Tuesday, October 5, 2010

In His Image

I never thought that it was alright to be angry at God. Somewhere in the messages of my upbringing, church culture, Christian education, etc. I got the impression that being angry at God meant that you didn't fully trust God and to express this was sinful or maybe was too much for God. I understand that lack of trust is a problem. I also understand that God allows for due process such as the grieving process, the growth process and the frustration process. If God loves us entirely, than He even loves us when we are angry; even when we are angry with Him. Living in that place of anger for a long time is not a healthy place to be but allowing yourself to go there, like visiting a little, secluded cabin in the woods, for a time, is not only acceptable, it is acknowledging that we were created in God's own image.

In the books of Jeremiah and Lamentations, we see a picture of God, in all of His glory, frustration, anger and hurt. The Israelites had forgotten all that God had done for them. In short, they had forgotten their history which was the history of God's faithfulness to their people. They had, instead, decided that making their own little gods out of wood and rock and clay better suited their worship style and taste. God, in His amazing love, sends Jeremiah to warn the Israelites of where they are headed, not only personally, but in relationship with God. We see in Jeremiah and Lamentations that God gives the people numerous chances to repent and warns them that if they continue to forget God, God will forget them and allow them to be defeated. This is exactly what happens and in their utter despair, the Israelites become completely inhumane. They begin to starve and so choose to kill their own children for food. Old and young alike are killed in the streets. Priests and prophets are murdered in the Temple. Jeremiah is sickened by what he sees and cries out to God in anguish.

The interesting thing is that many of the sentiments that Jeremiah portrays are the same sentiments that God has in relation to His feelings of betrayal by His own people. God is angry and hurt and sad. If these are His feelings, and we believe that we are made in the image of God, then why would God be unable to handle our same feelings, whether towards Him or towards another situation or person. In a sense, to deny those feelings would be to deny the very imprinted image of God on our physical bodies, our feelings being part of our human creation.

I believe in the God who was saddened when His people walked away. I believe that He is saddened when I do the same in my life. I believe also in the Christ who, by His Spirit, helps me to walk through the processes of anger, doubt, mistrust and fear with complete grace. That is the grace that says, "Jaime, I know you are angry with me but ... 'Come now and let us reason together'(Isaiah 1:18)". The very God who made me and understands me best, the very God in whose image I was made, the very God who created the trees that lift my spirits when they glow with Autumn colors and the evening sky with it's inspiring lights, invites me to reason with Him because He has felt those very same things and can therefore walk me through those feelings. Praise be to the God of all things, the author and perfecter of my life and faith!

Monday, September 27, 2010

Just Jesus

God is doing something in my life right now. I don't know how to express it any more clearly than that, although I realize the general lack of clarity in that statement. I have been spending more time in Bible study, prayer, thought about God, and worship in the last month or so and I feel it. I realized just a minute ago as I was reading a book by Anne Graham Lotz that God has been doing "Jesus". Ok, this sounds weird and doesn't make any sense, but go with me. I just finished reading "Through Gates of Splendor" by Elisabeth Elliot. If you don't know the story, I don't want to take the time to summarize it thoroughly here, but basically she loses her husband along with four other missionary husbands/friends while they are attempting to reach a lost people group. She writes in her epilogue that often people want to see the death of these five men as part of a simple equation: five men killed equals multiple people saved. However, she writes, to do this is to put God into our own box and our own understanding of justice and purpose. Those men gave their lives to God and did so without reservation or bondage. As Elliot says, whether what they did was heroic or foolish, God can do what God wants with their lives and their story.

