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!

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.

chin up, child

I had been looking out at the rain because I could not wait to wear my rain boots. I was supposed to do laundry but instead I spent yesterday drinking french press in oversized flannel, making pancake invitations by candlelight and trying to forget that Monday is a regular work day.

By the time I left the apartment for church, I had forgotten my umbrella and my sense of New York direction. A hundred puddles and one wet coat later, I found the familiar old church on 5th and Rodney.

And not even cold, winter rain could keep the delight out.

Because that’s what happens when you meet with Jesus. It may not always look like bright colored bits of NYE confetti in Times Square. It may never look like that, but God promised delight in the flatlands when He promised abundant life (John 10:10).

Today is a regular day and I would lie if I didn’t say it was hard to get dressed in this routine. This is the flatlands, but there is delight hidden here. I’m going to choose belief all day long, going to chase delight while I run on level ground. 

Things and people and plans seem slippery these days, but there is one thing I can confidently hold tightly. The tighter I hold Jesus – the more I purpose to know Him and find out what pleases Him – the greater I will experience the best delight.

God promises to sustain in ways we don’t know we need, to fill in places we don’t know are empty.

Delight is something I choose when I believe Jesus is my greatest treasure. It’s something that spills over when I can’t hold the abundance inside any longer. Delight is a face I wear on the subway and in the office and flipping pancakes in my apartment. It is what happens when God meets needs I didn’t know I had and fills places I didn’t know were empty.

Delight is dependent on one thing: God being a promise keeper.
And today, He is saying, “Chin up, child. There is delight in this day!

 

real life is in the flatlands

(I wrote this in the Chicago airport but the complimentary Wifi ran out before I could publish it. So, here I am at 1 am back in my Brooklyn apartment posting my last Christmas entry.)

Real life is not vacation.

It’s not the slow, beautiful weeks spent in between months of regular workdays. Real life is both I guess, but today I go back to the flatlands because there is nothing mountaintoppy about living regular life.

I’m making pancake monday plans and texting all the folks I need to meet up with and brunch in with and dream big with. I’m dreaming up new chalkboard designs for the business owner down the street and I’m summoning courage to fight regular fights.

Because real life is in the flatlands.

I read that phrase in my advent devotional yesterday and I’m convinced it will be my theme this year. Jesus was born a baby to no pomp and circumstance – certainly not to all the ceremony we give to this time of year – but then he grew up regular. He lived life in the flatlands. He worked and walked and greeted neighbors. He sat down to dinner and learned how to work an anvil in the woodshop. He participated in traditions and went to family reunions and walked through the markets and had sleepless nights.

I’ve noticed that on vacations and at family gatherings, conversations always seem to circle around to bigger questions about purpose and calling and hope. There is a herd of elephants in the room inside questions like, “Is this it?”

Because being engineers and doctors and teachers and ministry leaders and salesmen and bankers and non-profit workers and hourly wage earners… well, that’s something. But it is certainly not “it” or there wouldn’t be so many elephants. We all know that no matter how successful or stagnant our lives feel, we can’t ever win a bigger prize than what has already been offered to us.

That prize already happened. He was born in a manger and we just celebrated His birth. And He is holding all things together until we walk into eternity by His side. He is why life in the regular means anything and why it means everything. Christ holds life together (Colossians 1:17), all the ordinary everyday-ness of it, so that His glory is proclaimed.

Christ is with me now in the flatlands of real life because He has already lived the flatlands before.

I’m headed back to Brooklyn with a lot of questions. Every regular day in the flatlands is not exciting. Sometimes (most times) my days are just regular and I know God loves to make His name great in mangers and woodshops and plain, crowded city streets.

above, below, within

It feels good to be tucked inside my parents’ country farmhouse, away from apartment supers and monthly subway passes and all the financial details about adult life I would rather avoid. It feels good to be under someone else’s roof, especially two someone elses who somehow manage to make frugal feel abundant. We feast and play and laugh and revel in holiday spirit and there is always something in the cupboard to throw into the pot on the stove.

And it has me thinking about living above, below and within my means.

I remember having a phone conversation with my dad after his first mission trip to Kenya. He said, “Caroline, we have so much here. We just don’t have any idea. We can easily live on so much less than we do but we choose toys and vacations and excess instead.”

That was years ago.

I am typing out this post today while wearing a brand new pair of ice skates my dad found at a thrift store. It wasn’t even a Christmas gift. It’s just because he is a giver. He could do a lot of things with the money he makes in his second (or third?) career, but he and my mom choose to live like he is still milking 50 cows. Because they want to be givers.

My parents will always be one of my favorite studies as I try to figure out how to be a giver. It really doesn’t matter what I am making or the bills demanding payment. It’s about a heart condition. It’s about being ruled by anything or anyone other than the infant King.

So, how do I calculate intangible glorious riches into my budget? How do I prize what Jesus prized and value treasure that does not rust? How do I make my bank account better reflect those kind of priorities, without feeling like my bank account needs to have a giant cushion between it and negative numbers? (Or any sort of cushion at all).

I’m not sure, but I want to be a giver.

