honesty about sin means honesty about salvation

I read this gem in my Lent devotional this morning, from philosopher Søren Aabye Kierkegaard:

“Sin is the despairing refusal to find your deepest identity in your relationship and service to God. Sin is seeking to become oneself, to get an identity, apart from God.”

I don’t like thinking about my sin, even though it seems I’m always aware of it and always fighting shame against it. But it is a private shame, one I push beneath workflow and to the corners of social plans. I don’t like that I stumble and fail and forget lessons I learned the hard way. I don’t like that I require crazy amounts of patience from God, as He reteaches my heart to submit and love and serve and obey.

But, when I finally speak my sin into the light I realize how much energy I spent keeping it in the dark. Not that my efforts to hide selfishness and pride can keep anything from my Maker (and, of course I know that), but shame is a great and sly motivator.

When I confess my sin, I distance myself from any identity associated with rebellion and lean on the identity of the One who saves. But this relief only comes by way of honest confession.

So many times, I will kneel in church or pause for prayer and search my mind for something to confess. Satan somehow clears all the sin I have been shamefully hiding and replaces that elephant space in my mind with silent whiteness. My thoughts don’t even wander, there is just nothing there at all. Later, of course, the sins creep out from the corners to remind me that I am unworthy.

My heart needs confession (honesty about my sin) because my heart desperately needs forgiveness (honesty about salvation).

There is just no way around it, but there is also no greater glory to be found. God welcomes our confession and exchanges us a crown. He covers us in His grace and grants us inexplicable joy.

He leads us like a shepherd and chases us when we stray. What a beautiful friend we have in Jesus, friends – that He would chase down a forgetful and frightened heart to offer perfect freedom from shame.

find us faithful and find us ready

Simple prayers are the best because my words get in the way.

No one has ever accused me of being a woman of few words, though I have tried to be a woman of less. Maybe sometimes – no definitely sometimes – I complicate prayers  with too much vocabulary. I get flustered and the words fumble out sounding impressive or hollow or planned.

This advent season, my shoulders have a humble slump and it is making me appreciate simple prayers and spelled out liturgies. Because my words aren’t anything special, nothing revolutionary or new is streaming from my cyber pen. I am one in a million breaking winter silence with thoughts from my fickle, foolish heart. I join a history as old as the sun – a history of people who speak and explain and write and ponder. And we have many, many words to evidence our legitimacy… as word lovers.

I always wonder if we can come about true humility by way of humiliation. Can a person be truly humble as a result of feeling truly humiliated? No one loves humiliation. I try to stay away from it and all the rosy cheeked aftermath, but it still sneaks up on me with regular rhythm. I am always saying the wrong thing and doing the wrong thing and both at all the wrong times. I know being awkward is all the hipster craze these days, but (let’s be honest) no one enjoys being humiliated.

And so my slumped shoulders find me meditating on the Messiah, knowing I am a little drummer boy with a pen and paper – standing at the entrance to the stable of my King.

I don’t have much to bring and even my words are weightless and wilty sometimes. What I do have to offer is sometimes the very thing that humiliates me. I am walking with those ancient wise men, following the miracle star to meet my Messiah, so that the Messiah can meet all my messes.

I lit the third advent candle today with slumped shoulders and a thankful heart, because I am not impressive and I do not have to be. The Lord was gracious to send a Savior, One who could handle all the words in the world – all the things we think we have to offer. I am thankful today to pray a simple prayer, believing God is the something special about advent and Christmas and salvation and redemption.

Christ is what makes this season glorious.

And my words cannot make more or less of that. So, I pray a simple prayer with slumped shoulders knowing the Lord cares tenderly for His children. He is gracious to invite me to worship at the stable and at the cross with my slumped shoulders, with my pen and paper.

Lord, find us faithful and find us ready. Amen.

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.

joy falls like confetti

“The Gospel changes what I fundamentally boast in – it changes the whole basis for my identity. Nothing in the whole world has any power over me – I am free at last to enjoy the world, for I do not need the world. I feel neither inferior to anyone nor superior to anyone, and I am being made all over into someone and something entirely new.” Tim Keller

I probably could not have chosen a better book of the Bible to study leading up to my New York move. Galatians is freedom’s anthem and I’m loving it’s accompaniment to my new Brooklyn steps.

Freedom.