As I sat in bed reflecting on this, I felt the same thing that I have been feeling so often as I have spent time searching after God. I have felt God "doing" something. As I thought about this, as I really sat with it, I realized something quite profound and really quite telling. I so often associate my times of feeling closeness to God with a result. I feel God in my heart and feel the closeness of Him so deeply that I assume that what God is doing is a work ... an external work. Maybe it is that soon God is going to provide that amazing job or that my ministry will finally take off or that I will write the most amazing worship songs ever. And maybe these things will happen as an extension of God's grace. However, as I sat and listened to myself think and feel these things, I felt shallow. I wanted to go deeper. I asked God about these feelings. I asked God what He was doing. And this was the response I got: "Jesus". In my search for God and in His drawing near to me, God wasn't primarily blessing my finances or my ministry or my impact on my world, God was doing "Jesus". God was blessing me with the thing He knows I need more than anything else, which is the actual felt and awesomely real presence of Jesus Christ. He reminded me that whether or not my ministry flourished or failed, whether or not my family's move to Georgia would mean the beginning of something amazing and whether or not I was able to break into the use of what I perceive to be my gifts, He was doing a work and it was the best work He could possibly do. In giving me Jesus, He was giving me exactly that which I was seeking after. God's blessing that comes from obedience is simply the presence of Jesus Christ. Anything that flows out of that is icing, it's flocking on a bright green Christmas tree. It's meant to enrich, not to mask or detract from the true form. And if it does, it's time to scrape off the icing or hose down the big tree and get back to the substantial thing.
I pray that I will remember that Jesus is not only enough for me but truly all that I want. If God sees fit to allow me to express that relationship in other ways, all glory be to Him who exalts Himself through the wholeness and joy that flows out of relationship with Him!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010


This afternoon, I was lying in bed with Mercy as she was nursing to sleep, and I had a quick parallel vision which I have had often when I am in such a state. The vision is one of a mother lioness or mother bear lying on her side with her head back, nursing her little cubs. I have seen the scene many a time in nature films and, most recently, in the Disney film "Earth". Each time I see such a scene, the word that pops into my head is "content". It seems that as the mother lies there nursing her little ones, she is completely content and almost aloof, in a way. This is the same feeling I get when I am nursing Mercy to sleep. Being content is different than being happy. "Happy" denotes something I can't totally get my mind around; something pink and cushy, like a big bazooka blown bubble. Contentment is much more subtle and, to my mind, much more satisfying. As I rested and thought about the word "content", I suddenly realized that the word "content" (with the emphasis on the first syllable) was spelled the exact same way as "content" (with the emphasis on the last syllable). Hmmm, odd coincidence but when you look at the words, it kind of makes sense. The word content (with the emphasis on the second syllable) can mean "desiring no more than what one has; satisfied". The word content (emphasis on the first syllable) can mean "something contained" as well as "the substantive or meaningful part". So, both words have to do with both space (being satisfied or full and what something holds in a certain space) as well as the idea of having enough and having that "enough" be meaningful. I often find that I am most content when the contents of my life are tied to things from which I derive meaningful and substantive experiences, lessons and memories. Nothing to me is more meaningful in my life than the Word of God right now. I have been asking God to feed me off of His Word and to let His Word be nourishment to me. I want the contents of His Word to make me content. I want the contents of the Bible to be enough for me so that I desire no more than what it gives me. And, I want the content of my life, my life as God has given it to me and as I have walked it out, to be a source of contentment to myself, my family and my friends. Contentment doesn't mean finding "happiness" in something ethereal. Rather, it means that God has given me the desires of my heart and I have been sated on the blessing of the relationship I have with Him.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Ritual from Abandonment, Justice from Relationship

I am currently in a Bible study at a local church in which we are studying the major and minor prophets. We have started with Isaiah and though I had a pretty good class on Isaiah at Fuller, I always find it absolutely rewarding to go back through and take the time to look at each book of the Bible with fresh eyes. I could absolutely become a Bible study junkie, which is funny because I used to loathe the idea of spending time in a Bible study, whether alone or with a group. I thought it was shallow and pointless (mostly because I did them alone, which is pretty much a sure way to make sure I don't follow through).

Anyways, we are looking at the themes of Isaiah and one of the recurring themes is the progression from Turning from God to Turning to Ritual to Turning from Justice. One of the reflection questions asked, "Do you see yourself anywhere in this picture? Is there a sin God is rebuking you for that you are ignoring?". Hmmmm ... good question.

