a study in abundance

Usually, when I talk about abundance I am talking about the kind of life Jesus came to bring.

I’m talking about overflowing cups and about grace that is more than enough. I’m talking about bust-at-the-seams joy and about delight that chases sunlight. Usually, when I talk about abundance, it sounds like things you want to have seeping out from the pores of your life.

Then I read these words from Francis Schaeffer in True Spirituality,

“We are surrounded by a world that says no to nothing. When we are surrounded with this sort of mentality, in which everything is judged by binges and by success, then suddenly to be told that in the Christian life there is to be this strong negative aspect of saying no to things and no to self, it must seem hard. And if it does not feel hard to us, we are not really letting it speak to us.” – Schaeffer, True Spirituality

This is a different, empty abundance, and it is everywhere. I can literally think of absolutely any desire and then indulge at some point on my commute home from work. Feeling sad? Eat cake. Feeling tired? Buy a latte. Feeling lonely? Arrange a meet up with friends. Feeling overcrowded? Pick up takeout and watch netflix. Feeling poor? Swipe your plastic to prove you can still splurge. Feeling bored at work? Job search on Linkedin while in transit. Feeling achy and sore? Swing by the corner store for medicines.

We don’t like to be limited.

We want an abundance we control – an abundance that serves us and gratifies our petty, momentary desires. We want an abundance that tastes like chocolate and comfort and success. We want an abundance that never hurts, never sweats, never needs anything but our desire for more of it. We want an abundance we can control.

Schaeffer is framing a concept in the second chapter that makes pretty much everyone uncomfortable. He doesn’t even try to ease into it… he titled the chapter The Centrality of Death. He pulls us into a conversation about the real issue at stake as we try to live out the Christian life. He writes,

“It is not, for example, a matter of waiting until we no longer have strong sexual desires, but rather that in the midst of the moving of life, surrounded by a world that grabs everything in rebellion, first against God and then against fellow men, we are to understand what Jesus means when he talks about denying ourselves and renouncing ourselves with regard to that which is not rightfully ours.” – Francis Scaeffer, True Spirituality

in the midst of the moving of life … we are to understand what Jesus means when he talks about denying ourselves and renouncing ourselves

Yes, it is in the midst of the moving of life that we get especially uncomfortable with denying ourselves. Because that is when we reach for quick fixes. We have a very real empty filling, but we would prefer to orchestrate our own abundance.

This really got stuck in my soul this week. I would like to think otherwise, but this is my story as much as it is any average New Yorker’s. I self medicate with coffees and chocolates and plans and hipster toys. “Death by choice,” as Schaeffer calls it, does not sound appealing. But, his encouragement is that there is no way around it. If we want the kind of abundance Christ offered, it will come by way of death.

“The order – rejected, slain, raised – is also the order of the Christian life of true spirituality; there is no other.” Schaeffer, True Spirituality

What power is there in being raised if we were never buried? What miracle is there in new birth if the old is still around? The Christian life is an everyday dying of self, an everyday denying of selfish desires. But the Christian life is also an everyday revival and an everyday raising.

My soul is looking like a seesaw over this truth.

I am learning what it means to die to self everyday so that I can live the miracle of being raised. That is when abundance starts to make sense – when you know what you have died to and what you have been raised for.

when the skies wear out

The sky was beautiful today, but it is not forever.

The pale blue will not always look so perfect; the clouds will not always stretch across it like orphaned feathers. There is nothing permanent about the beauty we see around us. Like the thick ribbons of snow from yesterday getting trampled into brown slush underfoot today, there is nothing permanent about the beauty on this earth. At least not now.

And I have a hunger for the beauty, for the kingdom come, for the eternal. I have a hunger for a beauty that will last forever. We are in the middle of the dead of winter and sometimes it feels like our stone hearts are as dead as the dirty brown earth the snow is covering. It feels like our hearts are too dead to be revived by beauty.

