I can’t help myself

I’ll confess the things I’m afraid of, even if it takes a little convincing and arm-twisting out of a host of self-sufficient habits.

I can’t help myself, and that’s the honest truth.

This is week two of a new job and day five in a new apartment and week three of a new life in the city where my love lives. I can be pretty confident about my inability to help myself – decidedly confident in that one, unsettling thing.

My roommate and I are kind-of, officially “moved in” to our beautiful, spacious, street-facing 3rd floor apartment, but we’re still trying to cure it of the empty echo. We’ve moved furniture in and out (thanks to a lot of Patrick’s sweat and muscle), raced to the houses of strangers with listings on Craigslist, and scavenged for gems on the sidewalk. We’ve navigated (and failed) the subways and the streets and the sidewalks in our neighborhood and beyond. We’ve made friends with the hardware store, the flower store, the fruit stand, and our very nice neighbors across the street who (we suspect) have a car dealership that fronts for a drug operation.

This is not the easiest thing I’ve ever done, which is probably why I’m so aware that I can do absolutely nothing to help myself. This is not the easiest thing I’ve ever done, but I am overwhelmed with the way God makes hard things beautiful and rough things lovely.

And this is so beautiful and so lovely – even so much so that I forget I’m inside a whirlwind of transition. Somehow, in the madness of moving across the country, God orchestrated events so that I would live two avenues from Patrick. Somehow, in the hazy hurricane of details, God arranged for Tamara and I to be the kind of roommates who hope to make our NYC apartment a home. Somehow, in the slew of job applications I electronically threw toward the East months ago, God remembered my love for laughter and passion for service.

The only reasonable “somehow” of all this beautiful mess, is that the Lord is sovereign. He is not surprised by anything and He loves to give good gifts to His children. Not easy gifts (not all the time anyway), but it is good gifts He loves to give.

This move is a good gift in the superlative sense.

His provision of peace always surpasses my fear, always. This move is a good gift, but not because it is easy. It is good because God is good and He never changes.

I am believing more today than yesterday in God’s mercy and grace and peace. I think this might be part of His good gift – that I am pressing in to who He is and needing Him (desperately) to be who He claims to be. And even though He continues to prove Himself faithful, my hope does not come from history. My hope comes from His promises that today and tomorrow and this weekend, He will continue to be faithful to give grace.

I can’t help myself and this is my hope: He is my help. I lift my eyes to the hills and my empty hands to the sky, because nothing I can do or see or say can help myself.

I lift up my eyes to the hills.
From where does my help come?
My help comes from the Lord,
who made heaven and earth.

He will not let your foot be moved;
he who keeps you will not slumber.
Behold, he who keeps Israel
will neither slumber nor sleep.

The Lord is your keeper;
the Lord is your shade on your right hand.
The sun shall not strike you by day,
nor the moon by night.

The Lord will keep you from all evil;
he will keep your life.
The Lord will keep
your going out and your coming in
from this time forth and forevermore. (Psalm 121, ESV)

He is my help and He can only be faithful.

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.

 

believing for rest

Christ is holding all things together and He is keeping my bones revived. It’s an active keeping that continually breathes salvation into my bones. And today, I am realizing that His keeping me revived is what allows me to rest.

I’m studying Galatians right now and my soul is sick with the tension of belief. For all the hundreds of ways I believe God is faithful and true and just, there are hundreds of other ways I doubt Him. For every little obstacle I believe Him able to overcome, there is another obstacle I doubt He can conquer.

“I do believe, help me overcome my unbelief.” Mark 9:24

I believe in the historical event of the crucifixion and in the power of the resurrection and that Christ completed the work of my salvation. I believe. But the gospel is also about believing now – belief is happening as God breathes breath into my bones and as God breathes rest into my soul.

“The Spirits works as Christians don’t rely on their own works, but rather consciously and continuously rest in Christ alone for their acceptability and completeness.” Tim Keller in Galatians for You

When Christ said, “It is finished,” he accomplished a salvation that makes me complete and acceptable – and I remember it like the rhythm of my breathing. Always acceptable and always complete – what else is there to work for, to worry for, to weary for?

Every grace-empowered, believing action in the Christian life begins and ends in a place of rest.

We have not been saved in order to work for more salvation. We have been saved and are being saved by the power of the Spirit and the grace of the gospel in order to proclaim His glory.

Fret and frenzy do not proclaim that His finished work meant my acceptance and completeness. Rest does. Fret and frenzy are what you do when you are convinced something else will make you complete and accepted – that Christ’s work wasn’t finished enough.

