those who return to Him

As the father looked upon him, and kissed him much, there probably came another kiss, which seemed to say “There is no soreness left: I have not only forgiven, but I have forgotten too. It is all gone, clean gone. I will never accuse you of it any more. I will never love you any less. I will never treat you as though you were still an unworthy and untrustworthy person.” Probably  at that there came another kiss; for do not forget that his father forgave him “and kissed him much,” to show that the sin was all forgiven. There stood the prodigal, overwhelmed by his father’s goodness, yet remembering his past life. As he looked on himself, and thought, “I have these old rags on still, and I have just come from feeding the swine,” I can imagine that his father would give him another kiss, as much as to say, “My boy, I do not recollect the past; I am so glad to see you that I do not see any filth on you, or any rags on you either. I am so delighted to have you with me once more that, as I would pick up a diamond out of the mire, and be glad to get the diamond again, so do I pick you up, you are so precious to me.” This is the gracious and glorious way in which God treats those who return to Him. As for their sin, He has put it away so that He will not remember it. He forgives like a God. – Charles Spurgeon, “Prodigal Love for the Prodigal Son”

This is sweet beauty. This is the “gracious and glorious way in which God treats those who return to Him,” this is His delight over diamonds that never lose their value. The Spring season is bursting with its own diamond offerings, of bright colors and bold raindrops and the warmth the winter was craving. Spring wears beauty so well and I am obliged to “waste” New York minutes admiring it.

There are too many kisses for us to gloss over the story of the Prodigal Son in a synopsis.

Greedy child asked Dad for inheritance early and then wildly wasted every penny before coming home, where Dad received him with a party.

The father’s undignified run was too brilliant to get smashed into the word “received” and the kisses were too many for this reunion to be an average greeting. He kissed the soreness out and the guilt and the shame and the worry – He kissed it all with the power of a Father who forgives.

I’ve been thinking about value and worth and (okay, fine) diamonds. There has never been a time in my life when I have thought more about what I don’t have. I suppose NYC does that to everyone, to some degree, but it has never been part of my rhythm. Contentment has carried me through the sparse and plentiful times in miraculous ways, so this thinking is throwing me for a loop.

People (particularly women) everywhere are obsessed with knowing what might make them more lovable and that manifests itself in all sorts of colorful and crazy ways in this city. My sister’s advice when I moved to New York was, “Care, you can wear anything and no one would bat an eye. That’s the nice thing about New York. You’ll sit next to someone in a suit and someone in fishnet stockings on the same subway ride.”

Turns out, she was right.

What I wasn’t prepared for was the way my eyesight has changed. I am more aware of myself, my style (and lack of), and all the categories I do not fit inside. People say, “If you can make it in New York, you can make it anywhere.” I’m still trying to find out what “make it” means to figure out if I passed. But I’m not trying too hard to understand that litmus test, because there are too many kisses in the story of the Prodigal Son and the Loving Father.

When my pastor preached on Luke 15 this past Sunday, I thought about the Father’s eyesight instead. His love that covers a multitude of sins looked out on that haphazard hellion of a son and broke with compassion. The worth of the son was not about the words he prepared or the way he presented himself. The worth of the son was bound up in the love and compassion of the Father when the son returned home. He lavished love and kisses and let all the neighbors talk about his ridiculous sprint when the son was still “a long way off.”

This is the beauty the spring shouts, because winter did not deserve to be reborn into Spring. Winter died because God blew in Spring with the power of His words.

We are worthy of the Father’s love because He has said it is so and we hear those words spoken over us when we return to him, haphazard and tangled and unkept. This is the freedom of Spring – that the tree did nothing to earn its blooms and the sky did nothing to earn its shine. God, in His grace, is speaking His love over creation. And those who return to Him will hear the words spoken directly over their souls.

Hello, Spring! Hello, Easter!

never stranded inside a miracle

They went to the tomb with good intentions. Even though Jesus had prepared them in every way for His death and resurrection, they still thought they would find his dead body three days old as if it was any other body. They went to the tomb with good intentions in their hearts and this is what the angel said to them,

“Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here, for he has risen, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples that he has risen from the dead, and behold, he is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him. See, I have told you.” (Matthew 28:5-7 ESV)

No need to fear, he says, for you are looking for the right thing. You are seeking Jesus and He will never leave you stranded in a miracle. You are headed in the right direction and God will honor your search! The angel was God’s grace to these ladies just like we experience God’s graces to us as we seek to worship, serve, and love well. He doesn’t leave us stranded at the empty tomb. He points us toward the person of Jesus, toward reunion and delight in His presence.

This is God’s grace – that He never leaves us stranded inside a miracle.

This is the truth I am believing today. I am inside the miracle of love and I believe God will be glorified in spite of all the crazy. He does not leave us stranded at the empty tomb, but points us to His presence. He is always faithfully walking ahead of us, preparing the way for our joy and proclaiming our resurrection.

He rose, just as He said.

He is a promise keeper, our God. And we are so excited to invite people to celebrate His promises while Patrick and I make promises to each other. His promises empower our promises!

I get to marry this man!
I get to marry this man!

humility is a sly fox

I am very aware of the difference between true humility and humiliation. The former, a heart chooses in secret before the watchful eye of my persistent inner boast. The latter, is not so subtle and usually comes about because of unfortunate circumstances (see yesterday’s post) a heart tries to avoid.

