Remembering in the Wild

Can you begin to imagine what it must have been like when the spirit of the Lord passed through Egypt and in every house someone died? Can you imagine the grief?

Not just for days, but for weeks or months, there must have been the sound of wailing, the high-pitched cry of heart-stricken people always in the air, after the Lord called for the slaughter of all the first-born among the Egyptians.

And while the Egyptians cried, the Israelites picked up everything they could carry and started walking. People unused to taking control of their own lives, not naturally gifted with faith, picked up their very lives and walked out into the desert.

If you didn’t know the Egyptians had been oppressing the Israelites for generations, if you didn’t know their hearts had grown so hard they’d forgotten how to feel, if you didn’t know the one, true God had chosen slaves to be his people, none of it would make sense.

That’s why the remembering became so important. And that’s why — out there in the desert, in the wild, as they turned to look at each other and wonder “what next?” — God taught his people to remember.

God taught them to remember because without the story, nothing else made sense. Until they learned to remember, learned to reinterpret their story so that God was at the center, they’d miss the great moves of God.

What God taught them becomes our lesson, too: until we learn to rightly remember, we will miss the great moves of God.

The great moves of God work by a familiar pattern. It tends to begin with people in slavery – to oppression, to things that harden hearts, to things that choke out freedom. It begins with people orbiting around their own egos. It begins with slaves entrenched for so long in mediocrity that they forget how oppressed they are.

Then comes the rescue, the invitation to go with God, to step out of slavery and into freedom. This is an invitation into the wild places of transformation, where the people learn that the story doesn’t in fact orbit around them but around the Lord of the Universe.

Rescue is most often a process, not an event. It is a desert to cross, a cross to bear. Out there in the grief over all that must be left behind, the children of God learn how their small stories fit into His Big Story. They learn to reorient; they discover their place outside the center. They learn the daily process of surrender and they learn to worship something bigger than themselves.

This pattern moves the people of God out of slavery, through the desert, and into the promises of God. In the story of God, you find this pattern employed over and over – slavery, desert, promises. This is the broad view of the Bible itself. Jesus tells us this is how the Kingdom comes: repent and start walking.

Out in the desert, in the wild, remembering is the first order of business. In the feasts and high holy days of the Old Testament, God’s people were disciplined to stop and remember, to tell the story, to draw up from their past so their future would rest on a higher plain. When Jesus reinterpreted those feasts so he became the center of the Story, he charged his followers: “From now on, every time you eat this bread or drink this cup, remember me.”

Remembering, we learn, is part of resurrection. Rightly interpreting the great moves is how we move on — not just for our sakes but for our children, also. In Exodus, chapter 12, God tells the people, “Eventually, you’ll have kids who won’t know The Story. They won’t move forward unless you show them where you’ve been.”

Even today, when Passover is celebrated by Jewish people, the youngest person in the room has the privilege of asking this question to invoke the telling of The Story: “What makes this day different from all other days?” God told the Israelites, “When the children ask, you tell them, ‘We do this because God is great. He brought us up out of our slavery into a desert so He could kill anything in us that wasn’t His. God stopped at nothing to make sure we became free people as He moved us across our desert and into His promises.’” When the Israelites heard it told this way, they bowed in worship.

A redemption story well remembered creates an atmosphere of awe.

Remembering is a key to transformation. Have you taken the time to rightly remember your story so that it becomes a dynamic force that focuses you beyond yourself and sends you out into the desert of transformation? Have you verbalized the great moves of God in your life? Have you confessed those things that have enslaved you? Have you soaked in the patterns, so you can recognize them and take authority as your future unfolds?

Have you learned to tell your story so it points in the direction of the Divine Wild and provokes worship?

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How to sit with someone in their grave (or, How to surrender your sexuality to God)

A friend of a friend works with men who have gone through sexual trauma and in a conversation about how healing happens for them, he says, “These men cannot make resurrection happen. The only person who can do that is Jesus. They don’t know when—or even if—it will ever happen. And we (the church) don’t know how to sit with them in their grave [until it does].

Most of us know something about graves. The very, very difficult reality is that we do all kinds of things that lead to death. We struggle with porn, have affairs, deny we’ve had affairs, drink to excess. We are slaves to our emotions and say hateful things and explode in anger. We lie to protect ourselves. None of us is above the sin line and that very fact should be cause for a deep sense of humility as we talk with those who sit in graves of their own making.

We are all fighting against fallen human nature, all battling manifestations of selfish desire. We all struggle against things that “feel natural” and we all need the grace of God to conquer those cravings. That’s why we need to learn to sit with one another in our graves. Not because death is good, but because resurrection is possible.

Earlier this year, our church spent five weeks developing a biblical theology of the body.¹ We ended that series with a conversation about how those truths intersect with grace. In the course of preparing for those conversations, I consulted with Phyllis Kiser, a therapist who practices therapy in the area of sexual brokenness.

I asked Phyllis to think with me about the kind of pastoral counsel she would share with someone ready to come out of sexual brokenness. I share these thoughts here for those who may have made a few mistakes in life, some of them around the use of your body and your own sexuality:

1) Surrender your sexuality to God. All of it. Your desires, attractions, behaviors, hormonal surges, history, future. All of it. Have the humility to submit yourself to your Creator.

In Paul’s letter to the Corinthians (1 Cor. 6:12), he gives them this sage advice: Don’t allow yourself to be dominated by anything.

We should all write that on a post-it note and put it on our bathroom mirror. I will not be dominated by anything but Jesus.

After Paul hands this advice to the Corinthians he immediately shifts to the subject of Jesus being raised from the dead, as if to say, “Jesus is more powerful than whatever you have been dominated by.” This is begin-again language. There is no mistake so far out there that it can’t be made right, no wound so deep that it can’t be healed.

God specializes in resurrections.

2) Don’t buy the sexual message this culture is selling. Be intentional and learn about God’s sexual economy. Examine your thoughts and expectations about sex. Develop a biblically based theology of sex.

Satan’s big win in the Garden was his ability to make the first humans see sin differently. The enemy got them to believe that life was designed to fulfill their own needs when in fact, life is designed to glorify God. Consequently, so much of our teaching on our created design is dead wrong.

The morality message plays off fear and shame. The message is, “It is bad. Don’t do it.” This is what we teach our kids. We use morality to scare them away from treasuring their own bodies.

The biology message focuses on physical and emotional feelings and attractions. The message is, “If it feels good, do it.” For teens, the message is, “Protect yourself.” This separates body from soul.

The theological message, however, teaches us that there is no shame in Christ, that the goal of this physical life is to be fruitful, to experience biblical joy through a covenantal relationship, to learn true intimacy rooted in trust — all with the intended end of pointing our lives toward God.

3) Invite the Holy Spirit to empower you to live a life that pleases God. We need the Holy Spirit to tell us who we really are. Andy Stanley says it well: “Focus on becoming someone, not finding someone.”  Because we live under the shadow of the cross, we are not orphans. We are children of the King.

The cross is our rescue from slavery. Through the cross, Jesus used a body to prove the point that bodies can connect us back to God. Our creator used a body to remind us that we are more than plumbing and wiring. We are redeemed people with bodies and stories and spiritual gifts, all designed to be in partnership with God to build the Kingdom on earth.

 

¹I am grateful to Dr. Timothy Tennent and those who lead Asbury Seminary’s chapel services. The messages Dr. Tennent delivered on the theology of the body at Asbury’s chapel last year deeply inspired and informed our conversations.

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