Jesus Soup – Joanne Holz

jesus-soup-thumbnailSome of life’s greatest experiences come at the most unexpected times.  One such time for me took place within the last two weeks.   Before conducting training with one of the Corps teams on the Texas border, I was offered a tour- not of buildings, but of on-site ministries taking place with immigrants– a marginalized group of people. The journey for these immigrants is fraught with danger, lack of supplies, doubts as to whether or not a better future will exist, and the worry of sponsorship.  One can only imagine the extreme bondage of daily life that would prompt such precarious attempts in the first place.

What I saw was the Church in action.  A number of ministries and agencies from the city come together collaboratively to offer whatever resources each has available.  Those who are foreigners are given the necessities to meet basic human needs.  Beyond that, they are offered hope.

Jesus Soup is both a reality and metaphor as an aid in assisting these people who live in the borderland between bondage and freedom.  Many enter the border malnourished and chronically hungry.  Jesus Soup is the nourishment offered–the result of many attempts at trying to find just the right food to feed the hungry in helpful ways.  One of the medical doctors suggested a broth type soup filled with nutrient-rich ingredients.  This soup would quell the hunger and sustain the depleted body without causing undue stress on the digestive system.  It is both delicious and healthy.  It is comfort food.

I thought about the many ways people exist in borderlands attempting to move from bondage to freedom.  I recalled the families and individuals with whom I’ve been privileged to walk and offer “Jesus Soup.”  You have those you have assisted as well.  The words of Isaiah came immediately to my mind:  “The Spirit of the Lord, the Eternal, is on me. The Lord has appointed me for a special purpose.  He has anointed me to bring good news to the poor.  He has sent me to repair broken hearts, and to declare to those who are held captive and bound in prison, “Be free from your imprisonment!” He has sent me to announce the year of jubilee, the season of the Eternal’s favor.” (Isaiah 61: 1, 2 The Voice).

Those we are called to lead are often bogged down in a “borderland” — an in-between space beyond the “old life” but short of the abundant existence promised by Jesus.   Mark Buchanan, pastor and author,  suggests that “borderland living” is where doubt, disappointment, guilt, and wonder-less-ness keep people in a quagmire of mediocrity.  Many are spiritually malnourished needing the nutrient-rich Word of God spoken and lived before them.  Others are disoriented by the new terrain in which they find themselves as a result of unwanted and/or unanticipated life circumstances.  They need fellow sojourners who know the area.

Leading like Jesus means we enter these places for the sakes of those we are privileged to lead.  If anyone understands what it means to enter new borders on behalf of others, it is Jesus—God Incarnate.  It doesn’t ultimately matter what circumstances throw people into borderlands.    Those places may be geographical.   Perhaps they are mostly internal places.   We all have or will live there and often multiple times.  What does matter is that we are willing to cross divides to become agents of healing and hope as others find themselves in borderlands.

Truth be told:  we are all strangers and aliens in need of assistance as we trek onward to the place prepared for us in Jesus.

John Merritt – Part II

 John-Merritt2 SOMETMES FLAT: THE SECOND STANZA

I have never forgotten the day when I began singing the “Forever Song” promised on the Kearny, New Jersey Corps bulletin board:

“GOD HAS A SONG TO TEACH US,

AND WHEN WE HAVE LEARNED TO SING IT IN

                                           THE DARKNESS OF ADVERSITY,

                                           WE CAN SING IT FOREVER.”

 However, the intensity with which I have sung it over the past 35 years has hit some “highs” and “lows.”

                        As that intensity began to flatten during VaLeta’s 11-year bout with Alzheimer’s that ended on February 12 of this year, I discovered that the song God promised I could sing forever has more than one “stanza”!        So as VaLeta’s condition slowly, but noticeably changed, after five years, I found myself singing the “second stanza” — reluctantly.  Two examples: I would correct her errors in relating past experiences and would show her my driver’s license, with my photo and our address, when she did not think I was her husband.   But I finally discovered that, actually, I was trying to bring her back from the far country of Alzheimer’s or to delay her proceeding into it out my reach.  I at last realized I could not bring her back, but that I could walk with her into her new and uncertain world.  And when I could go no further, because I didn’t even know where the path was, God would have to take her the rest of the way.  And that He did, praise His name!

