letting the light in

I’m not a photographer, not even close and not even pretend. But, I know a few and they love the light. And natural light is the best. If a photo can capture something illuminated by creation’s own lighting set-up, it will succeed in reaching outside its two dimensions.

I love the light, too, even though I probably don’t understand it like a photographer might. I love the way it scatters darkness. I love the way it makes things visible. I love the way it reveals paths and obstacles and backyard barbecues. I love the way light streams through our front windows and the way it warms the pavement.

I love the light.

But, light is impartial in its exposing, relentless in its illuminating. When light chases away the shadows from the corners of rooms, it reveals neglected spaces where dirt and clutter collect. Light stretches its bright fingers to reach those places you’re able to ignore in the dark.

And it’s harder to love light when you are staring at the dirt and clutter that has collected in the shadows. It makes pulling the shades back feel… risky. It makes sitting in the dark feel… safe. It’s harder to love light when you know it will reveal the bad with the good, when you know it will reveal your own failures and inconsistencies and fears.

It’s hard, but not impossible.

Because we serve a God who is sovereign over ever possibility.

Before the light reaches the darkest corners of our hearts, God knows what will be found. He knows the impossibility of human failures and inconsistencies and fears, and still He promises the light will show Him to be good (Psalm 34:8). And not good in the “I had a good day” sense, but good in the ultimate and eternally satisfying sense. The kind of good God meant when He looked at creation and said, “This is very good.”

Our exposure is our freedom. In the shadows, we are deceived into thinking that some things are too awful to see the light, too shameful. But, God promises that as children of light, we will revel in what is good and right and true and partner with him in His exposing work. In His light we see the light and reflect the light and delight in the light. See, reflect, delight.

It’s hard to let the light reach the corners, maybe sometimes it even feels impossible. But God is not constrained by possibilities. He delights in showing us all the ways He can write an unconventional story for His name’s sake.

By grace He exposes all the things we hide, grants us freedom from shame, and then invites us into a lovelit dance that exposes the neglected corners of our workplaces, coffeeshops, and city streets.

Are you going to let the light in today?

Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. Therefore do not become partners with them; for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true), and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord. Take no part in the unfruitfulworks of darkness, but instead expose them. For it is shameful even to speak of the things that they do in secret. But when anything is exposed by the light, it becomes visible, for anything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says,

“Awake, O sleeper,
and arise from the dead,
and Christ will shine on you.”

Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ. (Ephesians 5:6-21, ESV)

the glory of radiance – hidden and revealed

“It has seemed to me sometimes as though the Lord breathes on this poor gray ember of Creation and it turns to radiance – for a moment or a year or the span of a life. And then it sinks back into itself again, and to look at it no one would know it had anything to do with fire, or light.” from Gilead by Marilynne Robinson, p. 280

It is raining today, so describing Creation as a poor gray ember seems fitting. The rain brings the clouds into the streets and muddles the footsteps of the city. Robinson’s character John Ames preached the words above in a Pentecost sermon and remembers them in a letter to his son. He follows the quote by reflecting on his words,

“But the Lord is more constant and far more extravagant than it seems to imply. Wherever you turn your eyes the world can shine like transfiguration. You don’t have to bring a thing to it except a little willingness to see.”

In the middle of spitting and dreary rain it is hard to be hopeful. It is hard to see beyond the poor gray ember or believe it is capable of burning something bright. The way we slide into the gray and adjust to the dullness makes hope a very courageous endeavor. To believe God waits to blow radiance from gray embers is a crazy notion, a grace given to courageous eyes.

We do not believe hope into being true, but instead believe our eyes into seeing that hope is truth.

As Ames reflected on his pentecost words, he qualified his statement by saying God has given us grace to see the radiance that always shines. There is beauty in the mystery of glory hidden and beauty in the mystery of glory revealed. And the radiance always looks like the glory of God.

There is a radiance that always shines and God gives grace for us to open our eyes.

a new commandment: love one another

Today is Maundy Thursday, which wasn’t any more than a funny word pairing until I read my holy week reflection. Mandatum means “command” or “mandate” in Latin and we celebrate Maundy Thursday because on the night before Jesus was killed he gave a “new commandment” (John 13:34).

