, take some time to listen to these words for your soul:
Resurrecting Lazarus Culture: Mako Fujimura

May 2, 2012

Are you a blessing or a curse?

Here is a link to some ideas I expanded upon. My friend Judy posted it on her Kindling blog. Her blog is a fantastic blog by the way!

Are you a blessing or a curse to others?

Apr 23, 2012

Taking Another's Credit

"One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice. He threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him—and he was a Samaritan. Jesus asked, 'Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? Has no one returned to give praise to God except this foreigner?' Then he said to him, 'Rise and go; your faith has made you well.'" Luke 17:15-19

Have you ever had someone take your idea and run with it? Or perhaps a boss/supervisor take credit for your ideas and work? I have. It is so frustrating. Perhaps you've labored for another's behalf, for their good without receiving so much as a thank you. Maybe like me, if you think about it too long, a twinge of bitterness unfolds within.

I think of Jesus healing the ten lepers. Not only did he heal them from sickness, but he delivered them from insults hurled at them, from begging, from societal shame. Once they were considered nobodies, pariahs, by those around them. Daily dehumanization. Now, because of Jesus' touch, they were normal. They treasured normal. Normal meant they could now work to provide for themselves and family. Normal meant they could go wherever they wanted--from the village market, to the temple, to visit family without having to yell, "Unclean! Unclean!"

Only one, a Samaritan at that, returned to heap thanks and praise upon Jesus. Jesus notices him and publicly applauds his act of faith.

Recently, when I was overlooked, I thought to myself, "Well really Lord, the glory is supposed to go to you. Really." But I still didn't like being overlooked. Not one bit.

I thought about what God says. I remembered that he notices what we do in secret. I also remembered Colossians 3 where Paul admonishes us to do all for the glory of God, not for our own glory. And God sees us. God sees, even if no one else does. It should be enough for us to get our reward in heaven, even if we don't get it in this life. Should be. That's a truth we have to work hard to digest. And many who get acknowledgment in this life--if they've done acts of righteousness for the wrong motives--may not get acknowledgment in the life to come.

And if our obedience and love bring him joy and glory, let us be content that one day we'll get acknowledgment, we'll get a "A well done good and faithful servant, I saw you. I am the God who sees." This is what we must tell ourselves for it is true and it will squelch bitterness--eventually. It takes a while to get over our own constant focus of  being overlooked--but as we take our thoughts captive, bitterness no longer captivates us.

Updated repost from 4/2011

Apr 17, 2012

What Gets You Down Sometimes Reveals Your Idols

I've been struggling with a certain disappointment the last few days. It could be real or imagined. I am not sure yet. Struggling enough that it has bent my view of the world. I am seeing the whole world through this dark lens of perceived disappointment; I can't appreciate the good. I feel incompetent and like a failure. I've talked to the Lord about it; it is still hassling me, poking at me and mocking me. However, I am better today and expect that shortly it'll be a thing of the past.

But as I asked the Lord about it again tonight, he sort of gently pointed out that maybe this severe disappointment is due to an idol being crushed in my life. Now, I am not saying that all disappointments are the result of idolatry.

Still, I thought I was beyond this. But idols like to feign resurrection. It's not that they were dead and are now coming to life; it's that they were never dead.

So I am going to wrap this up and say that I will practice the spiritual discipline of considering this thing I believe to be an idol (An idol I thought was dead) as dead. I'll practice the discipline of relinquishment. And boy do I need to practice!

Pray for me. I'll  remember you too--even if I don't know who you are. I often pray for those who stumble across this site.

Apr 13, 2012

Why Should Christians Care About Trayvon Martin?

These are the words of Dr. Jeff Cook of Cedarville University. I thought he was spot on. I transcribed his reflection to the best of my ability:

Dr. Jeff Cook: Why Should We Care About the Trayvon Martin Case? 4-12-2012.

