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.

we are chance creators

There is this thing in soccer called “chances created.” It’s a statistic that tracks how many times a soccer player has created chances for plays. I heard about it yesterday at church because our pastor’s favorite soccer player is known for his “chances created” statistic.

And this matters because the friends of the paralyzed man in Matthew 9:1-8 were about creating chances. They knew that carrying their friend to the door of the home where Jesus was preaching was not enough. The crowd craned their necks from all windows and doorways to see and hear the teaching; there was no way to get their friend to the front where Jesus stood.

Oh, sure, they could have turned back and no one would have asked why. But they were about creating chances – they were determined to get their friend to the feet of Jesus because they thought something unbelievable could happen.

There was no guarantee, just a chance to witness something beautiful.

And that belief was big enough to motivate their deconstructing a roof and their Macgyvering a lowering system to interrupt Jesus’ teaching with the presence of a disabled man.

The presence of Jesus was that important.

They created a chance for their paralyzed friend to meet Jesus because they believed it could change his life forever. Even just the chance was worth the sweat and trouble and questioning stares. Worth it.

Do I think getting uncomfortable and awkward and tired is worth the chances it creates for others to meet Jesus?

Good question.

Sometimes I waste time weighing out my options. I wonder if the invitations will be received well and if the conversation will be offensive. I wonder about future conversations and wonder if I will keep or lose friendships. I wonder about looking silly and feeling ashamed. I wonder about how much the other person even wants a chance to meet Jesus.

But these guys, they were relentless. And when their paralyzed friend finally got lowered down with the Bible times version of duct tape and WD 40, Jesus surprised everyone.

He looked past the paralyzed man’s obvious and most debilitating physical need. He looked past the years of struggle and got inside his heart… and what He saw needed forgiving. Whatever it was, we can all relate. We are all the paralyzed man, inside. We all need to get to the foot of Jesus so He can expose what is dark apart from any physical anxieties that knot us up on the outside.

So, this was the man’s chance at the feet of Jesus – his chance to experience something that would transform everything else about his mat-constrained life. And then Jesus healed this paralyzed man of sin. He forgave him for all the darkness hiding out in his heart. That was the magic and that was the mystery – the play that happened as a result of the chance created.

After the crowd backlashed and questioned, Jesus also healed the man’s physical body so that “you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.” He is Lord over the spiritual and the physical. All of it, everything.

“There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry, Mine!” – Abraham Kuyper

This is why we are chance creators.

Because God is the best at unearned surprises – the eternal and physical, the now and future, the simple and complex kinds. He is the best at surprises and we must be about creating chances for friends and neighbors and strangers to sit at His feet.

We don’t know what will happen, but it will never be bad.
God will always be glorified and it will always be worth it.

Definitely love your local church, but if you want to be encouraged by mine, listen to this sermon from Sunday by Vito!

chin up, child

I had been looking out at the rain because I could not wait to wear my rain boots. I was supposed to do laundry but instead I spent yesterday drinking french press in oversized flannel, making pancake invitations by candlelight and trying to forget that Monday is a regular work day.

By the time I left the apartment for church, I had forgotten my umbrella and my sense of New York direction. A hundred puddles and one wet coat later, I found the familiar old church on 5th and Rodney.

And not even cold, winter rain could keep the delight out.

Because that’s what happens when you meet with Jesus. It may not always look like bright colored bits of NYE confetti in Times Square. It may never look like that, but God promised delight in the flatlands when He promised abundant life (John 10:10).

Today is a regular day and I would lie if I didn’t say it was hard to get dressed in this routine. This is the flatlands, but there is delight hidden here. I’m going to choose belief all day long, going to chase delight while I run on level ground. 

Things and people and plans seem slippery these days, but there is one thing I can confidently hold tightly. The tighter I hold Jesus – the more I purpose to know Him and find out what pleases Him – the greater I will experience the best delight.

God promises to sustain in ways we don’t know we need, to fill in places we don’t know are empty.

Delight is something I choose when I believe Jesus is my greatest treasure. It’s something that spills over when I can’t hold the abundance inside any longer. Delight is a face I wear on the subway and in the office and flipping pancakes in my apartment. It is what happens when God meets needs I didn’t know I had and fills places I didn’t know were empty.

Delight is dependent on one thing: God being a promise keeper.
And today, He is saying, “Chin up, child. There is delight in this day!

 

same park, same path, different heart

The day was not more or less beautiful. The park was not more or less packed.

The children played soccer under the same sun’s evening glow, the same moving mass of strangers ran in circles around the same lake, the same warmth burst out from the tips of trees and into the same cool, autumn air.

Everything about my run was the same, except that it was different.

I rounded the curve last night on the East side when it starts to slope down and I realized a smile had stretched across my face. It was a facial expression that defines stupid grin and it was amplified by my oogly eyes marveling at the sky. For the entire steady slope, I grinned and oogled the sky.

I smiled at all the strangers who had made me feel uneasy and emotional a few days before, but I thought my delight might be entertaining (if they create stories in their minds about strangers like I do). I befriended one lady, in a runner’s world kind of way. She was about my height with a similar stride and a purple headband. We ran comfortably side by side and I imagined her story until she sped on ahead around the south curve (confirming my prediction after seeing her serious running tight/skirt combo and determined arm swing).

