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.

still epiphany

We’re still in that season on the church calendar called Epiphany, but it sure is easy to forget about it. Without the Christmas clutter, whether we embrace it or fight it, we are less aware of any spiritual season. At least I am.

And then a song comes through my headphones on my way to work in the morning called Lazarus by Jon Guerra. I remember that this season is about practicing presence. I remember that Jesus walked the earth – that He came to live with us, inside our human struggle. And when he saw pain and death and sickness, he walked towards it. He was fully present in every kind of place with every kind of person.

This is how Jesus responded when the sisters sent word that the one He loved was sick,

“But when Jesus heard it he said, “This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” John 11:4

He did not rush like an EMT to the scene or run the opposite direction from the tragedy’s sadness. He did not avoid Judea, though the people tried to stone him the last time he was in town. Jesus was slow, steady, and confident that his presence possessed the authority of the One who sent Him.

And I forget that.

I forget that Jesus is present in the darkness of this world and present in the darkness of my heart. He walks toward the darkness and offends it with the light of His truth. He walks toward dead bones and this is what he says,

Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” John 11:25-26

His presence means resurrection and it means life. And we are all Lazarus, dead for four days, lost in darkness. We are all wrapped up, bodies bandaged and cold, when He makes Himself present to us and then makes us alive to Him. Do we believe this? Do we live believing that faith means we will never die? Do we walk out God’s daily miracles of future grace with a confidence of one who will live forever?

When he had said these things, he cried out with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out.” John 11:43

Every day, he stands at the door of our death tombs and says, “Come out.” He reminds us that He is present here in this dark day and in our dark hearts. He calls for us to be present with Him and to be His presence. He calls us to “come out” of darkness in order to speak life into a world of death.

This is the season of Epiphany, where we celebrate Jesus being present among us. Let us not forget all His benefits (Psalm 103)!

although we are weeping

Mouths filled with laughter and tongues loosed with joy, that would be ideal. It’s the kind of delight your lungs can’t handle.

But, that kind of delight is not a constant state of emotion and maybe that’s why I liked singing this song so much on Sunday during communion. It is a peaceful prayer that believes God is faithful. It is a prayer that believes God will keep His promises. It is a prayer that trudges through death and sorrow and ugliness, believing God can and will restore.

Psalm 126 (Our Mouths They Were Filled)

Our mouths they were filled, filled with laughter
Our tongues they were loosed, loosed with joy
Restore us, O Lord
Restore us, O Lord

Although we are weeping
Lord, help us keep sowing
The seeds of Your Kingdom
For the day You will reap them
Your sheaves we will carry
Lord, please do not tarry
All those who sow weeping will go out with songs of joy

The nations will say, “He has done great things!”
The nations will sing songs of joy
Restore us, O Lord
Restore us, O Lord

This is a familiar heartbeat of mine that is hard to explain. It is the messy sadness I feel even while I am rooted in joy. It is hoping and believing when days are weighty and when words are flat. It is the joy of an eternal God who has promised restoration and will be faithful to deliver.

Although we are weeping
Lord, help us keep sowing
The seeds of Your kingdom
For the day You will reap them
Your sheaves we will carry
Lord, please do not tarry
All those who sow weeping will go out with songs of joy

And this is the good, hard work of believing Him for who He is. When we are weeping, He is the help to sow the seeds of His kingdom. When we are weak and afraid and tired and lazy and distracted, He is the strength we need to live outwardly and love unselfishly.

He is building a kingdom and He is using the weepers. He is populating heaven and He has not just asked the bubbly ones to be recruiters.

I love that He is the strength and the help for those who obey through tears. This is a hard fought believing. This is a daily grind believing and future grace is the rhythm.

I believe He is able to restore and I believe He is able to redeem.
And I believe He will.

in the name of the One who is not ashamed of you

There are puddles outside, making funny reflections of this strange winter season. It was 50 degrees yesterday and today it is 48 in the Big Apple. These rainy days are making me want Spring to come, and soon. I’m getting hungry for buds and blooms and the kind of wet earth that makes things grow. I’m getting homesick for the time of year when things come alive, up out of the dead ground.

But right now, it is Epiphany season.

We flipped the church calendar after Christmas. After all the wrapping gets stuffed away and all the toys get shoved in corners and under beds. We move on and push forward and just get by until there is something new to celebrate by breaking our routine and budget once again.