I don't feel like there is a particular sin for which I am being rebuked, but if the progression goes from forsaking God to pursuing ritual to ignoring justice, then shouldn't the reciprocal be true? If I look at my life and see that I have a tendency to ignore justice, does that mean that I have fallen into a place of religious ritual in my life and have therefore turned away from God through sin? It seems to make sense. While I always care for the general well-being of humanity (whatever that means), I don't seem to have heart-broken, sleepless nights full of prayer-waking when I'm just going through the motions with God. As I read through the first 27 chapters of Isaiah, I get the idea that "sin" has to be some huge and obvious transgression. You know, like "whoring myself before idols" and all that other back-in-the-day awful stuff. The truth is, though, that I do "whore" myself before lots of "idols". Ouch! That really hurts to say, but its true. I have so often sold my time with God out to Facebook or my gmail account. I spend more time concerned about the money we make and how we will ever be able to afford a house than I do about the widows in my community and how I can be used to alleviate some of their loneliness and need. And yet, in God's grace, when He convicts me and I truly repent, I am cleansed and He calls me to true living, to living that is full of the need for justice. When this happens, my thoughts go from "Hmmm, how should I cut my hair next week?" to "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner. Protect the little ones who are being neglected and abused. Be a husband to the widows who feel alone and unprotected. Show me how to be an agent for your love and justice to this absolutely hurting world". So, though my sin is not visibly evil and alarming, it is alarming to God because I allow it to lead me into a place of religious ritual and abandonment of God.

I want justice and the love for justice to be one of the marks of my life. Seeking justice has almost become trendy these days, which is good because it gets the word of the immense need into the mainstream. And yet, how quickly can seeking justice become another way to get busy ignoring the constant need for communion with God through God's Word, God's community and prayer and instead turn to the ritual of being a good volunteer or worker. Then the cycle starts all over again and we end up seeking self before we seek true Justice.

Praise God for his grace to convict, hear our confession, cleanse us and call us to go like Isaiah who said "Here I am, Lord! Send me!".

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Modern Martyrdom

One thing that I like to do these days in to take some time to read when Mercy goes down for her afternoon nap. It is quite a precious time as I lie down next to her and listen to the rhythm of her breathing and the warmth of her little body as I drift into a new book. As Joseph and I have been struggling through decisions that we believe will shape our life vision and goals, I have been drawn to different books about faith and living in faith. I have a very old and worn copy of Fox's Book of Martyrs, which I believe either belonged to my grandfather or my great uncle, both who were men of faith and great learning. I have many times looked at the book and thought, "I really need to read that someday". As well, when I worked at the bookstore at Fuller, I would see different copies of the book and be drawn to pick them up and flip through them. I have always been curious about the early church saints and martyrs and this past week I decided to spend the time I have while Mercy naps reading the heavy, worn book in the hopes of bolstering my own faith.

I don't think I quite understood what I was getting into as I read the introduction about John Foxe, who was himself persecuted for writing his book chronicling the story of Christian martyrs from Stephen to his own contemporary time. As I have continued to read, I have found myself wrapping my arms around Mercy in a protective fashion in response to stories of men, women and children being tortured, starved, raped, falsely accused and murdered for simply stating that they believed in Christ and, often, refusing to give homage to other gods. Reading these accounts makes me ask two questions: 1) What kind of faith do I have when I feel like a "martyr" because of very shallow sacrifices I have made for God (and sometimes for my own sense of pride)? 2) How can a loving God allow His people to be abused in so many horrific ways when all they wanted to do was love and serve Him?

Now, I am an imaginative person and being thus, when I read these accounts, my mind wanders to the mental picture of the atrocity itself and I think, "what must that have felt like? Could I endure such a thing? Would I be able to stand strong in the face of such pain and oppression?". So many of the martyrs are said to have faced their deaths with such amazing fortitude and bravery. That is not something I think I could do. I think of stories I hear of modern-day martyrs and how far away I am from such sacrifice in my own life. In the moment that these people are being persecuted, does God shine on them so brilliantly that He takes away their physical pain? Does He show Himself merciful to those that love Him in a practical and physical way?

I have no pretty bow to wrap up this post. I am struggling with this just as I struggle with the inhumanity I read about that is present in our world today. I want to be willing to sacrifice all for my God, just as I want to be willing to come to the aid of those who are oppressed in this world, whether they know Christ or not. I pray that God would lead me to be bold, courageous and uniquely positioned to help the oppressed and forlorn.

