Captivity is the best word I can use to describe it.
At first, all you can think of is some version of “I want out.” Your escape plan dominates your thoughts. In our case, many prayers have been consumed by the plea, “Lord, please heal.”
We’ve been fighting an unknown disease/illness for 3 years. Every day I wake up and wonder how the day will go. The disease, like the enemy, comes to steal, kill, and destroy…our health, our plans, our joy, our communion, our fruitfulness…and although there have been glimpses of hope in the midst of the battle, we’ve grown weary of praying for healing. We’ve both admitted that we can rarely pray those prayers anymore.
For me, the place where I go with God in those prayers is too vulnerable, too ripe for disappointment. I would rather not entertain the possibility that He doesn’t hear. That He doesn’t care enough to respond. Those thoughts haunt me, even though I know they aren’t true.
But tonight, a glimpse. The spark of hope is back, and my prayers will surely take on a new significance, a new persistence, a new power, a new authority. He hears. He answers.
Today was just another average day in the Jackett household. Travel days have been, on average, difficult on David’s body. After a long day of travel, I called to check in — and heard what I expected to hear: “My body hurts. My back hurts.” I prayed for him over the phone for the pain to relent — for the sake of the message he would soon deliver. Oddly enough, my prayers focused more on the Lord helping with the pain so the message would not be distorted in any way. I’ve given up hope that He would heal because He is good, because He is able, because we are His children, because — Lord, your kingdom come. “If you won’t do it because you love us, Lord — do it for your people. Do it for the sake of the message you’ve put on our lips. Do it because you love them…not because you love us.”
But tonight, as soon as he told me what happened — I was reassured. He loves us. He has heard. And he still works on behalf of His people. In short, after being prayed over before class begun, the pain in David’s back went away. That was 6:00P. It’s 9:00P and still — no pain.
Granted, this is a small piece of the sickness that has plagued his body. But this small incident symbolizes something much bigger. He heals. He is healing. He desires to heal. As in Jesus’s day, the healing point to a day of Jubilee that has come…and is coming. Still today — he frees.
I had the pleasure of attending Oak Cliff Bible Fellowship this morning before setting up our Perspectives booth to promote for upcoming classes. And the thing that struck me the most about the service was the genuine JOY in the Gospel. They sung it. They preached it. They “amen’ed” it. The Kingdom is here — REJOICE! This renewed perspective of the overwhelming JOY and GLADNESS of the Gospel message was the perfect preparation of the news I received later in the day.
So today, I’m reminded that we need the body of Christ around us when we’ve stopped hoping for ourselves. Some burdens are too big to bear on our own. Sometimes we need the choir to start singing before we ourselves can join in! We need each other desperately.
Left to ourselves, this glimpse of hope — the healing touch of Jesus himself — would have been thwarted. His desire is to renew, to heal…and glory hallelujah – WE are the vessels He chooses to join Him in this work. We are the agents of reconciliation, the abolitionists. Together, we usher in His kingdom — together! And it is a glorious kingdom – full of healing, full of His goodness, full of hopes realized. He is the King of Kings and Lord of Lords!
It has oft been said, “You will forget what people said, but you will never forget how people made you feel.” Is this true of our gatherings, too? As the sermons bounce around in our heads dying to take root, will our tangible experience: taste, touch, feel, interactions, remain?
The assembly we usually attend is large. Stadium large. Room for all, room for the space between. Even when urged to scoot in, the space between remains.
Here, the sacredness is felt as the space between is tossed aside, making room for a greater bond. Arms close to touching. Generations apart, yet souls united to One. The space between is pursued, chosen. In a full row of empty space on both sides of me, the space between is typically filled with someone known. Yet today: One second, alone. The next, together.
I look around.
There are no spaces between. Although rows separate us, people are huddled together: young and old. United by space and time, united by the bread and wine.
A reminder that what unites us stands stronger than what divides us. A reminder that together we stand, together we fall. We sing, pray, pass the peace, as one. Just as Father, Son, and Spirit are one, so we.
And we go out, together.
Dear 3 year-ago me,
Congratulations on getting married and getting accepted into Redeemer. You look like you couldn’t be more excited — as if this is something you’ve waited on for years. The Lord has given you an extraordinary gift in David and his encouragement. Cherish it.
People will make jokes to you about seminary (“more like cemetery” they will say). You don’t want to listen to them because you think you’re different. But their intentions are good and their warnings worth listening to.
You will be tempted to think of your time in seminary as a “means to an end.” You don’t now — you don’t “have” to have this degree to serve as a minister of the Gospel. Especially as a woman. As a result, you see this season as a true gift, the pursuit of knowledge of your Savior. Keep this intention ever before you. Pray hard against the temptation to see this time as a means to an end.
You see, especially towards the end of your time at Redeemer, the temptation will grow stronger. With past voices in your head of “you will be successful at anything you do,” you will start to be afraid. Afraid of what they will think when you don’t have a high-powered job right after you graduate. Afraid of the pay cuts you’re sure to face after being in the business world. Afraid of the word “internship.” Afraid that you wasted 3 years of your life slaving away with nothing to show for it. Afraid that you missed out on what everyone else seemed to be doing with their lives. Afraid that 30 is too old to start a new career. Afraid of not finding your place as a woman in ministry. In a word, you will be afraid to fail.