I always want to have enough to add another plate to the table. My Grandma Avonell was famous for that kind of abundance. She never turned away a stranger or a neighbor from the heavy oak table that now sits in my parents’ dining room.

Add a leaf to the table and water to the soup, because giving is always within our means.

Feeling poor is hard and it makes my generation uncomfortable. We don’t want to struggle… but if we have to, we don’t want anyone else to know about it. In NY, we don’t want our friends to see our sparsely furnished, cramped apartments or notice our hand-me-down trends. In Iowa, we don’t want our friends to know we are still renting or without a retirement fund. Everywhere, we fight hard to look like we get to enjoy the things of people with means.

We want the instagrammed vacations and the airport selfies. We want the newest version of the riding boot to pair with our pinterested ensemble. We don’t want to struggle and, I guess, who would?

I’m still in advent mode, still reflecting on the miracle of God planning from the beginning of time to send His only Son to earth as a baby… to later suffer and die.

It was the most extreme case of living below his means. He was a king with the deepest trust fund, royalty with the most lucrative inheritance, but he was a helpless baby in a crude manger born in the middle of nowhere. And this was God’s plan.

God intended struggle and suffering when He emptied His Son of everything royal in order to pour out royalty onto an undeserving creation.

I’m trying to understand how to joyfully choose struggle and suffering with the small sum in my bank account. God was not stingy with the greatest treasure and He was not arm twisted into giving. It was God’s delight to send love through His Son. He sent Love out of His great love … and then Jesus struggled and suffered “for the joy set before Him.”

I’m not good with numbers, but this means conversation is a heart condition that I want to figure out. I want to be a giver when it hurts and when it is easy. I want to be a giver when it doesn’t make sense and when it is obvious. I want to be a giver when what I really want is to be everything else.

The heart condition of a giver is really about belief. Do I believe God is a Provider – in Iowa and NYC and in harder to reach places? Do I believe God gives good gifts to His children and do I believe He has already given the best and most valuable gift?

I’m praying my heart into belief – belief that above, below, and within is a conversation that is not too big or complicated for the Lord.

amid the cold of winter

The weather outside is legitimately frightful.

I stuck my frozen toes inside the warmed oven several times because there is a north wind creeping through all the farmhouse cracks around kitchen windows. And, obviously, the kitchen can’t be avoided with Christmas baking and coffee making and cookie decorating to be done. The winter struggle is real and it’s about to get more frozen when we go Christmas caroling in a few hours.

There are perks to living in an apartment in Brooklyn – and one of those perks is that the heat is regulated for the whole building and always cranked high. But we find other ways to keep warm here – like chasing caped superheroes, putting out pretend fires, and running from sock hand monsters. There is a lot of commotion, but it’s all the good kind covered in giggles and belly laughs.

Tonight is Christmas Eve and we’ve switched up all our traditions this year because of sibling schedules. We are foregoing the three ingredient potato soup that we’ve had every Christmas Eve since I can remember and we already opened gifts yesterday while one of the little ones took a nap.

And, well, some traditions are not as important as Tevye’s deep, throaty voice belting out rolled Rs in Fiddler on the Roof. Some traditions are like frosting or gravy or jam – not the main dish. Today’s deep breaths are about holding on to the main thing – God’s great tradition of peace.

“We are invited to know the peace God extends to his favored ones, those established in a relationship with him through Jesus Christ. This is the soul-satisfying peace of God.” Joann Jung, from The Advent Project

This soul satisfying peace doesn’t look like a certain Christmas schedule or a table spread a particular way. This peace is way, way bigger than that. This peace is about identity – our identity that gets wrapped up into the splendor of a baby King who would later invite us into adoption, as co-heirs of his inheritance.

Identity has been more of a fight lately, which maybe surprises me more than anyone else. I am not timid or insecure or self-conscious, at least that has never before been the case. I’m not too concerned about thrifted fashions and keeping up appearances, but NYC is a sneaky devil about these things.

I have noticed a crack in my armor – a little voice that makes me doubt old shoes and my non-profit destiny. The subway stares and coffee shop conversations are a slow fade and Iowa is different enough to make all the colors clear. I would like to give more gifts to more people. And I would like to look more put together and I would like to have more established things to say about my career.

I guess I would like to have a better identity and maybe that’s the root of it all. That’s the sneaky devil and the crack in my armor, because there is not a better identity to be had.

This Savior I am anticipating and celebrating is my identity. God speaks worth and life into my fumbling limbs the same way He spoke life into His Son’s. Not only that, but my future is tied up in the glory of the Son of God, who lived and died and rose again to secure my redemption.

Pardon me, I’ve got to go warm up my vocalizer so I can match the alto pitches on these Christmas carols. The cold really does bite into a good harmony and I’ve got to be prepared.

breathing in the history of my salvation

Today is one of those days, sandwiched in between beauty and beauty.

I am caught in a funny paralysis, the kind that prevents me from Christmas gift splurging and the kind that prevents me from making my own Christmas wish list. I am stuck in a funny corner where I’m frustrated at my love affair with things (the giving and the getting) but I realize the elephant in the room is my love affair with things (the giving and the getting).

