Andrew and another disciple zigzagged with Jesus through the crowd to his home, perhaps a room at an inn, maybe a space on a rented rooftop able to feel the vibrations of a busy family below. Their minds must have echoed the words of their own teacher, John the Baptist, who yelled out in a busy town square the day before as he saw Jesus come near, “I saw the Spirit come down from heaven as a dove and remain on him…I testify that this is the Son of God.” Andrew and the other must have asked what treasures will pour out of a man on whom the Spirit rests or truly, will we even be able to understand His cryptic messages? The mystery draws them on and then they sit, stay, listen to this man Jesus, this Lamb of God. They soak words, eat bread and then soak up more Word in the Presence of the Alpha and the Omega, the Creator. Then, Andrew impatient with joy jumps up, says he will returns and runs…straight for his brother, “We have found the Messiah.”
My commentary on this scripture said this: “it appeared that Andrew had been with Jesus that he was so full of him. He knew there was enough in Christ for all; and, having tasted that he is gracious, he could not rest till those he loved had tasted it too. True grace hates monopolies, and loves not to eat its morsels alone.”
But, here is the question: How can we like Andrew point to the living God, go home and grab our brother when we have not tasted, have not seen God Himself, not soaked in His voice? When we have only tasted God someone else has shown us, we have no desire to usher another into His Presence, drag them to the holy. We’ve got a Roman road and a track and evangelism tools thrust in a box under the bed but we are so often leading people to an assent to ideas about God and not tearing off terra cotta roof tiles, lowering them down into the Presence of the One who sees their pain, but speaks straight to the source of what is festering in their heart, “Your sins are forgiven.” They are released and Grace Himself heals.
If we have not been home with God and tasted the good news of life free from the twisted pain and shame of sin, free from the captivities which like cataracts layered, hold us blind, our “Come and See” is anemic, embarrassed, hollow. It was only when Andrew had been in Jesus Presence, sitting at the feet of the one in whom is hidden all the mysteries of wisdom and revelation that his calling to his brother had any substance.
“We have found the Messiah,” Andrew told his brother. Found. He, the pearl of great price, the treasure in the field, the Messiah the earth has been groaning to feel walk upon its dirt is Found. And you, my friend, my brother, my sister, should come and see!
All around the Galilee region the wind was kicking up dirt and throwing it around, exposing hopes that came to the surface and false dreams of manmade kingdoms. The eye of the hurricane was right over Jesus head and in his wake he left a flurry of redemption. Word was spreading fast, maybe too fast causing joyful mobs unable to contain centuries of disappointment.
Messengers spread out from villages running across hills to family in another town with news that a new kingdom was brewing, and a new prophet healing. Family members hurried out to the countryside where lepers were huddled, a colony of the living dead.
Ancient Jewish society believed these lepers carried pollutants from the inside which boiled to the surface and contaminated all it touched, human or inanimate. Dignity disintegrated. Fear sliced through bonds of love and lepers were discarded to the land beyond the village never to return to healthy society unless a priest pronounced them “clean”.
The flood of good news spread across the region even penetrating these hovels of poverty and disease and in this one man from today’s scripture, igniting hope. I wonder: Had a family member waved him down from the food drop off point thirty feet away?
Hope climbed into courage and despite opposition (isn’t there always opposition?), he wraps up his open wounds and starts walking…toward the village…toward people…toward this Jesus.
This man, this leper holding only naked courage, strode directly into the fire of rejection. He was not only not welcome, he was not allowed to come near. There were laws on the books, in the Torah against this, and yet, his desperation created a courage, and the stories he heard, ignited a faith that drew Him closer, positioning Himself in front of the Healer. I imagine folks gathered, listening to Jesus, watching Eden life spread into one pain-racked person at a time. Into this joy-drunk gathering, marched this leper sending villagers spreading like shotgun pellets in all directions. Society’s contamination was walking in their midst, personified death. Horrified with the sight and stench of moving pollution, they fanned out. Only Jesus would stand still. Only Jesus had eternity’s eyes and a compassion which pierced through the jumble of rags and wraps, the white skin flaking, the maimed extremities and recognized a man He had created, a person carefully made in His image. He recognized a man as vulnerable as a baby bird, mouth wide open to Him, the Giver, Nourisher, Healer. A man holding his skin, his heart out for healing.
