and the darkness will not overcome it

One cannot overdue the season of Advent.

It’s not like the seasonal aisles at the supermarket or the display in the center of town. And that’s why each of these winter city days inside the Advent season seems to burst with joy and sadness and meaning and hope. This Christ child, coming to earth and stepping into humanity, is not a lesson learned or a party theme.

Every messy government would rest on this baby’s shoulders and he would hold every messy heart in his hands.

Unbelievable. This marvelous mystery has a way of reordering my heart. And as I struggle through Christmas lists and life inside a culture of excess, a season full of reordering is not even enough. I need daily, supernatural reminders that Christ is the light that pierces darkness, the good news to a world in despair, the hope in a city of drawn faces on crowded subway cars.

His is the light that cannot be overcome.

No matter how many times I choose selfish gain over sacrifice or silence over truth-telling… No matter how many times we get distracted by shiny things and new gadgets and passing pleasures… Christ is the light that cannot be overcome.

And this light came cloaked in the humble darkness of a barnhouse to speak our salvation into human words and die our salvation nailed to a rugged tree. Christ is the light that was not overcome by the grave, but rose above it and Christ is the light that will come again.

Some days, it is okay to admit that the world is dark. Some days it is okay to admit that our hearts are dark, too. But one cannot overdue the season of Advent, because every day is a day to declare that Christ is the light that darkness cannot overcome.

This, from the Book of Common Prayer, reminds my dark heart and this dark world about light.

ALMIGHTY GOD, give us grace to cast away the works of darkness, and put on the armor of light, now in the time of this mortal life in which your Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility; that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge both the living and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal; through him who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
Book of Common Prayer, Collect for the First Sunday of Advent

Continue following along with The Advent Project, a devotional from Biola University.

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.

God the author, we the actors

I assume a certain posture when words escape me. Thankfully, it’s a much more culturally acceptable posture than the one of my mind in the same moment (jumping, leaping, and exploding with wild gestures). It looks like pursed lips, furrowed and thoughtful brows, shoulders bent in, and eyes fixated on the thought threatening to wriggle free of my grasp.

This is how I spent the weekend – with body borderline catatonic while my mind raced after revelations that came as a steady stream through the preaching and teaching from the Word at the Desiring God Conference. My pen sped across journal pages to scratch out notes and doodle inspirations; every once in a while I would nod or grunt or breathe out an “Amen!” with an agreement my heart could feel.

I think I would say this is one of many postures of praise, informed by a grace I still don’t fully appreciate. It is in this posture I heard these words,

God works in you as the Author of the miracle and then you act the miracle.

Jesus gave sight to the blind, but it is the blind man who opened his eyes to do the seeing.
Jesus healed the lame man, but it was the lame man who stood up to do the walking.
Jesus canceled my debt of sin at the cross (Colossians 2:15), but it is I who must do the living out of my new sinless status. Through faith, it is I who must daily conquer that canceled sin by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Imagine if the blind man had not opened his eyes or the lame man had not stood up to walk. Imagine the miracles begging to be acted out, already authored by God but with hearts unwilling to be the actors. If the blind man does not open his eyes or the lame man does not stand, there is no evidence that he can see or stand. We must act out this miracle because in its acting out we see its reality.

I must act the miracle God authored because, as John Piper said, “Killing sin – pursuing holiness – is essential for salvation. The will to kill sin is the SIGN that sin is canceled.”

Whooooosh. Like the thrill in knowing a roller coaster must descend with the rush of gravity after climbing to its highest height, my heart raced with these words that explained a truth already hidden in my soul.

Though my arms waved wildly in my mind, I maintained my outward posture of praise as I considered sanctification. I felt literally swept up in the joy and exhilaration of acting out the miracle God has already authored in my life. The process of becoming holy begins with the reality that God is holy – and we are invited to share in His holiness (Hebrews 12:10).

We are invited to be like God (1 Peter 1:14-16) as we effectively conform our feelings, thoughts, and actions into complete harmony the infinite worth of the transcendent, trinitarian fullness of God.

