the message of presence is not worn out

Every week of Epiphany season, I need to hear that Jesus is present – inside today and inside me and inside sunshine, storms, and celebrations. I need to believe He is present.

But belief is tricky.

Our “Yes, Lord” gets tangled up with our “Why, Lord” in a mess of circumstances. Even if life has leveled out and we feel good about our daily routine, career status, and financial situation – even if our questions and doubts are less about hardships and more about boredom or purpose.

Belief is slippery when things are going “well” and when things are not.

In whatever circumstance we find ourselves balancing our “Yes, Lord” and our “Why, Lord” – we will always have to answer the question of belief. Do we believe Jesus is present in the midst of it, whatever it is? I’d like to always answer yes. I would even say I am willing to fight for that yes – to fight for belief when I am downcast and when I am filled with delight.

Because belief is slippery, but God is not.

This morning, we read the passage from Matthew 14:22-33. You may know the story. The disciples get caught in a doozy of a storm, in the middle of the night, with no rescue in sight. Jesus had just sent them off in the boat hours earlier while he dismissed the crowds and prayed in the mountains. The storm raged the waves and the storm raged the little boat, but still Jesus did not come. In the fourth watch of night, Jesus appeared on the water and His presence terrified the disciples. Jesus announced Himself by saying,

“Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.”

I love, love, love this. Because I am afraid often, in or outside of storms. I am afraid of taxes and of falling in front of subways and of wasting moments. I am afraid often. This morning, I learned that the most common command in Scripture is against fear.

I love that we are commanded not to fear by the One who casts fear out by His presence.

And Peter believes. He watches Jesus walking on top of the evil deeps and says, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” This is belief. He believed that the words of Jesus held power over fear and over the deeps and over the doozy of a storm. He is not free of doubt, but He believes in the power of Jesus’ word above all else.

Jesus said, “Come” and so Peter got out. Just like that. He put one leg over the edge and then the other. Or maybe he jumped. But, I love how simple we read the words. When Jesus said, “Come,” Peter physically moved from feet-on-the-boat to feet-on-the-water. This is belief!

What does it mean to believe Jesus is present?

>>It means I believe He is sovereign.
His presence – forever before and forever after this moment – is a proclamation of His sovereignty. When Peter stepped out there on the rumbly waves, he was saying that He believed Jesus had control over the wind and the waves and his life.

Life is ripe for adventure – for all the crazy, troubling, exciting ways Christ is saying, “Come.” When we believe He is strong over little and big evils, over little and big joys, we believe His sovereignty is more important than our feelings about circumstances. And we believe that strength is exactly where we are – here, present with us.

>>It means I believe He will hold me up.
Okay, so Peter was not perfect at believing, but Christ held him up. When the waves splashed at his ankles and when he started to wobble, Christ held him up. Peter believed in Christ enough to get his legs over the edge. He believed Christ cared for Him deeply and would keep His word.

I want to be held up and I want to need to be held up, because then I can know a more full God. I can know a little more of His power that I would never know if I stayed in the boat. It is good to be willfully in a place of need so God is praised for provision. In this case, the provision was life and Peter believed Jesus was able.

>>It means I will move toward Him.
I love to look at the movement in the gospels. The crowds come to Jesus, the disciples follow Jesus, and Jesus calls people to Himself. There is a movement of drawing near in the good news of the gospel and there is a movement in this life when we believe Jesus is present. As I believe Jesus is sovereign and able and good, I am always moving to be nearer to Him.

This morning in the sermon, my pastor talked about all Jesus’ miracles really being about the presence of Jesus. And I can see the beauty and weight of that statement when I think of the gospel moving today. Nearer still, my heart cries. Believe He is sovereign, believe He will hold me up, and believe He is calling, “Come.”

These are my Sunday thoughts, drenched in rare February sunshine and spread out over the full length of this Sabbath. The message of presence in the season of Epiphany is not worn out. It will never because we will never run out of Jesus.

love at the end

Remember all those days I thought commuting was beautiful? All those days I fought the NYC face and left early in defiance of minute crunching? Remember when I arrived to work in time to write a blog before the day began?

Well, anyway, I guess six months will do it. No more leaving early and no more new routes, but I don’t need another reason to talk about commuting. Train lines pretty much start and end every conversation – trains to live by, trains to get places, trains under construction, trains delayed, and trains full of “showtime, showtime, showtime.”

But it is okay to savor minutes in my apartment in the morning. It is okay to be quiet and sit still before the day begins. It is okay to declare Sabbath daily before chaos and maybe I should do it more often. Because, gosh, it is busy here.

When I first moved to NYC, I had two things on my mind: love this man and find beauty. I did not move to make it in this city as an actress or a business lady or to struggle up abstract creative ladders. Somehow, knowing that was like saying, “I’m not like the rest of this concrete madness. I value minutes and sunshine and neighboring.” I was different.

