Christian talk should sound different

I caught a glimpse of my face in the glass of the subway last week. I picture my subway face as expressionless, but my furrowed eyebrows and set jaw were full of an expression that made me jump inside my skin. I didn’t recognize the round winter silence or the way my eyes determined not to look at anyone.

But, last night after the pancake guests left, the apartment living room was the city on a hill and I imagine my face looked much different. We talked about the city darkness and we talked about the light inside us. We shared Scripture and spoke encouragement and prayed with intention.

We were not at home group or Bible study or church or a special prayer gathering. We were just regular believers, huddled around the common experience of big city commotion trying to understand what it means to take a genuine interest in the welfare of others.

Because talk is not Christian simply because Christians are talking. No, what makes the fellowship of believers different is the content – the words on top of words that uplift and encourage and inspire because Christ is central. This difference is what draws outsiders in, nearer to the abundance that has set us apart.

We talk a lot and the city talks back and it all sounds like noise. Chatter about the closest trains and apartment sizes and the weather. Chatter about prayer requests and work schedules and stressful roommates. Chatter about chatter and it all sounds like noise.

But Christian talk should sound different. 

And the sound of it last night refreshed my soul. Praying out loud and hearing prayers out loud affirms the power and presence of our Savior and I am aware that I have neglected this conversation.

We prayed to be filled with an abundance that could be poured out into the lives of others and the energy to seek out those lives needing to be filled.

getting near the glowing heart of the Lord

In a tiny Williamsburg living room last Tuesday night, we all stared down at the Mark 9 passage printed on our laps. After three readings, we talked about the transfiguration of Jesus over hot tea and no one had it figured out.

These men, the closest friends of Jesus, saw humanity in full glory and they were scrambling for the right response. I’ve been trying all week, but I can not find the right imagination to stand on that holy ground and watch as glory made Jesus glow.

But I am so thankful for Peter.

I think we would be friends, Peter and me. It would be a reckless friendship, but an adventurous one. I imagine Peter’s immediate response to set up a worship service with three tabernacles bursting from his hope to usher in the kingdom with the light of Jesus’ transformed face. In the middle of these glowing moments of glory, maybe Peter was grasping for the best thing he could think to do.

In the presence of Jesus, don’t we all do that? I don’t actually know what Peter was thinking, but I know what sometimes happens when I sense Jesus is near. I kind of hyperventilate.

I might be in a group of friends or about to take communion or walking alone between Bedford and Fulton. It can really happen anywhere – the sense that Jesus is present and His glory is real. I am sad to say I don’t feel it all the time, but when I do I immediately want to do something. And I want that something to be the best thing.

I get nervous and flustered and hasty. At the same time that I want to savor the beauty and miracle of Jesus’ presence, my heart swells to take part in it – to be swallowed up by a beauty that covers everything ugly and wrong.

I fear I will miss those moments – that I’ll arrive at 30, 40, 50, and 60 years old and think back on all the times I didn’t choose the best thing in the presence of Jesus. I fear I will look back and realize I didn’t have eyes to see the miracles or that my response will be clumsy and cluttered.

And then I think about Peter. And I realize it is okay to tend towards hyperventilation in the presence of glory. It is okay to not know how to do the best thing or to not know exactly what the best thing is. All of this confusion about my response to God’s glory is okay because the transfiguration is about Jesus.

Lent is not about subtractions and additions as much as it is about getting near the glowing heart of the Lord.

The fasting makes room for the feasting. The fasting churns up hunger for the feast and it is not about our response to the taste but about the food we choose to eat.

love at the end

Remember all those days I thought commuting was beautiful? All those days I fought the NYC face and left early in defiance of minute crunching? Remember when I arrived to work in time to write a blog before the day began?

Well, anyway, I guess six months will do it. No more leaving early and no more new routes, but I don’t need another reason to talk about commuting. Train lines pretty much start and end every conversation – trains to live by, trains to get places, trains under construction, trains delayed, and trains full of “showtime, showtime, showtime.”

But it is okay to savor minutes in my apartment in the morning. It is okay to be quiet and sit still before the day begins. It is okay to declare Sabbath daily before chaos and maybe I should do it more often. Because, gosh, it is busy here.

When I first moved to NYC, I had two things on my mind: love this man and find beauty. I did not move to make it in this city as an actress or a business lady or to struggle up abstract creative ladders. Somehow, knowing that was like saying, “I’m not like the rest of this concrete madness. I value minutes and sunshine and neighboring.” I was different.

Six months later, I still value minutes and sunshine and neighboring, but I am desperate for Sabbath rest. I am like every other commuter in the morning, fighting crowds and sounds and shoulders. I am like every other apartment dweller, fighting for quiet minutes and then fighting to fill them. And now I am desperate for Sabbath rest.

My pastor talked about Sabbath rest on Sunday, right after I wrote about it unfolding slowly. Gathered around the weekly spread of cheese, crackers, fruits, and sweets last night, we revisited the passage in Matthew 12 where Jesus heals the man with the shriveled hand on the Sabbath.