What. an. invitation.

let LOVE fly like cRaZy

a delight that purifies, protects, and perseveres

After reading this post by Tony Reinke at Desiring God, this excerpt from Robert Murray McCheyne’s letter is rumbling around in my soul,

“The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?” Jer. 17:9. Learn much of the Lord Jesus. For every look at yourself, take ten looks at Christ. He is altogether lovely. Such infinite majesty, and yet such meekness and grace, and all for sinners, even the chief! Live much in the smiles of God. Bask in his beams. Feel his all-seeing eye settled on you in love, and repose in his almighty arms . . . Let your soul be filled with a heart-ravishing sense of the sweetness and excellency of Christ and all that is in Him. Let the Holy Spirit fill every chamber of your heart; and so there will be no room for folly, or the world, or Satan, or the flesh.

He is altogether lovely.

Oh, and how grateful I am that we can know this love! How ready I am to “live much in the smiles of God” and “bask in his beams.” This kind of delight in the Lord not only purifies, but it also protects and perseveres.

When all our delight is found in the One whose love and joy can never be exhausted, we are always safe and always secure. We are swept up into celebration and nestled into the friendliest nook – in the cleft of the Rock. When all our delight is found in Christ, we dance as David – unashamed and giddy with praise in front of the Lord. When all our delight is in the Lord, all our despair and defeat are drowned out.

And, you’ve never seen such perseverance as Christ-drenched delight. Christ, the image of the invisible God who holds all things together and in whom all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell (Colossians 1), has made a way for me through the blood of the cross. I can never run far enough to forget this delight – this deep gladness of rescue and this gift of new life. The delight chases me with thunderstorms and children’s smiles and the taste of a homemade, family dinner.

This delight pushes out from every corner of my soul and expands it, leaving no room for sin or folly or Satan. This delight perseveres to consume a life, even the life where wickedness once reigned.

This delight that purifies, protects, and perseveres is as steadfast as a one hundred-year-old oak tree. Today, I’m resting in its shade with thanks enough for one hundred years.

Even with all its mysterious jumble of branches, it still looks so inviting.

the destruction of dillydally

“Don’t dillydally, don’t load up on video clips and music, don’t trust the power of your community service programs, don’t rely on marketing. Preach not yourselves, or you will veil the gospel.

Preach what, then? The word. What word? The gospel word in the Bible word. Get your Bibles out and share the message of the good news of Jesus Christ. It is amazing the lengths some preachers will go in order not to preach the Bible! We labor week in and week out for years and years to craft the most dynamic, most exciting, most relevant, most creative messages, fitting in some Bible verses into the points we think are really important, and then we wonder why we’ve gotten loads of decisions but made no disciples.” (Jared C. Wilson, p. 193 in Gospel Wakefulness)

Wow.

What an altogether perfect word for what we’re doing in Christian circles these days: dillydally.

We eat up the facebook snippets, read the books, tweet the deets, post the newest viral explosion and search for songs with the most emotional moving typeface. No one is immune. We all seem to love knowing the good news. We love the controversies created by differing doctrines and debating the color of the carpet in the fellowship hall. We love to throw down the name of the newest book or sermon or method of sharing the gospel to prove we’re keeping up with the Christian Joneses. I don’t know why we do it, but I do know that dillydally is an altogether perfect word for all the acrobatics we use to get around preaching the gospel.

Wilson quotes 1 Thessalonians 1:4-6 (emphasis mine) before the excerpt above,

For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you, because our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction. You know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake. And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you received the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit,

Paul writes about the way the gospel came to the people in Thessalonica – in word, in power and in the Holy Spirit with full conviction. I can’t speak to what kind of theatrics surrounded their speech, but it’s pretty clear that the gospel was explicitly shared with the people. Paul makes it sound like this is obvious – to preach the gospel in word – but we are not so sure these days (the shorter the Sunday sermon the better – seriously, what newcomer wants to listen to a stranger ramble on and on and on about blood and sacrifice and propitiation?).

