Pursuit of Perfection

It’s a quiet Friday morning, and I find myself curled up on the couch with our favorite brown fluffy blanket, watching snowflakes out the window.  The heater working busily in the background to make up for the freezing temps outside…. It’s a reflection kind of a morning and I find my mind drifting back over snippets of conversations, pieces of books read, and sermons heard…  A question lingering in my mind after a recent sermon:

Do you live in open desperation? or in hidden perfection?  Do you realize your desperate state for the Lord and realize that with others?  Or do you live this life in a pursuit of being perfect, appearing perfect, thinking if only I could be ______.  What are you desperate for?  Perfection? or Christ?

Unfortunately I find myself often in pursuit of the next thing to perfect me or to do perfectly. My focus seems to be less about growing, changing, renewing, and more about being better, getting “it” right, achieving “it” without flaw. Realizing of course that desiring growth and change is not a bad thing, but to allow it to become a pursuit of perfection implies the belief that you can “arrive” and if you can just get there, all will be right in the world, because you will be doing everything right!

But that is not reality.  Neither the possibility of achieving perfection nor the idealistic view that all will be right. Even if you were to be perfect somehow, there would still be sin in the world and sinners living it out.  Christ was perfect, yet he was hurt, abused, ridiculed, attacked. He felt hungry, angry, tired. Ultimately perfection in and of itself holds no significant value in our lives. In fact for us it’s main purpose seems to serve pride. Christ handled it with all humility, He didn’t achieve it though, it simply was who He was, as God.  But for us, what is our motivation?  Equality with God?

Perfection, being perfect, having perfect circumstances, is a false positive in our earthly lives, something we attach our joy to, thinking if only we had “that,” life would be good.  But that’s false, a lie; life is what is happening here and now, before us, and if we waste away waiting for the false positives in our lives to be fulfilled, we will miss it. Joy and satisfaction are freely available to us now, today, in these circumstances, with this imperfect self.  The beauty and wonder of life is found in the raw, daily, unexpected moments.  Our very imperfections make room for real connections, community, freedom, grace, joy, because we are rooted and grounded in Christ, declared to be worthy in his eyes.

These are the thoughts chasing through my mind today…. I don’t want to live a life in pursuit of perfection; I want to live in pursuit of Christ.  Openly desperate for him, in all of my imperfections.

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Today….

Today.

Yesterday is gone; we’re told not to worry about tomorrow.

What we have is today.  It’s what’s right in front of us. Today.

It’s a gift, not to be dreaded but embraced, to be lived in, here, now, today.

Our life is lived out one day at a time.

Love. Love who you’re with, where you’re at.

Embrace. Embrace each moment He gives no matter what it holds.

Hold. Hold tightly to Christ, depending on the Lord for each moment, each direction.

Rejoice. Rejoice in who He is and that His thinking and His plans are beyond our comprehension.

Stand. Stand in faith when all that the world has and says tries its best to push you down, trip you up, make you crumble.

Because God is REAL. We may not see Him but He is here.  We may not hear a loud voice but He speaks.  We may not feel His physical touch but He loves.  We may not know His plans but he has one. We may not know what part we play, big or small, but we know that we play one…..because we’re HERE. He created us, called us, and put us where we are: HERE. TODAY.

Reality

Somehow, I ended up with 8 kids and one adult friend downtown at ArtPrize for an evening. 6 of those kids belong to the infamous Yellow House. You know, the house with the jumbled up family that’s had its major downs and sometimes ups. The family we all fell in love with and the family that I alone am able to see nowadays. When I show up bi-weekly my 12 year old mijo asks me “why don’t you come get us more?” When I spend time with my now 17 year old mija the other kids are jealous and long for the days when they had mentors too. It’s a long story, the way it all went down, but basically it’s me and not Engedi that gets to walk with them in this season. That is a painful reality for me.

So there I was, guilted into gathering up all the yellow house kids that I could for an evening of Artprize joy. It ended up being more like Artprize angst as we wound our way down city streets with a cacophony of complaints ever surrounding us. Tired feet, hungry bellies, bored minds… Artprize wasn’t faring too well with the people’s choice vote on that particular evening. The generosity of my friend manifested itself in pizza for all and after much chastising and chasing and crying out to the Lord, the night(mare) was over.

Okay, okay, it wasn’t all that bad. The difficulties of the evening were worth it when I recalled giving a piggy back ride to my 8 year old mija, getting to hug my 12 year old mijo all I wanted, laughing at the kids reactions to art along the way, and freestyle rapping about our neighborhood as we trekked.

