As you read last week, I’ve had some health challenges in the last year. Or so.
Funny thing is, once approximately 27 doctors, 478 blood tests, and 3500 random guesses/unsolicited advice/WebMd visits were all involved? The answer was something no one expected. One of the drugs I’ve been taking for eight years to keep my body from rejecting my donor kidney was causing my body to reject basically everything else. Like food.
Food is important. I think I learned that in health class at some point. But now I’m quite certain of it. Nutrients contained in food keep us alive. And my body was having none of them. For a long time.
So . . . something meant to make me healthy and well ended up poisoning me. It happens, to a select few.
Hard, hard rocks
Spiritually, I’m afraid it happens to many of us. I think automatically of the Pharisees that Jesus confronted time and again. His basic message to them? You have a good foundation. You want to know how to please God. But you’ve taken it so far from its purpose that you’re poisoning yourselves. And everyone else.
The Pharisees had rules. Lots of them. They began well enough—with a desire to obey and follow God. They began in Scripture. But they got a tad out of hand. Anytime there are 613 rules for getting through your day, things are a tad out of hand.
My medication began well. It was intended to keep my body from killing a life-saving donor kidney. And it did that. But along the way, it started killing me instead. That’s a little out of hand. A bit of straying from the original intent.
I fear–no, I know–we’ve done that, too. We’ve looked at the guardrails God set up for life as He intended and, instead of being grateful for their life-saving capacity, we’ve used them to beat others into anything but life. Too often, we’ve poisoned the body with something that was supposed to help it.
Bedrock is Hard Stuff–Be Careful
We’ve taken the basic moral bedrock and, instead of standing on it with arms outstretched to heaven in gratitude, we’ve smacked peoples’ heads on it. Not always. Often Christians are awesomely gracious, and I have been witness to that beauty so many times. But enough for some to feel poisoned by the people God meant to be good news. This is not good news. For anyone.
Gratitude is November’s watchword.
The way to respond to God’s guardrails is with gratitude, not self-righteousness.
And the beautiful life they give.
When God does it his way.
I am grateful for the chance to live with fewer consequences for my dumb choices if I live by the rules. But I am not free to glibly inform others that their consequences are their own dumb fault. I’m not even free to decide that this is true. Only God can decide if an effect is a result of some cause. It’s not in my bandwidth. It’s not up to me to call a tsunami or an earthquake or AIDS God’s judgment because I don’t get to be God. The complex nuances of cause and effect in my own body turned out difficult enough to navigate, let alone believing I can judge those effects on a cosmic basis.
Gratitude dictates that I fall on my knees in worship and then rise in service. Not judgment. Gratitude that I have what is life-giving should make me a life-giving conduit, not an arbiter of who gets to be in and who is out.
Making God’s life-giving Word into something that poisons those it comes in contact with is something for which we will surely answer. .The last year and a half have taught me a great deal about turning something good into a weapon rather than a balm.
“I tell you, her sins—and they are many—have been forgiven, so she has shown me much love. But a person who is forgiven little shows only little love.” (Luke 7.47)
(Even better, read the whole story from Jesus here.)
In what ways can we use God’s life-giving words to give life this week? How can we guard ourselves from the opposite? Let’s talk about it.
I gave my life to Jesus when I was 16, and I’m a quick study. Within a couple years, I was teaching backyard Bible clubs and could exegete the wordless book right alongside the kids who’d grown up singing “The B-I-B-L-E.” (Which was also big in backyard Bible clubs.)
As a shiny new believer in an uber-liberal university, I grabbed all the support I could and was soon fluent in quiet time, servant leadership, and telling people about Jesus, whether they liked it or not.
By the time I was a young married six years later, I tuned in to Focus on the Family every day, volunteered at a pregnancy clinic, and suspected that anyone who voted democrat probably would not be standing next to me in heaven singing “Holy, Holy, Holy.”
At 32, with three kids and a perfect life, I had read all the books. I knew exactly what to do to make sure it all stayed that way, blessed by God.
Until I didn’t.
Until I looked into the face of a raging child, screaming obscenities at me, cuts on her arms and traces of drugs in her eyes. My child. I cried out to that God for whom I had planned this perfect witness of a life. Begging for those black and white answers that had promised so much but suddenly seemed far less clear.
He didn’t answer. Crickets from Jesus. You know, the Jesus who said trusting and obeying were the way to be happy all the day?
“Happy” doesn’t quite describe the feeling of walking up to a stranger’s door to ask if your daughter spent the night there. It doesn’t encompass the terror of wondering if she spent it anywhere safe. It never applies to watching her once-sparkling eyes turn away from yours and seeing the fresh razor marks she tries to pull her sleeves over.
I had stood on the promises, and they dropped me. Hard.
I was a Christian, a pastor, and alone, with a bleeding, devastated heart where faith still resided by the smallest of glimmers. What kind of pastor has a suicidal heroin addict for a daughter? It’s a great way to avoid eye contact in meetings.
It was also, possibly, the best thing that ever happened to my false-floor faith.
I went at this teenage rebellion thing all wrong. In my twenties, I followed without (much) question. In my forties, I started to question the whole Happy Meal.
Who does that?
I used to think conforming made me a good Christian.
I used to think following all the rules would get me all the right results.
Now I’m not sure I even knew the rules.
Now I’m pretty sure there aren’t as many as I thought.
My sureness that I knew how to do this Christian life thing got hit by a 7.8 quake. When things shake to that magnitude, something is bound to shake loose. Questions bubble up like lava from deep underground. Questions like, what is certain and what’s rubble in this mountain I’ve created? If it all comes down, what will be left to stand on?
If you stripped the gospel down to Jesus, to all he’d said and done, what was surely still there? And what had we added because we needed to be sure we were on the right track to make the grade? To be quite certain we were in control of God?
Asking questions like these can turn you into a spiritual misfit. It can get you side eyes in the Christian blogosphere.
So can starting to ask questions like, “Who is really my neighbor?” Not my theoretical, nice biblical neighbor. My real, complicated, dirty neighbor whom maybe I’ve never chosen to see.
Like suicidal heroin addicts.
Looking into the faces of kids who hurt and who drown that hurt in any self-destructive behavior they could find made me question all the people I had been certain were “other.”
Why not love the unloveable? Why not forgive the unforgivable? Why not admit there is no difference between me and the junkie in the ditch or the immigrant running the border? No matter how many rules I follow?
Many of those unloveable kids wandered in and out of my house over those years. Kids I would have ignored before. Kids I would have feared. Kids I would have judged. But in my house, at my table, with names and pasts and brown eyes that echoed all the hurt they’d ever been dealt and all the bad choices they’d made? They were no longer sinners who needed to get their acts together. They were lost kids. They were my kids.
I was the sinner who needed to get it together.
I used to think I had it together. Now I think together doesn’t exist. But grace does.
I used to think God was safe and His promises guaranteed.
Now I think real life with Jesus is nowhere near safe. It’s abundant. And beautiful.
And all I want.
This blog is part of an amazing link up on Sarah Bessey’s blog. Sarah Bessey? As in, one of my favorite authors and an all around amazing woman? Yes, that one. Whose new book Out of Sortsis at the top of my reading pile. Find more stories here.