eat your deliverance

food sermon

I finally turned toward the Lord.

It was the smallest bent of the shoulder, the slightest tilt of the head – away from destruction and toward restoration. It took one calendar year and then some. I should be straight-facing the Lord by now, parallel to the Presence. Feet to feet and eye to eye, if God would stoop to look me in the blues He painted on my round face.

It’s October now, and for months I’ve been saying all the spiritual self-talk, “You’ve turned toward the Lord, now gaze on Him. Delight in Him. Love His presence. Feel His embrace. Taste His provision. Be with Him. Rest in Him. Listen to Him. Breathe the breath of Him.”

But foolishness can follow a person, like spider webs that play phantom strings on skin hairs long after being swept away. Foolishness doesn’t care about posture or position. Maybe that’s why I have trouble lifting my gaze or moving toward the One who redeemed my soul.

God is always on my mind like grief is always on my mind, but this year I didn’t have an appetite for Him. I didn’t crave Him like I craved a medium rare steak or Nonna D’s Oatmeal Lace ice cream (read: pregnant).

I guess I am waiting for that moment – you know the one, in all those Psalms? The moment in the stanzas that say, “and then they cried out… turned from their wicked ways…” Because in the next stanza, the Lord would come down.

He would come all the way down to listen and heal and deliver the wayward from the sure destruction of spoiled appetites. Stanza after stanza, story after story, He came down when they cried out. And then He fed them with rich, mysterious food – though I imagine they never knew they were starving until that first bite.

Taste and see that He is good. (Psalm 34:8)

This command is soaked in love, drowning in it. In this command I hear the heart of my Father saying, “Oh, child. Your foolishness has confused your appetite. You don’t even know what real food looks like anymore. What you put in your belly is spoiling you from the inside. But now that you have turned toward me, you can hear me when I say I am the best food. Eat your deliverance. Unleash your appetite on something that will satisfy.”

Eat and be satisfied. (Deuteronomy 8:10)

If I could relax my shoulders with palms face up like benediction, I might hear the Lord saying, “Oh, darling. Eat your deliverance.”

Is it fear that has my hands tied? Am I afraid that Joy will tip the scale and Grief will lose out? Maybe Pride is too good a friend, blinding me to the food my soul craves. Maybe I am suffocating because I covet the past and I covet the future.

The longer I let the spoil sit in my belly, the less I live.

It sounds strange. But it is death in my belly if it is not life. God did not come all the way down, in Jesus, for our bellies to rot and for our breath to die. Jesus came to give life and breath and food, the richest food, and this is my deliverance.

“Your words were found, and I ate them, and your words became to me a joy and the delight of my heart, for I am called by your name, O LORD, God of hosts.” Jeremiah 15:16

Praise comes like all the waves in all the oceans, because you cannot gulp down the glory of the Lord. It is a slow delight. His deliverance happens when desperation makes space for His glory and our praise happens because those who have been delivered say so.

“Let the redeemed of the Lord say so.” Psalm 107:2

“Let” is the command to everyone in earshot of the redeemed: allow these people to praise rightly the God of their redemption. Listen to their praise because they can be trusted. Especially if they were foolish before – let them swoop ribbons and dance swirls and sing melodies and make a ceremony out of praise.

Let those with life in their bellies say so.

Someday soon I hope to make a ceremony of silly praise, a tribute to the God of my redemption, the God who satisfies with good food. I am waiting for that moment…

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.

being innocent

Last night, I tried to give an update in the form of a limerick. It didn’t pan out, so I’ll spare you, but I did realize that I must discover again what it means to be childlike.

My beautiful friends asked, “Do you find joy in what you do?” in the incredulous ways friends do when you’ve just thoroughly depressed them. I snapped out of the glazed-over “here’s-how-I-answer-questions-about-my-job” mode and realized I will not survive if I forget to be as innocent as a dove.

Being innocent is possible.

