slow motion holiday

The moment I walked into my parents’ sleepy farmhouse, I rattled off a long list of promises to my niece – about forts and decorated cookies and potato stamps and monkey games. I wanted to do everything wonderful and I wanted to do it all at once. Between the two of us, I’m not sure who was more like a 3 three year old, but at one point my mom said, “Honey, why don’t you just choose one thing and do it all the way.”

That was yesterday.

This morning, in the Sunday rush and rumble to get ready for church, Natalie crawled on my lap and said, “I just need to snuggle for a little bit.” There she goes again, stepping into the moments standing right in front of me without making lists about the moments that follow. Maybe my niece and my mom are in cahoots to get some slow motion in my life.

I’m breathing deeper now, breathing advent in slowly and letting the anticipation sink in deep. Because longing does not mean impatience and excitement does not mean busy plans. Looking for my Savior is something I can savor slowly, like Sunday morning snuggles and Saturday night fort building.

Slow seems to be a theme these days, especially as I reflect on advent.

This gift of a Savior baby – a miracle sent to meet all our messes – was not a rush job. God didn’t wait until things got real bad, until Gotham was nearly a graveyard, before sending his superhero. No, He didn’t send the Messiah out of fear that the world was caving in and evil was winning.

God conducted the world and everything in it like the perfect notes in an orchestra. He knew redemption was necessary the moment He set creation in motion. He knew how far we would fall from his plans and how busy we would make ourselves in making our own. He knew all this and still stayed with His salvation plan from the beginning.

This week, I’ve been thinking about Father, Son and Holy Spirit knowing what redemption would look like. Thousands of years of knowing that salvation would involve serious sacrifice. An eternity past of knowing that the Son would be sent to be the Savior of the world.

What a very long time.

Yet, the Lord was never anxious about His plans. He did not crowd or cram the calendar. Because He is sovereign, His plans are never foiled. He did not need to move fast.

There was enough time for celestial choirs and enough time for repeating the sounding joy. Repeat the sounding joy. Slowly.

joy to the world! the Savior reigns
let men their songs employ!
while fields and floods
and hills and plains
repeat the sounding joy!

I’m spending this holiday in slow motion – savoring fully the invitation to come and adore Christ the Lord.

wait, with great expectation

Waiting with anticipation sounds like a funny thing to do.

Because it is hard to wait actively and hard to anticipate passively. And that’s exactly the miracle of Advent.

There is nothing passive about the days leading up to Christ’s birth into the world – the longing for a Messiah is almost palpable throughout the Old Testament. Even as hundreds of years passed, the people of Israel (and beyond) waited with great expectation for the Savior King to come to earth. They were waiting, but they were not resigned to indifference. They read and re-read the prophecies and the promises and then they said, “Come.”

Hundreds and hundreds of years of “Come, Lord Jesus.” I imagine it maintaining the same intensity, though some generations must have faltered. Still, generation after generation waited actively with the words, “Come.”

The incarnation was never meant to happen to us, like witnessing an act of charity on the subway by chance. The incarnation of our Lord was planned from the very beginning, even the stars thrown into the sky were set on a trajectory to proclaim His coming. 

And we are invited to take part in His coming, to anticipate the arrival of the Savior and the fulfillment of the Lord’s promise. Christ coming to earth is reason to celebrate salvation for our future, but it is also a reason to celebrate God’s salvation in our present. Because He is a faithful promise keeper … and that translates to Tuesdays. The incarnation is about Tuesday morning devotions and Tuesday afternoon meetings. The incarnation is about financial difficulties and health concerns. The incarnation is about family and brokenness.

The incarnation is about God being a faithful promise keeper when He sent Jesus as a baby into a dark world to be the light.

And the incarnation is not something we let “happen” to us. It is something we invite to transform our Tuesdays and our lives.

Come, thou long expected Jesus. Come.

when He said, “walk with me”

The walls of my heart were near bursting in the middle of the evening service last night. If ever there was a sermon that hit the home I’m coming from as much as the home I’m headed to, it was this sermon.