Six months later, I still value minutes and sunshine and neighboring, but I am desperate for Sabbath rest. I am like every other commuter in the morning, fighting crowds and sounds and shoulders. I am like every other apartment dweller, fighting for quiet minutes and then fighting to fill them. And now I am desperate for Sabbath rest.

My pastor talked about Sabbath rest on Sunday, right after I wrote about it unfolding slowly. Gathered around the weekly spread of cheese, crackers, fruits, and sweets last night, we revisited the passage in Matthew 12 where Jesus heals the man with the shriveled hand on the Sabbath.

It’s funny, living here. Because there is nothing we don’t work for. The act of striving is kind of the moving gears of this city. Commuting is work, work is work, plans are work, friends are work, keeping up appearances is work. We work for everything; we strive hard to believe “everything” is important to work for.

But rest. 

We can not work for rest, regardless of the comp hours we accumulate or the vacation/sick/personal days we are allowed. We cannot gain rest for our souls by living better, though we believe with the Pharisees that somehow we can.

Christ accomplished our rest.

It’s a different kind of Sabbath because Christ fought for and won our rest on the cross. I do not know how to make this more of my rhythm, but I want to learn what it means to rest in the middle of moving gears. I want to learn how to rest while hosting, neighboring, friendshipping, loving, and being.

I need to learn better how to rest.

I don’t know what your Sabbath soundtrack would sound like, but mine has John Mark McMillan’s new song, “Love at the End.” If you have a minute to listen and read the lyrics, do it.

the Christmas story

I love stories.

And this story is the greatest of all – the narrative all other stories envy. This is a magical story because it is also true. No amount of singing loud for all to hear would make a bearded man fly in a sleigh, but this story of God being born as a child happened. This is impossible, outrageous, and absolutely true.

Jesus came to the earth He created so that His children could be redeemed and He could be glorified. The King left His throne to be born in a barn.

The whole thing whispers magic in a way that makes me shiver and giggle and cheer. This is not a magic of darkness or a mystery that thrills by fear. This is a magic that God authored – one that we don’t have words to describe because our efforts  try to tame the mystery.

Jesus came and this is no fairy tale.

And to hear it told through children invites us to stand in awe of the mystery.

let LOVE fly like cRaZy

longing for a home

On my 15 hour trip across Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, and Michigan, I finally had time to process Van Gogh’s letters to his brother Theo. The lyrics to the new Matthew Perryman Jones song, “O Theo” have accompanied many of my night runs, but I hadn’t realized they were so old. They date back to intimate correspondence between Van Gogh and his brother and one such letter inspired this especially earnest and confessional song.

There’s something magnetic about the words – something that pulls you in and makes you listen to what was painfully penned from a brother to a brother of a dreadful waywardness.

Under the silence of water,
Into a sky full of birds
Out from the land of our fathers,
I am falling on your words,
Oh…

Dark as the night of a preacher,
I made a bed out of hay
They paid me a handful of money,
I gave it all away…
All away…

And the righteous raised their stones
And the devil threw his arrow
That was longing for a home
With nowhere to go,
Oh, Theo…

In the half-life of the city,
She took off all of her clothes
I flew from the height of the mountains
Into a valley of dry bones
All alone

Then my heart was still unknown
I was drunk and full of sorrows
I was longing for a home
With nowhere to go,
Oh, Theo…

So, I set fires of starlight,
To burn up against the despair
I was caught in the tangles of midnight’s
Long, unanswered prayer:
‘Are you there?’

And the light of morning grows
On a field of fallen sparrows
I was longing for a home
With nowhere to go,
Oh, Theo…

Are you pulled in to Van Gogh’s plea for a home? Does something deep inside turn over when you read about his waywardness?

Van Gogh describes his desperate and failed attempts to cure himself of loneliness. He reaches out and lays all things bare, longing for a home.

In a phone conversation the other night, I heard the same longing – a beautiful soul captured by grace who longed for the security of “home” without the fear of abandonment. I heard her confession of sin and her fragile hope of new life. I heard fear drip from every excuse as she listed reasons why now is a hard time to turn from sin.

And right there we called spades “spades.” We agreed about her sin and the fear that made her cling to it. We agreed that her life looked like Jesus hadn’t accomplished anything on the cross – that He wasn’t capable of holding her up when her world crashed.

We agreed that Jesus wanted a complete turn from sin so that she could look Him fully in the face and hear the words, “Child, you are mine.”

I remember sitting on my friend’s porch a cool, August night in high school. I remember trying desperately to convince my friend that I had sin to deal with. I remember my friend saying, “That’s it?”

