Divine Collaboration

It’s hard to imagine isn’t it?  Divine collaboration.  Sounds like something out of a cerebral mythology thesis.  At least it does to me.  Yet, those are the words that keep coming to mind.  

“Daddy,” I asked. “What do you want from me? What do you want from Your Church?”

With a wink and a contagious grin the size of galaxies colliding, he replied, “I want Divine Collaboration.”  

This is an honorific to Him, I can tell.  It’s a title he likes to pin on all His kids.  We are all his Divine Collaborators. And I could tell He was thrilled that he’d gotten my attention.

Perplexed and definitely curious, I said, “Please explain.”

I am a philosopher and processing with God is something I like to savor.  I want to stew and chew and taste every scoop of insight the Lord ever gives me.  I feel delightfully compelled to savor and digest the nuanced flavor profile of God’s interactions, not just with me, but with his Body and with his Creation. I’ve learned a lot eating at the Lord’s table with Him.  We talk.  A lot.

The other day I was talking to a friend about this tattoo idea I had and all of a sudden I heard myself say, “It’s kind of like this ‘divine collaboration’ between God and me.”  It just made sense to me to say it that way.

I had to smile. There it was again. 

My husband and I took a road trip last month to celebrate our anniversary.  We drove along part of the iconic Route 66 through Oklahoma, New Mexico, and Arizona all the way to the Grand Canyon.  As we drove through high desert devoid of much life and saw rock formations that put modern architecture to shame, I heard it again: divine collaboration.

The land spoke to me as I marveled at the spectacles and grandeur created where infinite pale sky meets striated rocks in various stages of petrification and erosion.  I felt the profundity of time’s endlessness: infinitely changing and staying the same all at once.  I had never felt closer to my Father God, the Creator of All Things than I did in those moments of experiencing his Creation.  His words were clear: this is divine collaboration.  

As I experienced the beauty of God’s world in all its intricacy I began to pray for the people who lived there, and I felt the land speak to my heart about them: these people that God loved so dearly and who had been so horribly abused by the “progress” of European settlers.  I wept and prayed and wept and prayed.  I fell in love with those impoverished and yet resilient indigenous people who continued to hold on through the worst types of adversity.  Serious divine collaboration.

 It’s so much more than just a “good conversation” with Jesus.

1So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, 2complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. 3Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. 4Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. 5Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus,a 6who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped,b 7but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant,c being born in the likeness of men. 8And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. 9Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. Philippians 2:1-11 ESV

Even Jesus didn’t consider equality with God something to be grasped, but he accepted it anyway and obediently emptied himself from fear and doubt and the entitlement of his status, and trusted that His Father in Heaven had his back and they were a team, even if it didn’t feel like it sometimes. 

Jesus humbled himself to the point of death on a cross because He trusted God.

1Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. 2And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. Ephesians 5:1

How can we possibly be like Jesus? Jesus divinely collaborated with the God of the Universe, while considering equality with God something beyond his grasp, and obediently and humbly received and obeyed, even in angst, even in hunger, even in torment, even in fear.  He conquered because he humbled himself and obeyed in perfect unity with God.

Even though obedience made him look like a slave.

So maybe trusting God in obedience isn’t slavery, even if it might look like it is?  Maybe obedience is actually divine collaboration.  Maybe choosing to humble oneself, one can find exaltation in the Living God and be empowered in His Righteousness to be joint heirs with Christ.

14For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sonsf of God. 15For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” 16The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, 17and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him. Romans 8:14-17 ESV

Divine collaboration: to trust that even obedience unto death will gain eternal reward and glory for God AND you.

It can be unimaginably painful, I’m not going to sugar coat it.  Yet, I know that suffering pays beautiful dividends for those who are willing to learn and grow from it.  Empathy, courage, salvation. It all come from suffering.  Death and suffering are not the end for those who are in Christ Jesus.  We know, because of Christ’s example of trust and faith, that God will be faithful to us as well.  

God doesn’t want mindless robots.  He’s not going to force you to do anything.  He asks.  He always asks, because he loves you.  He offers this divine collaboration to anyone who would accept it.  If you can get over yourself long enough to believe that it might actually be better with God than without, to accept for even just a moment that God is in fact good and trustworthy, you too can have this beautiful title of “Divine Collaborator”.

