A few years ago, while in Sweden, I had the privilege of meeting one of the top botanist of their country.
While Sweden is one of the most atheistic countries in the world, she is a Christian.
She spoke of seasons. She told me of winter and how when so many view it as a season of death, it is actually a season of internal growth. When the ground thaws and the sun warms the earth, the buds swell and the growth that has happened amidst the harsh cold come bursting forth. She used the metaphor to describe her prayer for the Swedish people. I have never forgotten it. I see it in my own life now.
I have traveled through Winter. There have been harsh winds of doubt, the frigid cold of loneliness. The rivers of everyday life have ceased to flow and life has slowed.
What do you do when the seasons change?
They do not change quickly (unless you live in Tennessee, this year has been crazy).
We do not transition from hard times in a moment, yet that is what is so often portrayed.
The ground of our hearts slowly starts to recover from the trauma and the pain that froze them.
There is a fear, as you hear the ice crack in the rivers as they start to flow, you aren’t sure what to expect.
You emerge from Winter like a newborn colt.
Your senses often overwhelmed, your legs shaky.
In an odd way, you have grown used to Winter.
You like the slower pace, it has brought you comfort and acted as a shield.
As your heart starts to thaw, you begin to feel, it feels like needles, like when your foot is asleep.
I do not speak of a frozen heart as a bad thing in this context.
I believe it is what God allows for us to deal with the overwhelming emotions that we have had to deal with during this season of hurt, of loss.
We emerge from this season with hesitancy.
While some would think you welcome it and frolic easily in the hope of blooming fields,
You are, more commonly….hesitant.
I fear that in going into this season I am betraying something of the ones prior.
I fear that I will forget, and I never want to forget something….someone.
In these moments that I must realize that I am not alone.
There is someone who will help me remember.
A wonderful counselor
A bringer of peace.
God is the author of our story.
It may be a different season, but it is still the same story.
I am not betraying the past, for it will always be part of my story.
The same author is at work.
He has been at work through it all.
As I take the trembling steps into this new season of hope, with faith that is shaky,
He is with me.
He was with me in the Winter.
He will be with me in the seasons to come.
It is ok to be shaky.
It is ok thaw, and for it to be a process.
It is ok, because we are not alone.
Just as we walked through the valleys of the shadows of death,
So will we walk, even hesitantly, through the hope filled fields that lay ahead.
May God bless us and keep us,
May He cause His face to shine upon us,
And give us peace.
Racism in the southern part of the US is still a very sensitive topic.
Yet probably for reasons other than you think.
In being from the south, I have seen us typecast time and time again as ignorant, heartless people who are incapable of change.
Due to this, we strive to distance ourselves from this stereotype and make sure people know that we have friends of other colors and cultures.
Yet in the midst of our efforts, we are still blind.
I have observed our (white middle class christian) culture throughout tragic events in our nation.
I find that we are asking the wrong questions of the wrong people.
We do not ask the question “Could racism be an issue?”
Instead we want the facts.
Who is guilty of what?
What exactly happened?
Were there prior convictions?
Was anything justified?
All the wrong questions.
They are wrong not because we are so enamored with justice.
They are wrong because they are rooted in fear.
Fear that we haven’t dealt with the issues from our past.
Fear that the unresolved heart issues of previous generations have become our issues.
Fear that reality may be different than how I want it to be.
Fear that I may be uncomfortable.
I have realized that my heart is as scripture says “deceitful and desperately wicked”.
I am willing to sacrifice the humanity of my brothers and sisters of color for my comfort.
I convince myself that it is an individual’s problem and not a societal heart issue so that I will not have to examine my own heart.
If I can prove Michael Brown’s guilt or an officer’s innocence, that keeps me from having to look at my own heart.
I point fingers at them and reinforce my walls of comfort.
Do I really care if the officer was innocent, or do I just want his innocence to prove my own?
I need to wake up to my heart issues.
I need to see that we live in a fallen world.
That as long as sin is present, so will racism be.
I will have to fight sin and racism until Jesus returns.
I will have to fight my own heart’s selfish desires until Jesus returns.