We all get desperate and blinded by sin. The only hope of redemption we have is to believe that Christ willingly stood in the place of that sin (because it is sin) and continually sits at the right hand of God interceding for us, not that we would continue in sin but that we would enjoy the freedom that comes through repentance.

And it is with this honest, repentant heart that we do find a home that is secure.

truth has no genre

It’s such a ‘hip’ thing to say, “I like all kinds of music.” I just read a great post by Brett McCracken where he explains the Coldplay Effect. Hipsters and indies liked Coldplay when they were obscure, claiming they “just liked good music.” But when Coldplay got big, they dumped them for artists less well-known. It’s just a funny little cycle and McCracken turns it inside out in a way that makes so much sense. I’m really not trying to be hip when I say I like a lot of different styles, because I’ll add that there is definitely music I don’t like. I try to be indifferent about whether it is popular or not. It just seems like once music gets popular it all starts to sound the same. (Yikes, I hope I’m not a hipster in denial!)

Today, I decided to download music from iTunes.

This is worth sharing only because I never do. I am a pretty good internet sleuth for free (legal) music. Artists are sharing their music in return for our free publicity. This situation works out well for me, unless someone asks me to make a mix for a party… I don’t have what runs on the radios these days. So, I really can’t remember the last time I used my iTunes account.

That’s the first reason I mention I downloaded music from iTunes.

The second reason is the dissimilarity in the two albums.

The first is from a rap/hip hop artist who has gained crazy popularity with people like John Piper, CJ Mahaney, and Randy Alcorn. I love what Shai Linne said about the album in an interview when asked why rap is a good platform for his message,

“In many ways, I think hip-hop is actually an ideal genre for a project like this, because the format allows for so many more words to be used than in other genres. Because of this, the potential for transfer of ideas is much greater. Hip-hop lends itself to exposition. The challenge was finding suitable musical backdrops to properly convey the emotional depth of such a glorious topic.”

I like rap. I like to rap freestyle and roll out someone else’s rhythm. This kind of rap, though, the kind expositing Truth, has got me like a cup of hot coffee on the first day of snow (today).

The second comes from the guy who wrote, “How He Loves,” which you might know from several other artists who have recorded since. I like the way this guy thinks. “Genuine” is one of those terms people like to manipulate these days, but I believe John Mark McMillan. I’m a person who likes poetry and beauty and simplicity and purpose… and revealing a stronger, redemptive thread running through the tapestry of tragedy.

I’m so glad Truth has no genre.

My heart is happy that God created us in His image with a desire to create beautiful things. My heart is even more happy when people do this and it inspires me to return to my First Love.

It is TRUTH that allows us to

let LOVE fly like cRaZy

this & that

This will be a day for this equation: music+words=happy Monday! Enjoy these links and pass them along, if your little hearts desires. But most of all and as always
let LOVE fly like cRaZy
even if you aren’t dressing up or filling candy bowls for festivities tonight, there are ALL kinds of opportunities and I know you know it.
  • Are you a fan of Jars of Clay? Please check this out!
  • If Jars of Clay isn’t your cup ‘o tea, you should definitely check out Neulore. I became familiar with this band and frontman Adam Agin through Brite Revolution, in its earlier days. You’ve GOT to check out this album right now! Here’s one of the songs:
     
  •  Let’s see… something to read. Well, on a recent road trip with a very special high schooler, she asked me, “What’s this ‘Lamb of God’ stuff about? I mean I hear it a lot and it’s in songs and I’m just wondering is it a real lamb?” LOVED the question and LOVED the fact that we had several hours to sort it out. At the end, I said, “I know I’m getting worked up about this, but it’s only the beginning – there are SO many ways the Bible speaks that we gloss over! There are all sorts of prophecies in the OT that are later fulfilled in the NT that are simply MARVELOUS. Here is a great list from Peter Cockrell’s blog (he actually got it from Dane Ortlund if you want to re-trace the internet steps). CHECK IT OUT!
  • Have you ever heard of International Justice Mission? Well, you should hear about them. Here is an interview from Qideas, “An Apologetic for Justice.” That’s a good place to start.
  • And Can it Be? Truth, friends.
  • I think I’ve already posted this once, but I ALWAYS need the reminder. What is God sovereign over? A few countries? The weather? My family? Friends? Jobs? The beginning? The end? Evil? Good? Check out this post by Justin Taylor.
Okay, that’s it for now. Enjoy!

fighting temptations

I’m probably on my way to Colorado by the time you read this – kind of last minute. I’m off to see some family and spend some beautiful time with one of my past Honduran students. If I was writing with my true excitement, it’d be in all caps, but because people usually read those in a scream, I’ll refrain.

Last week, I posted this link to a blog by Dane Ortlund in my this & that post. During a conversation I had tonight about Christian perfection and sanctification and temptation, I read it again.