Nothing like couch-hopping to remind you of all the reasons you don’t have to boast. And in this beautiful in-between place before I find an apartment, I feel crazy freedom to enjoy my new “home.” Because the world does not have power over me – to make me less secure or less approved or less stable or less free.

The world cannot make me less free.

Even in the most in-between of places and most uncertain of phases, freedom means joy. The sun streaming in the window this morning, the breeze sweeping through Hawthorne Street, the full Saturday stretching out it’s weekend arms – in everything joy falls like confetti. This is a freedom the world cannot steal, a freedom hidden so deep and kept so safe because God has claimed the sacred space.

I am free to enjoy the world because I do not need the world. It’s really a very fabulous thing – because need means dependence. If my freedom depends on the world, I’m like a runner in a race without a finish line. I’m desperate to get to a place where I can be free of all the running, but the end never comes – the distance looms ahead of me and always increases.

But I do not need the world for freedom or fulfillment. Because Christ already crossed the finish line for me, I am free to enjoy the race. I can run with abandon and determination and the kind of joy that makes me giggle. I can run without worry or fear. Because I know Christ is for me, my footsteps are light and my eyes are open. This is my freedom in Christ – to enjoy the world because I don’t need the world.

I am being made over into something and someone entirely new and I am not in charge of that process. I’m just running with my eyes fixed like flint on the One who granted the grace for me to run at all. As I run, I will boast in Him.

And it is for freedom that we are set free.

how to give the best advice

I was one of those high school students that teachers pulled aside and said, “You’re a natural leader…” The next sentence would usually be an invitation to partner with that teacher in some sort of classroom takeover.

I don’t know what it was they saw in me – whether it was my fearlessness in front of my peers or my willingness to participate in any sort of takeover plot. What I do know is that it planted a seed that grew into a grown-up me thinking I always have words to say (and that those words are worth listening to).

I ended up pursuing a career (and I use that term loosely to describe the general direction my professional life has gone) that is all about connecting to people. I graduated with degrees in psychology and communication and my joke has been, “Basically, I got a degree in figuring people out and then talking to them.” Every single job I’ve had – from printing shop to administrative assistant to guidance counselor to paint crew to service coordinator – has been about relationships. The most important moments (professional and personal) have always happened in conversations.

Somewhere along the way, I realized that all those times my teachers and family members and friends said, “You’re really one of those ‘natural’ leaders” kind of got under my skin and convinced me I had something to say and that people should listen.

That’s what born leaders do, right? Lead people.

Yes. But it’s both more and less. The secular world has its way of preaching its own religious message and this business of leadership is a popular sermon. There is a tendency, when people come to me for advice, to speak from my own pulpit – to guide and direct and advise from my own experiences and knowledge.

Along the bumpy and unconventional “career path” I’ve been walking, I have learned something very important about leadership and advice and relationships. It really boils down to one very simple thing.

Give me Jesus.

This is the sermon Paul preached to himself in Corinthians and Galatians and it summed up his life and ministry. He even later cautioned his listeners to filter out any worldly advice that might sneak in to sabotage the original message of the Gospel.

“And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.” (1 Corinthians 2:1-5, ESV)

Paul was intensely aware of His need of the Gospel – his dependence on God’s grace shaped the way he spoke and listened and preached and led. His leadership did not look like more of his words or his knowledge or his expertise. His leadership looked like more Jesus. Because the more he filled his life with Jesus, the more it became the only thing he could give to others.

Give them Jesus.

Maybe there are natural born leaders – people who have the characteristics and personality to be presidents and prime ministers. But the longer I live, the more I’m convinced that the best leadership comes from people who are most concerned with following Jesus.

When we feel like we are failing as leaders or as communicators or advisors, we don’t need to work to be better at those things. We need to ask the Lord, “Give me more Jesus, so that I can give them more Jesus.”

I read this little nugget from Tim Keller in my devotional this morning. I like to think about my heart being melted by His love and that love overflowing to others. That’s the kind of leader I want to be.

“If we find ourselves unloving, the solution is not to seek to love better or more; it is to look at Christ, who gives us an unlosable, unshakable acceptance from the Father, and as we dwell on our hope, we will find our hearts melted by His love, and overflowing with His love to others.” Tim Keller in “Galatians for You”

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.

have you ever seen a tree dance?

Psalm 1 is one of my favorite word pictures in the Bible. Trees are a reminder of what happens when the Lord provides – the deep roots, lush leaves, and sprawling canopy flourish because of the Lord’s care.