My issue is not that I have done the wrong thing.
My issue is that I have done nothing.
Out of self-preservation and comfort.
I am not willing to entertain the issue as a possible reality.
I am a “Good Christian”.
If I admit that this is an issue, then things aren’t as stable as I hoped.
In my distancing from the past to try to prove that racism is not an issue now but instead a series of individual peoples issues, I have in fact, become a racist.
I am trying to preserve my own race.
I am sacrificing the health of other races to preserve my own.
It is not as extreme as the past.
Same tree, different apple.
One is violent, the other apathetic and selfish.
Why do my defenses kick in when these issues come up?
Not a love for justice.
But a love of self-preservation.
A love for comfort.
A heart issue.
I don’t ask myself anymore could it be an issue.
It is an issue.
When I lift my eyes off of myself and my comfort, I see the pain of my brothers and sisters of color.
I am sorry.
I am sorry I sacrificed you so that I could have an easier life.
That is not Jesus.
That is not like who I say it is that I follow.
That is sin.
I am sorry.
When I started to listen, I didn’t hear people talking about guilt or innocence.
I heard people asking “don’t you care”?
Our actions as a religious community, I believe, have said “no”.
We have acted like we care more about justice than you.
When really, I am not that enamored with justice.
Justice has been my scapegoat.
God is working in my heart.
I don’t like it.
It is uncomfortable.
It is awkward.
I usually avoid these issues.
I have been too afraid to say the wrong thing.
But in my silence, I have communicated much.
That my comfort is more valuable than your struggle.
That my fear trumps your fear.
That my race is more important than yours.
I have been a “Good Christian”.
I have been a racist.
I am choosing to stop.
I am choosing to follow Jesus.
I am choosing to struggle,
with my brothers and sisters of color.
I am choosing to fight, not for justice, but for the gospel.
For when the gospel comes in power in our lives, justice will be the fruit of it.
I am sacrificing my comfort.
For if peace, hope, love, grace and truth are to flourish, it will have to be at the expense of my comfort.
This journey will be long.
We are all on it whether we admit it or pretend we are not.
May we do something, rather than nothing.
May we show value to all as Christ did.
May we not let fear rule our hearts, but instead the gospel of Christ.
May we realize that there are no “good Christians”.
But that we are all people, continually in need of God’s grace, for we are all in process.
“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil,
FOR YOU ARE WITH ME;
Your rod and your staff,
They comfort me”
I wrote earlier about the going beyond the valley.
How we must go through valleys, but they are not our final destination.
Today, I would like to write a bit of how we are changed in the valleys.
In this passage we are compared to sheep.
Sheep have no natural defenses.
They don’t have claws, they cannot run quickly, they have no defense mechanism.
The only thing they have is the presence of the shepherd.
When we go through valleys, we see how futile our self made defenses are.
Things or people that we put our hopes in fall short.
We become aware of our lack of control, our lack of influence on events.
Others may offer advice from behind their brittle borders, telling us to just do so and so….
Their faith is in the wrong things.
For nothing made of man can save.
In the middle of this Psalm, you see the entrance of the Savior.
He is on display when defenses have failed, when we are most aware of our need for Him.
We see this in the New Testament.
Immanuel, God with us.
The Good Shepherd coming to us.
Why? Because we are defenseless.
We forget this.
We pride ourselves on self-sustainability.
We run from brokenness.
We chase the illusion of normal.
All so that we may pretended and dwell in a land of comfort and vain imagination.
One where we have more control than we do.
One where we are the Savior and not the sheep.
Yet we are sheep.
And life will show you this.
In it’s frailty.
In it’s simplicity.
In it’s beauty.
In it’s pain.
In it’s need for something other than itself.
The valleys lead us to places of longing.
The valleys lead us to the presence of the shepherd.
His promise is that He is with us.
In the valleys do not offer people a new way to build old walls or defenses.
Look for the Good Shepherd.
Walk with them through it and seek out His presence.
For He is there.
In Cru, we raise our own support.
We say many times that it is seen in scripture, God always provides to where He calls us.