                        Then about two years ago, I read in 2 Corinthians 4:16 (NRSV) that we need not “lose heart [because] even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day.” I suddenly realized that this includes people with Alzheimer’s!  So even though her outward person was deteriorating, VaLeta — in the subterranean depths of her being, possibly sometimes hidden to her and increasingly hidden from us — still was “being renewed day by day.”  I started singing the “second stanza” with increased gusto!

                        Yet there were times after that when I would ask the Lord to take her.  On each occasion He would “shush” me and say, “I am not through with the renewing.”  Then around 6:00 a.m. on Sunday, February 12, God tapped VaLeta on the shoulder while she was sleeping and whispered in her ear: “The renewal is complete. It is time to greet the Day that will never end.”  And    she opened her eyes in the Father’s presence, not just cured, but healed.  (I think, biblically and theologically, there is a wonderful distinction!) And when, shortly thereafter, I slowly stepped into her room at Huntcliff Sunrise Memory Care in Atlanta, and looked upon the one who had been the love of my life for more than 47 years, I immediately thought of Charles Wesley’s hymn to perfect love:  “Finish then Thy new creation, pure and spotless let us be.”

                        In the days following VaLeta’s promotion to Glory, two of General Albert Orsborn’s songs took on special significance for me.  The first was “When Shall I Come Unto the Healing Waters” (Number 647).  The General’s discerning line,  “Cleanse Thou the wounds from all but Thee far hidden” brought discernment to me that have become a means of grace.   The emotional disruption brought on by VaLeta’s promotion to Glory caused an upheaval that also revealed wounds left by times when I could have been more Christ-like in our 47-plus years together.  The morning I experienced healing from this was enhanced by the knowledge that with VaLeta’s first sight of Jesus the wounds that I had caused were instantly healed.   Healing of these wounds had come “full circle.”  I must have sobbed and praised God through my tears for at least a quarter hour.

                        But awareness of dimensions of other, apparently unrelated wounds that needed healing have also surfaced — wounds from childhood and other stages of life.  Although I was only dimly aware of them — if at all — they have been known all along to my Heavenly Father.  In long-suffering, He had been waiting for such a time as this to begin releasing the desperately needed healing stream that, in General Orsborn’s refrain, has been flowing over me for the past several months:

From a hill I know,

Healing waters flow;

O rise, Immanuel’s tide,

And my soul overflow!

 

 

 

 

 

Director’s Desk-May 2015

Practicing generosity is the intention to find release from attachment to gratifying our ego needs by giving freely of what we have that is of value.  (unknown source)

It is difficult in our age of consumerism and ‘me-ism’ to live a detached life.  Detachment is not the lack of caring about others.  Detachment is the refusal to fill needs in our lives with illegitimate things.  Paul’s contentment statement in Philippians 4 teaches detachment.  It was not what he had a right to have personally but his responsibility to the Gospel entrusted to him that motivated his actions and choices.  Paul’s witness:  I know how to live in ways that are abounding.  I know how to live in ways that are abased.  I can live at either extreme (or anywhere in between) because I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.

The Bible indicates that our needs are legitimate and part of our created being.  Prior to the Fall, Adam was lonely and needed embodied companionship.  Prior to the Fall, Adam and Eve needed love and respect, worth and significance, and a sense of belonging.  It was after the Fall that these legitimate needs began to be filled in illegitimate ways.  Cain slew Able.  The people of the plains began to build a city unto themselves.   Kings were ruthless in the treatment of others and in securing their throne.  The illegitimate ways continue to web out, at deeper levels, and with devastating consequences today.

Generosity is the opposite of hoarding.  “Things” are not all that we may hoard.  Generally speaking what we do hoard are those elements that fulfill a sense of security and/or significance in our person.  Generosity of spirit gives willingly and graciously because of the assurance that we can and never will run out of anything we need when we trust the promise that all we need for life and godliness has been given to us in Jesus.

It would be a great practice for all (leaders and followers alike) to use 2 Peter 1: 2 -11 and Philippians 4:10-14 as the basis for an examination of heart related to our personal expression of generosity.  What do you legitimately need?  How are you going after it?  Is anyone hurt in the process?  Am I hurting myself?  Do I trust that God will provide for all my needs in Jesus?  What of value am I generously investing and imparting to those around me?  Do I give to receive or am I able to give without reciprocity?

Gratifying ego needs in illegitimate ways is a fear driven activity.  Fear driven leadership is demanding on your emotions, your time, and is potentially harmful to those under your leadership.  Perhaps examining your life and submitting to the spiritual practice of generosity is a timely endeavor.

