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Thursday, February 20, 2014

Ride It

Every single day - from the moment I wake up to the moment I go to bed - I receive all sorts of messages about Who I Am.

You do, too.

I wake up, wash my face, wonder where the Photoshop blur tool is for my bathroom mirror and those mysterious whiteheads that appeared overnight, and from my reflection cross-referenced with beauty magazines, TV shows, and the ideals of female beauty, I find out Who I Am - the sum of body parts and beauty products and a mysterious quotient of constantly varying attractiveness.

I hear my 17-month-old son babbling and banging on his crib, so I run into the room and sweep him out of his bed like a BLAST OFF! and in the delight in his eyes and the genuine toddler smile I find out Who I Am. I am Mom. I am trusted, loved, a source of deep joy and comfort.

We finally leave the house for child care and work (church), and on the way the motorist next to me who was tailing my back end gives me the stare down. I am That Annoying Car he couldn't pass. An object in the way of his destination. I account for him much the same lack of worth. We are all vehicle robots in our cars, invincible behind bravado of steel and rubber, capable of anger and impatience we rarely display face-to-face.

In church, at Bible Study, I am Pastor. We share together and learn from one another and laugh, and I try to facilitate rather than dominate. A member of the group, an auburn-haired Irish dynamo who gave testimony earlier in the morning to the service work she'd recently done and why it showed her faith in Jesus in Action, turns to me at the end and says "I'm your biggest fan!" and I'm humbled by the trust she has given me to be her Pastor, to open her heart to my ministry and all its imperfections, so that together we might experience the leading of the Spirit to grow as a community dedicated to the Gospel and mission of Jesus Christ.

An hour later, at church, in a meeting I've been nervous about for weeks, I am Pastor, but I am also a Threat because I am new and I mean change. There is palpable anxiety in the room and it makes me anxious, too. The worship service I planned so carefully, making pains to edit the whole service around the Bible texts for the day and the Sermon Series we're studying, has come across to one person as about Me, rather than the Bible. There is a rapid fire volley of questions that catches me off-guard. I Am Untrusted, Untrustworthy, an Insufficient and Imperfect Vessel of the Gospel.

For the rest of the day I get more and more messages about myself, on Facebook, from friends, from my husband, Ben, whose love I could never fully grasp or deserve or honor, but that I am so blessed by God to receive, my son's face again at pick-up time, the joy, the pure joy, as he bounds out of the room as soon as he sees me, moving as fast as a 17-month-old on wobbly legs and a grinning, bobbing head can go.

In the back of my mind, though, only one message dominates - really from one person - but as a Pastor the comments swell into a narrative about Who I Am and what God is up to here. I am not Trusted and I never will be. The efforts I make for Jesus are twisted and made into evil plots that I could never foresee but once exposed threaten to blacken the very core of the ministry I've been called into with trembling hands and a shaky voice hoping only for the Spirit and coming face to face again with myself.

Confession, Forgiveness, Grace, Freedom - the joyous verses of the Bible collapse in the face of ignominious defeat by my own inability to define Who I Am and my frailty in the face of intentions for worship filled with Jesus so unhappily and torturously received. 

I forget the love, the support, the incredible community that surrounds and hear only that one voice. Not the voice of the meeting but instead my own voice, colored by Evil and the Devil, taking its foothold and laughing its terrible laugh: "I told you it wasn't real. The happiness, the Gospel. I told you that they were all lies. It's all an illusion except for the darkness."

And I hate that this is true, but sometimes despite all the talk about Jesus and the Resurrection and Letting Go and Letting God, the voice of the Devil is loudest of all. I focus on one negative thing and it swells to a cacophony that can only end in nihilism or despair.

Do you do this? Listen only to that one thing, that one voice that tells you: You Suck.

But I've, we've, left out a voice. I've left out a messenger. The one voice that gives me the only identity that truly matters, the voice that told me Who I Am in May 1985 on the day of my baptism and marked me with the cross of Christ and sealed me with the Holy Spirit forever.

God speaks. 

In the midst of a day where voices compete to tell me my identity and why I don't really matter after all, a still small voice in the wilderness comes to me in prayer and tells me I am loved, I am His child, I have been called by Him to spread His Gospel and His plan will come to fruition whether I always actively realize it or not. It is His narrative that prevails. Jesus rose again, and the Devil's lies are always fleeting.

Sometimes God speaks unexpectedly.

I heard His voice as I pulled up to church yesterday morning, anxious about the impending meeting and what might ensue. A few minutes before I pulled in the theme to Chariots of Fire came up, bursting out of the car's speakers. I used to listen to these straining chords as I ran outside, pushing myself each straining step to hmm, hm, hm, hm, hmmmm, hmmm, hmm hm, hm, hm, hmmmmm ... Inspiring, beautiful.

And I said God, why this song, right now? I never run anymore. I'm out of shape. I'm pulling up to this church full of anxiety and fear and I don't know what's going to happen and I'm trying to laugh it off and play it down and pretend like I don't care about this place with every single depth and core of my being, on the outside keeping cool and holding back and on the inside full-on in, 100 percent, trying to imitate Christ even though it's never quite right.

God said: "I'm giving you a Chariot so you damn well better ride it."

I swear. Those exact words. I know it's odd that God would use the word (damn), but I've listened over and over again and He keeps saying it that way. God knows I spent years in hockey and football lockerrooms, raised in the curse words and rough 'n' tumble truths of gritty sport. God knows He has to get my attention, to speak over the din of lies and the devil who spins comments into narratives of defeat.

"I'm giving you a Chariot so you damn well better ride it."

It was the perfect line because as Satan's lies tried to dominate, God's Truth kept crashing in. I'm giving you a Chariot! Ride it! You don't have to drive, don't have to strategize cutting that guy off and turning here and weaving in and out ... just Ride It! Follow me. I've given you this place and this dream and these golden people who follow me and I'm giving you a Chariot so Ride It!

It was a reminder of Who I Am. I am loved, I am called.

I am not sent into this world without a map, low on gas, riding close to the ground in a dilapidated Chevy where the brakes don't work and my seatbelt won't stick. 

I'm giving you a Chariot so you damn well better ride it.

God's telling me, he's telling you: I've given you a Chariot. Get in, go along for the ride. Witness! Preach!

And maybe sometimes your chariot's a little rusty. Chipped paint, fading cloth seats and pews. Pipes that clog and toilets that won't flush. Doors that won't lock and lights that burn out. Maybe you have to clear away the dust and the cobwebs to reach the chariot God's giving you. 

But it's there. So we damn well better ride it.

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