This truth is not just meant for the financial or provisional realm.
This truth is for life.
When God takes you where you didn’t plan/desire/wish to go.
He wouldn’t take you there and abandon you.
The Good Shepherd never loses a sheep.
He takes you there,
Past where your defenses fail,
To show us the reality of our need.
But more beautifully.
The fulfilled promise of His presence.
“…even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil” Psalm 23
In the Middle East, rains are rare, but when they come, many times, they are intense.
In their intensity they carve out channels in dessert, many times through mountain passes.
This makes them necessary to travel through in order to complete your journey and to arrive at your final destination.
The dangerous things about these is that they are deep, full of shadows.
The rains can even be taking place farther away but the water rushes in, causing many to lose their life or suffer injury.
The shepherds refer to these as “ the valleys of the shadow of death”.
To walk through these valleys is to battle fear.
If not from rains, then from robbers or beast lurking in the dark.
It is a place of anxiety.
Many times it is the anticipation of these valleys that robs the traveler from the joy of the journey.
They can mistake the valley for the final destination.
The journey does not end in the valley, but you must go through the valley to reach the destination.
The traveler that stays in a valley has lost sight of the destination and is being paralyzed by fear.
They have lost sight of the promise.
They have lost sight of the shepherd.
The good shepherd does not lose a single sheep.
The sheep will not be lost in the valley if they follow the shepherd.
The sheep are incapable of dealing with the anxiety and overcoming their fears.
The shepherd is capable.
The shepherd has never lost sight of the destination.
When the sheep are focused on the valid fear around them.
The shepherd is focused on the destination.
We will not dwell in the valley.
We will dwell in the house of the Lord.
The house of the shepherd.
Forever and ever, Amen.
May you listen to the shepherd and follow Him, instead of trying to overcome your fears and anxieties. It is not about what you can do, it is about what He has done and will do. Trust in Him. We all must go through valleys. Lets not compare ourselves to those that are not in them, for their journey will take them through one at some point. May we encourage them to follow, as we follow ourselves.
May God bless us and keep us
May He cause His face to shine upon us
and Give us peace
..He leads me beside the still water, He calls my soul to return to Him (Psalm 23 ancient Syrian translation)
Sheep won’t drink from swift moving water.
They will run up to it excitedly, but as they get closer a fear grows and they won’t drink.
They will wait to drink until the water is safer.
A shepherd must not only lead the sheep to water,
but also must find water that is still.
They may find still pools made by rocks in the stream.
Yet, many times they will dig a canal off of the swift moving water to allow it to calm and pool for the sheep.
I long for God.
I run to Him and I am overwhelmed.
I read of and see his provision.
I witness the torrent of praise the resounds of His faithfulness.
Yet as I draw close to the water, I grow fearful.
I fear many things.
I fear being swept away.
I fear getting lost in the magnitude and enormity of what lays before me.
I fear the disorientation of the realization that the river is wilder than I thought.
To follow Christ is terrifyingly beautiful.
In my frailty as I approach it, my insecurities, my hindrances, cause my knees to buckle.
I am incapable of reaching that which I most long for
I know my thirst
I see the river wild
I feel the distance in between
In that space comes the doubt
“You really shouldn’t be here”
“You should be able to take care of yourself”
“If people see your knees buckle, they will think you are a lousy sheep”
I start to question how my thirst and this river work.
Then I see the Shepherd
He approaches the river
I am amazed at His confidence in the proximity of something so intimidating
He starts to dig
I don’t understand what He is doing
I see His toil, His labor, His effort
And I begin to realize it is for me.
To bring the satisfaction to my thirst to the very place where I am.
All directed towards the satisfaction of what I long for most…
I drink gratefully in the stillness
I feast on the abundance of His provision
Then He calls me to follow
And although I don’t know where I am going
I will follow this man
I can trust this man
He knows His sheep
He knows me
Thank you for taking the time to visit my site. I hope that in the journey ahead it will become a place of encouragement and a resource for you in your own personal journey. Please feel free to click on the topics tab above to see various entries on different topics. I hope to add more as time goes on. May God bless!