There You Were

We had the honor of Dr. Greg Boyd and Dr. Paul Eddy leading  a seminar on God, Evil, and Spiritual Warfare at school this week. The following is an edited version of the paper I was assigned to write prior to the class. Greg Boyd has had a massive influence on my life, not just my spiritual walk, but rather on my entire worldview (I encourage checking out his website ReKnew.org). I have often wrote about the work of people who have had influence on me, but I tend to shy away from writing about Greg’s work for fear of undermining the weight of it’s beautiful integrity and intelligence. With that being said, I’m sure this reflection is far from encapsulating the message of living within a Warfare Worldview–not to mention my clumsy attempt to weave it together with his more recent work on how to view God in the face of things such as OT violence. Regardless, what it does contain is a vital lesson on how we view our Father when we face suffering and pain. I pray you’ll see what I have learned to see once more, the loving gaze of our Heavenly Father.

There You Were

I was driving down Hwy 169, on my way home after a visit to my parent’s house. The snow was melting, and apart from the massive amounts of sand and dirt peeking out along the roads, it was a beautiful scene. The air, not yet warm, carried on it’s breath a reminder of a new beginning. A feeling of anger welled inside me at the scent of rebirth revealed in the wind of that spring. I could hear my father’s gentle words still echoing in my mind from our visit, “Stephanie, God didn’t take Matt.” I knew that, but it isn’t what I felt. If God hadn’t physically ripped my husband from Earth—from his children, from me—He certainly hadn’t stopped someone else from doing the tearing. Regardless of who was to blame, my flesh that was once fused to my husband was now no more than a gushing, bloody wound I was forced to live with.

I have dealt with spiritual warfare in very tangible ways throughout my life, both before and after becoming a widow. The night I was attacked by a demon who was determined to keep me addicted to cocaine more then I was determined to get sober comes to mind. I think about the day I realized the person I had been listening to in the mirror for years—the one telling me I wasn’t worthy of love— wasn’t actually me. The day when my five year old daughter fearfully told me about her nightmare that contained evil beyond her knowing is my most hated of all. In light of this, it is easy to understand why the average American would rather plead ignorance than try to face the reality of the evil that lies just beyond our five senses. For me however, it was the night I lost my husband that I had to finally face my own ignorance about serving an all-knowing, all-loving, all-powerful God in light of a world filled with pain, evil and suffering.

My husband died of pneumonia at the age of 33. He was a healthy man. The night of his death, he went to bed early due to a bad cold he had come down with that day. Before sunrise the next morning he would be dead. During therapy for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, I rewrote the story of my husband’s death in a way my brain was able to handle. For me, this process meant I had to re-walk through that horrific evening, but this time with Jesus by my side. When I now flashback to that evening, Jesus is present throughout the memory. Jesus was there and warns me of my husband’s waking and subsequent asphyxiation. Jesus cries out to our Father while I call 911. Jesus kneels beside me, snot and tears pouring into the carpet, as I hear the paddles being charged and recharged and recharged again. Jesus has become a physical part—as I believe He was—of the night my husband died, but where was God?

I knew God was there, I was certain. Why was it I couldn’t recognize Him? It wasn’t until over a year after my husband’s death that I learned I couldn’t see God because I was looking in the wrong places. I couldn’t see Him because I hadn’t fully realized the price we pay for the spiritual war raging all around us. I believe, in part, I couldn’t find God because I was only able to see a shadow of His imprint on that night. I had mistaken God’s shadow for His true self and that can be a costly mistake.

These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ.                                                       Colossians 2:17

If I hadn’t been sitting in a chair at Woodland Hills on July 15, 2012, I believe I wouldn’t be quite as capable to answer the question of where God was the night my husband died. Dr. Boyd’s book God at War allowed Spirit revelation into my life regarding God’s intervention, or lack thereof, in Matt’s death. But, it was through Greg’s message “God’s Shadow Activity” that things really began to click. I don’t think I would have the peace I now have regarding my internal dilemma of God “taking” my husband from me if it wasn’t for that sermon. I was at Woodland Hills that night though, and the peace that surpassed understanding for me in those first months of grief has more recently taken on an applicable peace that not only surpasses, but lies within understanding.

So as I sat there that evening, in my church seat, I began to peel away the lies I had been telling myself about God’s role in Matt’s death. I decided to think on that night one more time. This time I understood. This time I finally saw what I hadn’t seen before. I imagined that hellish night. I remember how I fell to my knees in our old hallway. I envision my face planting into the floor. I see myself crying out to my Heavenly Father with the most unearthly noise that had ever left my body. And then I remembered, Christ was there with me. So, I look up from the floor and meet eyes with my Savior as I had so many times during this re-enactment, but this time it was different.

My mouth, just barely able to move, utters in a hushed tone …. “Abba.”

God was there—right there—the whole time. It was only when I looked to the love, found on the cross, that I was able to see the true nature of God … regardless of the light (or darkness) in which I was looking through.