But how can people believe the gospel unless they’ve heard the gospel? Explicitly, unashamedly preached with full conviction. The conviction piece is important because our role is not to convince another of the gospel’s merit, but to fan the flame of our own conviction that gospel is true. Wilson writes, “My brother, pastor, don’t worry about bringing the heat. Just be hot. Fan the flame in yourself to full conviction.” I like that: just be hot.

Yesterday, I was reading Gospel Wakefulness poolside and a man asked, “What are you reading? Like, what’s it about?”

A little sun-weary and caught off-guard, I fumbled before I found, “It’s a book about the gospel… about waking up to the reality of what Christ did on the cross for those who believe.”

“Oh, yeah, I believe that,” he said, “I used to be really bad, like drinking and smoking and s—, but it was f—– up. I mean, I was hospitalized and I been sober since I got out. They gave me these new meds and I’m like s— this is living. I mean, I can go out to the forest and be like, that’s a f—— tree. It’s like what I thought was normal was really screwed up. I mean, I feel like I’m finally awake after a life of hearing voices and s—. Like schizophrenia and all that s—. So, yeah I got out on Monday and it’s been f—– awesome.”

“Wow, that’s really crazy.” I didn’t really know where this was going, but I was stationary on a lounge chair and it seemed like as good a place as any to discuss what is/isn’t the gospel and how it relates to his hospitalization. “So, do you think it’s the medication or something spiritual that happened?”

“Oh, yeah, totally that medication. It’s crazy – the doctors had me on all kinds of s— growing up and I was f—– up bad, but I just thought it was normal. But, seriously, there’s no side effects to this drug I’m on. I sleep for 5 hours and I’m like gettin’ s— done before I go to work at 9 am!”

“Well, what this book is really talking about is the gospel (the good news) that we read about in the Bible. Jesus suffered the punishment that we deserve for our sins so that we can be free. He took on all our messes on the cross and gave us relief and joy in this life and forever in eternity with Him–”

“Yeah, I believe that.”

At this point, I’m thinking 1) I should really brush up on my ‘how to share the gospel when caught off guard in a lounge chair’ skills and 2) does he really believe that?

“Yeah, it’s like everyone believes,” he went on, “You know, in a higher power. I mean, I believe Jesus is in all of us. Don’t you believe that?”

I won’t give you our whole conversation, but this guy was persistent, inquisitive, and interested. Granted, the situation was less than ideal – laying on sweaty plastic lounge chairs in bathing suits – but I suppose this is what it means to “always be prepared to give an answer.”

I asked him some hard questions, mentally thanking Tim Keller for all those chapters in Reason for God that wrestle with doubts. We bantered back and forth and I was careful to not blink an eye with all his cursing. I’ll confess I got kind of casual with my language, as we talked about who would populate heaven. He told me, “Well, I mean the good people. Like I believe we all put out vibes. I mean, if you’re a b—- you’re not going to be in heaven, but if you’re good you will.”

“But who determines who is good and who is a b—-? I mean I might think I’m good according to my standards, but someone else might think I’m a b—-… so who’s going to heaven?”

More than ever in that conversation I needed explicit words. I did not need games or videos or pictures. I needed to speak the good news of the gospel into the chaos of crowded beliefs Joseph had assembled. And even when I spelled it out in all it’s offensive glory, Joseph persisted with more questions and stories about his life.

I told Joseph about church on Sunday and he said he would come. He said it didn’t even matter how early because the medication has him up by 5 am.

I pray he does come and I pray my pastor preaches the gospel because I need it just as much as Joseph.

Because we are all on the verge of destruction by dillydally… the painful beat around the bush game of kind of the gospel. We are all in danger of believing and speaking and hearing a gospel that is less than Jesus’ words on the cross, “It is finished” and less than the glorious result of his work.

before the throne of God above

This song has found it’s way onto so many playlists. One of the many wise mentors in my life used to encourage me to read Scripture and then ask, “What does this say about God?” Now, I’m passing along this advice to others in need of this same reminder. When we have a right view of God, we have a right view of ourselves in relation to Him. This song, to me, is a beautiful illustration of that relationship. Just beautiful.