But right now, it is Epiphany season.

When Jesus came as a baby, his life was not as short as a birth. His presence was not an event, simply celebrated inside paid holidays. He slept and awoke and ate and drank and loved and walked and served and … well, he lived. His presence spanned from his first breath to his last gasp – and all the physical life lived in the flatlands in between.

That is what we are celebrating in Epiphany: Christ came and lived with us – next to us in a real house, in a real city, on the real ground of this world.

And it is Epiphany season in the flatlands.

The good news of God’s presence is that He was not surprised at the weight of the incarnation. He didn’t plan for an early exit once He realized just how bad things had gotten down on earth. His days were marked with human chronology. His heart beat with human rhythm.

In the middle of a wayward world, Christ was not ashamed to know and be known by the neighbors, the neglected, the friends, and the frightened ones. He was present.

What crazy news we carry around with us in the flatlands! Christ chose [and chooses] to be present inside human chronology and present inside human rhythm. He is not ashamed to call us His children, not ashamed to rescue the lost. He is not ashamed to reach down and mend the ways we’ve been broken and the ways we break others. He is not ashamed to say, “You are mine.” The God of the universe was not ashamed to claim my eternity for heaven on the cross and He is not ashamed to cover my life with His presence on earth.

We have the most supreme delight in a gift that is never completely unwrapped, never completely old news, never completely discovered.

We have this delight in the presence of Jesus at our breakfast table and in our daily commute and at the laundromat and at pancake Mondays and at the Saturday night party. Sometimes the delight feels like a fight and other times it feels like free tickets to our favorite destination. But, all the time Jesus is present and all the time His presence never runs out.

I’m learning to practice presence.

I am learning to be present, in the name of the One who is not ashamed of me. That’s what I read on Sunday night in my evening reflection and it was fitting because I needed a lesson on presence before Pancake Mondays could get filled with anxiety. Spurgeon wrote,

“Seek in the name of Him who was not ashamed of you – to do some little violence to your feelings, and tell to others what Christ has told to you. If you cannot speak with trumpet tongue, use the still small voice. If the pulpit must not be your tribune, if the press may not carry your words on its wings – yet say with Peter and John, “Silver and gold have I none – but such as I have, I give you.””

It sounds dramatic to do violence to my feelings, but it really is necessary sometimes. Christ’s presence is a fact that changes everything, no matter what the colors of my current emotional state. When my anxiety and fears and insecurities are pushed aside, I am free to live like Christ’s presence is a game changer for my identity and the most important gift I can give to every person in my day. This is how we celebrate Christ’s presence – not like an elephant in the room, but more like a chocolate fountain. It is what excites us, thrills us, animates us, and motivates us to delight.

I’ve rambled enough for a post-work/pre-evening post. Go out and get present with someone tonight – get kindred and conversational with someone. Neglected and/or neighbor, friend and/or frightened – go out and get present.

Go out and get present because Christ is not ashamed to be present with you.

the art of being fully present

I’m here.

I’m a bunch of bundled winter layers, waddling around this city’s concrete maze with dancing feet to fight from freezing. But, I’m here. I’m sitting through the winter with NYC like she’s undergoing snow-capped surgery. I’ll be here when she wakes up in the Spring and I’ll be ready to unleash all the frozen energy of my hibernation. But for now, I’m here.

And I’m learning that presence is a big deal.

God must have thought so when He sent His only Son to be fully present in a messy world. There is something special about walking dusty paths and rubbing elbows at dinners and swapping conversation in the synagogues… something special about God choosing to send Emmanuel (literally, God with us) to be present in all the daily grind of things.

But sometimes being present is a slow suffocation – like a packed, silent subway car or an empty apartment or a long walk between the B44 and the A train. It’s hard to sit still, hard to think slowly, and hard to listen. Even now, I am filling the hour in between work and Club with jazz, seasoned sauteed mushroom/pepper scramble, and this post.

I wonder how Jesus lived fully present, fully inside the moment right in front of Him.

Last Sunday, our pastor talked about presence being the most important gift we can give because it is the most important gift we have received. Christ gave Himself. When it was awkward and hard and one-sided, He gave Himself and found delight in knowing it pleased His Father.

This kind of being is not easy. Sometimes, it feels forced or foolish or fumbling. It feels like all those things a lot to me. But, at least when I’m brave enough to try it, my pastor’s words are right. It is beautiful and I want to do better.