It’s funny, living here. Because there is nothing we don’t work for. The act of striving is kind of the moving gears of this city. Commuting is work, work is work, plans are work, friends are work, keeping up appearances is work. We work for everything; we strive hard to believe “everything” is important to work for.

But rest. 

We can not work for rest, regardless of the comp hours we accumulate or the vacation/sick/personal days we are allowed. We cannot gain rest for our souls by living better, though we believe with the Pharisees that somehow we can.

Christ accomplished our rest.

It’s a different kind of Sabbath because Christ fought for and won our rest on the cross. I do not know how to make this more of my rhythm, but I want to learn what it means to rest in the middle of moving gears. I want to learn how to rest while hosting, neighboring, friendshipping, loving, and being.

I need to learn better how to rest.

I don’t know what your Sabbath soundtrack would sound like, but mine has John Mark McMillan’s new song, “Love at the End.” If you have a minute to listen and read the lyrics, do it.

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!

let us never cease to wonder

If you’ve read this blog for more than a few months, you know I love to wonder. I love wide eyes and mysteries and the way my body gasps for air when I am in awe.

Some days, I fall into it naturally. Like when I bounced from table to table at the bar after church on Sunday night because I wanted to be with everyone all at once. And the way Grace and I skipped arm in arm ahead of the group when we all decided to end the night with pie and coffee. And the way Gordon walked with his own little swag, topping it off with a little sidewalk dance while we waited outside for our table. And the way we crowded in around to eat key lime and bourbon pecan and cherry pear crumble pies like we had been friends for years and years. Days like this past Sunday are the rumble in my gut that stretches out through my fingertips to say, “what a wonderful world!”

As cheesy as that sounds.

I looked over at Patrick several times throughout the night and said, “We are so blessed.” But words can never accurately describe wonder. Blessed is not enough. The joy I feel surrounded by this group of new friends cannot be planned or packaged. It is just very simply God’s unique grace to my soul. He promises abundance and then He delivers and it looks like 6 hours of “church” on Sunday, starting with choir practice and ending with key lime pie.

And I don’t get how it all works.

I don’t understand the science of wonder, I just know that it makes me feel very small and very humble and very grateful. I am nothing – just a little dot moving around in this crazy big expanse called the universe. But God knows the hairs on my head and He knows how much joy I feel when I skip and sing and celebrate over key lime pie. He knows those things because He knit me together inside my mom’s belly.

And I still don’t get how it all works. I just know that I cannot manipulate awe because wonder refuses to be manufactured.

Wonder is the surprise your soul feels when God pours out a unique grace – the kind your heart best understands.

Life does not have to be perfect to feel the joy of this grace. The ordinary, everyday real life in the flatlands is just as likely a place to feel this grace as the mountaintops. So, I try to train my heart to feel wonder – to live with wide eyes and to search out mysteries and to laugh uncontrollably while we sing Willy Wonka as we cross Broadway in Williamsburg.

“Let your soul lose itself in wonder, for wonder is in the way, a very practical emotion. Holy wonder will lead you to grateful worship and heartfelt thanksgiving. It will cause within you godly watchfulness; you will be afraid to sin against such a love as this.” Charles Spurgeon, Morning and Evening: Daily Readings.

Godly watchfulness is how I’d like to wake up tomorrow. I want to feel the fear of sinning against such a love as this. I mean that in the best of ways. God’s grace is so good, so specific and so personal. I’d like to be so wrapped in wonder by God’s grace that can’t take my eyes away from Him – for fear that I will miss out. The more mystery I take in, the more there is. The more love I feel, the more He provides. The more grace I need, the more He gives.

Wonder gives birth to wonder and why would I ever go looking for something else?

there is no master puppeteer

It happens to everyone’s life.

We think we’ve wrangled enough control away from the arms of fate to coordinate our own puppet strings. We convince ourselves we are more secure this way – directing our own destinies. If the pace gets too frantic, we say it is because we want it to be that way. If it is too slow, we say the same.

We are all trying to “make it” and none of us want to fail. That explains the mad wrangling to be master puppeteer. But that means somewhere, in the middle of the dead of winter’s whirlwind, we lift up our stringless arms like we’ve seen them for the first time. We realize there are no puppets and no Master Puppeteer. We realize the fate controlling position we have been desperate to maintain is not a position at all.

It doesn’t matter if the ways we want to “make it” are worldly or heaven worthy. It doesn’t matter if our aspirations are corporate ladders or non-profit puzzles. It doesn’t matter whether or not we are clever. It doesn’t even matter if we have felt success.

What matters is that somewhere, in the middle of the dead of winter’s whirlwind, we see that only God is sovereign.

Maybe in theory, we always knew. We read the verses and heard the sermons and listened to friends’ humbled tales. We looked up at that great blue expanse and at the speckled night sky. We blinked eyes open in the morning and held joy in our hands. In theory, we always knew this world was too mysterious and painful and beauty-drenched to be contained by strings we could hold.