Love one another, as Christ loved us.

What a great and impossible command he gave as his parting exhortation! Love as Christ loved? The perfect and sinless Jesus, who didn’t curse his enemies or get impatient at the market or cover up a white lie for his cousin? We are to love like this Jesus, who saw pain and brokenness and stepped toward it? The Jesus who associated with the lowly and the losers and the little children?

 “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another” (John 13:34).

The Lord has been so gracious in these past few days to pour out His grace. The deeper I dig for gospel mercies, the more I find to fill my days. And I need it – every last drop of grace, I need it.

The substance of my work is not something one prays away – it is the fruit of a world torn by sin and a people tangled in deception. The prince of darkness works 24/7 to battle the life-giving joy of the Gospel message and all the ugly will be there tomorrow morning and the next. Sin is a hungry monster – it eats disaster and spits it out. Sometimes it feels like my days are walking in sin’s vomit. Believe me, it feels as disgusting as it sounds.

The Lord has been gracious, though, to give grace when I’m knee deep in sin’s sticky sludge. At the day’s end when I am realizing that everything will look the same in the morning and my heart wants to despair, I remember that Jesus promised abundant life and then I say, “Yes, I believe it.” But, my belief doesn’t transform my circumstances… it transforms my heart.

And today as I reflect on Maundy Thursday – the new commandment Jesus gave to love as He loved us – I think this is exactly the place I need to be. This great and impossible command to love happens as we believe Christ for the glorious work of the cross.

Loving one another does not mean ignoring sin or downplaying deception or denying evil – Christ certainly didn’t ignore, downplay or deny. And anyone who works in social services must know it is impossible to make less of the helpless state of things. Please, don’t ask me to look an addict in the face and say sin really doesn’t have a hold of him. Instead, because Christ knew the depth of our sin, He also knew the cost of love towards us.

Loving one another as Christ loved us means that we are willing to walk toward the hurting.
Loving one another as Christ loved us means that we see the sin and deception and evil as darkness, but we believe in the power of light to expose fruitless, dark deeds (Ephesians 5).
Loving one another as Christ loved us means that we speak truth about the death grip of sin and speak truth about the offer of life.

Christ was not politically correct. He was not the greatest orator. He did not consult ratings before and after a public address. Christ concerned Himself with the Truth because He was the Truth. He held all things together and still does. But, he walked toward the hurting. He sat with the broken. He listened to the wicked. He held disobedient children in his lap.

Christ got so close to the hurting that they hurt him. His loving us cost Him his life. He got so close to the broken that they broke Him. We broke Him.

If we are really going to love one another, we have to get close enough that it will cost us our lives. 

abiding

Have you ever had a day where it feels like someone comes behind everything you accomplish and then scrambles it so it needs accomplished again? (all the mommas in the house say “hey-o!”)

It was something like that, this day, but I could feel God pursuing and persevering – stretching out grace so I could step inside it.

There was a moment when I had a little one in my backseat (who preferred silence to my singing antics), when I asked if I could pray for him. He didn’t say no, so I prayed… and as I did I got filled up remembering what kind of Savior I have. I got filled up just thinking about what the Lord offers to those who choose Him. I prayed for the little one’s heart and for protection and for a spirit ready to hear and understand the Gospel. And then the little one said, “Amen!” and I praised God with a satisfied soul.

Abiding in the John 15 kind of way does not promise prime “abiding conditions.” But this is the beauty of abiding in Christ – the only necessary condition is met in Him. The fruit-bearing branch on the vine only bears fruit because it abides in the vine. Not because the weather is right or because the irrigation is working (of course all these things are tended to by the vinedresser), but the branch bears fruit because it abides in the vine, and the vine is reliable to produce fruit.

Today when I glimpsed fruit on the branch, I praised God for the vine.
I praised God because He is the one condition necessary for good things.
I praise God because He abides in me and His grace alone can foil the tempter’s power.

Lord, I need You

The road got watery today – just blurred up without warning. I wiped it away and sang this song with the sadness of my own heart’s wandering.