Evil is not a new thing. It has not developed with the introduction of new laws and the deterioration of others. Evil has been around since those two lovebirds had a forbidden meal in paradise. Jesus’s “sending out” was not to go into the world and build houses to hide inside, away from the evil. Wisdom like serpents doesn’t come from staying safe, incubated from the weary world outside our doors. Jesus admonishes his followers to be innocent as doves – to step into all the ugliness and evil and somehow stay innocent.

Jesus was well aware of how twisted and sinful the world was when he gave this directive.

“Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. (Matthew 10:16)

Being innocent is possible because Jesus is involved and he said so. That’s the bottomline. He would not command his followers to do something impossible – something He would not make possible in His power. I believe being innocent in this ugly, evil world is possible because God said so.

Being innocent is painful.

For a long time, I had the wrong view of innocence – a sheltered and unexposed upbringing fashioned it. Don’t get me wrong, I’m beyond thankful that I didn’t know many things of the world until recently (and still am pretty clueless). I am thankful for all the ways I was trained up by my parents in righteousness and pointed towards Truth. Where my view of innocence got tangled up was when I started equating my experience to innocence. This does not match up with the experience for which Jesus was preparing His disciples. They would see horrible things, hear horrible things, and experience horrible things. They were not to sit comfortably indoors, far from the evil raging outside. Jesus commanded them to walk towards the pain and even into the pain so they could speak words He would give them. I love that His recruiting schpeel is probably the least persuasive invitation you’ll ever read. “Come, you will be hated by all for my name’s sake.” There is no sugarcoating this gig. Jesus is clearly not out to win the crowds into his service.

Beware of men, for they will deliver you over to courts and flog you in their synagogues, and you will be dragged before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them and the Gentiles. When they deliver you over, do not be anxious how you are to speak or what you are to say, for what you are to say will be given to you in that hour. For it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you. Brother will deliver brother over to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death, and you will be hated by all for my name’s sake. (Matthew 10:17-22)

Being innocent ends in reward.

But the one who endures to the end will be saved. When they persecute you in one town, flee to the next, for truly, I say to you, you will not have gone through all the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes.(Matthew 10:22-23 ESV)

Jesus sent them out, into the evil, and told them to be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. I often turn this over and over in search of something spelled out in letters that can slice a dividing line. When am I too much like a serpent and when am I too fearful and distant like a dove? How does one straddle two extremes perfectly as she walks out the kingdom directive to go?

Christ.

I mean that as simply and mysteriously as it sounds. Christ answers our questions of when and how by telling us to be both wise and innocent, an impossible thing. In this impossibility, we begin to understand He is also the reward. Only someone who is God could give an impossible directive. Christ enables the straddling of two extremes in a way that brings us to our knees in praise. This most powerful God calls us into the impossible at the same time that He invites us into His presence. How deep the Father’s love that He would enter such a twisted, evil world and invite us to be with Him – to share in His heart for the nations. How deep the Father’s love. This is our reward.

Christ is the way we walk out wisdom and fly out innocence. Christ is the reason I can laugh and jump and play like a child even while I am learning the evils of worldly wisdom.

let LOVE fly like cRaZy

why do we read the Bible?

 

What a beautiful encouragement from D.A. Carson as he answers the question, “Why read the Bible?”

If we are motivated by mere routine to open the Bible, we will not experience transformation and we will welcome a more merit-based salvation system. I struggle with this on a regular basis, so I’m thankful for these thoughts.

 

 

o love that will not let me go

“How did Jesus have power to do miracles?”

The question was like extracting one drop of water in a massive wave off the coast of El Salvador – marvelous and impossible.

I sat across from Anna and considered the fireworks in my heart. Oh, how I love my Jesus. I got flustered and stumbled over my words in excitement. My haphazard words fluttered out like they would if I was trying to explain that I’d found a key to a secret garden in the center of the city, where hydrangeas and peonies and lilies bloomed year-round. It’s too good to be true and my heart knows it.