Here is a bouquet of sorts. This song sounds to me like a beautiful flower delivery today – beauty and life in the dead of winter’s grim. Open it and listen and sing and rejoice because Christ makes beauty possible and Christ makes beauty secure.

As I celebrate the presence and beauty of Christ in Epiphany, I am also looking ahead (as Christ’s followers must have). I am looking ahead because, as Christ forgave sins and healed sinners, He was looking ahead to the cross.

Being present does not mean forgetting future glory. Being present does not mean avoiding future pain. Being present does not mean poor planning.

As Christ planted His presence in the soil of this earth, He also looked ahead to the ultimate sacrifice and endured it “for the joy set before Him.” He looked forward to the day He would satisfy justice and restore His children.

Rock of Ages, you have brought me near
You have poured out your life-blood, your love, your tears
To make this stone heart come alive again
Rock of Ages, forgive my sin.

Christ is the beauty that is forever, when the skies wear out.
Christ is the beauty that makes stone hearts come alive again.
Christ is the beauty that is hope secure.

still epiphany

We’re still in that season on the church calendar called Epiphany, but it sure is easy to forget about it. Without the Christmas clutter, whether we embrace it or fight it, we are less aware of any spiritual season. At least I am.

And then a song comes through my headphones on my way to work in the morning called Lazarus by Jon Guerra. I remember that this season is about practicing presence. I remember that Jesus walked the earth – that He came to live with us, inside our human struggle. And when he saw pain and death and sickness, he walked towards it. He was fully present in every kind of place with every kind of person.

This is how Jesus responded when the sisters sent word that the one He loved was sick,

“But when Jesus heard it he said, “This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” John 11:4

He did not rush like an EMT to the scene or run the opposite direction from the tragedy’s sadness. He did not avoid Judea, though the people tried to stone him the last time he was in town. Jesus was slow, steady, and confident that his presence possessed the authority of the One who sent Him.

And I forget that.

I forget that Jesus is present in the darkness of this world and present in the darkness of my heart. He walks toward the darkness and offends it with the light of His truth. He walks toward dead bones and this is what he says,

Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” John 11:25-26

His presence means resurrection and it means life. And we are all Lazarus, dead for four days, lost in darkness. We are all wrapped up, bodies bandaged and cold, when He makes Himself present to us and then makes us alive to Him. Do we believe this? Do we live believing that faith means we will never die? Do we walk out God’s daily miracles of future grace with a confidence of one who will live forever?

When he had said these things, he cried out with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out.” John 11:43

Every day, he stands at the door of our death tombs and says, “Come out.” He reminds us that He is present here in this dark day and in our dark hearts. He calls for us to be present with Him and to be His presence. He calls us to “come out” of darkness in order to speak life into a world of death.

This is the season of Epiphany, where we celebrate Jesus being present among us. Let us not forget all His benefits (Psalm 103)!

if I could make your heart

Sometimes we come to the end of ourselves for ourselves.

We get dried up. We go looking to get filled because emptiness doesn’t feel like the most abundant way to live. And we all want abundance.

But other times, we come to the end of ourselves because an empty vessel cannot fill another. We want to pour out love and grace, but when the glass is tipped there is nothing but air.

I don’t have kids yet, but I imagine I will feel this way often or at least I will fight it on the regular. I will want them to feel loved and blessed and cared for in a special and unique way. And just as often I will feel my limitations.

If you are like me, you imagine what you would do with an infinite vessel. You imagine, with an infinite vessel, you could really love someone well. If your resources were never exhausted, you could really communicate the love that twists up your insides. At least, that’s what I imagine.

Because sometimes it feels like I need too much maintenance to love at all, like I’m so concerned with getting filled up that I can’t pour out love the way I wish I could – with extravagant gifts and slow conversations and donated afternoons/evenings. I feel like every time I tip my glass only air comes out.