“I do believe, help me overcome my unbelief.” Mark 9:24

a willing heart, still incomplete

I want a lot of things. No surprise there, I suppose. The intensity might change and the objects of my wanting, but there’s no question: I want things.

And sometimes I get what I want. I will myself to do what needs doing in order to grasp what was once outside my reach. Like the limes I picked up today on the way home from church – I wanted fresh limeade, so I willed myself to drive out of the way to stop at the grocery store. In awhile, after I type out this bit of inspiration, I will sip the limeade that was only a thought a couple hours ago.

But steadfastness does not work that way.

This morning, as we were singing one of my favorite hymns, I stayed on these lines when everyone else sang the next stanza,

Gracious God, my heart renew
Make my spirit right and true
Thy salvation’s joy impart
Steadfast make my willing heart
Steadfast make my willing heart

Apart from God, my willing heart is incomplete – left wanting a faithfulness that is beyond my reach. Often (ahem, daily) my willingness wearies and wavers and no matter how sincere my resolve, I fail and fall. I will never be faithful on my own. No matter how much I want to be faithful, it will always be just outside my reach.

No matter how sincere, willingness does not a steadfast heart make.

There must be something outside of my will and outside of my sincerity that makes me steadfast, because my attempts at faithfulness will always fail.

What grace that God takes our willingness and adds His faithfulness to make us steadfast! Though we fall and fail, our steadfastness depends on His faithfulness and in this He never wavers or wearies.

We come willing and God makes us steadfast.

The exchange makes no sense because it is no exchange at all. We come with only a faltering “want” for faithfulness, but in Christ God adds His faithfulness and our hearts can be made steadfast.

Miraculous.

when faith sees

He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was as good as dead (since he was about a hundred years old), or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah’s womb. No unbelief made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised. (Romans 4:19–21)

What does it look like to be convinced that God is able to do what He promises? And what does it look like when what is promised is impossible?

What if someone told you that one day you would be the President or that you would be the Queen? And what if it wasn’t just an offhand comment, but a promise. It would be an impossible promise (maybe not for you, in which case I’m very honored that you are reading my blog).

Abraham was promised something impossible, but He was convinced in God’s faithfulness to keep His promises. There were a lot of details that didn’t make sense – a lot of good practical reasons to doubt the Word of the Lord – but Abraham persevered in faith. God’s grace allowed Abraham to believe and grow stronger in His belief that God would keep His promise.

This active believing was counted to Abraham as righteousness. God wrote out the storyline (Abraham would be the father of nations) and then by His grace Abraham lived out the impossible story by His belief that it was true.

Abraham had no idea of knowing what the promises would look like, but he knew what God’s faithfulness looked like – steadfast, sure, steady, true.

Sometimes, we are consumed with figuring out what the promises will look like when they are fulfilled. How will God show Himself faithful in finding me a job? How will God’s promise be fulfilled in my friendships? How can God be faithful to overcome the evil in the world and dispel the lies? How do I believe what He promises about eternity?

What will His fulfilled promises look like in my life – in those impossible things?

God’s faithfulness to keep every promise He has ever made gives us a clear picture of the Promise Keeper. Sometimes we are not meant to see what those impossible promises look like, but we are always meant to see who holds the promises secure.

Our faith sees this Promise Keeper and actively believes in His faithfulness. 

Abraham could never have imagined what God was promising – what it would look like. He never would have expected that Christ would come as a result of God’s promise and die to demonstrate His faithfulness and mercy. In Christ, God made a way for us and proved His ultimate promise keeping in the most impossible situation: satisfying the debt we owed and securing our place with Him for eternity.

Our faith sees this Promise Keeper and actively believes He will continue keeping promises, even if we have no idea what the promises will look like when they are kept.

Your words, my sight

There is a mother bird feeding her baby birds outside our front window as the owl down the street sings his morning song. I don’t have a song to contribute, but I do have one to share. This song by Kye Kye is called, “My Sight” and it’s exactly the kind of seeing I need to do today. It reminds me of Jeremiah 15:16, “Your words were found, and I ate them, and your words became to me a joy and the delight of my heart, for I am called by your name, O LORD, God of hosts.”

The Word can become to us a joy and the delight of our hearts! Through the Truth of the Word we can believe fully, trust deeply, love fiercely – because in the Word we see the One whose grace empowers us and sustains us and loves us with a sanctifying love.