You see, this fear has tripped you up all of your life. It has led to seeing successes as disappointments. It has bred discontentment. It has darkened otherwise shining moments. And you will stare it in the face for the hundredth time.
But take heart. Remember that your Jesus has a plan. Remember that his way almost always looks mysterious. Remember that his life was one of humble servanthood. Remember that he is worth trusting with everything you’ve got. Remember that he has provided for you in countless unexpected ways up to this point. Remember his miraculous salvation in your life, a salvation that speaks more life into you day after day. Remember that the journey of seminary, not unlike the journey of your whole life, is to know him.
This is the best advice I have for you: Make your aim to know him. In every class that you take, are you meeting him? Are you in awe of his goodness? Is the overflow of that worship making your face radiant? Are you keeping your relationships a priority – because they are the most precious in his sight?
27 year-old me, you are in for a wild ride. Keep your eyes set on Jesus and you can’t go wrong.
And don’t be afraid to fail. In the failing, in the ashes – you will know him. And you will find life.
Yesterday, Saddleback Church in California hosted a one-day conference called Mental Health and the Church. The event’s stated purpose was to “call the Church to action on behalf of those living with mental illness, equip lay and pastoral leadership, and stand side-by-side with those who suffer.”
The event was encouraging on so many levels. First, it was encouraging to see a united Church stand together in this issue. Although different denominations were represented, I heard one voice: the community of faith needs to be the hands and feet of Jesus as we serve and seek out those that are hurting. After all of the controversy surrounding World Vision’s decision, it was refreshing to see a Church united in love to serve and care. Sure, our solutions may be different, but the goal is the same: to invite in, to have compassion, to weep with, to impart hope. Many times, out of fear or ignorance, we have excluded and shamed those struggling with mental illness. That has to change.
Second, it was encouraging to see brave men and women step forward in the public eye and share about their own experience with mental illness. There were many tears shed on that stage: tears of grief, tears of exhaustion, tears of joy in hope. The courage it took for many to bring these stories into the light was awe-inspiring. It confirmed a desire in my heart to work with the hurting and the broken…to sit down and hear their stories, to weep with them, and to impart hope. I’m thankful for their courage to put a face and name to this specific form of suffering.
Lastly, while the conference gave some helpful practical advice (that I’ll be taking back to my Church), it spurred me on to think about creative ways that we, as the Church, can partner with others in the community to give people the help that they need. Statistically, the Church is still the first place people come to get help with mental illness. I couldn’t believe that when I heard it. We have an obligation and an opportunity to impart the person of Jesus and the hope of the Kingdom of God to these brothers and sisters. Simply put, we must do better. One panelist said, “If we reject people with mental illness coming through our doors, they think God has rejected them.” We are Christ’s ambassadors, and as such, we must welcome, and serve, and include, and love.
Consider this statement from Paul on unity within the Church.
“21 The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” 22 On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23 and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, 24 which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, 25 that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. 26 If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.”
How does this change our approach to those in our congregations that have mental illness? How does it change our approach to those in our communities with mental illness? The Gospel calls us to honor, not shame. The Gospel calls us to seek out and serve the weak, not marginalize them. I am convinced that we are faced with a great opportunity to serve, to love, to welcome. How does this look in your church context? How can we do better?
We’ve had our fair share of struggles with the institution of “the church.” Especially the unique challenges that come with a “mega church” (still weird to say!) that has experienced rapid growth in attendance, but not necessarily membership. When everyone starting calling Donald Miller out for his blog post about his frustrations with the institutional church, we saw a lot of where he was coming from.
Then I read this by Shauna Niequist: “She’s not a Megachurch. She’s my Sister’ and thought – yes. Yes, this is the way I feel about our church.
You see, this church is much more than a building. It is more than the size of weekly attendance. It is more than their celebrity status. It is much more than something we do on Sundays. Its identity cannot be found in those things because it is much, much more.
It is the people we call at midnight on a Saturday because we can’t go back to our own home.
It is the weekly dinners, the confessions, the griefs, the joys, the marriages, the babies.
It is the “band of brothers,” the community that the rest of the world longs for.
It is the pastors that take your call late at night because they care about you.
It is an extended family — the kind with all its quirks, all of its heartbreaks, yet wrapped up in a commitment to be “for you,” no matter how much that hurts.
We have been pretty banged up in this season, but it has been an opportunity for the Lord to show us how well this Church that the he has granted us, this family, loves us…and how much we love them. They are not perfect — no family is. But they have sacrificed time and spoken words of life into our weary family. We have felt more and more like sojourners on this road of life, but we know that we have fellow travelers alongside us…yearning for our true home.
“Jesus has many who love his kingdom in heaven, but few who bear his Cross. Many follow Jesus to the Breaking of the Bread, but few to the drinking of the Cup of his Passion. They who love Jesus for His own sake, and not for the sake of comfort for themselves, bless Him in every trial and anguish of heart, no less than in the greatest joy.”
This quote from Reliving the Passion by Walter Wangerin Jr. stings a little at first.