Standing alone before this Jesus, desire for life completely exposed, he begs: “If you so choose, You can heal me.” Faith rising bursts out of him. Jesus had been seen healing, was filled with power and that is all this man knew. He had heard stories. He had left his life and could not go back. Jesus to him embodied Life.
Jesus had just proclaimed to the synagogue his mission statement:
“The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me,
the Lord has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor,
to bind up the brokenhearted,
proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners…”(Lk 4:16-21)
This same Jesus was moved to compassion for this walking forsaken and a slow anger built against the maker of disease, this evil captor. Compassion rises and Jesus does not just speak healing as Elijah had to the gentile Namaan hundreds of years before, not coming out of his house, Jesus places Himself in the very center of this man’s cavernous abyss. He sees beyond the spoken need to the hidden wound. He reaches out his hand, and risking contamination and society’s rejection himself, He places his hand on that white flaking skin, touching him. And this leper, he who has lived without human touch, he who had been discarded by family and society, is healed, body, mind and spirit. The touch that once created the Universe, now remakes a man.
I have been living in this scripture for a week and am struck by this man who wore his pain, his disease on the outside of his skin. His bold audacity is disquieting as it works into our plastic surgery world. This leper unabashedly runs toward Jesus, exposing his true need and we remember, God can only answer questions we ask, He can only heal when we position ourselves before Him… He heals wounds we vulnerably lift up to the light of His Presence.
This leper teaches us and exposes vulnerable while we try so hard to smooth wrinkles, to erase pain with medication. We live maimed, wounded, but covered in a world which worships the pristine, the sunny. We try to conjure faith, devoid of desperation, do not weep repentance on Christ’s feet. We pray, whisper for abundant life but do such a make-up job covering our sin, our scars, that we often cheat ourselves into believing we are fine Jesus, thank you. We have no need of your touch, your free resurrection. We have found and drunk from the waters of sanctification or honestly, at least we are better off than Betsy two rows down. Instead of laying a hold of healing ourselves, we settle for enough and then run to isolate when the pain geysers.
The leper teaches us to leave the fine, walk away from the tortured comfortable, all that is known and pursue God Himself. It is here that I listen for the voice of God calling me. This is what He seems to be saying: Summer, do not fear the vulnerable. It is in your vulnerability that I will build a cathedral of grace, a place of healing for others. Only under the shelter of your vulnerability will they be able to risk taking off their bandages, risk exposing their wounds in front of Me. Build an authentic community bold with vulnerable grace.
People cannot heal, cannot uncover their sores where it is not safe, where there is a veneer of perfect. Our Jesus’ grace developed an atmosphere where sinners were rooted, convinced they were loved and so could confess freely, where grace could do its good work of revelation. My friend, unsure of how to heal, opens her wounds every once in a while in front of various friends at church. Her daughter was brutally raped five years ago. Exposed, she is told in placating tones uncomfortable in the presence of suffering that “she should be over it already.”
Last year at this time, I stopped writing. I put myself in my Surgeon’s hands and both learned and with lovely women in my church simultaneously taught Terry Wardle’s 16 week inner healing small group. Through the fall and winter I was landscaped, dug up, sin excavated, wounds exhumed and I was left in February raw. Emotions that usually surfaced only a few times a year, now screamed for attention. Fear of rejection spread across my body as if I was diseased with it, making me hungry to uproot, move, isolate. Others around me in the small groups were singing victory but I was left sitting in an empty garden, upturned earth, completely back hoed. I was the one teaching this stuff, yet it was I who was discouraged, short-breath fearful that the emotional pain would never go away! In desperation, I began to spend hours in scripture accompanied with the materials, fiercely walking right into the pain positioning myself in the healing Presence of God.