I would love feedback as I am struggling to understand and come to grips with the reign of evil in the world when I know that there is a loving God who truly cares for every person He has created.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Captive Thoughts

It has been quite awhile since I've posted a blog. There has been so much going on for our family and me personally but nothing that I have really desired to dig into through writing.

However, as I was laying in bed this evening, thinking through some big decisions we have recently been making, I had a bit of a moment where a number of thoughts connected and came together with a passage of Scripture like two sides of a jacket zipper being connected together into one tight track by a fervent tug of a pulley. I was thinking through how I felt about two sides of a particular decision. Often when I think on how I feel about something, I end up getting a mental picture. As I thought through one side of the decision, I pictured myself on a thin metal railing above a deep gorge. I was alone on the railing trying to slide myself gingerly across the sharp metal rail, all the while realizing how alone I was and what a dangerous situation I was finding myself in. As I thought about the second outcome of this particular decision, I pictured the Kudzu that grows all over Atlanta in the Spring and Summer. Kudzu looks like a combination of ivy and moss in that it has large leaves and grows over absolutely everything in a kind of green blanket. It is absolutely beautiful and also totally engrossing. The feeling I was resonating with was that of being completely surrounded and enveloped. As I let these two images sink in a bit more, I realized that there are other images that I have associated with feelings all of my life without being fully aware that they have been such a part of my unconscious and, now, conscious life. As well, there have been memories and pictures from my childhood that have often flashed so quickly across the screen of my mind that I don't even realize they are there. In the last few years, I have been able to catch some of these memories, feelings and pictures either by the grace of God or simply because of years of repetition. When I am able to "catch" them, it's as if I am pulling them out of the clouds of my mind and investigating them, really looking at them, for the first time. I am able to analyze the feelings, emotions and weight of them. Sometimes, when I'm able to do this, I have real breakthroughs. Sometimes they merit nothing more than a smile or giggle attached to a precious time from my earlier life.

As I was thinking about this tonight, I was reminded of 2 Corinthians 10:5 which says,
"We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ".

Now, I know this is proof-texting quite a bit, but as I thought of that verse, a light went on for me on a personal level. It seems that as I have grown in my relationship with Christ, there have been more of those moments when I have been able to actually capture a thought that has been with me for years but had never become a part of my conscious mind. In light of this verse, it seems that as I have grown in truth and prayed against the "arguments and pretensions that (set themselves) up against the knowledge of God" in my life, God has allowed me to take my thoughts captive and deal with them, which has allowed me to be free and, therefore, more obedient to Christ. All I can say in response to that discovery is Praise be to God who rules and reigns in our hearts and minds to set us free from our own mental jails and barriers. What an amazing God to truly indwell us to the point that He reveals our own selves to us more fully so that we can live more freely in His truth. What a loving God I serve!

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Mercy's 1st Birthday

Well, in retrospect, I should have been blogging like mad over the last four months because of all of the things that have happened; Praises to God for a clean bill of health for my father-in-law after a cancer scare that led us to Oregon for about six weeks, a move to a new apartment and the ever-present search for work in Atlanta. However, since I just summarized the last quarter of a year in a sentence, I will move on to the present joy in my life: Mercy turned one! I am excited to share pictures and video of her first birthday. Here is a summary in photos of our trip to the zoo and her little party with our Bell/Eggleston family here in Atlanta. Enjoy!

"What Great Grief Has Made the Empress Mute" June Jordon - Poetess

Because it was raining outside the palace
Because there was no rain in her vicinity

Because people kept asking her questions
Because nobody ever asked her anything

Because marriage robbed her of her mother
Because she lost her daughters to the same tradition

Because her son laughed when she opened her mouth
Because he never delighted in anything she said

Because romance carried the rose inside of a fist
Because she hungered for the fragrance of the rose

Because the jewels of her life did not belong to her
Because the glow of gold and silk disguised her soul

Because nothing she could say could change the melted music of her space
Because the privilege of her misery was something she could not disgrace

Because no one could imagine reasons for her grief
Because her grief required no imagination

Because it was raining outside the palace
Because there was no rain in her vicinity