Satan gets more mileage out of race issues more than any other issue in our culture. We’re not here to debate facts about the case…there’s a place for that…the court
We should care because of who God is: If God is a God of justice, and we are created in his image and we are to reflect his character, then in some sense we need to engage the kinds of things that are important to God. Quoting Sammy Rodrigruez Cook said, 'There are vertical and horizontal aspects to the gospel message. There are vertical aspects of reconciliation to God, but there are horizontal/social aspects....'

If I think all the social and racial issues were solved in the sixties, we’re not paying attention. The fact of the matter is that God’s concern for justice leaps out of every chapter of the Bible. That is a description of his character—that God is just. God doesn’t play favorites. When Israel was on the receiving end of injustice, God acted. When they were the instigators of injustice, God acted…. As followers of Jesus we are concerned for justice about everyone, including George Zimmerman.  As Christians we call for justice for George Zimmerman. But not only justice for George, but for Trayvon  also and all the other Trayvons that got up this morning to a world that is a little different than ours. The fact of the matter is that as Christians, it should grieve us that to be a young black male is a high risk for a violent death. You don’t have to be a gang banger for that to be true, you don’t have to be slinging dope for that to be true. And if I am not aware of that, then I am not paying attention. You’re more likely to be a victim of violence and more likely to be blamed for causing it. If you follow the news reports you know that people are quick to jump on the issue, 'What about black on black crime, that’s a whole lot higher than this issue.' As followers of Jesus we’d say we grieve about that as well. For any young black male, you don’t have to go to Florida to get shot…if you’re a young black male in the city you’re more likely to be a victim of black on black crime or police brutality. In the suburbs, you’re more likely to be a victim of white on black crime. But here’s the deal (if you’re a young black male) there’s nowhere to run. Where are you going to go? A gated community? We all have natural concerns  and dreams for our children (gave an example of a couple he married who just had a son),  but it’s nothing like the concerns of the parents of a black or brown son who from day one recognizes that, that beautiful young boy is at a much greater risk for violence and they face the burden that it will be on their family and community to prove when that happens that he didn’t somehow deserve it. We as followers of Jesus grieve over that. One of the things that we do today is cry out to God over that. Wasn’t it Dr. King who said that, 'an injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everwhere?' So we grieve over the high risk of a violent death of young black men. And as Christians also, don’t we grieve that it took forty-five days and a national outcry to move the justice system from a position that Zimmerman had done nothing wrong  (that’s why they released him) and it took forty-five days just to get to the point that maybe we should let a court decide that. A big part of why this issue has mobilized so many across the nation, especially in communities of color, is because there is an identification with him. A big part of why majority culture and much of majority church has been on the sidelines is because we don’t identify with him. I would argue that is why we should be concerned, not only because God is a God of justice but secondly because of who we are as the family of God who champions the dignity and value of all people—even the people who don’t believe that some people are worth more than others. The fact of the matter is, I am not suspicious for walking down the street in a gated community in a hoodie. Most of you are not suspicious for walking down the street in a gated community in a hoodie. But that’s not true of everybody. As followers of Jesus, as a community of brothers and sisters, as the family of God, as the body, we are deeply aware that in the body of Christ that when one part hurts , we all hurt. That is a normal functioning body. It is a dysfunctional body that feels no pain when another part of the body is hurting. So when I see Trayvon as my son, as my brother, as my sibling, as a young man who was loved by his mother, loved by his father, loved by his extended family who will miss him at the Thanksgiving table, who had a future like any seventeen-year-old kid, when I view him as that, when we view him as that because of who we are, then we stand in unity as a family of God and grieve. And we pray. We pray for families, for all the families involved. The Martins as well as the Zimmermans and all the things that go on. We need to pray for us and the church, for this campus. Because if you’re paying attention, you don’t have to bump people really hard to find out there some racial issues going on under the surface. Not only should we pray vertically, but  as we talk to each other, can we think before we speak, before we post on FB? There have been deeply wounding things that have been written and said. To speak redemptively, to be peacemakers, to be reconcilers, to speak on behalf of Jesus instead of being agitators--that’s the call of God, that’s the call on the family, that’s the call of God on us. So why should we be paying attention? Because God is a God of justice and we are the family of Christ who values people.

