Monday, June 15, 2020

Special 2020 City Notes | Bread for the Resistance: Intro, Small Talk, Through Blindness, Big Shoes & Avoiding Burnout

" ... Sometimes you get tired while pursuing this thing called justice, and you just have to pause, breathe, and steal away until the dust kicked up in that day's battle settles. Sometimes you have to take a moment to feed your soul. ... " + Donna Barber, Bread for the Resistance

In the midst of everything related to justice that has been stirred up and reached seemingly new heights in 2020 in the U.S. (ex. see A Call to Prayer + A Cry of Hymns & Songs for Justice & Healing, George Floyd Lament, Liturgy, and Message | Receive the Gift of the Holy Spirit, "I Can't Breathe | We Need the 2nd Wind"), this is the 1st post of 3 featuring Donna Barber's powerful wisdom and experiences.

Let's be led by a sister of color who knows what it's like to walk with Jesus and others in view of His justice and mercy for the long haul. We, the poor in spirit, need to seek first His Kingdom of justice and righteousness alongside each other, praying together it will come on earth as it is in heaven. 

I trust Donna will serve you today as she has already greatly served me.

"Intro, Through Blindness and Graveclothes, Big Shoes, & Avoiding Burnout" excerpts adapted from Donna Barber's Bread for the Resistance: 40 Devotions for Justice People

Sometimes you get tired. In the midst of the marching and the posting and the blogging and the meetings  yes, the many, many meetings  you get tired. Tired of having to explain it again to people who don't get it. Tired of figuring out the wording and the right tone of voice. Tired of swallowing the frustration that rises like bile in the back of your throat and tired of pushing down the anger or the sorrow or the fear. Sometimes you get tired while pursuing this thing called justice, and you just have to pause, breathe, and steal away until the dust kicked up in that day's battle settles. Sometimes you have to take a moment to feed your soul.

I was able to get by with snacking on Sunday morning sermons and sporadic, repetitious prayer when I was schlepping through the dull routines of life  work, eat, sleep, school, eat, sleep, play, eat, sleep. But when I dared to pursue the narrow way of the Kingdom, to discover and fulfill purpose, to hear and heed the call, I slowly realized that my spirit required something more substantive and nourishing.

"Doing justice" is often intense and progress painfully slow. For it requires both strength and endurance to accept the mistake, the misquote, and the misunderstanding, or to push through the pain of disappointment ... again. You must be willing to be a friend without making friends and to find glory in your weakness. ... Jesus said, "I Am the Bread of Life. He who comes to Me shall never hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst" (John 6:35), and "My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me, and to finish His work" (John 4:34). We are fed and strengthened by the Bread of Life to go and do the good works that nourish our souls ... but know that you can't receive the full benefit of the meal until you have digested it by acting on that word in your everyday life.

Part 1: Understanding Our Purpose, Reflection 6: Small Talk

"Whoever receives one of these children in My name received Me. And whoever receives Me receives not Me, but Him who sent Me." + Jesus (Mark 9:37)

I do leadership development with urban children, youth, and youth leaders  huge in the Kingdom of God, unimpressive here on earth to most people. ... (But) greatness is achieved, Jesus says, by accepting the position of servant (see Mark 9:35: "If any of you desire to be first, the same shall be last of all and servant of all"). And there is no competition for this position. It is the inheritance of the children of God. In his second letter to the Corinthians, Paul writes that those who commend themselves, or measure themselves, or compare themselves lack wisdom and behave like fools. We do not find our value, worth, or security in the titles we possess or in our tiny sphere of earthly power but rather in the fact and privilege that we are the Lord's. Can you imagine asking the Prince of Wales, "So, what do you do?" The eyes in the room would not fall on him but on the apparently ignorant person who failed to recognize the heir to the throne of England. I suppose if pressed, the Prince might respond, "Depends on the day." For of course he spends his days representing the throne in affairs of state as the royal heir. Such is our task, and it is enough. 