We are never really humble, or at least we would never know it. Our boasting nature would not let that knowledge sit long enough for it to remain true. Even as I was reading about humility in the Lent devotional this morning, I was thinking about publishing this post.

Then I got to the end and read this closing prayer out loud.

Humble my heart before thee, and replenish it with thy choicest gifts. As water rests not on barren hill summits, but flows down to fertilize lowest vales, So make me the lowest of the lowly, that my spiritual riches may exceedingly abound. When I leave duties undone, may condemning thought strip me of pride, deepen in me devotion to thy service, and quicken me to more watchful care. When I am tempted to think highly of myself, grant me to see the wily power of my spiritual enemy; Help me to stand with wary eye on the watch-tower of faith, and to cling with determined grasp to my humble Lord; If I fall let me hide myself in my Redeemer’s righteousness, and when I escape, may I ascribe all deliverance to thy grace. Keep me humble, meek, lowly.

The Valley of Vision: A Collection of Puritan Prayers and Devotions.
The Banner of Truth Trust, Edinburgh, UK. 2003.

I almost didn’t make it through to the end because I started to feel dishonest. I prayed for grace to finish the prayer as I tripped over the words. Make me the lowest of the lowly? So that my spiritual riches may exceedingly abound. And the lines I will repeat to the rest of this Saturday:

If I fall let me hide myself in my Redeemer’s righteousness, and when I escape, may I ascribe all deliverance to thy grace.

Humility is a sly fox and I won’t try to scare him out from hiding. I will just keep praying for grace to pray these prayers, believing that God is always faithful.

near to Jesus

Somewhere in the middle of our discussion on Matthew 24:15-28 last night, I realized how different it feels to be near to Jesus in Lent.

In Epiphany, I was jostling with the crowds to get nearer the miracle. I was standing shoulder to shoulder with the disciples, trying to decipher the beauty and mystery of the God man. In Epiphany, I wanted to be near when Jesus touched lepers and saved harlots and spoke beauty and explained Truth. I wanted to be near Him like I wanted to be near beauty and like a magnet He pulled my soul closer.

In Lent, being near Jesus feels different because it means walking with Him to death.

He is no less beautiful or miraculous or True, but it feels somber to be beside Him as we go. I know it is for me that we’re on this journey – for my sin and hard heartedness that He has to set his eyes like flint on Jerusalem.

But I still want to be next to Him and I only want to be next to Him.

That is the repeat phrase I heard myself say after we finished prayers and I started off toward home last night. All those street preachers are right, at least partially: there is an end to this world and it is serious business. And in the end, I want to be found next to Christ – tucked under His provision and snuggled right up to His beauty when all that is somber thunders down.

If Christ is the most beautiful thing when the world folds in on its own desires, then He is definitely the most beautiful thing about this Wednesday morning.

sweaty mess and sci-fi

Sometimes there is no way around it – my legs stick to the driver seat, my hair twists around in a knot atop my head, and a pool of sweat collects on my lower back.

#summer

But, I’m gonna be real honest right now: I feel like I’m lost in a sci-fi film. Every other moment I’m drowning and in the opposite moment I’m waking up like a child. I guess you could describe the whole disturbing scene stretching out these days as exciting, but I’m just barely hanging on.

Turns out, all that talk of preaching to myself better be more than blog posts, better be more than resolutions and more than my typical free-spirited whimsy. It better be more, because it’s getting serious. Every other moment (the drowning ones) require serious rescue and lip service won’t do the trick, ever.

Believing moment by moment is a catchy concept and one I can get behind – trusting that God is providing and will provide the strength to go on in His future grace.

We are banking on the overflow of future storehouses and you’ll always find me saying “Amen” to that.

But riding around in my car with kids I love so much it tears my heart out, that’s not a concept. Having to say goodbye to these kids is not a concept I can either agree or disagree with, it’s just going to happen. Looking at my bank accounts is not conceptual – the numbers are like Shakira’s hips, they don’t lie. Trying to sell my car Eddie, trying to juggle transition, trying to get hired… those are not concepts.

This is my reality. I’m not sitting in a church pew, throwing out “amens” when the pastor is on point and scribbling my sermon doodles about theological connections.

Believing is not a concept, it is reality. It has to be, or I sank a long time ago.

Every other moment (the drowning ones), I reach out for the reality of future grace. I have to believe with my mind, praying all unbelief into captivity (2 Corinthians 10:5) because otherwise I would be paralyzed with fears that everything won’t work out. I have to believe with my heart, trusting God’s protection and that He will complete the work He has started (Philippians 1:6). I have to believe with my soul, hoping with certainty in what God has promised for the future (Psalm 42:11). I have to believe with my strength, convinced that acting out of this belief is the best thing to do (Hebrews 12:14).

I try not to flail about, but I do very few things gracefully and getting rescued is not one of them. I scramble and scurry, but every inch of me knows that believing conceptually is not life-saving.

Real believing is a sweaty mess, a gasping-for-air ordeal that can make a person extremely unattractive in all the near-drowning desperation. But believing is also the only thing that will make us beautiful, as we become more and more like Christ.

Then there are those glorious every other moments (the waking up ones) when I slip into childlike skin and the believing is less work. These are great gifts and I cherish them, sandwiched between near drownings. God’s preservation of our childlike-ness is a very beautiful thing.

This is the little sci-fi memoir I’m living at the moment, making my life a sweaty mess. It’s probably just this heat getting to me.