We’ve been studying the women in the lineage of Jesus on Sundays and in home group. Yes, a slightly different sermon series than most churches choose during this time of year, but it has swelled my soul. As we have read between the lines in the lives of Tamar and Bathsheba the past two weeks, the scandal of my Savior’s messy heritage has been… refreshing.

Scandal is not too strong a word, either.

The women named in Matthew 1, in the lineage of Christ, lived messy, scandalous lives but Jesus never conveniently forgot them from the family tree. God chose to send His only begotten Son by way of a family overwhelmed by strife and conflict and sexual sin. Jesus came from a long line of wayward souls.

Tamar (in Genesis 38) was forgotten and discarded after two husbands passed away, Judah was desperate and afraid, and God was faithful. He was faithful to care for Tamar, though her desperation drove her to search for righteousness on her own. He was faithful to Judah, whose fear led him to doubt God’s plan and provision. God’s faithfulness to both these wayward souls (Jesus’ ancestors) in all their scandal is a soothing medicine to my paralyzed heart.

Because honestly, I don’t know what is best – how to give and get things in a way that honors the Lord. I don’t know how many toy drives to join and how many gifts to forgo in an effort to support organizations living out the gospel. I don’t know what those numbers look like and I don’t know how my checkbook should look in light of them.

But I know I don’t want to be paralyzed. I want to believe that God has called us into marvelous light this Christmas, the kind that helps us hold things loosely. I know that the beauty of the salvation story has a whole lot to do with the way God wanted a family of wayward souls to be the heritage of the Son of God.

The beauty of our Savior’s life is that not a thousand scandals could mess up his reputation, because he took every wayward weakness upon himself. He lived the most scandalous story when he came as a baby and when he died on the cross. There has never been anyone more vulnerable than our Savior.

So, today is sandwiched between beauty and beauty, and I am thinking of bigger things. I am breathing in the history of my salvation and the way my Savior chose to come, chose to die, and chose to redeem the wayward.

I still don’t get it – how the details are supposed to work out or what I’m supposed to wrap and send and buy for underneath the tree. Maybe that’s okay.

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.

triumph at play

When God sent Jesus into the strife and struggle of mortality, He was not nervous like a parent on the first day of kindergarten. He was not uncertain about how Jesus would do when faced with bullies or empty bellies.

God did not take the ultimate risk in sending His Son because He sent Christ in ultimate triumph.

Never was there ever a question about the endgame; never a question about how things would shake out when the heat got hot. God never considered Satan a formidable foe. Never.

“The curse on the serpent teaches us to expect an all-out war against sin and death, but we forget that war only wears a grim face when total victory is in doubt. When God himself entered the fray and took upon himself our frail frame, it was not an act of daring; it was triumph at play.”  – Diane Vincent, Associate Professor of Torrey Honors Institute (from The Advent Project)

God was not sending Christ into the mortal game as a last resort or as a “Hail, Mary” play to the endzone because Christ was always central to the salvation story, always the plan for redemption. Always.

“…we forget that war only wears a grim face when total victory is in doubt.”

Consider what it would feel like to go to battle knowing you were already victorious. The fear and anxiety of battle vanish. The uncertainty and the sleepless nights and the silent pep talks – everything you might feel in a evenly matched battled – vanishes. As we walk in the shadow of Christ’s coming, we take on his sure victory.

He stepped into our weakness so we could step into His triumph, so that we could dance upon injustice and delight in His promise keeping.

We need not wear a grim face in this fight, for it is already won.

 

wait, with great expectation

Waiting with anticipation sounds like a funny thing to do.

Because it is hard to wait actively and hard to anticipate passively. And that’s exactly the miracle of Advent.

There is nothing passive about the days leading up to Christ’s birth into the world – the longing for a Messiah is almost palpable throughout the Old Testament. Even as hundreds of years passed, the people of Israel (and beyond) waited with great expectation for the Savior King to come to earth. They were waiting, but they were not resigned to indifference. They read and re-read the prophecies and the promises and then they said, “Come.”

Hundreds and hundreds of years of “Come, Lord Jesus.” I imagine it maintaining the same intensity, though some generations must have faltered. Still, generation after generation waited actively with the words, “Come.”

The incarnation was never meant to happen to us, like witnessing an act of charity on the subway by chance. The incarnation of our Lord was planned from the very beginning, even the stars thrown into the sky were set on a trajectory to proclaim His coming. 

And we are invited to take part in His coming, to anticipate the arrival of the Savior and the fulfillment of the Lord’s promise. Christ coming to earth is reason to celebrate salvation for our future, but it is also a reason to celebrate God’s salvation in our present. Because He is a faithful promise keeper … and that translates to Tuesdays. The incarnation is about Tuesday morning devotions and Tuesday afternoon meetings. The incarnation is about financial difficulties and health concerns. The incarnation is about family and brokenness.

The incarnation is about God being a faithful promise keeper when He sent Jesus as a baby into a dark world to be the light.

And the incarnation is not something we let “happen” to us. It is something we invite to transform our Tuesdays and our lives.

Come, thou long expected Jesus. Come.