I couldn’t go back, didn’t know how to go forward and so like the leper I took to begging. I encountered a phrase in Isaiah 51:14 which spoke truth loudly to my pain and I claimed it as a lifeboat, “The cowering prisoners will soon be set free; they will not die in their dungeon, nor will they lack bread.” What started whispered sometimes in the privacy of the minivan would be yelled, stomach doubled over, anxiety sharp. I demanded healing because I could do nothing else. The possibility of living in so much emotional pain was sparking anger with my children, sandpaper over the kindness of my marriage. “Abba,” I cried, “don’t leave me this way! Jesus, I know who You are, You are the healer and ‘The cowering prisoners will soon be set free; they will not die in their dungeon, nor will they lack bread.’ If you so choose, You can make me well.” Like the leper, I had watched others get healed, heard stories.
Francis MacNutt in one of his early tapes on healing gave an illustration of being with God, our Abba at a dinner table. He asked us to imagine a scenario around the dinner table where we are asking our father for food. “If you ask your Abba, ‘Abba, will you please pass the chicken?’ He is not going to deny one of His children: He promises He is going to pass the chicken!” We can be certain, Francis was reminding us, it is in His mission statement: He will always choose to release the captive, to heal brokenhearts, create beauty from ashes when the captive positions him or herself before Him.
And through the next few months, the healing spread creating healthy scars with little emotional power left. He touched and He healed and He proved time and time again that He is more than able and that it is His absolute joy to make all things new.
I told my friend still aching with her daughter’s pain about Journey and the hard work of healing and God’s intervention in my life. She could lean on me and we would go together to Christ. She could be fierce for her own freedom. He, the Healer, the One who knows the landscape of her wounds, will always choose to meet her when she decides to take off her bandages.
for these women who with courage Journey with me
for a powerful God who does not leave us without HELP
for a Prayer Clinic where I get to stand on the edge of heaven and hell and healing with dear ones
for a church who is spreading healing from the inside out
for a senior pastor/rector, my husband, who allowed me to share this story, to preach redemption yesterday morning
for God who speaks truth at the point of my great need
The Holy Spirit who anoints, refreshes, builds
A husband who takes our beautiful children out on the ice to explore and fish in an icy world
“Your mercy, your mercy has stolen my heart”….the words tiptoe through my heart . I creep close and hard under the shelter of your wide-winged love. I snuggle close to the heart thump inside. Under your eagle eye I rest. By your side, I am enfolded in uncommon grace. Protected I stand under imposing love shield.
Joy sizzles down. Laughter oozes. Heart beats lively, in step with yours. Rhythm pushes feet to ground and dancing begins. First feet, and working its’ bouncy way to finger ends and up–all over, I’m dancing and dancing in this pool of “you-ness”. It happened here. Today. In the sweet spot where we meet. It is ever different, ever fresh, enlivening, hope filled. Exuberant Niagara of unbounded grace. We ride the wave together.
A room. A room and a chair. Just a chair. A chair and a candle though, and a corner to call my own, and time. There has not always been time. It is today’s gift, and I hold it close and call it precious. Time and desire–desire kindled by quiet. Be still my soul……
This is a true story, written exactly as it happened to me in the “morning” of my mothering years. It was published once, and then again and again. It seemed to touch a chord in many women’s hearts. And so, I offer it once again, in the “autumn” of my mothering because the power of thanksgiving is always timely.
The morning had dawned sunny and clear in Western Michigan. But as the day wore on, the incessant bickering of my three children (ages 10-16) began to gnaw at my already limited patience. It was August, and school started in 3 weeks. By 11 a.m., they had annoyed me to the point that I had to get away–something I didn’t often do. I jumped in the car and headed for the country. A few turns down dirt roads and I began to decompress. I slowed the car, and noticed a tiny, shaded graveyard I had never seen, even though it was just a few miles from home. I stopped the car and got out, strolling aimlessly at first among the ancient tombstones.
A slight breeze stirred through the pines, and my edginess began to subside. I had asked the Lord to “please do something” as I left the house, but I really didn’t think He would. At this point, I wasn’t even sure He cared.
Jamming my hands in my pockets, I meandered, noticing the dates on the grave markers, but listless. Then, one caught my eye, and I stopped, kneeling to read the inscription. The stone was so old and weatherbeaten I could hardly make out the words. I traced them with my finger. “Children of C. and A. Arndt,” it read.