Blessed is the man
who walks not in the counsel of the wicked,
nor stands in the way of sinners,
nor sits in the seat of scoffers;
but his delight is in the law of the Lord,
and on his law he meditates day and night.

He is like a tree
planted by streams of water
that yields its fruit in its season,
and its leaf does not wither.
In all that he does, he prospers.

The wicked are not so,
but are like chaff that the wind drives away.
Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,
nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous;
for the Lord knows the way of the righteous,
but the way of the wicked will perish. (Psalm 1, ESV)

But every analogy has something in common: a limit.

A tree is inadequate to describe what we are completely “like” as we follow the Lord. As we move from one degree of holy to the next, we are not just rooted deep in the ground and stretched out to bear fruit. A tree as a picture of our sanctification is limited, even if it is a tree that prospers in and out of season and whose leaf does not wither.

Our Christian life is “like a tree,” but it is also more than this. We are rooted and established in love (Ephesians 3:17-19) but we have also inside of us the brilliant excitement that caused David to dance with all his might (2 Samuel 6:14). We have access to abundant life (John 10:10) in Christ, the kind that makes us want to sing and praise and laugh and shout (Acts 16:25, Psalm 98:4, Psalm 47).

Yes, loving the Lord and growing in this love means being like a tree, but it also means being like the bride and groom at the wedding I went to yesterday.

His gleeful squeals with outstretched arms and smile-covered face looked nothing like a tree. He was not composed and stately. He was drowning in joy and his bride was radiant with expectation. They were both very un-tree like when they bounded down the aisle after the “Mr. and Mrs. Groves” announcement and jumped into the air under the cloudy sky.

Their joy spilled out… it got into our hearts as we watched them celebrate. The love that was rooted and established in their identity as children of God was now displayed in their commitment to one another as united by God.

I have never seen trees dance.

have seen the glory of the Lord spilling over our ability to describe it. Yesterday, watching Riley and Brooke get married, was one of those times.

 

what keeps my bones revived

I’m not sure if Smalltown Poets were ever cool when I was growing up, but their CD got major airplay in my little room with slanted ceilings. I’m sure they inspired some of the sappy journal writing I did or at least accompanied it. One of their songs came to mind recently when I was taking communion, the chorus of “Trust” reads,

Take this bread,
Drink this cup,
Know this price has pardoned you
From all that’s hardened you,
But it’s going to take some trust

When the bread passed by me in the pew, I pulled off a good-sized chunk (thanks to Kevin DeYoung, whose message on sanctification and communion inspired me to peel off enough bread to “feel the weight of it”) and stared at it in my hand. Jesus instructed us to take the bread and drink the cup, for as often as we take the bread and drink the cup we proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes (see 1 Corinthians 11:26). So, I weighed the good-sized chunk in my hand while I considered what it proclaimed. This price has pardoned me from all that’s hardened me.

Oh, boy. That was the price my hardening required – a pardon that looked like a broken body and spilled blood?

Yes. That is just exactly the kind of price. Even the good-sized chunk of bread couldn’t help me imagine the weight of my dead bones before Christ revived me. But feeling the weight of the bread during communion is something different than guilt and nothing like condemnation. The weight of my good-sized chunk of communion bread felt like freedom. 

But the challenge with communion, for me, is not believing that Jesus’ death and resurrection happened or that it is the event that brought life to my dead bones. I am redeemed and a child of the King, of that I am sure.

The challenge with communion is believing that Jesus’ death and resurrection is currently keeping my bones revived.

When a slave is granted freedom, we do not say that freedom existed for the one moment when his chains fell. Freedom is also every moment after the shackles break; salvation is happening in our lives as believers as much as it happened when we first believed. 

What Jesus accomplished on the cross was not millions of salvation moments, but rather millions of salvation stories.

Yes, Smalltown Poets, this is “going to take some trust.” We are freed to obey, freed to believe, and freed to trust that this Savior who secured my freedom is faithful to keep securing my freedom.

This is what I proclaim in the bread and the cup: trust that God pardoned me and He is keeping me pardoned.

That means I am freed from greed and fear and worry. I am freed from anxiety and pain and jealousy. I am freed from pride and guilt and shame. I am freed from sin and death and given a way out from temptation. I am freed and Christ is keeping me freed.

This is starting to sound like a broken record. I’m not sure that’s so bad.

let LOVE fly like cRaZy

O the deep, deep love

The words and bars and notes and very standard rhythm all drifted bigger into the center until the hymn swam in front of me last Sunday.