It’s still amazing.

I love that we find this little Clive Staples gem tucked away in correspondence he was writing to a friend who had some questions about evil. Oh! If my correspondence were only half as significant!

this is how I always like to imagine him - with round glasses, wise face, and a big ole book

So, if you missed it, here it is (I just took this straight from Ortlund’s blog, so go check it out his stuff!):

On September 12, 1933, 35-year-old Clive Staples Lewis wrote a letter to his dear friend Arthur Greeves. The letter is located in the Wade Center at Wheaton College–just down the street from where I am typing right now.

Greeves had written to Lewis asking about the degree to which we can speak, if at all, of God understanding evil in any kind of experiential way–as Greeves had put it, ‘sharing’ in our evil actions.

Lewis begins with an analogy (all emphases original)–

Supposing you are taking a dog on a lead past a post. You know what happens. . . . He tries to go the wrong side and gets his head looped round the post. You see that he can’t do it, and therefore pull him back. You pull him back because you want to enable him to go forward. He wants exactly the same thing–namely to go forward: for that very reason he resists your pull back, or, if he is an obedient dog, yields to it reluctantly as a matter of duty which seems to him to be quite in opposition to his own will: tho’ in factit is only by yielding to you that he will ever succeed in getting where he wants.

Now if the dog were a theologian he would regard his own will as a sin to which he was tempted, and therefore an evil: and he might go on to ask whether you understand and ‘contained’ his evil. If he did you could only reply ‘My dear dog, if by your will you mean what you really want to do, namely, to get forward along this road, I not only understand this desire butshare it. Forward is exactly where I want you to go. If by your will, on the other hand, you mean your will to pull against the collar and try to force yourself in a direction which is no use–why I understand it of course: but just because I understand it (and the whole situation, which you don’tunderstand) I cannot possibly share it. In fact the more I sympathise with your real wish–that is, the wish to get on–the less can I sympathise (in the sense of ‘share’ or ‘agree with’) your resistance to the collar: for I see that this is actually rendering the attainment of your real wish impossible.’

Lewis then goes back to the original question to bring his analogy home:

I don’t know if you will agree at once that this is a parallel to the situation between God and man: but I will work it out on the assumption that you do. Let us go back to the original question–whether and, if so in what sense God contains, say, my evil will–or ‘understands’ it. The answer is God not only understands but shares the desire which is at the root of all my evil–the desire for complete and ecstatic happiness. He made me for no other purpose than to enjoy it. But He knows, and I do not, how it can be really and permanently attained. He knows that most of my personal attempts to reach it are actually putting it further and further out of my reach. With these therefore He cannot sympathise or ‘agree.’

Lewis then relates his point to how we think about past sins, and then how we think about future sins (temptation).

I may always feel looking back on any past sin that in the very heart of my evil passion there was something that God approves and wants me to feel not less but more. Take a sin of Lust. The overwhelming thirst for rapture was good and even divine: it has not got to be unsaid (so to speak) and recanted. But it will never be quenched as I tried to quench it. If I refrain–if I submit to the collar and come round the right side of the lamp-post–God will be guiding me as quickly as He can to where I shall get what I really wanted all the time. It will not be very like what I now think I want: but it will be more like it than some suppose. In any case it will be the real thing, but a consolation prize or substitute. If I had it I should not need to fight against sensuality as something impure: rather I should spontaneously turn away from it as something cold, abstract, and artificial. This, I think, is how the doctrine applies to past sins.

On the other hand, when we are thinking of a sin in the future, i.e. when we are tempted, we must remember that just because God wants for us what we really want and knows the only way to get it, therefore He must, in a sense, be quite ruthless towards sin. He is not like a human authority who can be begged off or caught in an indulgent mood. The more He loves you the more determined He must be to pull you back from your way which leads nowhere into His way which leads where you want to go. Hence MacDonald’s words ‘The all-punishing, all-pardoning Father.’ You may go the wrong way again, and again He may forgive you: as the dog’s master may extricate the dog after he has tied the whole leash around the lamp-post. But there is no hope in the end of getting where you want to go except by going God’s way. . . .

And in a final, powerful, delightful reminder–

I think one may be quite rid of the old haunting suspicion–it raises its head in every temptation–that there is something else than God–some other country into which He forbids us to trespass–some kind of delight which He ‘doesn’t appreciate’ or just chooses to forbid, but which would be real delight if only we were allowed to get it. The thing just isn’t there. Whatever we desire is either what God is trying to give us as quickly as He can, or else a false picture of what He is trying to give us–a false picture which would not attract us for a moment if we saw the real thing.

–Walter Hooper, ed., The Collected Letters of C. S. Lewis, Volume 2: Books, Broadcasts, and the War, 1931-1949 (Cambridge University Press, 2004), 122-24