We are still living out Easter Days!  Pentecost is yet to come!  What generous activities related to the Easter Story are captivating and transforming you?

Blessings as you enjoy this month’s offerings on Mission Mover.  We uplift together God, Who daily lavishes His love!

Let us hear from you!

John Merritt

John-MerrittG. K. Chesterton (1874-1936), the English Roman Catholic lay theologian, was particularly famous for his epigrammatic statements. Here is my favorite:

“A PARADOX IS A TRUTH STANDING ON ITS HEAD TO ATTRACT ATTENTION.”

If a paradoxical statement is standing a truth on its head to attract attention, then a paradoxical experience feels like we are being jerked upside down and stood on our heads.

But what is the truth to which attention is being drawn? Where is the truth — in any position into which we may be forced? The truth revealed in the first instance is cognitive. However, the truth revealed in the second instance is autobiographical. Although often wrapped in pain, the truth it provides is a new perspective on how to see our autobiographies. This is the dimension of paradox on which I want to reflect.

Although an autobiographical paradox may be clothed in what we call objective reality — the dimensions of life from which we can take a step back and examine — it still is quite subjective. It is something in which we participate. Often it is too painful even to talk about, much less intentionally remember.

Like many of you, I have first perceived autobiographical paradox through sorrow, pain, tears. Sometimes all three in the same day… even in the same hour! So I hope what I share will resonate with and speak to any and every reader who has gone through experiences that have jerked them upside down and may have asked: “Where is truth to be found in any position?” “Where is God in all this?”

Two of these extended episodes, at least 35 years apart, are indelibly burned into the hard drive of my personality. The first autobiographical paradox took place when I was stationed on the National Headquarters Publications Department in New York and lived in New Jersey. Over a period of 18 months during that time, I was enveloped in profound darkness. Now some of you may think the cause of that is easily discerned: I worked on headquarters! However, at the risk of being considered strange, I don’t think so — I loved my appointment! So, I really don’t think I was suffering clinical depression. At any rate, I had difficulty doing my work, sleeping at night, or relaxing in the presence of God. Looking back on it now I believe it was rather what St. John of the Cross called “the Dark Night of the Soul” — which, though some times depressing, is not always the same as depression.

Then one Sunday I shall never forget, we made our regular trek from Belleville to the Kearny Corps where we soldiered. Its building bore no resemblance to the Crystal Cathedral, but its Mercy Seat was frequently “crowned with glory.” And it happened again that September morning in 1977 or 1978. It was Homecoming Weekend, with the then Colonel Andrew Miller — a hometown boy made good. As I was letting VaLeta and our two children out of the car in front of the building — there was no off-street parking lot — I noticed this statement on the large bulletin board out front:

“GOD HAS A SONG TO TEACH US, AND WHEN WE HAVE LEARNED TO SING IT IN THE DARKNESS OF ADVERSITY, WE CAN SING IT FOREVER.”

The 18-month cloud began to lift!

The Holiness Meeting opened with a song that I did not know —
Number 772 in the present Song Book of The Salvation Army.
As we sang the first stanza, I sensed something was about to happen:

When we cannot see our way,
Let us trust and still obey;
He who bids us forward go,
Cannot fail the way to show.
I was even more sure by the third stanza:

Though it be the gloom of night
Though we see no ray of light,
Since the Lord Himself is there,
‘Tis not meet that we should fear.

But when I sang with the congregation the fourth stanza — it happened:

Night with Him is never night,
Where He is, there all is light;
When He calls us, why delay?
They are happy who obey.

The first two lines (I am sure of it!) leaped off the page and impacted my consciousness with a word of liberating grace. This was the message: Your 18 months of darkness have really been light, for God, Who is Light, has been there all the time!

At that moment the cloud started to lift and glory palpably crowned the Mercy Seat as I knelt there at the conclusion of the meeting.

I do not know why I went through that emotionally excruciating time. Like Job in much worse circumstances, I have never discerned a definitive answer. But, in a sermon I heard him deliver many years later (and quoted here from memory) at Chicago’s Fourth Presbyterian Church, Dr. Elam Davies said: “God does not always give us an answer, but He will give us Himself. I would rather have God any day than the answer. So would I and so did I — particularly the Sunday I left that shabby corps hall singing the “Forever Song” I read about on the corps bulletin board!