That means that on some days I'm a nonprofit program director, but other days I'm a concerned neighbor or friend. Sometimes I'm a struggling mother, wading through the chaos of parenting in a technological age. Other days I'm a small, persistent voice, writing and preaching to stir and challenge a reluctant church. I have discovered over the years that more important than what I do is who I am. What I do changes as God assigns and reassigns me, as I grow up and grow older and evolve. But who I am is constant  a child of the Most High God. The bears no shame and could never be considered small. 

+ Recommended Song: "The Earth Shall Know" by Urban Doxology

Part 1: Understanding Our Purpose, Reflection 7: Through Blindness and Graveclothes

And when we all had fallen to the ground, I heard a voice speaking to me (Acts 26:14). 
I am still being saved from old ways of thinking and behaving and am coming to new understandings, to new life. Even the transition from death to life is sometimes progressive. Saul, though converted in a flash of light on the Damascus road, still had to travel from spiritual and physical blindness to sight.

In Mark 8:22-25, Jesus is introduced to a blind man in Bethsaida who is looking for healing. The scripture says that the man asked Jesus to touch him but instead Jesus took him by the hand, led him out of town, put spit on his eyes, laid his hands on him, asked him a question, touched him again, and made him look up  only then did the man see clearly. Sometimes change is instantaneous. Most often, though, it's a process.

In this journey of justice and faith, we find ourselves or meet people like us who are in this growth process called salvation. Our tendency is to grow impatient while mumbling, "When will I ever get this right?" or "Is she still doing that?" or "Will things ever change?" We want or expect Jesus to just touch us and be done with it: "Shazam! You're healed!" But instead, Jesus is walking us through a step-by-step process of deliverance that may be neither quick nor simple nor understood  but at the end, there is clarity and salvation. ... We are being shaped as much by the noes, delays, and slammed doors as we are by the triumphs and victories. Though our modern, microwave, instant-message society conditions us to the immediate and instantaneous, God is not bound by time. Whether our focus is individuals, systems, or ourselves, it is important to remember that the work of transitioning from death to life is the Lord's, and the timetable is his and his alone. We prepare the soil, plant the seed, cover and water it, and wait. But the process of moving from seed to food, or from death to resurrection, is divine and cannot be rushed or manipulated by us, no matter how hard we work or how badly we want it. Mary longed and worked for the healing of her brother Lazarus, but the God-determined course of his recovery was through death and graveclothes before finally reaching the ultimate healing of resurrection.

We forget that time passed between the cross and the empty tomb, between "it is finished" and "all power is given to Me." We forget that we are working out this salvation with fear and trembling on a road that, while long and sometimes bumpy, nevertheless leads to wholeness and new life. So, if it feels like it's too late, or nothing is happening, or you are still stumbling around in the darkness, don't give up. Choose to trust and wait a while longer. It could be your answer is already in the process. Perhaps God is making clay.

+ Recommended Song: "The Earth Shall Know" by Urban Doxology

Part 2: The Goal: Changing the World, Reflection 9: Big Shoes

Now thanks be unto God, which always causeth us to triumph in Christ, and maketh manifest the savour of His knowledge by us in every place (2 Corinthians 2:14). 
God always causes us to triumph? That's a big statement. I don't know about you, but most days I feel far less than triumphant  and some days, I feel just a hair above failure. My call and my purpose on most days feels far too big for me. I imagine myself like a small child, shuffling through the world in daddy's shoes that are about five times my size. I have to swing my arms and strain my legs just to keep my feet inside the shoes. On most days, I feel that my stumbling, slow progress is apparent to all.

I stay up too late and struggle out of bed in the morning. My knees hurt, and I can never get my hair right two days in a row. I'm impatient and critical, and I can seldom find my phone, even when it's in my hand! There are a ton of reasons why I am unqualified to do what God has called me to do. And yet He calls. And yet the Spirit whispers. And yet He sends me  and perhaps He sends you, too. For God, the Creator of the universe, has chosen to reveal Himself in every place through us. And despite our unflattering self-assessments, to Him we are a sweet fragrance of Christ that He sends to both the saved and the lost. The trouble is that although for some we bring the scent of life, like the smell of fresh bread hot from the oven, for others we bring the stench of death, like a smelly animal carcass in the midsummer heat. For one, we are a reminder of the Father, like a welcomed note from home. For the other, we are a sickening cloud exposing failures, an offensive odor causing one to grimace and turn away (i.e. "To the one we are the aroma of death leading to death, and to the other the aroma of life leading to life. And who is sufficient for these things?" + 2 Corinthians 2:16).