“They who love Jesus for His own sake, and not for the sake of comfort for themselves…“
Do I truly love Jesus for His own sake, or do I love him for my own comfort? What happens when I’m uncomfortable? Do I expect to share in Christ’s sufferings, treated no better than he was? Do I expect my way to look different than the way of the cross?
The truth is, I want the joy that Jesus offers without embracing his prescribed way of joy. I want circumstancial comfort instead of embracing my Comforter in the midst of circumstances I wouldn’t ever choose.
And there have been a lot of circumstances I wouldn’t ever choose.
It seems that the more we try to sacrifice, the more we labor to serve and to lay down all that we own at Jesus’ feet, the more opposition we encounter. We have had several Judas-esque betrayals and false accusations. We have had to sit through two “trials” of sorts and keep our mouths shut, while our accusers hurl insults and lies at us. I’ve sat there, biting my tongue and looking away to hold back the tears. And they have left me extremely weary.
Yet – this. “They who love Jesus for His own sake…bless Him in every trial and anguish of heart, no less than in the greatest joy.”
There can be no resurrection without the Cross. I believe this for Jesus, but do I believe it for me?
Instead of stewing with uncontrollable anger, I want my response to be a compassionate “Father, forgive them.” As I’m being insulted, I want to see the face of Jesus in excruciating pain: shutting his mouth in response to THE false accusations of all false accusations. Because the truth is, I am Judas. I am the one hurling insults at Jesus. But through the Cross, Jesus has taken on my Judas-ness and freed me – but this was not the freedom I was hoping for. I wanted freedom from the shame, the insults…yet he granted me something much deeper – Himself, his presence. He granted freedom from the chains of bitterness and the plots of revenge.
Philippians 4:10 I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.
And so I wait. Instead of despising the suffering, I bear it — knowing that His cross did what only an instrument of torture and death could do – produce a resurrection. I look to him as one that is united to him in both his suffering and his resurrection. I wait, while he uses this cross to produce unimaginable joy — a joy that proclaims to the world that I love him — not for my comfort’s sake, but for His sake alone.
“Cain spoke to Abel his brother. And when they were in the field, Cain rose up against his brother Abel and killed him. Then the Lord said to Cain, “Where is Abel your brother?” He said, “I do not know; am I my brother’s keeper?”
The first human relationship we’re shown in Scripture, other than Adam and Eve, is Cain and Abel. It ends in murder and this simple response to God’s inquiry: “…am I my brother’s keeper?” The whole story of Israel reflects an oscillation between love and hatred of neighbor, with devastating consequences for Israel and her neighbors.
Thousands of years later, our response, though different in language in vocabulary, remains the same. We live as though our actions only affect us, and as if our brother’s actions only affect them. But this couldn’t be further from the truth.
When we neglect time in prayer and in the Word, it affects us, yes. When we watch pornography, when we overeat, when we exalt the opinions of others, when we engage in sex before marriage…we immediately consider the short-term consequences for ME. Most of us see this and feel the nagging guilt. And somehow, we convince ourselves that it is okay as long as we are the only ones affected. We can handle the consequences. We are attuned to the “cause and effect” world that God has made.
But we are near-sighted, unable to see the effect on everyone around us: our spouse, our friends, our co-workers, our boss, our children. Suddenly, our sin kept in private is unleashed, devouring everyone around us. In the same way that a small act of kindness is “passed on,” small acts of evil are passed to everyone we touch.
But this attitude doesn’t stop there. In the same way, when we see our brother, sister, spouse, family member…giving in to the deceitfulness of sin, we look the other way. Left to myself, I am a “peacemaker,” valuing the comfort of staying out of conflict much more than the potentially uncomfortable consequences of rocking the boat and telling a brother or sister something they don’t want to hear. This is a constant battle for me. But if I truly consider myself my brother’s keeper, this is not an option, it is an obligation. Sure, it may not affect me directly, but it affects my sister, her spouse, her children, her co-workers…the consequences are endless. God’s pronouncement is that it is not good for man to be alone. He has created us FOR each other: for each other’s flourishing.
In the Kingdom of God, we ARE our brother’s keeper. This is a central part of our identity as we seek to fulfill the greatest commands to love God and love our neighbor. God’s very design demands that we consider our brother, and even prefer him. Consider Jesus. If he had preferred his reputation over love, he would not have reached out to the “untouchables” of society. And if he had preferred his comfort over love, he would never have subjected himself to the excruciating pain of the cross. The ripple effect of his choice to be his brother’s keeper has changed the course of history. And as partakers in the new creation and kingdom that Jesus instituted, we too embrace our calling to be our brother’s keeper.
Instead of choosing solitude, we choose the gathering of the saints. Instead of choosing to keep our sins to ourselves, we choose to bring them into the light, eliciting the encouragement and accountability of those around us. We choose to surround ourselves by true friends, those that love our holiness over our comfort. We choose to fight against the individualistic tendencies of this generation, choosing instead to be a hospitable people, welcoming and inviting. And as we embrace our true identity, our true humanity as our brother’s keeper, we serve as a fragrance of the knowledge of God to those around us.