And now, mid-week, I’m remembering the blurry words all over again. I read this devotional from John Piper, “When Will I Be Satisfied?” because it was one of many emails waiting when I got back from vacation. I finally got around to it today and I think it goes deeper into the question I posed Monday night about bliss. It’s all tangled together, actually – the joy and the work and the sweat and the bliss. Vacations give time and space for these kinds of questions, I guess.

Piper reflects on John 17:26, “I made known to them your name, and I will continue to make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.” in these powerful statements:

If God’s pleasure in the Son becomes our pleasure, then the object of our pleasure, Jesus, will be inexhaustible in personal worth. He will never become boring or disappointing or frustrating. No greater treasure can be conceived than the Son of God.

Did you follow that? If God’s pleasure (Jesus) becomes our pleasure, then our pleasure can NEVER BE EXHAUSTED.

Joy doesn’t end (vacation or otherwise) because Jesus doesn’t end. Isn’t that magnificent? You will never want more joy than is available, because the pleasure you find in Jesus is inexhaustible.

The joy is INSIDE Jesus and He is INSIDE us.

This is the greater depth I needed to plumb! When I came up and got un-swallowed from vacation bliss, I was revived to work with redeemed blood coursing through my veins. But that didn’t necessarily solve the joy question. Was my bliss sequestered in vacation – is it only there that joy can live?

Praise God the answer is “No!” He is not only my redemption, but my joy. The kind of joy that makes me dance on the beach and makes me dance in my car and makes me dance with my co-workers and makes me dance with the children on my caseload. THIS is the joy of salvation that David wanted to be restored to him – the joy that makes us dance through the work and sweat and troublesome weekdays.

The love of Christ is that deep.

O the deep, deep love of Jesus, vast, unmeasured, boundless, free!
Rolling as a mighty ocean in its fullness over me!
Underneath me, all around me, is the current of Thy love
Leading onward, leading homeward to Thy glorious rest above!

O the deep, deep love of Jesus, spread His praise from shore to shore!
How He loveth, ever loveth, changeth never, nevermore!
How He watches o’er His loved ones, died to call them all His own;
How for them He intercedeth, watcheth o’er them from the throne!

O the deep, deep love of Jesus, love of every love the best!
’Tis an ocean full of blessing, ’tis a haven giving rest!
O the deep, deep love of Jesus, ’tis a heaven of heavens to me;
And it lifts me up to glory, for it lifts me up to Thee!

when you need a real rescue

Platitudes wouldn’t be enough.

I knew the conversation was S.O.S. caliber before it started, judging by the CAPS in the text message.

“AH! I’m just so frustrated, but it’ll be okay,” she said, when I got her on the line.

She was giving me the litany of reasons the day had unraveled and all of them were legitimate. This friend of mine is not one to over-dramatize anything, so when she says she is, “frustrated” and that “this is so hard” out loud… it’s getting desperate.

She knows.

She knows God is good and that’s why she followed her frustration so quickly with, “… but it’ll be okay.” She knows God’s character of faithfulness and that He is trustworthy. She believes it, too. But…

Sometimes we need to speak the depth of our drowning so we know to cry out for a real rescue.

We need to open our eyes underwater and see how desperate the situation in order to delight rightly in our rescue from those depths. It’s not enough to say “it’ll be okay,” even if we know it will.

Because that flippant faith doesn’t give God enough glory. He is God when we are desperate – not because our trials are little things, but because they are big. He knows all the thousands things that went wrong in our day and how desperate they have made us. He doesn’t want us to brush them aside with a simple, “… but it’ll be okay.”

Minimizing problems with platitudes does not glorify God’s magnificence.

Being honest about the depth of our drowning means being honest that we need a real rescue. A real rescue – not the kind that gives you a quote or a margarita at the end of a long day. Those will never pull you up from desperate depths.

Nope, an S.O.S. like I got last night is an opportunity for us to believe God to be faithful to reach as far down as our day has gone. And she did. She spoke out her need and called out for real rescue. She stepped into the kind of belief that makes God seem the glorious Rescuer He is. He will rescue, when we believe Him for it. 

My friend remembered Wesley Hill’s words recently in a lecture at Bethlehem Baptist, “Ignoring is not the path to redeeming.”

When we have sin and struggle and stress and sadness, our redemption will always come by way of an honest assessment that we are drowning and in need of a real rescue.