The passage came from Matthew 9, when Jesus called Matthew to be a part of his motley crew. Jesus was just passing by Matthew’s shameful tax stand when he simply said, “Follow me.”

It was an invitation and a command and a whole bundle of things all rolled into one. Matthew didn’t have the luxury of reading over Jesus’ words to examine their meaning. He had only the moments flashing in front of his money-dirtied table to decide what to do. This man in front of him looked him in the eye and he didn’t just say “Follow me.”

He did, but Jesus said something else, too.

The invitation is much more than a cold command to walk behind a dictator. The invitation is nothing like that. The Greek word, akoloutheó, means not just to follow but to “accompany, attend” or literally, “to go the same way with.”

I squirmed in my pew when my pastor explained, “Jesus wasn’t just saying, ‘Walk with me.’ He was also saying, ‘I want to walk with you.'”

The invitation to follow Jesus is an invitation to accompany Him on the kingdom mission of heaven.

This invitation to follow Him means that He wants to walk in the same direction as me – that He is pleased to be going the same way. It is His perfect sovereignty that guides and directs our steps on the path, but He is not embarrassed to be seen at my side. He knows about my lopsided steps – about my clumsy, Amelia Bedelia ways. He knows that I’ve got baggage and that I get distracted.

He knows ALL these things and still He is pleased to invite me to walk with Him. And inside that invitation I know He wants to walk with me.

And do you know the first thing Matthew did as he walked alongside Jesus? He threw a party. He invited all the vagabonds and wanderers and outcasts and unlikely party guests to his house for the feast of all feasts and Jesus was at the center.

And there they walked together – Jesus and Matthew – hosting a beautiful gathering where more people could view the result of Matthew’s unlikely invitation to be a follower.

I’m still giddy with all this. Vito went on to preach a “party culture” into his congregation – a message of accountability that Christians should be hosting the craziest parties. Christians should be inviting the rich and poor and awkward and smooth into their homes to break bread and drink wine and give thanks to the Lord because we have been invited to accompany Him along the way.

We should be doing what Matthew did when Jesus called him to walk along the same path. This kind of thing is in my bones. I want to invite my car dealership/drug dealing neighbors and the owners of the cutest pizza place on Rogers Street and my co-workers and the young runner couple that lives on 2nd floor… I want to invite them all over for a party in honor of the Lord who has invited me to follow Him!

I know, I know – all my dear, safe Iowan friends are worried. I won’t go doing anything crazy until Patrick gets back in town and can make sure my ideas aren’t too dangerous. For now, I’ll just be giddy with the idea that Jesus called me to walk with Him, which means He is pleased to walk with me.

It’s good to be giddy about such things.

this ain’t no kind of religion

If it was, I’d be doomed.

If this life is about religion, I’d be zonked, smothered, shriveled, beat up, dried out, and downcast. If yesterday was about measuring up and looking good and doing right, I failed.

I thought a run would cure my sour rhythm, but right before I left I opted for the rollerblades. I wanted to feel the wind faster in my face, I guess. Halfway around Gray’s Lake, after picking up speed on the perfect slope, a very large and very deep pool of water stretched over the path. I made a last minute decision to go off-roading on the grass, which ended as quickly as it started – with me on my back.

I jumped up and blade ran (sideways with arms pumping) across the rest of the grass until the path was clear. I’m not really sure why I did this because blade running is not a thing. No one runs on rollerblades in the grass.

But when I picked up speed again on the other side of that pool of water, I thought about a conversation I had with a colleague recently. She said, “Yeah, I just get sick of some Christians in my life saying they want to do more Christian stuff. I’m like, ‘Why don’t you just stop talking about it and live it?’ I mean, I’m not much into religion, but I do it 40 hours a week. It’s my job.”

This colleague is my favorite, but I couldn’t make any sense of her statements. I think she was saying that she does what Christians talk about every work week – it’s her day job. Apparently, there are “Christians” in her life who have less humanitarian jobs and they feel guilty about their efforts to better humanity. She’s not a fan of religion, but she does it pretty well anyway.