If the song isn’t your style, at least read the lyrics today and be encouraged as God shows Himself faithful in His Word to be your sight.

Lyrics:
Thoughts of cloth that lay on stone (Jon.20:6-7)(Ro.6:10-11, 8:6 ,12:2)
I am watching a cross that bled
alone to be the only valley of trust and hope we know (Ro.5:2)
we envision that place then watch it flow through us (Ro.15:4 &8:24-25)

Your words
Are my sight (2Cor.5:7)

Trails we walk then see them glow (Heb.11:1)
we are watching a church that builds
and grows to be a lovely picture with frames that hold so close
(Eph.4:12-13) (1Cor.12:12-13)
we imagine that place and watch it flow from us (1Jo.3:2)(Ro.8:29 & 12:2)(Eph.4:15)

 

I am not the fixer: a repeat lesson on grace and faith

No advice is ever new. It’s all been said before and probably many times. When she was growing up, my mom jokingly numbered her dad’s talks. He would sigh deep and launch into a lesson on life and she would say, “Oh, is this #642?” Because, of course, she’d heard them all (hasn’t every teenager?).

Yesterday, I needed to hear a repeat. I don’t know what number lesson it is, but it’s the one I need almost every day and especially on this day. A couple cases were just stretching my heart to breaking. I found myself thinking up ways I could make things easier for the kids and for the parents and for the transitions. But, it’s just all so messy.

Broken relationships, broken trust, broken love, broken houses. Brokenness can never stay as is without someone suffering payment.

When things break, someone has to pay.

I don’t have to tell you about the brokenness. You see it, too. Your best friend, co-worker, dad, brother, cousin, neighbor, step-sister… you are familiar with brokenness and you know its high cost.

I had about an hour after a meeting yesterday and before my nightly rounds began. After work ended, I would have another very difficult personal conversation about brokenness. In the middle of work and personal messes, I needed to remember that messes are well beyond my power to fix them.

I am not the fixer.

The very best way I can respond when messes make their way to my door or crawl out of my own heart is to seek the Lord.

So, I sat with my computer in my lap and read this little devotional from Solid Joys on Ephesians 2:8, “For by grace you have been saved through faith.” I needed to hear the lesson on faith because it rightly positions my heart to seek sufficiency where it can be found. It doesn’t matter how many times I’ve heard it before, my heart needed to hear it again.

Because I am not the fixer. I don’t have the tools or the expertise. I don’t have the right words or the right timing. I don’t have the power to mend brokenness or pay for its destruction. I don’t have access to that kind of bounty.

Faith is the act of our soul that turns away from our own insufficiency to the free and all-sufficient resources of God. Faith focuses on the freedom of God to dispense grace to the unworthy. It banks on the bounty of God. (John Piper, Future Grace p. 182-183)

Oh, but I love my Jesus!

In faith, I can believe that He is the same grace-giver today that He was yesterday, the same sufficient provider and the same bondage breaker. His resources never end. All the cost of brokenness that ever was does not exceed the payment of the cross. But He does not just make payment for all the ways we’ve been in wrong relationship with God and man, He restores us and renews us and revives us once again. The broken are mended and made new in Christ.

By His grace, we believe He is capable of this kind of miraculous mending. As often as I hear the lesson, I cling to the grace that allows my belief. Yesterday, I needed to hear a repeat.

And do you know what He did?

As I made a mess of nightly rounds, a colleague asked me, “You seem different, peaceful. You kinda strike me as the tree-hugger type…”

I didn’t really know what to do with that, but it felt like he was making a compliment. He backtracked and danced around political correctness (ah, government workers), but I kind of giggled, “Well, I’m not exactly a tree-hugger, but I do feel at peace.”

And then I explained it was because of my faith that I could have any peace at all. I thought that might be the end of it. Nobody wants to hear about “religion” these days, so we’re told. But, he did and he started asking questions. We were both a captive audience in that car and I knew the clock said I was late to my next two appointments, but I felt a very perfect calmness.

He’d been brought up Baptist, but then he got “curious” and frustrated with a God who required punitive damages – the exchange of hellbound consequences for actions didn’t seem consistent with forgiveness and mercy.

I’m almost positive he did not take a direct route to our destination and the part of me that was antsy about the time was won over by the part of me that was excited about his questions. We talked about sin requiring payment (from somebody) and the mercy God showed in giving the payment on our behalf. In our line of work, we are familiar with brokenness and payment required… but the miracle of salvation is that a third party steps in to pay AND to mend. And God is the only one with the power and authority to do so.

