Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Radical Faith is Born of Real Encounter

Yesterday, I spent the day as a peddler, dropping off copies of my new book, Picturing the Face of Jesus, to various pastors in the area. I am enthused about this book for several reasons. It contains gorgeous color images of Jesus and I love art! I believe the concept is very fresh and creative—each chapter describes an emotion that Jesus expressed toward individuals in different gospel stories, like “the face of welcome” (Zacchaeus) or “the face of longing” (the rich, young, ruler). What I really love is the opportunity this book provides to engage with Christ through multi-sensory exercises.

Nothing impacts us more than when we personally encounter Jesus—when we experience a transcendent moment where we know beyond a shadow of a doubt that the God who created the universe has stooped down and given notice to us. Radical faith is born from those kinds of encounters!

Picturing the Face of Jesus is a book intended to help Christ become more real to you. I write with the conviction that until Jesus is real, your faith will sag: it will be weak and dispassionate, and your life will not resemble what it means to live in the way of Jesus. Radical faith is born of real encounter.” (Pg. 110)

On one of my visits yesterday, I had a conversation with a woman who leads a women’s ministry in her church. Recently, they hosted an outreach around “chocolate, coffee and comedy.” The response was overwhelming—nearly 900 women attended! My friend shared her insights that women today long to have fun and release some of the tensions built up by all the stress of life. She then commented that the challenge is knowing how strengthen their commitment to Christ.

What does ignite spiritual desire and inspire us to live radical lives of faith in Jesus? I don’t think it’s more information about Him. We need a profound encounter often facilitated through means other than words. Words connect with our thinking but often miss our hearts. What does awaken the heart are mediums like art, contemplation, and engaging the imagination.

This past week, I have been reading Picturing the Face of Jesus as if it were written by someone else. I have practiced the multi-sensory exercises, pondering the images, and responding. I have experienced tender moments when, though the art, God’s Spirit spoke to my spirit, and Jesus met me right then and there! I hope that you will join me in this quest to picture the human face of the Son of God and be transformed by your encounter into a person of radical faith!

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Catfish and Collard Greens

On Friday, a new friend named Bettejean picked me up at the Alexandria, Louisiana airport to take me to a retreat where I was speaking. I mentioned that I was starved and she assured me that lunch was on the schedule. Then she explained her thought process in choosing just the right place to have lunch. Bettejean told me that since I was coming from Indiana to Louisiana, it wouldn’t do to take me to some chain restaurant. I needed to experience the real thing—Louisiana cookin’ at it’s best. (We were inland, a very different cuisine than Baton Rouge, she qualified.)

So, we stopped at a country diner called Lea’s, once written up in Southern Living magazine for its down-home, blue-plate specials and pie. For the first time, I savored catfish, collard greens and gravy on rice! (Okay. I’ve had catfish before, just not prepared in this way. But never collard greens. And never gravy on rice! Haven’t these people heard of mashed potatoes?)

I spent the weekend meeting a potpourri of new friends—women with deep southern accents, warm southern hospitality, of varied ages, with an array of colorful personalities and intriguing life stories. The Chapel at Baton Rouge has two locations. One is on the LSU campus, so there were a number of young, bright college women in attendance. It became vividly clear that God is weaving a beautiful tapestry of lives together in this church. The honesty, vulnerability, and openness of these women prepared the way for a rich, tender, Spirit-soaked time together.

Here is the gift in it for me: typically, when I speak at a retreat, I come in and do my thing and leave. But this time, I stayed over Saturday night with a handful of the leaders. We had dinner together, sat in high-backed rocking chairs on a porch that overlooked a lake, shared our hearts and prayed together. Then something very surprising happened.

Through an unplanned invitation, I shared briefly about an incident in my life that had hurt my heart. Once these dear friends heard about it, they circled their chairs and began some prayer triage. As I watched the scene unfold, I felt the miraculous hand of God orchestrating it all. I had come to this retreat to pour myself out for them. What I didn’t anticipate is that God brought me to them for them to pour themselves out for me!

As I reflect on the mutual ministry we offered each other, my heart feels deep gladness. The reciprocity in the body of Christ is a beautiful thing. I pray that I will never, ever be closed to receiving the grace God has for me through others to whom I have come to serve. Thank you, dear women of The Chapel at Baton Rouge! You loved me well.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

When Pain Comes Out Ugly!

Have you ever felt embarrassed by your own reactions to a hurtful experience? Something happens to you that assaults your heart, claws at your dignity, threatens your well-being and you respond with bitter outrage. Now, not only are you reeling from the blistering incident, you stand exposed and ashamed at your outburst of emotion, humiliated that you can’t manage your pain with greater finesse.

