Monday, April 3, 2017

A Million Miles From Shore

Sunday we went to church. It was the first time to be with a group of believers worshiping since we got back from Iraq. I could be generous, I could put the best construction on the story, but I won't, it was bland and felt well-rehearsed. In fact, had it not been for a friend wanting a ride we'd never have gone. And even then I chose that particular church because I knew I could wear a t-shirt and flip-flops and nurse my coffee buzz from the shadows in the back of the auditorium. 

The worship band was white and tight and theologically light. The production was perfect and the performance bright and bubbly, their toothy grins sparkled even from where we were near the back. The first couple songs could be described as ice-breakers, overly positive, rally the troops sorta filler. Sincere I'm sure but shallow feeling nonetheless. I started to zone out, the lights, the production blurred, my mind wandered. Then they slowed it down, put on their solemn faces, dimmed the lights to match the mood and deftly segue into communion. And they sang this song:

You were the Word at the beginning
One With God the Lord Most High
Your hidden glory in creation
Now revealed in You our Christ

What a beautiful Name it is
What a beautiful Name it is
The Name of Jesus Christ my King

You didn't want heaven without us
So Jesus, You brought heaven down
My sin was great, Your love was greater
What could separate us now

What a wonderful Name it is
What a wonderful Name it is
The Name of Jesus Christ my King

How sweet is your name, Lord, how good You are
Love to sing in the name of the Lord, love to sing for you all?
Death could not hold You, the veil tore before You
You silenced the boast, of sin and grave
The heavens are roaring, the praise of Your glory
For You are raised to life again

You have no rival, You have no equal
Now and forever, Our God reigns
Yours is the Kingdom, Yours is the glory
Yours is the Name, above all names

What a powerful Name it is
What a powerful Name it is

The Name of Jesus Christ my King

I'd never heard the song before a couple months ago. We were still in Iraq and one hard morning this song was sung so emotionally raw. I was undone. And here again, this past Sunday, so far from the Middle East, tears stung my cheeks and it was all I could to not weep deeply, sorrow and joy and hope and heartbreak, and disintegrate into a sloppy puddle of snot and tears.

One of the hardest things for aid workers is to come home again, back to normal, back to the status quo. It's nobody's fault it's just that everything has changed. And one place where these differences, these changes are most conspicuous, is church. In Iraq our morning devotions were punctuated with grieving over the lost limbs of toddlers, the explosions of war in the distance, and mostly the desperate need for the scriptures to be true and for God to be near. Living and worshiping behind blast walls not 25 miles from an active war-zone keeps everything in sharp focus. Prayer is pleading, scripture study is like reading the engine manual while the boat is stranded, listing strangely, and taking on water a million miles from shore. And worship, worship is free bleeding. Its the painful sort of vulnerability that comes from being exposed as weak and impotent and incapable of saving your self. And there you are, among seventy-five others, all slowly coming apart at the seams. 

And that's not to say you have to fly a few thousand miles into the heart of darkness to find desperation. Suffering is everywhere. Cancer kills kids and addiction takes fathers and car accidents devour whole families in one great gulp. It's just that sometimes we do our best here in the west to insulate, even theologically inoculate ourselves from suffering and that's a luxury of a society that isn't completely broken by poverty or being obliterated by war. I'm just as guilty, I often just want to be able to breathe deep, spend the day at the beach in mindless, painless pleasure. And sometimes I do.

But there are other days, when I am broken. When I feel like I am falling, I mean free falling into some great pit of despair and I need Him. I need Jesus, this defeater of death, this buyer back of men with the currency of His blood. I need him more than my next breath, more than gravity. On those days I'm reluctantly thankful for those 6 weeks in a war-zone, they exposed me for who I am, worthless and weak. But oh how beautifully they revealed Him for who He is. 

If you need Him as desperately as I do today I'll leave you with this...

And for those couple hundred believers this past Sunday, I'm sorry. It's not you, it's me. Please forgive my pride. I love you. Thank you for knocking me off my high horse once again. xoxo


  1. thank you for making me cry every time you wrote something ....

    1. You're welcome my brother. Thank you for reading my words.

  2. This resonates deeply with me. Songs and hymns we sang in devotions at the EFH transport me back to NIQ AND I AM LOST AND TORN... But find such comfort in clinging to the RISEN Jesus- Only He can make sense of the broken lives, culture and land. I am still awed that he uses even broken me to serve in his name!

  3. ..."worthless and weak..." No, you are God's child, a witness and a chronicler and knitter of loving bands of reinforcement between men. Thank you...