But I suppose the evening overall was tinged with sorrow. This was the kind of experience I want to have with my Engedi sisters. Our hearts have always been to together love and serve our neighbors. To function in this calling without them present felt hollow and incomplete. I have become reliant on my Engedi family to round out my gifting, to be strong where I am weak, and to fill in with their passions and energy as we live out the role of the Body together. So in my realization of lack and need there was sorrow and yet beauty. How sweet it is to live interdependently with my sisters, to be a family to such a degree that we miss the Spirit in one another when we don’t function together. Yet how devastating to miss out on all the potential depth my sisters could bring to the yellow house relationship. We weren’t made to go it alone for so many wonderful reasons.

Even if the sisters cannot accompany to my yellow house outings, their hearts and intercession go before me. Albeit painful, it’s true that the Lord can move even through this brokenness in brilliant ways. Our hope is restoration and redemption. Until then, may we more fully realize how to support and serve one another with the current reality we’ve been given.

In the spirit of Engedi, Emma

Tis the season

These days we are entering into the full fall swing. Last week marked the beginning of weekly Chic Church (women’s Bible study), community prayer at the Boiler Room garage (7:30pm every Wednesday, all are welcome), and weekday 6:30am prayer (open invitation, if you want to see us as practical zombies). Then there’s kids Bible study on Thursdays, family dinner at Engedi on Mondays, and our respective gatherings for worship on Sundays. You may be surmising that we don’t seem to have much free time….you would be correct.

Some of us are starting to take classes or teach classes, entering into mentoring relationships, taking on more work responsibilities, opening new doors of opportunity. Despite the general hecticness of such life happenings it truly is an exciting season for us all and a great time to press into the Lord together on a daily basis. We’re shaping up our new Engedi covenant and visioning as we pray for the Lord’s Kingdom to come to our neighborhood and to our home.

One new facet of how we do life and ministry at Engedi is that we’ve decided to welcome pilgrims into our spare guest room. Just as soon as we made that decision we had several pilgrims lined up for short term stays. We’ve loved learning more about and together practicing hospitality in this season. Our longest term pilgrim is our dear engrafted Engedi sister Sarah Bultman who is an apostolically called and commissioned Jesus-lovesick sage of joy…and we get to call her our roommate for one beautiful month.

Hospitality brings opportunity of all kinds. As host we receive the blessing of our guests as the presence of God within them brings grace to our home. Stories will certainly be abundant in this season, so stay tuned to hear about the sweet things the Lord brings forth.

Please continue to pray for us as we need endurance of spirit to wake early and maintain unity amidst discipline. Pray that as we fight the good fight that the Lord protects us a family and shows us how to love one another better than we love ourselves. Pray for the salvation of our neighbors and for the renewal of the Kingdom to come to the West Side and to Fremont Ave.

In the spirit of Engedi, Emma

Thoughts from Viv

I am posting an excerpt from an article written by Viv Grigg, a terrific urban minister who has spent much of his (yes, he is a male) ministry life living in international slums. He is an advocate for incarnational and intentional living and I found his recommendations from his time spent living with the poor to be prescriptive and preemptive. Some of his opinions I agree with strongly, some I don’t. For what it’s worth, take a read and reflect. Bold lettering is mine.

“…We must thrust out groups similar to the Catholic devotional communities of men and women, marrieds and singles, with commitments to live poor among the poor in order to preach the kingdom and establish the church in these great slum areas. Westerners and upper-class nationals who choose such lives of non-destitute poverty will be catalysts for movements of lay leaders among the poor in each city. The spearhead of such a thrust will be those who accept the gift of singleness for some years.

We must set up new mission structures. The key is older couples who will choose to be recycled into this kind of ministry lifestyle and can give leadership to these communities of pioneers. We need men and women who will commit themselves to lives of simplicity, poverty, devotion, community, and sacrifice in areas of marriage and family. We need orders that free men and women for pioneering, apostolic, prophetic, church planting, and mobile roles, rather than an order that limits people to a rigid structure.

Most mission teams are not communities, but teams. The focus of most teams is to work. On the other hand, traditional communities in the church are, by definition, primarily committed to relational caring, worship, and a devotional pattern. These emphases are essential if workers are to survive in the slums. Working and living two by two in various slum areas, they need to come together every two weeks for a day of ministry to each other, of worship and relaxation.

…The needed commitments to non-destitute poverty are similar to the older Catholic orders, without the legalism. So too are the commitments to singleness, not as vows of celibacy, but for periods of time. As Protestants, we have lost the concept of the gift of singleness. Marriage has been seen as the only ideal. The biblical blessing on chosen or given singleness has to be recovered. Part of the blessing of that gift is the freedom to pioneer in difficult and dangerous places.