Apr 10, 2012

From What Vantage Point Do You Want to See Jesus?

Do you want to see Jesus? Do you really want to? Well then it’s very likely that it’ll cost you your life—at least the life you’ve always imagined. In our gospel reading today, Phillip and Andrew approach Jesus on the heels of his death with a request. Some Greeks who were in town for the Passover Feast are interested in seeing him. I’ve always been fascinated by Jesus’s answer.  It seems as if he doesn’t even acknowledge the request—like he completely skirts the issue and ignores the Greeks and their desire to see him. He doesn’t say, “Yes, send them unto me” or “No, I cannot right now.”  Instead his answer seems rather cryptic.

The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me.
Maybe Jesus apparently ignored them because their interest in getting a sneak peek at him wasn’t so much a desire to get to know him and what he was about but a desire to say they’d see him. That they’d seen this popular rabbi everyone in the world was talking about and looking for and wanting to get a piece of, this rabbi that the authorities wanted to get rid of. Maybe they wanted to see for themselves just what “all the fuss was about.”

But Jesus wouldn’t be treated like a piece of meat or some kind of freak show or circus clown act. He was not some tourist destination or attraction or trap. He wasn’t on display, there to entertain and sign autographs like celebrities or characters at Disney World.

The more and more I thought about it this week, the more I thought that he did grant their request—just not in that moment or in the way that they or anyone else expected. I have a sneaking, though unconfirmed suspicion, that they did end up seeing him. Maybe, just maybe, they saw him put to death on the cross—crushed yet high and lifted up.  If so, they had a lot more to think or gossip about – a story to consider. Perhaps in the end they believed he turned out to be nothing at all but a common and cursed criminal. I don’t know.

Perhaps we’ve desired to see Jesus and have even prayed fervently to see him. I believe the Lord will grant our requests. But we must remember that God doesn’t always allow us to choose the vantage points from which we see him. We don’t always call the shots of when and where we’ll see him, aside from creation. And his presence and the mystery of creation is enough to keep us perpetually awestruck. As Elizabeth Barrett Browning writes, “Earth is crammed with heaven and every bush aflame with God, But only those who see take off their shoes.”

Truth be told, if God gave us a sneak peek into how he would grant our request to see him, to see Jesus, many of us might just respond like the rich young ruler and walk away quite downcast and down trodden.

Apr 6, 2012

Apr 4, 2012

Disillusioned With God?

There are things we don't understand in this life, like seemingly senseless pain and suffering. Each one of us goes through hardships. And some hardships are indeed more debilitating than others.

What makes us disillusioned with God? It's different for each one. Today, or tonight in the wee hours of Eastern Standard Time in the US, I think of Judas. Judas was disillusioned with Jesus because Jesus didn't turn out to be who Judas thought he was. In his disappointment and despair, in his disillusionment, he betrayed Jesus for thirty pieces of silver.

We've all betrayed Jesus, we've traded in life for what we thought was life only to despair when we're left empty. When Judas realized what he had done, he despaired and committed suicide. I still wonder if God would've given Judas a chance if he had, like Peter, repented--even though Jesus had said it'd be better for him (Judas) if he'd never been born.

We need to remember Judas--for our disillusionment with God, even if  it is temporary, can lead us to do great harm to ourselves and others. Like with other maladies of the soul, we need to remain in the body of Christ. This is true whether we are in sickness or in health.

We doubt and bring forth our disillusionment in a safe place (a safe part of Christ's body). Maybe we can't believe. Maybe we're just plain tired or even burnt out from serving God or from enduring much tribulation. What if Judas had shared his doubts, his disillusionment with the other disciples? What if he'd gone back to them after betraying Jesus? Jesus still had to die for our sins so that we might be saved. So maybe I am getting into too deep of waters too early in the morning hours.

I guess all I am trying to say is that we all become disillusioned with God when who he actually is flies in the face of who we think he is or think he should be. Whenever God dethrones the graven images of himself that we've erected, we are disillusioned. We become disillusioned also when life doesn't turn out the way we think it should and we blame God.