Divine collaboration means trusting God, submitting to God, and then freely talking to God without fear of condemnation. 

Daddy didn’t get angry with Jesus when he questioned Him in Gethsemane.  He listened.  He comforted.  He strengthened.  And Jesus endured to the end.  He trusted the Father, and on the third day was resurrected from the dead.

Jesus obeyed God and was raised up in Glory.

We have seen the truth of who God is in the flesh of Jesus Christ, and we believe in our hearts through faith, that God raised him from the dead and he will one day do the same for us.  We are saved from death into life and from orphan to first born son. God wants us to be his friends.  He wants unity in love.  Unity in love means divine collaboration. It means trusting that the source of love and life is from God and endowed to his children with generosity.

Divine collaboration isn’t passive.  It isn’t selfish.  It isn’t arrogant.  To walk in Divine collaboration with God is to actively believe in the reality of your shameless and righteous status as a child of God and fearlessly “approach the throne of grace with confidence” (Heb 4:16) not just to receive forgiveness of sins, but to be lifted up into glory with God himself and receive wisdom and comfort from Him for eternity.  It’s a mutually beneficial relationship.  

Refuse to be silent receivers of God’s mercy and love.  Choose instead to be Divine Collaborators.  Let’s use the tools we have been given, infused with the Holy Spirit and the many gifts He has provided us, and share our thoughts and ideas with Jesus with confidence. Realize that He’s already decided to “use the foolish things to confound the wise” (1 Cor 1:27) so we can stop worrying about if God really wants to hear from us or not. Trust me, he does.  No, we’re not worthy of it on our own, but we’re not our own if we’ve given ourselves to Jesus.  

For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. 2 Corinthians 5:21 ESV

Divine Collaboration with one another is equally valuable.  God’s obedient and loving children are a collective force.

We are stronger together as Christ’s body here on Earth. Know that we are all one with Our Father in Heaven by His Spirit.  We should be unified as His image bearers and as walking tabernacles of His Presence.

Let us each humble ourselves and be divine collaborators together with our Lord.

Mabel

24 And God said, “Let the earth bring forth living creatures according to their kinds—livestock and creeping things and beasts of the earth according to their kinds.” And it was so. 25 And God made the beasts of the earth according to their kinds and the livestock according to their kinds, and everything that creeps on the ground according to its kind. And God saw that it was good.
Genesis 1:24-25

My dog died yesterday.  At my request, she was given a fatal dose of medicine that stopped her heart. I held her close to me as she took her last breaths, whispering “good girl” into her ear with all the courage I could muster, and gently knuckled the side of her face the way she always loved me to do. 

So God created man in his own image,
    in the image of God he created him;
    male and female he created them.

28 And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”
Genesis 1:27-28

I had dominion over my dog, Mabel, for most of her life.  She lived to be 17. I wasn’t expecting to adopt a dog the day I adopted Mabel.  I’d had an argument with my husband and I went to the human society to love on some dogs to make myself feel better.  While all the other dogs barked at me, Mabel stood in her kennel quiet, dejected, resigned to her fate.  

I asked if I could take her outside for a little walk.  It seemed like a kind gesture since all of the smaller dogs were confined to tiny kennels.  She loved it. She trotted alongside me, sniffing the wind, wagging her tail, and then sniffing some more.

When I brought her back to the building, the volunteer told me she was due to be “put down” the next day, and I heard myself say promptly, “I’ll take her.” 

Regular people didn’t have cell phones back then, which means I didn’t have a cell phone.  And so I adopted a dog without talking to my husband, without considering the consequences, without thinking about anything but saving that dog’s life.  

That was my contribution to God’s gift of dominion over the animals.  Her life was in my hands and I made the decision to let her live.

My husband never said a word.

19 Now out of the ground the Lord God had formed[f] every beast of the field and every bird of the heavens and brought them to the man to see what he would call them. And whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name.
Genesis 2:19

I named her Mabel.  And for the fifteen years that we were together, she devoted her life to me: to my protection, my comfort, my friendship, my life.  I saved her life and she would never stop thanking me for it.

Yesterday I ended her life.  

Jesus, thank you for Mabel.  Thank you for the years of loyal friendship and companionship.  Thank you for letting me steward that wonderful life. I am and will be forever grateful for the time we had together.  Thank you, God. Thank you for Mabel.  