I need grace to live more fully present – to give myself when it’s awkward and hard and one-sided. I need grace to keep posting Pancake Monday signs on neighbors’ doors and handing them to friends. I need grace to know how to listen well. I need grace to fight the urge to hide away and grace to be honest when that is exactly what I most want.

I need grace and God loves to pour it out. 

Life here feels like a novel written in stream of consciousness style, dreaming and waking and working all weave together with fragmented threads. But God has grace enough to shake me free of all the clutter. He has grace to invite me to receive the gift of His presence and to learn how to give the way He gave.

The art of being fully present means giving myself away like Jesus did, trusting that God is faithful to fill me up and overwhelm me with delight.

my best thought

I have too many thoughts.

The past couple months, I have been trying to figure out what it means to have a best thought. It feels like a commitment and a precarious one. Thoughts can get going like locomotives – they are hard to control when they gain speed. How would I find just one and elevate to “best” status?

The hymn Be Thou My Vision is one of my favorites because it is so unashamed about making an impossible commitment.

Be Thou my Vision, O Lord of my heart;
Naught be all else to me, save that Thou art.
Thou my best Thought, by day or by night,
Waking or sleeping, Thy presence my light.

Be Thou my Wisdom, and Thou my true Word;
I ever with Thee and Thou with me, Lord;
Thou my great Father, I Thy true son;
Thou in me dwelling, and I with Thee one.

Be Thou my battle Shield, Sword for the fight;
Be Thou my Dignity, Thou my Delight;
Thou my soul’s Shelter, Thou my high Tower:
Raise Thou me heavenward, O Power of my power.

Riches I heed not, nor man’s empty praise,
Thou mine Inheritance, now and always:
Thou and Thou only, first in my heart,
High King of Heaven, my Treasure Thou art.

High King of Heaven, my victory won,
May I reach Heaven’s joys, O bright Heaven’s Sun!
Heart of my own heart, whatever befall,
Still be my Vision, O Ruler of all.

I always sing it like a prayer – believing God can make these words true – but it is also a declaration. These stanzas are like steady footsteps when all the other thoughts crowd in on us and the locomotive derails, spilling our jumbled mental cargo all over the tracks. These words are declarations that God is worthy of best thoughts, capable of best wisdom, and a right receiver of praise.

I’m praying I can sing these declarations honestly, but I think best thoughts come about a different way. I think best thoughts are always what you treasure most, what you would sell everything to possess.

Riches I heed not, nor man’s empty praise,
Thou mine Inheritance, now and always:
Thou and Thou only, first in my heart,
High King of Heaven, my Treasure Thou art.

God’s grace in the taste of warmed peaches

I’ll spare you the details.

Yes, because the details look like a swollen face and dental office tears. I’ll spare you those, because that isn’t what greased my gears these past couple days. I haven’t written because my head felt like a fire breathing dragon in a breath holding contest. Something like that, anyway. So, I didn’t think my words would come out appropriately or coherently or worthy of my small readership (I really do think of you).

Do you want to know what has been marvelous about these past couple days? Autumn.

I think (in my more romantic moments) that Autumn is the heavenly concoction God cooked up to especially delight our senses. Just when we got used to deep green leaves and bright sunshine and bare shoulders, Creation shrugs into a different set of smells and sights and rhythms.

I love to think of God’s delight as Christ holds the universe together (Hebrews 1:3). He doesn’t just hold things as they are, though he could do that and it would still be miraculous. He holds things together and delights to play symphonies and paint tapestries and breathe seasons into reality.

Can you believe His great grace to us – that we get to watch as He traces His majesty into the sky and as He paints Autumn into the trees?

It is not easy to be sick in a new city. But His grace is like a gusty Autumn wind – it’ll meet you in a surprise attack and leave you laughing.

His grace looked like my sister ordering soup from a thousand miles away. It looked like making stovetop apples and lentil stew with my roommate. It looked like an opera with an old friend. It looked like the understanding of my coworkers. It looked like new friends checking in and referring an amazing dentist. His grace looked like the crisp breeze under my chin and the taste of warmed peaches in my morning oatmeal.

Can God’s grace be the taste of warmed peaches? Yes.

Yes, sometimes God’s grace to us and the ways He keeps His promise to protect and provide is surprisingly simple.