In any case, I was thinking about this conversation when I was rollerblading (faster now to escape the humiliation of my fall) when night was settling on the city.

And I knew that every doomed day would stay doomed if it was about religion. Even if we all worked in the social services field all day, every day… even if we helped a thousand zillion people because of our efforts… even then we would be doomed if it was about religion.

THIS IS LOVE.

Christ breaks through every day that we fail to “do religion” perfectly (and that’s every day). He sets us free from human measurements and standards. He invites us to dance unashamed because our freedom was purchased by His love.

In every way we fall short, His grace extends far enough.

Can you feel it? It’s like rain, this love. It falls on the mighty and the weak, the smart and the simple, the famous and the obscure. His love falls on those who wrestle in doubt, cower in fear, and push back in anger. It’s like a downpour, this love.

His love accepts our incomplete efforts because the only measurement is Christ. He accomplished everything so I could accomplish anything at all.

Thursday is a good day to get soaked.

don’t stop too soon

It is a brave soul that uncovers raw pain
to search for meaning in existence,
that wearies and wars the shallows
to dig the depths of sorrow’s persistence

Don’t stop too soon.

It is a brave soul that sheds skins
and peels off veneers to find what truth is,
that pulls hard against peril when
layers reveal atrocities and ugly ruins

Don’t stop too soon.

It is a brave soul that opens eyes
against the blinding light of the sun,
that burns its heat and with fierce
impression reminds from where it comes

Don’t stop too soon.

It is a braver soul who believes
that Christ paid the ultimate cost,
tortured Himself so the tortured soul
would no longer be living lost

Don’t stop being brave too soon,
and whatever your bravery may find,
know that Christ Himself is brave for you
and His victory is thine.

This is day 4 of my “every day in may” creative challenge – to write something (poem, story, note, thought) as a special blessing for someone. I won’t share each day, but I wanted to share this poem from day 3.

There are several people in my life going through difficult times right now, so I’ve been thinking about bravery. If we are brave enough to be exposed and vulnerable (great thoughts from recent TED talk on this), then we will most definitely step into a mess of pain. But if our bravery ends there, we will miss out. We must be brave enough to see the deepest and most vulnerable hurt to experience the deepest and most satisfying joy.

an empty seat where I should sit

He said it so casually I didn’t realize why I was smiling.

“….don’t mean to sound curmudgeonly…”

I think my brain giggled with delight a bit and when I went back to retrieve a reason, there sat “curmudgeonly.” It was more than just that word, but it could have been just that word as well that tickled my imagination like the first sprinkles of a storm. The conversation rolled on and the excitement came like waves on waves.

What is this? This thing that doesn’t make sense and doesn’t make money and doesn’t return anything but bubbling delight that wells up from my innermost soul? And how can I get more of it?

C.S. Lewis spoke of the unique chemistry of friendship that exceeds our efforts to manipulate a similar result.

“In friendship…we think we have chosen our peers. In reality a few years’ difference in the dates of our births, a few more miles between certain houses, the choice of one university instead of another…the accident of a topic being raised or not raised at a first meeting–any of these chances might have kept us apart. But, for a Christian, there are, strictly speaking no chances. A secret master of ceremonies has been at work. Christ, who said to the disciples, “Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you,” can truly say to every group of Christian friends, “Ye have not chosen one another but I have chosen you for one another.” The friendship is not a reward for our discriminating and good taste in finding one another out. It is the instrument by which God reveals to each of us the beauties of others.” ― C.S. LewisThe Four Loves

This man on the phone is still a stranger, but I can confidently say his words were no accident – even if just to wake up a part of my imagination that should not have been sleeping. As we talked about writing and creativity and living slowly to savor the beauty, it was like seeds scattering on freshly wintered Spring soil.

This one silly, long-syllabled word was that dusty ray of light peeking through a crack in the door to salute the sun outside. After I hung up, I stopped pacing the floor to look at my scribbled notes. What a beautiful and funny thing, language. It is reminding me there is an empty seat where I should sit among those who act as instruments through which God reveals His beauty.