Stepping to the side of the 4-sided marker, I read, “Charley, Died June 6, 1883, aged 5 years.”
Another side read, “Ricke, Died May 22, 1883, aged 6 years, 19 ds”.
Two children in a month! I exclaimed aloud. Those poor parents.
I was in for yet another surprise as I walked to the fourth side of the simple tombstone and read:
“Francis, Died May 18, 1883, aged 3 years, 4 mos, 15 ds.”
At this I sat down in the solitary place and sorrowed for the unknown parents of almost 100 years ago. They had tasted death three times in one month. An epidemic, no doubt.
I wondered if the parents of those children had ever had days like mine. I wondered if they regretted every impatient, angry word after their children died. I would, I knew, and I was sure they had.
I felt that if these parents were alive and able to talk with me now they would urge me to go back home and love my children well. I imagined them saying, “Learn to laugh with your children.” And they would no doubt remind me that life on earth is so very short after all, and it must be lived abundantly.
And if they knew the Lord, I’m sure they would point out God’s commands to give thanks in everything–and to rejoice evermore. Perhaps they would even tell me to live each day with my family as if it were my last. Some day, I knew, would indeed bethe last.
But those parents didn’t need to come back to tell me such things. Their children’s tombstone had already done so. And I had listened.
After reading One Thousand Gifts, a description of my own transformation:
I was born blind. Fear covered my eyes like scaled cataracts and I was afraid to walk, afraid to move without feeling along the walls with my hands, my toes searching the road for the unknown. Timid. Closed. Light shut up in empty eyes.
I am blind but oh, my voice has never been mute. I project from deep within, crying, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me, a sinner!” Louder. “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me, a sinner!” No one can silence me: “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” I am not afraid of desperation, not afraid of what I am. That I know too well. I am blindness and sin wound tight: Unholy Cocoon.
He raised his hands to my eyes. Through this discipline of thanks, He proclaims healing and it is spreading through my eyes and Joy begins to spread.
My little girl giggles, climbs into the sky, pumping her legs on the backyard swing and I weep healing. Beauty smacks. I am looking, searching even, but it still smacks surprise and I weep healing, scales falling. The tenderness in that woman’s eyes, the peace of a cool coffee shop to write, the call of a mother/friend watching all this in awe…and I weep healing. Thankful, so very thank-full.
I walk forward, joy weeping, healing spreading and I am no longer afraid. You are here in the Now, glory spreading out and then Step, You are here, and Step, You are here…and again, more glory, more Presence in the Now. I am beginning to trust God’s Presence, beginning to trust You. I am sure there were times that the Israelites had to wander with Manna in their pockets and that is what I feel I am doing: Walking with Presence, sustenance, You.
I am aging backwards.
For a little boy’s kiss on the cheek after climbing up into my bed
Husband’s squeeze of shoulders, encouragement
A surrogate grandmother/babysitter who laughs deep
Words that tumble and play and roughhouse. Pure Joy.
Half hour on top bunk reading before bed, boy/man enraptured
Word of God Revealing, Spirit speaking. Hasn’t stopped. Ever.
Linda is enabling us to read one of her “worship helps” to get us ready for our own worship:
Father! We meet again! Morning light skitters glad along eastern skies. Candlelight flickers. Ballet of light, this, in our holy of holies. I listen long into this morning. Soul stands on tiptoe. Spirit shifts. We meet again. And the raw joy of “Love”, face to face stirs deep in innermost sanctum.
You enter in, further, and darkness divides, shearing light from night. You speak life hard into my soul, and pause briefly to polish stars and juggle moon and ride the ripening sun. You wink and shake my world. Your voice robs mine. My blackboard is erased. There is only You….You who sprinkle snow and herd clouds. You who stack stars and filter rains. You who push waves with a breath, and scour earth for thirsty hearts. You who meet us all beside still waters and join us in green meadows and lend us your scepter and give us your shield. You who buffer us, cloak us and find us precious and wipe our tears and clear our slates. These cloistered moments make you big and bigger. They show You true.