A conversation recently took me back to an event in my life when I did not manage my own pain with tremendous poise and grace. I let others see the hurt, have a glimpse of the wound, and in so doing, paid a pretty price. Many who witnessed my outcry found my lament to be too much. Even some whom I would have called friends could not handle my strong, caustic emotions and turned away in disgust.

It’s hard to remember that time in my life and the loneliness and rejection I felt. But if I’m honest, I, too, am uncomfortable when pain comes out ugly in another person. I’m particularly sensitive to cynicism. When I detect bitter rage and raw blame in someone, I feel anxious and wary. My instinct is to treat their condition as if it was contagious and run away. Why is that?

This morning, I read Psalm 73 and a portion of it got me thinking, and led me down this path of contemplation. Here is how the psalmist described God’s reaction to pain when it comes out ugly:

“Then I realized that my heart was bitter,
And I was all torn up inside.
I was so foolish and ignorant—
I must have seemed like a senseless animal to you.
Yet I still belong to you;
You hold my right hand.
You guide me with your counsel,
Leading me to a glorious destiny.”
Psalm 73:21-23, NLT

As I read these words, I identified with feeling “all torn up inside,” “foolish and ignorant” and so distraught I must have “seemed like a senseless animal.” In that state of unkempt pain, I also experienced God’s gracious, abiding presence. Yes, even when pain came out ugly, I was aware that I still belonged to God. He stayed with me, holding my hand and guiding me toward a better place.

In this Psalm, God shows us how to companion one another during times when we are all torn up inside. My anxiety and instincts tell me to run. But God’s example insists that I stay put, giving my friend a place to belong in his or her pain, a hand to hold, and an ear who will listen.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

What do I have to be anxious about?

How can any of us avoid becoming anxious these days if we attempt to remain informed by watching or reading the news? Much of the time, I don’t even know what all of it means. When the newscaster announces that the Dow Jones is down by two hundred points, I have no idea how to translate that information. But some how, I have been conditioned to believe that whatever it means, it is awful, dreadful news!

It’s not that the bleak economic state of our country (and the world) is of no concern for me. I am currently looking for employment. Each day, I spend earnest moments in prayer, reminding God that I depend on him for my daily bread and a job that will provide it.

But lately, it occurred to me that much of the anxiety I feel is based on an illusion. I worry about not having enough money to pay our bills, but today we have enough money. I worry about not being able to purchase items that we need for our livelihood, but today we have everything we need.

So, why do I feel so uneasy when the source of my apprehension is fabricated? It is totally based in an imagined future that doesn’t even exist. My worry is over things that “could” or “might” be, but nothing that actually is!

As I was driving to a friend's house yesterday, I began to have a robust conversation with God and live in the NOW of His goodness. As I did, I realized that I lacked absolutely nothing. Immediately, I started counting my blessings—the many real, absolute, tangible earmarks of God’s goodness to me!

So I ask myself; what do I have to be anxious about? Something that doesn’t even exist?!

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Becoming an Answer to Someone's Prayer

For the last several days, I have been reading an excellent book called, There’s a Hole in Our Gospel, by Richard Stearns, the President of World Vision. This book provokes me, in the very best sense of the word. I can’t read it without pausing and allowing the message to slap me in the face and sober me. The graphic tales of the world’s poor and the words of Jesus pierce me that I, as His follower, have a responsibility and privilege to care for the world’s poor.

This morning, Stearns described a trip that he and his wife took to a remote, mountainous village in Peru. There, they met a woman whose husband had died nine months previously. She had three small children who lived with her in a dirt-floored hovel, all of whom were sickened by parasites and disease.

During their visit, Richard Stearns asked the mother what she prayed for. She responded that she prayed for God to help her—for God to send her help. In that moment, Rich’s eyes were opened to realize something that had never occurred to him before. He was God’s answer to her prayer.

I feel certain that all around us, people are suffering for various reasons and in their distress, are crying out for God's help. They don’t know where else to turn, so they turn to a God they may know little of, wondering if that God will hear them and respond. And sure enough, God does respond by tapping one of his followers to become that answer.

For instance, my husband, who helps the poor find employment, recently met with a 58 year-old woman. She didn’t have a high school diploma or many marketable skills, and had just lost her job. She felt utterly hopeless. David walked her through a plan that would help her finish her GED and develop skills that would improve her employability. After their conversation, she stood with head bowed; hand over her mouth, ready to cry. David gently placed his hand on her shoulder and said, “Are you okay?” All she could muster was, “Thank you, Jesus. Thank you, Jesus.” David had become God’s answer to her prayer.

Today, I ask God to help me become an answer to someone’s prayer. I wonder who that person might be. I wonder what they need that I have to give. I wonder how I will know them when I see them. I’ll let you know what happens. By the way, would you be willing to pray the same?