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Sound asleep by my side.

Authority in Love

So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.
1 Corinthians 13:13

Feminism sprouted from the age old oppression and forced authority man has inflicted upon woman since the beginning of time.  Since Eve disobeyed God and led her husband into sin, and received the curse upon herself that came from disobedience to a merciful, loving and benevolent God, she has been trod upon, belittled, marginalized, and lorded over.  And let’s face it, that sucks.

To the woman he said,
“I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing;
   in pain you shall bring forth children.
Your desire shall be contrary to your husband,
   but he shall rule over you.”
Genesis 3:16

In the eyes of humanity, we were doomed from the start.  Except that doesn’t really fit with God’s character, or how He has always dealt the His people. God is merciful and His love is enduring, not fickle. I believe that if we look at our place in humanity as women with God-centered eyes, knowing with confidence that God loves us as much as He loves men, we can see our place in the world as something beautiful, powerful, and of deep significance to the Kingdom of God.  

The consequences of Eve’s actions, combined with the knowledge of good and evil, put us in the position to choose to act out of love for ourself or out of love for God.  The choice became ours, as our hearts became self-focused instead of God-focused. From that point forward, man has had authority over women, an authority that God never, ever, ever intended.  In fact, God had a completely different plan for humanity. He had a plan of equal partnership, where men and women complimented one another for the glory of the Father, and ruled over the creation that God had made together, with God himself as their partner, friend, and Lord.  

Then the Lord God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.”
Genesis 2:18

But we were never going to overcome the consequences of Eve’s sin on our own.  As long as we are aware of ourselves and have the choice to choose to be selfish or put others above ourselves, we can never overcome the power that sin gained over us.  Fortunately for us, God was never content with that outcome, and so, from the beginning, God promised us that He Himself would rescue us from the consequences of our sins, and restore us to a place of partnership and love with HIM.

So, what does that mean for women?

There’s a passage in the New Testament, that man has used throughout the course of Christian history since the resurrection of Jesus, to place himself solidly over his wife.  

22 Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. 24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands.
Ephesians 5:22-24

I think man’s long-time interpretation of this passage has truly been to his detriment.  And I think that Jesus might just agree with me. God has a pretty serious commission for men, actually.  And it isn’t to control or lord over them.

25 Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, 26 that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27 so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. 28 In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29 For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, 30 because we are members of his body. 31 “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.”32 This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. 33 However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.
Ephesians 5:25-33

Jesus didn’t die so that men could be saved and women oppressed. He wanted men and women to be an example of His relationship with the Church.  And we are called to be joint heirs with Christ, not slaves to an unknown power. We are called to be God’s children, not his servants.

For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. 15 For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” 16 The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God,17 and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.
Romans 8:14-17

Jesus showed us this during His life on Earth.  He lifted up women. He comforted them, encouraged them, and lovingly went to the cross for them, just as He did for men.  He loved women as his sisters, joint heirs to all that he had been given. Look at how He honored the woman with the alabaster jar.

Now when Jesus was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, 7 a woman came up to him with an alabaster flask of very expensive ointment, and she poured it on his head as he reclined at table. 8 And when the disciples saw it, they were indignant, saying, “Why this waste?9 For this could have been sold for a large sum and given to the poor.”10 But Jesus, aware of this, said to them, “Why do you trouble the woman? For she has done a beautiful thing to me. 11 For you always have the poor with you, but you will not always have me. 12 In pouring this ointment on my body, she has done it to prepare me for burial.13 Truly, I say to you, wherever this gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will also be told in memory of her.”
Matthew 26:6-13

Women didn’t follow Jesus because He oppressed them.  They followed Him because He loved them and honored them and lifted them up. And that is exactly what he wants men to do with women.  Jesus considered women of equal importance as men.

There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.
Galatians 3:28 ESV

So, how do we reconcile submission to our husbands with equality? Isn’t submission the opposite of equality?  Letting someone else be the boss has to mean I have no authority, right? Nope.

Likewise, wives, be subject to your own husbands, so that even if some do not obey the word, they may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives, 2 when they see your respectful and pure conduct. 3 Do not let your adorning be external—the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear— 4 but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious. 5 For this is how the holy women who hoped in God used to adorn themselves, by submitting to their own husbands, 6 as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord. And you are her children, if you do good and do not fear anything that is frightening.