Breezes carry the tune as you lean low and sing. I listen, your people listen, and curtains are drawn back on the kingdom of heaven on earth. You manger us, swaddle us, rock us to sleep, and leave the night light on. You quench our thirsts and raise our dead things to life and we are born again, and born again, and born again.
Strong voice of grace still amazing, you sing over us, in us, beneath us, around us and always and ever through us. Celestial hallelujahs cascade, shimmy and roll through the rocks of ages, and tell “love’s old story, “just one more time”. You partner with your own and make our songs to become one with yours: a new song, indivisible, high and lifted up, and shot through with dangerous love.
Twin towers, you and yours, Lord. Invincible you. Empowered us.
Together a song unstoppable, unquenchable, mysterious, victorious, uproarious. Forever, divine.
Laughter pools in shameless joy. Satan quakes. Earth shakes. Love scribes a Valentine around my name. And ropes my soul. Amen.
Most of your life you share space with someone or something else. And most of it is right and good. Yet…in that hiding place of the heart, you hear a voice calling for a place of your own.
A longing for solitude wells up inside most of us regularly, no matter how occupied or diverted we are. In fact, the busier we are, the more insistent God’s invitation to “come away” compels us. (Song of Solomon 2:10, KJV)
So then, where will you find your own place of reflection…of prayer and reverie? Why not begin by asking what kinds of places soothe you? Where and when does your soul relax and begin to “stroll”? What colors, sounds, scenes produce a sigh from your deepest places?
“When we create an atmosphere that is pleasing to our eyes and beautiful in our sight, we are replenished by being there. As we are replenished, we are energized to enjoy life and all it holds.” – Terry Willits
Do you love flowers? Then browse through a garden or plant one. Love to read? Then find a nook in a library. Walk beside a river. Sink into a rocking chair. Make your bed your island. But find a way to answer the call to be alone: to make room for your soul.
Are you attracted to water? Then a brook or pond or lake or wide-open sea will beckon. What about plants? Visit a plant sanctuary. Does fragrance stir you deeply? Use fragrance before you walk or after a bath, or before bedtime, or light a scented candle during your devotional times. Even tiny moments can become “rooms for the soul”.
I drive to the country–to a riverwalk beside still waters, and stroll, and sit on the bench overlook. My car becomes a sanctuary–a house of praise– as I play music on the way there. Other times, I find respite on my porch swing. And libraries: I go often and linger long and happily in libraries and second-hand bookstores.
I actually keep a list of my favorite places in case I forget. For what is more important to remember than places where the “holy” comes –high and holy places where Love comes down–where soul rises , and where life is set right and “dusted off” and strengthened by God to return to the story we call life.
“My special place is a small brook in a green glade, a circle of quiet from which there is no visible sign of human beings.” -Madeline L’Engle
My own porch is completely private and overlooks a deep gorge, a creek, and a forest of quiet giants. It is the most pleasant of places to spend a quiet hour. It’s furniture is simple and comforting. There I greet the sounds of the morning and there say goodnight to the stars.
My bedroom has a tiny rocker beside a window with a view. There I meet the Lord morning by morning, candle lit, coffee in hand, and there I am changed. He sees to it.
Wherever you choose to “come away”, relish soul peace beyond understanding that only God gives. Such a peace is a gift.
You will know you have found a place of value if your soul starts daydreaming, and a smile plays about your lips and your heart beats against God’s.
The Father pulls out your chair, He issues the invitation, he lays the table, and He provides the nourishment. All…you need….is here.
I was born into a world of big dreams (even in ministry) and I have loved them, have written poetry about them, breathed onto them before I shined them and set them up on the glass étagère for the neighbors to see when they came over. Like Gollum, the Hobbit’s consumed villain, I have petted them and have not let them go even when I stopped eating life.