This. I need to do more of this and talk with people who bring out the beauty of God’s fingerprints in me while I watch God reveal His fingerprints on them. 

let LOVE fly like cRaZy

saying no to things we like in favor of things He loves

I remember saying it in AWANA, speeding through a mile-a-minute. Those little jewels might have been plastic, but it was a big deal to fill up that little brown crown on my bright red vest.

Someone, Denny Messenger probably, slowed me down and asked me to say it again.

Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. (Matthew 16:24 ESV)

I always memorized things in a sing-songy way, little phrase by little phrase and it almost always ended up sounding like an awkward poem. I would rock back and forth and scrunch up my face if I got stuck. Once successful, I’m sure I beamed as I grabbed my book back to review for the next verse.

Someone like Denny Messenger would take the time to ask what I thought Jesus meant when he asked the disciples to “take his cross” and I would respond in the same sing-song fashion that we have to “do hard things for God.” Well, I’m not sure what I really said, but I imagine it being something like that.

Now, 20 years later, that verse is still hidden in my heart, along with a host of others from the NIV and I can’t tell you how often I’ve been grateful for the early investment. When truth is planted, it grows and always returns blessings.

I was reminded of this verse recently in several conversations with friends. One of the conversations was about vision – is everyone supposed to have a specific vision that requires sacrifice on behalf of Christ? Another conversation was more specifically about understanding what it practically means to “take up your cross.”

Twenty years is a long time for something to be hidden… you’d think the goodness of it would be exhausted by now, that there would be nothing to mine for in one measly little verse from an ancient book that an 8 year-old memorized, partially out of the desire to stand in front of a group of kids to receive a plastic jewel to put in a plastic crown on her vest. But, in the currency of grace, twenty years is an investment that proves its worth.

What does it mean to take up my cross and follow after Christ? What does it mean for 9 am and in the break room and for Tuesday night? Does it mean we start up non-profit organizations? Does it mean we live amongst the poorest of the poor, or at least give all our funds away? Does it mean we find something very, very heavy and then commit to carrying it?

What does it mean to take up my cross and follow after Christ?

My friend shared thoughts on the verse from a devotional that talked about the importance of choosing this “cross.” It is not something situational that you cannot change, but something that you elect just as Christ elected to suffer for the joy set before Him.

But, “What do I choose? How do I find this cross Jesus speaks about?”

I wonder if we race too quickly past Jesus’s first words in this verse, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself…”

Often, I think, Christians are paralyzed because it seems a great chasm exists between walking unencumbered and walking with a heavy cross. Of course, this chasm does exist – the Christian life is not easy or comfortable – but maybe the concept of finding an uncomfortable and heavy cross at 9 am and in the break room and on Tuesday nights is overwhelming to the point of paralysis.

“let him deny himself”

Just as the sanctification process is from one degree of glory to the next (2 Corinthians 3:18), our “taking up of the cross” is a daily denying of ourselves and in the littlest things treasuring Christ first. Very few will feel the weight of a cross on their backs (though Christians are still being crucified), but we all choose what we treasure the most with the weight of daily decisions.

Are you willing to be inconvenienced? Uncomfortable? Awkward? Humiliated? Hated?

Do you treasure Christ more than you treasure popularity in the workplace?
Do you treasure Christ more than you treasure your Monday night TV program?
Do you treasure Christ more than you treasure your weekends of leisure?

We say no to the things we like in favor of the things He loves, because we love Him and believe His promises.

When we treasure Christ the most, our footsteps follow His into self-denial. We present our bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to the Lord (Romans 12:1) in the ways we deny ourselves and follow Christ into and through any suffering our treasuring of Him might bring.

Want to read about someone who is doing this well? I’m learning a lot from this young man and his journey to make much of Christ as he denies himself and follows Him. Check out this post and see if you don’t agree.

let LOVE fly like cRaZy