Because where you are, Lord, I am free
Holiness is Christ in me

I need you, O Lord, I need you
Every hour I need You
My one defense, my righteousness
My God, how I need You

It’s not just that addiction doesn’t know what “side of the tracks” to haunt and it’s not just that the sturdy wooden pews at the courthouse feel so much different than the tattered chairs of a living room. It’s not just the mess of names and family trees and explanations. It’s not just those things, but it is those things too.

I don’t know what started the waterfall today, but I know it made me acutely aware of my need for a Savior. I didn’t make it to small group tonight for the silliest reason – I got lost. Literally, lost on the way back from my last appointment. I was driving back and forth and sideways trying to locate a road that would point me in the direction of home and failed more times than I’ll admit. That’ll shake a person into the knowledge of need and it did me.

I turned off the music and just sang out that chorus on repeat. I realized how beautiful the words “my one defense, my righteousness” are to my soul. My defense against sin and deception and all the forms it takes in my day (frustration, fear, worry, pride, selfishness) is that righteousness is planted in me. God’s grace reaches deeper than my sins can ever go so that I am freed to righteousness in Christ.

My one defense to sin (Christ) is also my victory over sin (righteousness). It’s all wrapped up in one glorious bundle and it took way too long today for me to live like that truth is a Thursday reality. Too long.

I need You, Lord. O my, how I need You!

You have authored miracles in my life to free me from fear and pride and selfishness and worry. I desperately need You to help me walk like You’ve done just that. And I will never grow out of that desperate need.

let LOVE fly like cRaZy

 

don’t give up on me.

There are a lot of reasons I’m crooning this jam from Milo Greene. It’s not because I know what he’s about – I don’t. I am just the kind of person who has a soundtrack to my days and this is making the list.

This song got stuck on me because I wish my clients would sing it. Some of them do, yes. Some of them want their kids back more than they want anything else in life. And when I get their voicemails about completing treatment or a picture text of the parenting class they are attending, a little part of me leaps with them for joy. Some of them are the reason I have a job – because they prove change is possible.

Others of them, well… I have to sing these lines on their behalf. I’m not sure how badly they want their kiddos back in their care, even though I am sure that they love their littles. But I want them to be reckless with their love – I want them shaken out of the stupor that addiction has buried them inside. I want to see them look those littles in the eyes and say, “Don’t you give up on me. Don’t you do it.”

Because, sometimes I wonder if the children want to. I wonder if they are tired of getting tossed about. I wonder if they get lonesome for home – one that stays in the same place with the same people. I wonder that.

And then there’s the other thing. There’s the other thing I think when my day’s soundtrack is stuck on this song.

I know the song isn’t about holiness or the Lord or probably anything spiritual. But, my heart is the Lord’s and I suppose it always stretches to hear Him even in unlikely places. And when I hear this song, I can hear my heart singing to the Lord about my holiness.

I know, sounds strange.

I’m just so far from holy – so very far from even feeling like there is progress, sometimes. And those times I imagine God shaking His head at my efforts as He patiently directs my steps (often in the direction opposite my footprints).

My friend and I read Kevin DeYoung’s book, “Hole in Our Holiness” and went to the Desiring God conference last fall where both Piper and DeYoung spoke. The incredible importance of our holiness sunk in so deep that it’s in almost every conversation we have now.

Though we are called positionally holy as sons and daughters of the Lord, bought with the price of Christ’s shed blood, we are still being sanctified. That is, we are in the process of becoming holy right now, in this life. 

And so, when I sing this song a bit of my heart asks the Lord not to give up on me. I know the progress is slow. I know I go backwards as often as I go forwards. I know I need to learn lessons I’ve already been taught.

But, I know [far above everything else I know] that the Lord will not give up on His sanctifying work. Even as I plead for His patience I am believing that He is giving it in grace. He has called me, and therefore He is doing a work that will be brought to completion.

For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.
(Romans 8:29-30 ESV)

My holiness, the messy progress of it all, is a victory I can claim in this moment. I know I’m not near finished – there’s a whole lot more in my life that needs sanctifying. But, to the degree that my heart mourns my waywardness as I sing this song, to that degree my heart is lifted with hope that God won’t ever give up on the progress.