My encouragement for our disillusionment is to go to people we trust within the body of Christ. Even if we can't believe or accept what they say in love, we can accept the love they show to us. We can ask that God would have mercy on us. We can rest like Elijah did in the wilderness after having confronted the prophets of Baal. After one of his most spectacular moments, he became depressed and disillusioned. God took care of him. Elijah had to do nothing but rely on God and God's provision.

If you are disillusioned with God or life, I pray that you will not take drastic actions at this time. This is the time where you need to rest and allow God to take care of you. Pray for him to send some "ravens" into your life to care for you. Reach out and tell others (you can trust or think you can trust) about where you are at. Don't give up until you find a good wise soul.

God has not left you alone nor abandoned even though everything in you screams that he has. I pray for you as you read this. I pray that the turbulence inside of you would be calmed and that you would find rest for your souls as you take Jesus's yoke, or teaching, upon you.

Mar 31, 2012

How Do You Look? Models Are Made

I sent this video to many of the female students I work with on my university campus. However, I believe it applies to men, too. I've noticed lately that more men feel pressure to look a certain way. Of course there is nothing wrong with wanting to look your best or exercising or eating right. But when your world starts to revolve around how you look, when you despise yourself because you do not look like the male or female models in magazines or billboards--there's a problem. It has become an idol that demands much from us but never satisfies. Maybe by watching this video we'll be set free by the truth as Jesus says (Jn. 8:32,36).
I got this from one of my good writer friends:

Mar 22, 2012

Christian Are You Toying With Adultery?

A few years ago I wrote an article for Christianity Today's Her.meneutics blog entitled:"Toying With Adultery?" I offered some disciplines for keeping ourselves from opening Pandora's Box of adultery.
Recently, the Family Life Radio Network--broadcasting in Western New York and Pa--contacted me about that post. They interviewed me on their radio feature Inside Out. Here is the radio interview I did:"Toying With Adultery?"

(The interview is now on the far right-hand corner under "Latest Podcast" no. 240).

If you'd like to read the article you can find it:HERE.

May the Lord use it. Do feel free to pass it on to others who you believe might benefit.

Blessings to you.