I prayed for him and his family all the way to my next appointment – that they would soon be numbered as sons and daughters of the King. And I breathed deep the grace that gave me faith to believe it is possible – for him and for me. This is a lesson I need on repeat.

let LOVE fly like cRaZy

before all that: exploring a life of desperate dependence

Before the breakdown and before the last straw that falls on the camel’s back.

Before all that.

What if we got desperate and dependent before anxiety wrapped its cold, stubborn fingers around our hearts?

I’ve learned dependence before, many times. While boarding with  a leaky car in Austin and while bumming on a co-worker’s couch I learned some important things about dependence. But we have a tendency to label lessons like mile markers – things we’ve passed along the way. Once we’ve learned a lesson, we move on with a forward gaze, assuming the lesson is added to our lives like a scout badge on a vest.

Well, maybe it’s just me that does that – but I’m only cheating myself out of joy if I live treating lessons like mile markers or scout badges.

Oh, how I love my patient and faithful Savior! He is reminding me that “casting all your cares on the Lord because He cares for you” is not merely for the SOS moments. Maybe let me rephrase: our lives are a string of SOS moments.

This is what I am learning and living.

We are made to be desperate, but not the kind of desperate that builds up to a breaking point and then explodes out of control. Not that kind of desperate.

We are made to depend desperately on the One who will trade our need for His provision.

That is His good design. Our dependence is deeper than bread and water, but our needs are all in the same well that His grace is sufficient to fill. That is His good design – desperate dependence, all the time.

We cast our cares on Him because He cares for us – because He has been faithful and promises to be faithful in the future. Our God has never broken a promise, not ever. My desperate dependence is evidence that I believe Him to be just that.

So, when a string of days fills with SOS moments, there is not less joy available. It is not a lesson of dependence that marks another mile walked on the faith road. Desperate dependence is the road we walk, the path we tread as we daily rejoice in His provision for us. He provides all that we need, according to His riches in glory (Philippians 4:19) – and there is no bank with better credit. Our provision comes from the source of all things.

The deep well of His sufficient grace offers peace (Philippians 4:6) when we cast our cares (1 Peter 5:7), believing that God is the strength for our hearts and portion forever (Psalm 73:26).

Before the breakdown and before the last straw (but of course, in those times too), we are invited to desperately depend on the One who can sufficiently provide for our needs and overwhelm our lives with joy.

I could tell you about the past two days – about the car trouble and the appointments and the millions of ways that God gave me good gifts. I could tell you about the near disasters (averted, I know, by the grace of God) and the very friendly repair shop on SE 14th Street. I could tell you about the songs I sang in my car with littles in the backseat and the way they explained the songs to their parent. I could tell you about sitting around a coffee table in community and laughter.

I could tell you just a few of the millions of ways God is providing in the desperately dependent state, but then it might seem like this is something I “learned” in the past two days.

And I didn’t learn it, in the past tense way.

This desperate dependence is meant to be a lifestyle that flows like the lifeblood in my veins, keeping me existing here on earth. So, I’m exploring a life of desperate dependence, walking that road with eternity hidden in my heart.

conductor and composer

The birds are singing again this morning. I’m not sure where they hid when weary winter came for a surprising May visit. I saw many of them fluttering about in confusion, but this morning they are singing again.

And I know who is sustaining them.

I know the One who is holding things together so the birds can sing their song to heaven for a morning audience. I know Him.

The birds are singing and how can I not sing with them? I get overwhelmed at the song creation sings because I know there is always a place for me in the choir. As God does whatever He pleases (Psalm 115:3), He is pleased to hold things together (Colossians 1:17) and invite us into His joy.

The birds do not sing to say thank you as God holds them together and writes the music for their song. They do not sing to exchange beauty for beauty.

The birds sing because God gave them a song.

Who has given a gift to God that he might be repaid? For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. (Romans 11:35–36)

The birds sing because God receives glory when creation steps into His joy and He wrote the music for just such a celebration. He is the conductor as much as He is the composer of creation’s song and there is a part for me to sing today.

May God be praised as I sing the song hidden in my heart in praise of His glorious grace!

I sing because

Today, I will rest on His goodness – in my doubting and in my fears.

And inside my resting I will sing freedom and joy into the blowing, Friday sunshine. I will sing to remember His constant friendship, His faithful refuge, and His future grace. 

I will wake up my affections at morning and noonday and evening to throw my heart’s melodies at the skies because this is what my heart is most at home to do.

let LOVE fly like cRaZy