When had I become consumed with the bread or even more twisted yet, the feeding of that bread instead of the Bread of Life Himself? More importantly, what business was it of mine? Why did I hold onto responsibility of how my gifts, my dreams were used or laid aside? Answer: Because I was allowing them to define me instead of my being Consumed with the Giver alone. This quote is Watchman Nee:
“The breaking of the alabaster box and the anointing of the Lord filled the house with the odor, with the sweetest odor. Everyone could smell it. Whenever you meet someone who has really suffered; been limited, gone through things for the Lord, willing to be imprisoned by the Lord, just being satisfied with Him and nothing else. Immediately you scent the fragrance. There is a savor of the Lord. Something has been crushed, something has been broken, and there is a resulting odor. Of sweetness.”
Yes. I want to be satisfied with Him and nothing else.
Not only have these gifts (spiritual gifts, natural talents) defined me, but erroneously, I have believed that somehow You have need of them, all those sermons of being the hands and feet of Jesus have built a new Babel, a tower of pride. But, You own the cattle on a thousand hills and even the rocks can praise You and oh yes, You can even form man out of clay. You have no need of me and yet I hear Your beckoning invitation, “Come, Summer, Follow Me and I will teach you how to fish for people!”
You gift me with the privilege of service, show me how to get down on the cold floor, pour the pitcher, feel the water’s warmth, lovingly place the feet in the bowl. Pure privilege! Without love, all my gifts are empty, but with love, service has Spirit-flowing power. You are the One who honors me with the privilege of pulling kleenex out of my purse, wiping tears from the brokenhearted in the middle of the bread aisle at WalMart. Your Spirit fills and I receive the gift of mothering redemption into the lonely one at the health club who hides her abandoned heart between bent shoulders. Then, I gift-wrap grace to Shelley across the street. She lives with three big dogs protecting her, unsure if You are safe, but opens her door to eat my Autumn Chowder. Every year she opens vulnerable, bakes a birthday cake for her stillborn baby girl and lets me eat a piece, share in her suffering.
Love is not thrown out like a net on the masses but spoonfed to the vulnerable, one at a time.
I daily need to ask for love, beg for love, for my children, my town, those God gives. You know a secret? He is always faithful. I learned recently, I cannot conjure it up, I need His love to gulp large droughts and then pour out into the world. Who do you need to ask God to give you a big love for?
THE LORD is my Shepherd [to feed, guide, and shield me], I shall not lack. Psalm 23:1
You have the crook, yes, but You have the heart, open and generous, protecting, shielding. I shall not lack…here, now in this Moment. This seems to be the key. You are always enough Here. I am the one who runs ahead into lack, who runs ahead into fear and smacks my head sharp. How could I lack with Your powerful Presence, with me, for me? You are here and that news is like spring water running again. Fear drives me to lack as a frozen stream, stuck. Your Presence heals my fear of not enough, my fear of new, my fear of judgment. The lies that shout, fall silent at Your feet. You are here. I shall not lack.
Sheep are dumb. I heard it over and over in sermons. Now I understand: “Sheep are simple.” I AM simple to You. You know my needs and how to meet them in the here and where to get daily bread. This awkward, leaping frog jump into the future was never made for me. I am simple. I was meant to take small steps forward, while chomping on what was right in front of me. I need to remain simple, open, slow, close to the Shepherd.
Summer Joy Gross
(More of this meditation on Psalm 23 will come in the following days)
I’m pulling out a chair dear weary, thirsty friend. Come sit down and enjoy the view over the hills. Doesn’t it make you want to sit, put up your feet, pull out your glass for cold water, maybe a sip of warming wine? God has put more than enough of what you need on His table and is always inviting, “Come, dear one, sit down, whatever you need, it’s on the table.”
My (Summer’s) mother-in-law graciously loves people through food, chocolate cake to be exact, piled with dark fudgy chocolate icing 1/2 inch thick. Like an Italian mama, she invites her loved ones to another big rich square.
This, my friend, is our way of loving you, big piles of words, prayerfully crafted because we hope that just maybe you will want to sit down for a bit of refreshment…getting more than joy, way, way way more than religion, we hope we can point you directly to Jesus who spreads a table before you. And we know that once a week on Sunday is just not enough.
We will pass around more Word, invite each other to the Source, the headwaters, Jesus Himself. He never runs dry. Never.