7 Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered.
1 Peter 3:1-7

The Lord led me to this passage of scripture as a young woman, in the very early years of my marriage to a radical Muslim man.  When I realized the folly of my choice to marry a man who was not a follower of Jesus just because he revered God, I repented boldly before the Lord, and asked Him to help me figure out the mess I’d made of myself and save me from it.  And He did, using the passage above to give me profound hope.

Nothing I could do would change my husband.  Nothing I could say would alter his total devotion to Islam.  Nothing. My family and friends, who had been against my marriage from the start, told me to divorce him.  But the Lord had a different plan because the Lord loves women, and He doesn’t want to see them oppressed. As I sought the Lord’s counsel he showed me true hope in His power.  So, rather than stubbornly try to fight my husband into salvation, I submitted to the Lord.

And that’s the key.  I submitted to the Lord.  I repented and submitted. And Jesus did not use it against me, or punish me, or make me feel small.  Jesus didn’t command homage or obeisance or penance. Instead, He offered me help and hope and courage.  This small act of helplessness and submission to the Lord Jesus, gave me my first example of what genuine love and respect could look like.  When I humbled myself to a place of complete desperation and acknowledged my inability to do anything on my own, and I turned to the Lord for help, I learned for the first time what a marriage was supposed to be.  I was the bride of Christ before I was the bride of my Muslim husband. And Jesus quickly showed me how beautiful and honoring a loving husband could be in Himself.

Submitting to God’s authority over my life had brought me hope and life.  It hadn’t brought me to a place of oppression. Jesus lifted me up instead of wiping His feet on me.  He told me He loved me and that He was eager and always ready to help me. It felt good. It felt right.  It felt like, though I’d totally screwed up, that the Lord loved me so unconditionally, that my submission to him would be honored and not exploited.

Two years later, after much submission to the Lord, and having enlisted an army of prayer warriors to the cause of praying for my husband’s salvation, my sweet husband submitted to the Lord for himself, and found the same love and forgiveness and help that I had found.

Submission to another is an act of love and trust.  I put my faith and trust in the Lord to rescue me and help me.  And Jesus came through. But there’s more to it than that, because God’s cool like that.  He lavishes His love upon us, he doesn’t just toss us a bone now and then on a whim. My submission to the Lord became my biggest testimony of God’s pure love for me and for my husband.  By my submission I showed God’s faithfulness. I became a living example of what serving and submitting to a loving God actually looked like. And it won my husband’s heart without me saying a word.

My husband and I have now been married almost 25 years.  23 of those years have been as partnered Christ followers on mission and in service to the King of Kings.  And over the years, the Lord has continued to elevate me to a place of great authority and respect in His eyes.  My brief willingness to admit I was helpless on my own, became a legacy of testimony about what real love is supposed to look like.  It’s a glorious partnership. Being humble enough to trust in the leadership of another became my legacy.

I believe the Lord intended that for all women, from the time of Eve’s choice to serve herself instead of God, God decided that if humanity would just have faith enough to trust Him to lead them, that He would do it!  The consequence of sin can bring death, or it can bring humble repentance. God is ready and willing to forgive anyone who would humble themselves enough to trust Him. And God loves to exalt the humble.

For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.
Luke 14:11

How much more opportunity do we need as women to be exalted by the Lord of Hosts?  To submit humbly to God and to our husbands, is to receive the great blessing that comes from our devoted and loving Father to exalt us and use us as the perfect conduit to show our partners what love looks like, so that they can know how to love us.  That doesn’t sound anything like oppression to me! It sounds like authority in love.

Jesus has given women the chance to have great authority over the impartation of love, which is the most important gift from God that we can receive.  It was love that made Jesus humble himself to take the cross. It was love that made the Lord God save His people. It was love that made God never give up on a selfish, sinful, adulterous people.  It was all because of love. Therefore, as a woman, I have been given the opportunity to carry the authority of offering a testimony of love to my husband, in order that he can learn how to love me and love God.  Ya, that’s right. God made women to be the forerunners of love, to show men what the bride of Christ is supposed to look like. And that’s a pretty big deal.