The progress of my holiness is His alone to claim. He receives the glory for every victory over sin and He will not fail.

I guess that’s the difference between putting your hope in a person and putting your hope in God.

God will not fail.
He won’t give up on me.

let LOVE fly like cRaZy

thoughts to make your heart sing

“Why does God need us to make a big deal of Him?”

Just take a listen to this devotional (designed for tikes) read by the author, Sally Lloyd-Jones. And then maybe spend some moments thinking about God’s invitation for you into His forever happiness. Today, He is inviting you to glorify Him because he knows what your heart needs to be happy… Him.

Sometimes, the simplest lessons are the most affecting. The mature believer is not one who is found to be the most well-read in doctrine or the most well-versed in competing theologies. No, the mature believer is one found accepting the invitation to glorify the Lord, believing boldly while knowing it is by grace that one receives.

Paul Tripp says it better in this clip, “Knowledge Does Not Mean Maturity.” He is speaking to pastors in the ministry, but I confess my puffed up chest about knowing things and “academizing the faith.”

He says, “You can be theologically astute and be dramatically spiritually immature.” That’s a crazy bold statement and it hits hard with the growing number of reformed thinkers.

And that is why I’m drawn humbly into the pages of a children’s devotional – knowing that I will come before the Lord always as a child. I will always need more of His wisdom, grace, strength, love, and kindness.

And He will always invite me to shake off my pretenses and dance with joy, unashamed, in His forever happiness.

I highly recommend picking up a copy of Thought To Make Your Heart Sing and don’t feel like you have to give it to a little one, either.

let LOVE fly like cRaZy

Trust in the Lord, and do good.

Piper suggested (well, he said “perhaps”) the whole Old Testament could be summed up in this tiny verse.

“Trust in the Lord, and do good.” Psalm 37:3

Does that cause you to pause at all? a little? Well, it does me. The whole Old Testament in seven words. Hm. Trust in the Lord is one of those “givens” I might breeze by in my morning reading because my heart is used to the way it sounds. Of course, trust in the Lord. Lean not on my own understanding. Yes, yes. Trust in the Lord and in His mighty power.

Have you ever done that when you are reading a book that has texts of Scripture in it? They appear as large chunks indented on either side to make them stand out and draw your attention. Sometimes (embarrassed admission), I breeze past what feels like “givens” so I can get to the point. It’s like my mind is saying, “Caroline, of course you agree with that part – it’s Scripture. Just move on so you can find the conclusion.”

Well, this morning I lingered on Psalm 37:3 because I didn’t want to breeze past its truth. If I believe the Word is powerful and sharper than any two edged sword – that it never returns void and holds the secrets to abundant life – than nothing should ever be breezed by (no matter how many times I’ve read it).

“Trust in the Lord, and do good.” Psalm 37:3

Piper follows his assertion by saying, “…let the great works of past grace sustain your faith in future grace so that you always trust God rather than the offers of help and guidance that come from other gods or other counselors. The root issue behind the disobedience of Israel was lack of faith in future grace.”

Could the root issue of my disobedience look like similar faithlessness? The Israelites had many proofs of God’s faithfulness and salvation, but they chose unbelief. They chose not to trust the Lord’s word would be true for the future as it had been in the past. They chose instead to take their chances with a future of their own contriving.

The “do good” piece is not just tacked on for good measure. As much as the trusting is an act of belief in what God can and will do, “doing good” physically walks out this belief in the offices and street corners and dining room tables of life.

let LOVE fly like cRaZy…
today, where you are, as you trust in the Lord who empowered you to love at all

sometimes I speed what should be slowed

I’ve been thinking lately about pace.

What speed is fitting as we pursue the Lord – is it always an all-out, relentless rush? Are we always breathless about getting to where God is leading?

I’ve been thinking about pace because I wonder if we sometimes speed what should be slowed. I wonder if we create some of the crazy that surrounds our spiritual sprints – like we’ve thrown into the air all the race markers and so haphazardly attempt to fix our eyes on Jesus while anxiously searching the way.