Here are the lyrics to the hymn, Before the Throne of God Above, written in 1863:

Before the throne of God above
I have a strong and perfect plea.
A great high Priest whose Name is Love
Who ever lives and pleads for me.

My name is graven on His hands,
My name is written on His heart.
I know that while in Heaven He stands
No tongue can bid me thence depart.

When Satan tempts me to despair
And tells me of the guilt within,
Upward I look and see Him there
Who made an end of all my sin.

Because the sinless Savior died

My sinful soul is counted free.
For God the just is satisfied
To look on Him and pardon me.

Behold Him there the risen Lamb,
My perfect spotless righteousness,
The great unchangeable I AM,
The King of glory and of grace,

One in Himself I cannot die.
My soul is purchased by His blood,
My life is hid with Christ on high,
With Christ my Savior and my God!

I sing that middle part over and over and over again, “Because the sinless Savior died, My sinful soul is counted free. For God the just is satisfied, To look on Him and pardon me.”

Amazing.

Jesus, Savior, Pilot Me

sophia means wisdom

I wrote this for the past newsletter and thought now was an appropriate time to post as a blog entry. This past week has been hard. Hard and good. It feels like this piece is just as appropriate today as it was a month ago. Not surprising, I suppose.

 

Maybe it’s the early darkness in the evening or the brisk whip of the breeze… Maybe it’s my imagination of ocean in the air or maybe it is because at this time of year we are all looking for a safe harbor. For whatever reason, my soul’s compass is scanning the shoreline. Whether I’m careening across placid waters in the early morning or waging war against waves in the middle night, my heart is heavy with need.

At times, it feels like I’m bailing out water in the middle of a downpour with a colander. Other times, I rush the bow to flail my arms wide, trying to take in all the beauty at once. What fails to change with emotions or season or temperament, is need.

If I’ve learned anything in my (just recently celebrated) twenty-six years and in my two and a half years here in Honduras, I have certainly learned life is unpredictable. In so many ways, the unpredictability thrills me, like what a ship’s captain must have felt at the start of a journey. This uncertainty also leads me, sometimes gasping for air, straight to the One who holds all things together, singing my favorite song of this season, “Jesus, Savior, Pilot me.”

Reading through 1 Samuel has trained my eyes once again to see God’s faithfulness illuminated against whatever treachery the high seas might heave my way. What I find so beautiful about both the song and the story of King David is very simple: history.

Every single day David crept about in the wilderness, hiding in caves and seeking refuge in foreign cities, God hemmed him in with history. From the intimate times in the mountains as a shepherd to the lop-sided duel with a giant, God’s character remained perfect and unchanged. As David feared for his life and spears flew just shy of his ears, he was keenly aware of his need to depend on God and trust He would be faithful.

My favorite lines in the hymn are several verses down,

“Though the sea be smooth and bright,
Sparkling with the stars of night,
And my ship’s path be ablaze
With the light of halcyon days,
Still I know my need of Thee;
Jesus, Savior, pilot me.”

What David learned in his desperate days he brought with him into the calmer, halcyon hours. In the same way that our need of a Savior never changes, God’s place as Savior is forever.

God is ever behind and before us, not contained by time or our understanding or physical place. God is altogether outside of the evil crashing up against the sides of our vessel, yet intentionally and intimately involved in our safe passage and final destination.

It is history that reminds us of God’s gift of our beginning breaths, of our failure and God’s faithfulness, of our rebellion and God’s invitation to repentance. It is history that boasts the best and only hope in view of our ever-pressing need… a Savior.

I love these stories we carry around like mental felt boards, ready at any moment to reassure us of both our heritage and our inheritance. When we are caught unaware amid boisterous waves or settled back on our haunches, it is history that assures us that no captain ever possessed more power to truly say, “Fear not, I will pilot thee.”

please, let’s

let LOVE fly like cRaZy