    

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An Easy Answer

I want to share this (rather long) reflection from one of my recent seminary seminars. We had the privilege of listening to Dr. Leonard Sweet for two days. His message, and mind, are gifts from God and if you haven’t yet read this book, “I Am a Follower” I would strongly recommend it.  This reflection is personal and I pray that all of those who have lived life with me will  take heart that I speak to the corporate church as a whole, but still let the Spirit challenge when needed. Grace and Peace

There are three times in my life Jesus showed up in a very physical way and said, “Follow me.” Remembering these times isn’t out of the ordinary for me. I think about these moments anytime I question why God has chosen me to love. What I realized this time; however, was just how easy it had been to say yes to Him. The first request to follow was when I accepted Christ. The last request was my call into ministry. The second time? It came at the end of the ugliest day of my life.

Of course, Jesus is asking me to follow Him every day. What is unique about these times is the added glory of a more physical presence to abide in. Since reading “I Am a Follower” by Dr. Leonard Sweet over a month ago, I have been struggling with my reaction to the book. I have read it a few times since, in hopes of changing my initial review. What was causing me to struggle was the fact that this topic seemed too common sense for me. The issue of leadership within the church is a deadly one, no doubt. The focus on attendance, number of salvation prayers repeated, and the resulting pastoral pride should be a place of shame for the church today. The fact that the average Christian looks nothing like the “Big J”, let alone a “Little J” is disheartening. And then something occurred to me, I was being naive.

As we sat around in our Spiritual Formation group and everyone was talking about how moved they were by Dr. Sweet’s message, I felt almost embarrassed in not sharing in their same sense of excitement. Graeme Seller (our previous instructor) had left me in a state of shock and awe, but Dr. Leonard Sweet speaks and I come away almost shrugging? So I reflected more, re-read parts of the book, looked at the seminar notes, and it finally started to make sense.

Being a Christ-follower first, faithfully, and fervently has been completely missing from my church experience. I identified this issue of lack of “follower”ship a few years ago and studied it in depth. The notion of being a “Christ-follower first” shaped and moved me deeply during that time. This seminar hadn’t challenged me the way it had others, because the story was already deep seeded within my heart. The seminar, and reflection on it, did wake me up to something very important. I can’t let the extraordinary in my life become ordinary. If a fellow Christian’s passionate work changes me to my core, I owe it to the Spirit to continue to fan the flames on my own heart so others might catch on fire too.

The church continuously drove me away during my life due to the issues addressed in Dr. Sweet’s book. I wanted to conform to Christ, and found myself instead conforming to the leaders in the church (who looked little like Jesus from where I was sitting). I wanted to do the things Jesus had created me to do, but I ended up just doing what the rest of the body was doing (which was often what the rest of the culture was doing). I wanted refinement, but was given no safe place to share my confessions. I wanted healthy community, and I was given social cliques. How can I expect to help make the changes I believe God desires to see in the church if I have already chalked these failures up to common knowledge?

It is an honored blessing that we serve a God who shows up in our lives and says, “Follow me.” My calling and salvation prayer are two of those times that embodied His beautiful presence. But as a church, are we allowing Christ to step in at times when it could be us? The ugliest day of my life, as I described it, came during a great time of depression. I was around the age of 23. I was just recently out of rehab for drugs, and I was using again. I had moved three states away from my family, despite their desperate pleas for me to stay. And that’s just the surface of the darkness.

On this day, I was crouched in the fetal position on the floor of my empty apartment. I was begging for an answer from God. I was begging for help. I had no one, and I knew I couldn’t go on. And right then, I heard Him. “Get up. We’re leaving.” I looked up to see Jesus Christ standing there beside me. His hand was reaching out to mine. He was inviting me to follow Him. I said yes to his request that morning without hesitation. I said yes as if I didn’t know that following Him meant doing the most difficult thing I’d ever done before. It was 4 a.m. and by 11 a.m. we—Jesus and me—had packed as many of my belongings into my car that would fit, called my mother to tell her I had relapsed, and drove back home to Minnesota. I experienced, for the first time in my life, complete surrender. I left behind, what I believed, was everything true in my life without as much as a goodbye. I even remember the moment that the palpable presence of Jesus left my car. It was as we crossed that last state line; as if He knew that was my point of no turning back.

Although in some ways I cherish that morning, I have always thought Jesus would have rather shown up as an embodied Christ follower. The Christian should be the place to break strongholds—pride, greed, consumerism, judgment, shame, lust—but too often it is what contributes to them. I want to be a Christ follower first. People say this, and when they do I become to think believers are aware of the problems we’re facing, even when that isn’t the truth. When saying yes to the church’s request to “Follow us as we are following Christ” becomes the easiest yes a person will ever utter is the moment at which we’ll know we’ve finally figured it out. And until then it is up to me [us] to remain actively passionate about the Spirit’s desires before allowing anything so extraordinary to become ordinary ever again.