This is a nice idea from Azure Ray… that we could make hearts feel always loved, if we are willing to make crazy sacrifices.

But on the days when I come to the end of myself for someone else, I remember it is not my glass that fills their cup.

It is not my gifts or conversations or donated evenings that makes their life abundant. It is another source entirely. God knows about our dry, empty hearts. He knows when we tip our glass and only air comes out.

And He is the One who fills us, for whatever reason we are feeling empty.

let us never cease to wonder

If you’ve read this blog for more than a few months, you know I love to wonder. I love wide eyes and mysteries and the way my body gasps for air when I am in awe.

Some days, I fall into it naturally. Like when I bounced from table to table at the bar after church on Sunday night because I wanted to be with everyone all at once. And the way Grace and I skipped arm in arm ahead of the group when we all decided to end the night with pie and coffee. And the way Gordon walked with his own little swag, topping it off with a little sidewalk dance while we waited outside for our table. And the way we crowded in around to eat key lime and bourbon pecan and cherry pear crumble pies like we had been friends for years and years. Days like this past Sunday are the rumble in my gut that stretches out through my fingertips to say, “what a wonderful world!”

As cheesy as that sounds.

I looked over at Patrick several times throughout the night and said, “We are so blessed.” But words can never accurately describe wonder. Blessed is not enough. The joy I feel surrounded by this group of new friends cannot be planned or packaged. It is just very simply God’s unique grace to my soul. He promises abundance and then He delivers and it looks like 6 hours of “church” on Sunday, starting with choir practice and ending with key lime pie.

And I don’t get how it all works.

I don’t understand the science of wonder, I just know that it makes me feel very small and very humble and very grateful. I am nothing – just a little dot moving around in this crazy big expanse called the universe. But God knows the hairs on my head and He knows how much joy I feel when I skip and sing and celebrate over key lime pie. He knows those things because He knit me together inside my mom’s belly.

And I still don’t get how it all works. I just know that I cannot manipulate awe because wonder refuses to be manufactured.

Wonder is the surprise your soul feels when God pours out a unique grace – the kind your heart best understands.

Life does not have to be perfect to feel the joy of this grace. The ordinary, everyday real life in the flatlands is just as likely a place to feel this grace as the mountaintops. So, I try to train my heart to feel wonder – to live with wide eyes and to search out mysteries and to laugh uncontrollably while we sing Willy Wonka as we cross Broadway in Williamsburg.

“Let your soul lose itself in wonder, for wonder is in the way, a very practical emotion. Holy wonder will lead you to grateful worship and heartfelt thanksgiving. It will cause within you godly watchfulness; you will be afraid to sin against such a love as this.” Charles Spurgeon, Morning and Evening: Daily Readings.

Godly watchfulness is how I’d like to wake up tomorrow. I want to feel the fear of sinning against such a love as this. I mean that in the best of ways. God’s grace is so good, so specific and so personal. I’d like to be so wrapped in wonder by God’s grace that can’t take my eyes away from Him – for fear that I will miss out. The more mystery I take in, the more there is. The more love I feel, the more He provides. The more grace I need, the more He gives.

Wonder gives birth to wonder and why would I ever go looking for something else?

when God says “you are mine”

Sometimes we sort out identity with “I” statements. We say things like, “I am a city dweller, I am a counselor, I am a daughter, I am a friend, I am a writer…” and all those other identifiers that are helpful in awkward, small talk conversations. And when we explain our identities, we are simultaneously reassuring ourselves that these statements are fact.

But every once in a while (and maybe often) the statements seem empty. We finish the small talk and say to ourselves, “Am I really?” We walk away feeling uncertain because the identity statements depend on a power bigger than my ability to possess.

I’ve been reading from Charles Spurgeon’s “Morning and Evening Readings” and this morning, the verse was short and simple, from 1 Corinthians 3:23.

“You are Christ’s.”