It would be wise for mission agencies to create orders of men and women called to the poor… these orders should only be under the authority of persons who have lived, for long periods, this kind of sacrificial and incarnational lifestyle. They should never give authority to administrators who have not lived out this lifestyle. Incarnational workers do not want protection. They want pastoral care from leaders who have been on the front line and who will keep them at the front line and take the bullets out when the workers are shot up.”

Viv Grigg in the article ‘Sorry! The Frontier Moved’ from Planting and Growing Urban Churches, pgs 161-162.

On Suffering

Reading about the suffering of our brothers and sisters in Egypt has urged me to tearful intercession and stirred me to wonder how they could possibly be feeling in these difficult times. How do they press on to face very real danger? How do they grapple with threats of death at every moment? How do they cling to God when suffering is imminent?

The other day a friend read a prayer that began with the line “Lord, teach us to suffer.” Christians don’t want to go through suffering, let alone be instructed in it. We despise pain or discomfort, and want nothing to do with that which resembles anything like difficulty. But for those who have been through the ringer of some kind or another (we all have) we know that it was a time in which we were forced to be close to God.

Maybe because you were so dependent on Him to help you get through the day, or take another breath, or move your minds beyond mental chaos. Perhaps it was after the trial was through when you realized all He had woven into the story and done in your heart. Maybe it was a closeness akin to wrestling – being in very near proximity and intimacy yet strained with real grasping and grappling and throbbing ache. Maybe His were the arms that wrapped around you when you laid on the floor weeping. Or perhaps it was the absence of what you thought you deserved from Him that made you reevaluate how you saw Him at all. Whatever it was or is you know that something was happening in your soul and the situation at hand was causing you to engage in some form of relationship with your Creator. That end in itself must give Christians pause to consider the validity of the call to suffer.

Suffering to the First Century Christ follower was understood. It wasn’t a perchance or a potential, it was a definite. The writers of the New Testament didn’t give anyone room to believe otherwise. “Count it all joy WHEN you face trials;”; “after you have suffered a little while;” “rejoice in your sufferings;” “do not be surprised by the fiery trial when it comes to test you;” “all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus WILL BE persecuted.” “Many are the afflictions of the righteous.” I could go on and on. Sobering, thought provoking, convicting.

But still, I’m not feeling the need to start praying for the Lord to bring me a good trial. Well, why don’t I at least ask Him to teach me about it? That conversation begins as I remember how I have acted and reacted within the pains He’s allowed to come my way. How did I respond to Him? What did He shape into me and shake out of me?

I consider the suffering of my Engedi family. The sister whose dad has had a long tear-filled battle with sickness. The sister whose family has endured brokenness and division. The sister who is taught in discipline to draw near.   I’m also urged to look at the suffering of the world. The neighbor who wept uncontrollably as we interceded for her dying daughter. The neighbor who has seen all of her children go in and out of jail. The neighbor kid whose father figure abuses him and then returns to the home.

How do we here at Engedi respond to suffering within our home and within our neighborhood? How do join the throngs of Believers who have gone before us and learned to not love their lives unto death? How do we walk alongside our suffering neighbors and with enduring hope in our sight give them a glimpse of eternity?

It doesn’t seem like an easy discipline to step into, suffering. But the author of Hebrews gives us a no nonsense answer in our journey to living it out. Seems like his recommendation is the best and only place to start, both as we navigate our own sufferings and the woes of our neighbors and the world around us: “let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” May it be so.

In the spirit of Engedi, Emma

Sin has left a crimson stain….

They walk with shoulders stooped,
carrying burdens they weren’t designed to bear.
There is a weight you see
and a weight you feel
as you walk these broken streets;
a heaviness that is oppressive
and yet, seems to go unnoticed.
Walls have been built
to secure and support it…
Hearts are trapped
by their own design.
The barriers of self, need,
and desire grow high.
Darkness covers and settles in,
unease bristles…….
Things are NOT okay.
The color of our streets are crimson,
the doors of our homes, our hearts and minds.
Our eyes leak crimson tears
as we feel what we can’t define.
Our hands are covered
in a crimson stain we can’t seem to wash away.
We are living in a crimson tide.
We NEED the white of light;
a candle to pass around,
the flicker of a flame
to eat at the darkness.
A voice whispering The Name
lights street lights up and down,
illuminating circles of white
where crimson can’t be found.
Come and wash these streets and homes!
Come and turn this crimson white!
It is time for night to end.