The more we study the life of Jesus, the more willing we are to stand in awe – to marvel at the mystery. Anna’s question came from our summer Bible study, “Walking as Jesus Walked” by Dann Spader and my delight came from the response: digging deeper. My delight is not that I have answers, but that through the Spirit we have strength to comprehend the love that surpasses knowledge.

For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.
Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.
(Ephesians 3:14-21 ESV)

As the weeks go by, my encouragement to these girls is to go digging – to taste and see that the Lord is good (Psalm 34:8) over and over and over again. Nothing bad can come of studying the Word and asking God to give us insight. The Word never returns void. When we’ve uncovered verses that we think don’t make sense, it means digging deeper to uncover why they do.

The more we read God’s Word, the more we want to read God’s Word. As we study the life of Jesus, I am holding on to the love that will not let me go – the love that allows me to grow in wisdom and stature, in favor of God and man (Luke 2:52), just like Jesus.

let LOVE fly like cRaZy

joyful readiness

Here is a combination of things (or is it more of a process of things) that will bring joy to my soul, without fail.

students learning/loving God’s Word –> responding to spiritual/physical needs around them –> bridging cultural gaps by one great need of a Savior –> God is glorified and we are satisfied

I’m not sure if this process/combination makes sense to you, but my heart understands completely! Coming up on March 6-13, eight of my students will embark on a mission trip to a nearby community. We have been preparing through Bible study, prayer, testimonies, and many organizational details. I keep hearing this beautiful phrase, “Miss, I want to be different and make a difference.” Every time a student says some version of this declaration I get a little more excited about what God is doing in their lives. He is moving in marvelous and mysterious ways to bring glory to His name and true, deep satisfaction to His servants.

Please join with me in prayer for these students as we prepare for this mission trip. Below they have written their prayer requests and I would love if you prayed for them by name. We are also relying on God for financial provision in this endeavor, so please pray we will believe in His faithfulness.

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I love this quote from John Piper, “To be humble is to be a servant. They are not the same. But humility leads to joyful readiness to do lowly service.” I hope and pray that we will enter into service with this kind of joyful readiness!

let LOVE fly like cRaZy

oh my soul, faint not

Sometimes I’m not even aware that my soul needs lifting.

I praise God in those moments for His complete sovereignty … and the grace He has to reach down and remind me I am surely safe in His presence.

Between yesterday and today, God hemmed me in with His provisions of His presence. Three packages from the States and Canada, kingdom-seeking conversations in my office, and beautiful time spent with my Bible study girls tonight felt like a handmade quilt wrapped perfectly around my winter body.

God is so good.

In Bible study tonight, we tackled the divine romance, illustrated in the first marriage of Adam and Eve. We trudged through some Old Testament background on covenant and arrived at a beautiful, exposed place. My heart got all twisted somewhere in the midst of our discussion because I wanted to communicate how beautiful is God’s love story with us and His plans for us. I wanted to cry several times.

There are so many things I pray and hope for these ladies… and all my hopes have to do with their pursuit of their Savior. If they are fixing their eyes on Christ, the author and perfector of their faith, there is no possible way to end in disappointment. The alternative – pursuing a man or a dream or a career – will always let us down.

I left to the gym after the last ladies took off and I hit the treadmill running like mad to this new song by Jenny and Tyler called “Faint Not.”

It might seem a strange song to feel so strongly about after my Bible study, because the lyrics focus on poverty, pain, injustices in the world and our sometimes haggard response.

What seemed so appropriate tonight – running and sweating and praying like crazy for my senior ladies – was believing God would be faithful with His promises:

Even youths shall faint and be weary, and young men shall fall exhausted;  but they who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.
(Isaiah 40:30-31 ESV)

My heart bursts with this prayer – this plea – that we will believe He is stronger than any deception, allure, temptation, or danger. When we seek Him, He lifts us.

The chorus to the song is simple, but I’ve been singing it on replay:

Oh my soul, faint not
no, faint not
Oh, my soul, keep on,
oh, in love

I’m so glad for God’s timely reminders that He is sufficient. He is gracious. He is present.

let LOVE fly like cRaZy