Everything was the same, but my heart was different.

I was not afraid.

I felt like Kevin from Home Alone when he opens the front door to his empty home and yells to the Christmas darkness, “Hey! I’m not afraid anymore! Do you hear me? I’m not afraid anymore!”

To get empty of fear is liberating, but only if I am getting filled up with something else. Otherwise I’m just yelling at darkness and hoping my endorphins will keep pumping boldness into my blood. The emptiness has to be displaced – the fear has to be replaced by something strong enough to shove it beyond the bounds of influence.

Christ got empty. He emptied Himself so that we could be emptied of emptiness – emptied of that vacancy we feel when fear screams out from our insides.

My salvation has pushed emptiness out and fear with it. Hope has displaced strife and faith has removed worry. I am not afraid anymore because I believe the fullness of Christ is pushing against and spilling beyond my boundaries.

I am not afraid of missing out. I am not afraid of being a stranger. I am not afraid of hugging this city when it doesn’t hug me back. I am not afraid of being unknown. I am not afraid.

I am not afraid because Christ emptied my fear when He got empty.

why communion makes me weepy

I used to be ashamed at the tears squeezing out the corners of my eyes when I walked up to take communion. I used to think I was too much removed from those summer camp experiences where tears and emotions seemed more appropriate. I used to think getting teary-eyed at the communion table would reveal some of the messy layers of my life I try to keep hidden – the less tidy and more sinful layers.

Sometimes I still try to blink away the emotion. I’ll try to focus on something other than the weight of my eternal destiny and the Savior who stepped in to change my course. Tonight, I let the tears slip down as I walked up the aisle.

I sang along to “Jesus Paid it All” in a soft murmur, believing every word because sin had left a crimson stain but He washed it white as snow.

And that’s a miracle.

It’s okay to get emotional when unbelievable things happen and it’s okay to have that emotion on a weekly basis. Because my salvation doesn’t make any sense.

When I take the bread and drink the wine, proclaiming Christ’s death until He comes again, I am believing that His death was sufficient to cover my sin. I am believing Christ as my substitute and that He ransomed my soul from the pit of emptiness by putting Himself inside that pit.

Unbelievable.

It isn’t a long walk between the wooden pews to the front of the church, but it’s long enough. The upright bass, piano, and saxophones accompanied my reflection and the tears were persistent.

I hear the Savior say,
“Thy strength indeed is small;
Child of weakness, watch and pray,
Find in Me thine all in all.”

There’s no good reason for this weak child to find or be found, but God called my heart out of darkness into light. And so the short walk before I rip off the bread and drink the wine from the cup is full of ways I’m not worthy, ways I’m overwhelmed by God’s gift.

My tears may sound like nonsense, but I suppose to my heart it is the opposite. I am not sad for my salvation, just overwhelmed by it – by the bigness of it and the unlikeliness of it.

The walk back to my wooden pew after that little feast is always a beautiful celebration. I am always breathing deep sighs and lifting up my chin because as weighty as that communion dinner is, His grace is weightier still. Anything I may have brought up with me – shame or guilt or fear or doubt – He already covered in the sacrifice on the cross and I am free of it.

I get weepy at communion. It’s just a thing that happens every Sunday. Sometimes I try to hide it and blink it away, but other times I let those little tears roll because communion is a an emotional encounter.

You who are greater

I heard a sermon a couple weeks back and this little bit of Scripture in 1 John 3 keeps coming on back to steady my heart.

Because my heart sometimes feels pretty powerful – like it has the full force of Jeremiah 17:9 and that’s a scary danger.

“The heart is deceitful above all things
and beyond cure.
Who can understand it?”

I surely do not. Even when we think we are making unselfish sense, our heart still deceives and traps and tricks and we can still get buried in a place that is “beyond cure.” There is a place where cure can’t reach and that’s where you’ll find our hearts. Ouch.

Sounds impossible to cure a deceitful heart, doesn’t it? So, I must believe God for impossible things. I must believe in this moment through to the next that He is a promise keeper, that He knows everything, and that He is greater than my heart.

Though my heart is deceitful and fickle and incurable and fret-filled, God is greater than my heart. When my heart runs circles around the narrow path where my feet tread with doubts and taunts, I must remember who made my heart.

He that formed my heart calls me “child” and is always faithful to be greater than my fears.

He is always greater, always. God knows everything – there’s nothing about the darkest part of our hearts that surprises Him – and He is still greater than those secrets. In 1 John 3, we read that our salvation means confidence, that even the most fickle and incurable heart issues we have must bend to the One who abides in us.

I am not afraid of my dangerous heart. I believe that God is greater.

Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.

By this we shall know that we are of the truth and reassure our heart before him; for whenever our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and he knows everything. Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence before God; and whatever we ask we receive from him, because we keep his commandments and do what pleases him. And this is his commandment, that we believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us. Whoever keeps his commandments abides in God, and God in him. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit whom he has given us. (1 John 3:18-24, ESV)

When I believe God to be greater than my heart, I trust that fear is replaced with obedience. I am not afraid of my dangerous heart because I believe God can overcome it and help me pursue holiness. I am not afraid because He has authored miracles that I can act out by living a life of love. I am not afraid because I know, in Christ, what it means to abide. Because of His grace, I am not afraid.