Mar 18, 2012

Particular Love

Imagine that you have recently moved to a big city for a new job. I am thinking about a place like the heart of New York City. Imagine that every day you had to use the elevator in your tall, tall, sky-scraper of an apartment building in order exit the building and make your way to work. In order to make it to work slightly before your 8:30 a.m. start time, you have to hit the street at 7:40 a.m. and then walk a few blocks to the metro station to make your connection. That means your goal is to be in the elevator between 7:30 and 7:35 a.m.
Your routine has become precise like clockwork. You’ve figured out how to get yourself into that elevator between 7:30 and 7:35. Now I ask, what do you notice? I think you notice the speed of the elevator, every bump and button and stop you have to make on the way down. The smell. And well of course, the people: your fellow elevator travelers. The lady with her three-year oldish son. You imagine they’re on their way to child care. Zak the 30 something dressed in business attire who mostly keeps to himself. He wears fine smelling cologne. Maria—you learn she teaches 3rd grade at the school two blocks down the street. Vivian, a lady of grandmotherly age who strikes up a conversation. You learn she swims every morning at the downtown Y.  That explains her beach bag and towel. Then there’s Charles. He’s close to Vivian’s age and a bit gruff. He reminds you of your grandfather.You see that he has a uniform on. You learn that after retirement from a local company he keeps busy as a delivery man. And there’s Ahmed. After several weeks of riding in the elevator together you discover he is a muslim and a heart surgeon—he’s finishing up his last clinical rotation at New York Presbyterian University Hospital of Columbia and Cornell—New York Presby for short.
Every day you look forward to riding the elevator with you new-found acquaintances. You know the floor each of them lives on—since you’re the one highest up you catch them on the way down. When one of them doesn’t show up, you’re secretly disappointed and a bit worried. You wonder if they’re sick or just late. When they turn up again, you hope for an explanation but don’t bother to pry. It’s not that kind of a relationship. Yet, you delight in their presence and each tiny morsel of information you gather about your companions. It’s a way of getting to know them. They keep you company in the loneliness of being new in a large and strange city. They have no idea how much they mean to you. However, you’re not at all sure if they feel the same way.
In John 15, Jesus says to us as he said to the disciples: "I've told you these things for a purpose: that my joy might be your joy, and your joy wholly mature. This is my command: Love one another the way I loved you. This is the very best way to love. Put your life on the line for your friends. You are my friends when you do the things I command you. I'm no longer calling you servants because servants don't understand what their master is thinking and planning. No, I've named you friends because I've let you in on everything I've heard from the Father (The Message Version).
Jesus is not an elevator friend. On the contrary, he told his disciples and he tells us, “You are more than a servant.” I’ve called you friends. That means he’s letting us in on his life just as we let him in on our life. What a special word, the word, friend. When someone deems me a friend, that places me on a different level than other people. There are intimacies we share.
Are you intimate with Jesus? He’s a friend as well as the Lord your God and brother. Or do you merely see him through servant eyes? Now that is something to consider: your view of God. Each one of us has to come to terms with our view of God because that determines our very life.
But this morning I have another question. Are you more than “elevator friends” with those in this wonderful church? Or is your relationship with those surrounding you one of limited familiarity? The kind of limited familiarity you’d have with elevator friends? Perhaps you can recite some facts about each other, and even know where some work or some vacation or some volunteer. You note when someone is absent from church. But I ask about your life together outside of Sunday morning? Do you have fellowship outside of Sunday morning?  Or is this a Sunday morning elevator experience? What about shared intimacies, the kind families have? Do you have that with one another?
John 15 says there has to be a growing love, a laying down of our lives for one another. And earlier, in John 13:35 Jesus tells us that the world will know we are his disciples by the love we show one another, the sacrificial laying down of our lives sort of love. The world will not know we are his disciples merely by our Sunday morning gathering alone. Sunday mornings are to be an extension of our love for God and our love for one another.
We are to be permeated by love not idealize it.
Such love and intimacy that Jesus speaks of, the love and intimacy among like-family friends takes time to cultivate.  I am not saying anything new. Most of us know this, but as Eugene Peterson says, “…it is possible, and not only possible but common, to think rightly and live badly, live impersonally….Knowledge does not turn into acts of love automatically.” [1] He says we can behave impeccably yet live selfishly and badly.[2]
We might think rightly about love and loving our community or even those closest to us, but live love badly.
Love is particular.
We are called to love one another in this community in particular ways, not in the abstract. Are you and I loving or should I say thinking that we’re loving in the abstract? Love is never abstract. Jesus didn’t love his disciples in the abstract nor does he love us in the abstract. He is quite particular with the love he demonstrates to us, his children. He knows each of our love languages. The kind of particular love we are talking about requires effort, patience, sacrifice, and time.
I know, I know, none of us live and work in the same place. Our lives take us in different directions.  We are running here and there. We have things to do. We need to take care of ourselves, take care of our families and children and run them here and there. Or if we are single or widowed, we spend our time taking care of those closest to us.
Of course there are seasons in life and we may not be able to love and serve in the same way through each season. Nevertheless, in each season we can demonstrate our love for one another—love for those in this particular community and the others God brings along our paths. Not one of us can love only when it’s convenient or only when we feel like it. There’s be very little love flowing from us then.  And besides, there’s too much of that going on already. We see where it has gotten us in this world. Loving can be painful because it calls us to die to ourselves and our own agenda. Death to self, the kind of death that God calls us to daily is a painful experience. We try to protect our without-God life, our own agendas, because they’re comfortable or so we think. But one way Jesus calls us to die is by loving one another. It’s a kind of death that leads to life even if it encroaches on our time. But really isn’t our time to be one of our gifts to God?

[1] Peterson, Eugene, Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places,313.
[2] Ibid. 314. +