We seesaw between this love and rejection, feeling inadequate and unequipped, questioning the appointment, and time and again we are on the verge of walking away. But then He reminds us of His preordained triumph, and we are still. In Christ, we are sufficient. Sufficient simply means adequate for the purpose. Yeah, I know. Bent and ordinary, plain and imperfect, we are enough. I think it's called grace.

At the end of a busy day I sometimes lie in bed running through the conversations and interactions of that day in my mind. At times I groan out loud and grimace as I reflect on it, wishing desperately that I had chosen different words or said something more or nothing at all. I sigh and wish I were better at it all: friendship, leadership, parenting, and peace. Despite the bright moments of joy and success, we often choose to dwell on the dark clouds of anger, misunderstandings, and fear. When I whine and point out what appears to be an enormous chasm between who I am and who I am called to be, God offers a gentle reminder that, while He chooses to use me, it's not about me. By grace we have been made sufficient: adequate for the purpose. And so, in the too-big shoes of our Father, I shuffle on.

+ Recommended Song: "Shalom" by Urban Doxology

Part 2: The Goal: Changing the World, Reflection 11: Avoiding Burnout

I always know when I'm spiritually dehydrated, I'm tired and short-tempered, easily stressed, and feeling overworked. I snap at my children, resent friends and family, and am generally annoyed by the people I say I am called to serve. ... (And then) I'm doing it again: working in my own strength and striving in my own power to do what only God can do. I am giving myself to others and becoming angry that they seem ungrateful, when instead I should be giving myself to Him.

Emptying myself before the Father is a necessary and recurring step in my discipleship journey. Of my own free will, I approach the altar of God. I lay down all of me as a yielded sacrifice. My body, my mind, my gifts, my talents, my possessions, my time, my relationships, my future, my hopes and dreams and imagination  I lay it all at His feet in response to the immense gift of life I have received from Him. 

It is not until I am spent, completely empty of myself, that I am ready to serve others. We cannot serve from our own wealth, no matter how great, for it will soon be depleted. If we attempt to give to others out of our own supply, our generosity can quickly deteriorate into paternalism, or become tainted by the impure motives of power and control, or weighted with the expectation of reciprocity. No, we must give out of the resources of heaven that we access when we enter the quiet space of worship and prayer  the holy of holies. There, as we stand before the throne of His greatness, we remember the truth. Then we can open our empty hands, heart, and mind before Him and be filled. "And God is able to make all grace abound toward you; that you, always having all sufficiency in all things, may abound to every good work" (2 Corinthians 9:8).

Over the years we are often prompted to open our lives to others, to make room in our homes, work, or schedules for strangers and friends. We share time and family, business contacts and date nights, holidays and influence, speaker platforms and food. We move through the world like I imagine the disciples waded through the hungry crowds, marveling at God's provision. We close our eyes in prayer over bread crumbs and scraps of fish. 

He sends us out with hands and baskets nearly empty. Our bodies get tired and our feet grow sore from the journey. Yet moving at His command, every step taken and every item shared brings God-given grace. And we soon realize we have even more to give. When we begin at empty, we are forced to work from God's supply, according to His timetable and at His pace. We are more often unseen and may go unappreciated, but we are seldom burned out. Instead we are emptied again and again, forced to return to our source to be refilled with His grace and power and sustained by His infinite love. When we first give our whole selves to Him without coercion, then our sacrifices, no matter how great or how many, seem quite small.

+ Recommended Song: "Shalom" by Urban Doxology

Next post: Special 2020 City Notes | Bread for the Resistance: Wells and Waterpots, The Emmaus Road & Privilege

Here are links to previous City Notes books:

Soli Jesu gloria.

Christ is all,

Rev. Mike “Sully” Sullivan

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