Because caring for His creation is not complicated, to Him anyway. He knows what will delight my heart and what will sustain my spirit. He knows because He made me and He knows what it means for His grace to be uniquely enough for my situation.

Of course, the best sufficiency is always more of Christ Himself. But I’m going to be honest. It was hard to make my swollen face focus on anything philosophical. So, I am thankful that in those moments Christ was made known to me in these other ways.

And as we receive grace we fight to believe that God is good to keep giving it because He is a promise keeper.

And He has promised more grace.

 

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.

this tree grows in Brooklyn

What happens when an overflowing cup is set outside in a downpour – can it get more overflowed?

I don’t know the logistics or the practicalities of that question, but I can tell you that, yes, a cup that “runneth over” can get caught in a mid-summer downpour and that, yes, the overflow can grow. I can tell you this because it happened yesterday.

It was a quiet day – too quiet. I interviewed for a job last Monday in Brooklyn and they said they would let me know “by the end of the week” and it was already 5 pm EST. Somewhere in the middle of the day I realized I wasn’t waiting for the call. I wasn’t out-of-my-mind anxious or afraid or weary.

I was full to brimming with joy. With or without this job, I was moving to NYC on August 25th. With or without this job, I was trusting God to provide. With or without this job, I was enjoying God’s presence.

I didn’t need this job to confirm my cross-country move because the Lord already confirmed His faithfulness in my heart.

I didn’t need anything to be figured out before I got on the plane. I didn’t need this job to feel peace about moving. I was already overwhelmed with peace in the middle of all the madness.

But, God granted such a special grace yesterday when he unleashed the heavens on my already overflowing cup. I had just finished writing a blog post about this excitement being like jumping on a hot air balloon ride without a destination. I still knew nothing about the next month, but I was giddy with anticipation.

That’s when the downpour happened – a call from NYC and the invitation to join the team in the Cypress Hills neighborhood. I felt like my heart said, “Really, Lord? I was already all in, job or no job… and then you provided way before I felt desperate. This is too much.”

Anything else I write today will just sound like mush because I’m swimming in abundance. Why would God grant more when my cup is already overflowing? I don’t know, He’s just that good I guess.

This tree is going to grow in Brooklyn and I can’t wait to spread my roots! I’m super pumped to share Brooklyn space with one of my favorite bands, The Lone Bellow, and this is one song I’m sure I’ll be singing on these same streets. I’ve posted it before, but it’s too good not to share again.

the foxes in the vineyard

This Monday morning is a fox in the vineyard.

Things “begin” on Monday morning – the week, the work, the schedule – but we all know nothing ended on Friday. We just pushed pause so we could smile and forget for two days. At least that seems to be what everyone hopes our weekly system is set up to do: work for five days, forget about work for two days, and then start work again.

I have never had a job where that cycle is successful. Because working with people means working inside relationships and I would do very poor work if I severed relationships on a weekly basis.

So, this morning I woke out of a dream thinking about the court hearing at 8 am and about the meetings in the afternoon because they had been on my mind all weekend. These aren’t appointments, they are people and that feels heavy.

The antidote for anxiety is not reason, though many well-meaning people have lectured me on boundaries and work/life balance.

The antidote for anxiety is the promises of God. It is a medicine that doesn’t take away the illness, but overcomes it. The promises of God are trustworthy and they follow us. I cannot go to a place where God’s promises cannot reach. He is here, inside this Monday and He knows about the foxes. He knows about all the evil plans to steal my joy.

He knows about my anxiety and He knows His promises can overcome it. He is good to me. In His sovereign will, He is good and can only be good to me.

Today is about believing God is good when the foxes are in the vineyard.

This song by Audrey Assad sings the overflow of goodness and it will be my reminder all day long.

I put all my hope in the truth of Your promise
and I steady my heart on the ground of Your goodness
When I’m bowed down with sorrow I will lift up Your name
and the foxes in the vineyard will not steal my joy

because You are good to me, good to me

I lift my eyes to the hills where my help is found
Your voice fills the night–raise my head up and hear the sound
Though fires burn all around me I will praise You, my God
and the foxes in the vineyard will not steal my joy

because You are good to me, good to me
Your goodness and mercy shall follow me
all my lifeI will trust in Your promise
© 2013 Audrey Assad Inc (BMI)