Maybe this isn’t making any sense to you (is it?), but I’ve sure noticed that God means for some things to be experienced slowly. Prayers are sometimes this way, and blessings. And suffering. Sometimes, it seems, we’d like to think we can control the outcome of the race we’re running, the “race marked out for us,” by more intensity. Or maybe it’s just me.

It is a beautiful thing to take slow steps of faith. Not timid steps, just slow and steady steps that say,

“I am not worried where my foot will fall. I am not anxious about getting somewhere sooner or later. I am at peace with the amount of grace God has given for this step. I do not doubt the Lord’s provision.”

It is a beautiful thing to take slow steps of faith and I’m learning this, slowly. Maybe it’s because slow steps allow my frenzied, distracted heart time to believe in the God who will sustain me.

Maybe my hurried, race pace is something I’ve thought up as a back-up plan if God’s doesn’t work. Maybe I need to be restful even while I’m determined to persevere as a runner in a race – believing that my finishing doesn’t depend on my performance as much as it depends on God’s grace.

“Be still, and know that I am God.
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth!” Psalm 46:10

“When I am afraid, I put my trust in you.” Psalm 56:3

“Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the Lord that will stand.” Proverbs 19:21

“It is in vain that you rise early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil; for he gives sleep to his beloved.” Psalm 127:2

“Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.” Matthew 6:34

Today, I’ll try taking slower steps.

This song seems to be about the right pace.

let LOVE fly like CrAzY

the conversation

I used to feel guilty when I had the conversation with the Lord.

Do you know the one I mean? It always starts incredibly sheepish and shameful – littered with my apologies for not coming sooner, not trusting deeper, not being a more regular penitent.

The words come like a flood at the beginning, offering all sorts of explanations for why I’ve been away, and then everything calms down and God reminds me of His promises – those beautiful truths with a floor that won’t fall out.

I used to feel guilty when I had the conversation, but now I just feel freedom because I’m not bargaining anymore. I’m not asking for fair exchange or bartering for a better deal. My apologies and excuses and guilt feelings change nothing about the transaction about to take place when I commune with my Savior.

Now the conversation is like sewing a tapestry instead of sewing a button hole. Have you ever sewed a button hole? You need very little thread and it takes very little time… you’ll also likely have to come back and sew it on again when it comes off because buttons get a lot of wear and tear. A tapestry is very different – 12 inches of thread and a needle won’t do it. The thread weaves in and out and in and out.

Yesterday, there was a beautiful baby in my backseat. She didn’t let out a single complaint about my driving or about our little road trip to see her mom for a supervised visit. She didn’t seem to mind that I needed to have the conversation with the Lord the whole way to our destination, but it wasn’t a bargain she heard.

I think I’m beginning to understand the sweet grace of the Lord’s promises. The salvation He offers daily is filled with everything I haven’t earned. I know I will be on the receiving end before the first word of apology can leave my lips. But a funny thing happens when I trust His freely given promises – love prompts me to promise back.

I don’t mean the rushed-and-desperate promises that I’ll get better, do more, try harder.

What I mean is that a conversation wove into my yesterday – a day that would have bent me to bargaining in the past. Yesterday was a day that I desperately needed everything to go well for my job and for the kiddos involved. Normally, the conversation might have happened a couple times in those real clinch moments but instead it got woven in.

As I made my morning coffee, I prayed for love that casts out fear and then claimed the casting out. When I got anxious, I petitioned for peace and then walked with calm, bold steps. With the little ones in transit, I trusted the Lord to cover my car and I drove.

Promises are a big deal. But my promises to God are held together by His promises to me. I cannot bargain and barter with the Creator of the universe, but I can live out the promises He has made for me and in me.

I can promise because He is faithful and my promises are nestled deep in the well of my salvation. I can promise because it magnifies the Lord who saved me.

What shall I render to the Lord for all his benefits to me? I will lift up the cup of salvation and call on the name of the Lord, I will pay my vows to the Lord in the presence of all his people. Psalms 116:12-14 

I don’t feel guilty about the conversation anymore. I just feel freed.

let LOVE fly like cRaZy