The devil in us convinced us it was possible and we believed.

But there’s something about winter that unravels the belief that we can control anything. Maybe it is standing on a subway platform wondering if our ten toes are still in tact. Or maybe it is trudging miles every day against the wind to catch public transit so we can make it 3.7 miles across the borough. Maybe it is lugging laundry 3 blocks away in wintry snow/rain mix. Or maybe it is gaining weight and wearing layers like marshmallows.

And when winter does unravel this foolish belief that we can be the Master Puppeteer (and that there is such a thing at all), we collapse a little bit with a great sigh. We fold into relief that it doesn’t depend on our performance or our planning. We re-read the words we’ve already memorized in Scripture and we nestle in to a future we cannot control.

“My God will supply all your needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus.”
Philippians 4:19

“Let no one boast in men. For all things belong to you, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or things present or things to come; all things belong to you, and you belong to Christ; and Christ belongs to God.”
1 Corinthians 3:21-23

“If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.”
John 15:7

“In that day you will not question Me about anything. Truly, truly, I say to you, if you ask the Father for anything in My name, He will give it to you. Until now you have asked for nothing in My name; ask and you will receive, so that your joy may be made full.”
John 16:23-24

“Therefore I say to you, all things for which you pray and ask, believe that you have received them, and they will be granted you.”
Mark 11:24

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ.”
Ephesians 1:3

“Whatever we ask we receive from Him, because we keep His commandments and do the things that are pleasing in His sight.”
1 John 3:22

“He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.”
2 Corinthians 5:21

“Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.”
2 Corinthians 5:17

“Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us, to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen.”
Ephesians 3:20-21

“God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that always having all sufficiency in everything, you may have an abundance for every good deed.”
2 Corinthians 9:8

“Blessed be the Lord, who daily bears our burden, the God who is our salvation.”
Psalm 68:19

We bless the Lord who daily bears our burdens – not as a Puppeteer but as a Savior. We bless the Lord as we claim His control over the future and the past and the present. We bless the Lord as we live today believing He is able to make grace abound.

the way we like to party

We arranged the tables lengthwise in the living room, similar to the Thanksgiving set up. Yeun brought all the supplies – the rocks and soil and sand and a beautiful spread of succulents. I reviewed several mental lists while we waited for the subway at Broadway Junction after work – chocolate chip cookie plans, decorations, and something for dinner. I was nervous about who would come and if they would bring food and if our preparations would flop.

I rushed in like a tornado to the apartment. It’s pretty standard, I guess. All the day’s bottled up energy gets shoved into 1.5 hours leading up to party show time… and this party was especially wonderful because we were throwing it with our neighbor Yeun. Somehow, she tracked down supplies for 20+ people to make terrariums and then she taught us all how to be terrarium making professionals.

My living room looked like a movie set for a miniature world, with inch-high boy scouts and bicyclists and tiny animals strewn about over the moss on the table. But it also looked like friends and strangers and neighbors bent over jars, vases, and fish bowls – getting dirt under their fingernails as they mastered the art of terrariums.

The apartment tours took 5 seconds and they always keep me humble. Yep, just the two rooms. Mmmhm, the walls are always this bare. Oh, this bench you are sitting on? That’s a shelf system we found for free and then converted for seating.

But no one cared because the laughter was the right volume. There was a miniature lady crawling up a cactus wall and a miniature boy scout troop walking on a forest path. There were fresh baked cookies and homemade Reese’s bars and the perfect new crowd of people huddled around tables making little worlds inside of glass.

I was tired and I won’t pretend otherwise. I am hosting a dear friend from Honduras and juggling the normal transit struggle, fighting the NYC frown face and trying to make this giant city a little smaller.

But, I just love hosting other people’s joy.

I love when people buzz my apartment and I love pushing the “door” button to let them inside. I love leaving my door open and I love when people walk through the entryway. I love when guests have to share a seat and I love when the joy pushes against the cold on the windows. I love when strangers are friends and when neighbors come over in slippers and I love when people can leave with something in their hands.

After we had tidied and rearranged when the last guest left, I sat down for the first time since 4:30 pm. It was probably after midnight and my feet were making me feel old. It was a tired satisfaction, but the whole night was kind of a blur.

I love hosting other people’s joy, but I don’t do it perfectly. I get stressed and snap and escape to the kitchen to wash dishes. Last night, before I settled into sleep, I read my evening devotional and this is what it said,

“See to it that sitting at the Savior’s feet is not neglected, even though it is under the specious pretext of doing Him service. The first thing for our soul’s health – the first thing for His glory – and the first thing for our own usefulness – is to keep ourselves in perpetual communion with the Lord Jesus, and to see that the vital spirituality of our piety, is maintained over and above everything else in the world.” – Charles Spurgeon, Morning and Evening Reflections

And my soul said, yes. Yes to parties and hosting and community and fellowship… but first yes to sitting at the Savior’s feet. The formers are much more beautiful in proper submission to the latter.

terrarium party terrarium terrarium3