It was an identity statement, but it spoke to a place my words can’t reach. These are the statements spoken over the life of a believer – over all the fears and worries and hopes and dreams.

“You are His by donation – for the Father gave you to the Son. You are His by His bloody purchase – for He paid the price for your redemption. You are His by dedication – for you have consecrated yourself to Him. You are His by relation – for you are named by His name, and made one of His brethren and joint-heirs.” – Charles Spurgeon, Morning and Evening Readings

The life that God breathes into my bones, more than just holding me together as He holds the world (Colossians 1:17), are these precious words, “You are mine” (Isaiah 43:1).

But now thus says the Lord,
he who created you, O Jacob,
he who formed you, O Israel:
“Fear not, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by name, you are mine.

I am a lot of things, depending on the day of the week and the amount of time my mind has to wander.

But I am always His, because He said so.

It has nothing to do with the way I small talk or my professional progress. It has nothing to do with my pedigree or and nothing to do with the words I choose to describe my identity. My identity begins and ends with the words securing my eternity: “you are mine.” Spurgeon encourages the Christian to step into the identity Christ has declared,”Labor practically to show the world that you are the servant, the friend, the bride of Jesus.” Later, He writes,

“When the cause of God invites you – give your goods and yourself away, for you are Christ’s. Never belie your profession. Be ever one of those whose manners are Christian, whose speech is like the Nazarene, whose conduct and conversation are so redolent of heaven – that all who see you may know that you are the Savior’s, recognizing in you His features of love and His countenance of holiness.

I want to be more productive at being the Lord’s, better at accepting His invitation to give myself away. Because He is my identity, my life should have the look of heaven. My Monday night words and my middle-of-the-work-week thoughts and my small talk struggles should look like I believe the identity spoken over me.

This week, I will listen for God’s voice saying, “You are mine.”

the art of being fully present

I’m here.

I’m a bunch of bundled winter layers, waddling around this city’s concrete maze with dancing feet to fight from freezing. But, I’m here. I’m sitting through the winter with NYC like she’s undergoing snow-capped surgery. I’ll be here when she wakes up in the Spring and I’ll be ready to unleash all the frozen energy of my hibernation. But for now, I’m here.

And I’m learning that presence is a big deal.

God must have thought so when He sent His only Son to be fully present in a messy world. There is something special about walking dusty paths and rubbing elbows at dinners and swapping conversation in the synagogues… something special about God choosing to send Emmanuel (literally, God with us) to be present in all the daily grind of things.

But sometimes being present is a slow suffocation – like a packed, silent subway car or an empty apartment or a long walk between the B44 and the A train. It’s hard to sit still, hard to think slowly, and hard to listen. Even now, I am filling the hour in between work and Club with jazz, seasoned sauteed mushroom/pepper scramble, and this post.

I wonder how Jesus lived fully present, fully inside the moment right in front of Him.

Last Sunday, our pastor talked about presence being the most important gift we can give because it is the most important gift we have received. Christ gave Himself. When it was awkward and hard and one-sided, He gave Himself and found delight in knowing it pleased His Father.

This kind of being is not easy. Sometimes, it feels forced or foolish or fumbling. It feels like all those things a lot to me. But, at least when I’m brave enough to try it, my pastor’s words are right. It is beautiful and I want to do better.

I need grace to live more fully present – to give myself when it’s awkward and hard and one-sided. I need grace to keep posting Pancake Monday signs on neighbors’ doors and handing them to friends. I need grace to know how to listen well. I need grace to fight the urge to hide away and grace to be honest when that is exactly what I most want.

I need grace and God loves to pour it out. 

Life here feels like a novel written in stream of consciousness style, dreaming and waking and working all weave together with fragmented threads. But God has grace enough to shake me free of all the clutter. He has grace to invite me to receive the gift of His presence and to learn how to give the way He gave.

The art of being fully present means giving myself away like Jesus did, trusting that God is faithful to fill me up and overwhelm me with delight.