we do the living

I’m early to work.

How often does one say that in a city that depends on an unreliable transportation system? Well… pretty often if you are this girl. I think it has something to do with my insistence in taking a different route every day compounded with the fact that I don’t conform well to the minutes on the clock. I leave when I’m ready and sometimes that’s well before I need to. And so it was this morning. But, I’m not bothered. I wonder how long it will be until I know the commute down to the minute, because then I can imagine being very frustrated when those minutes don’t work out.

For today, I am spending my extra minutes thinking about Lazarus as I read “Finally Alive” by John Piper.

In John 11:43, Jesus says to the dead Lazarus, “Lazarus, come out.” And the next verse says, “The man who had died came out.” So Lazarus takes part in this resurrection. He comes out. Christ causes it. Lazarus does it. He is the one who rises from the dead! Christ brings about the resurrection. Lazarus acts out the resurrection. The instant Christ commands Lazarus to rise, Lazarus does the rising. The instant God gives new life, we do the living. The instant the Spirit produces faith, we do the believing. (Finally Alive, John Piper)

The instant God gives new life, we do the living. Now that is magnificent. That is life altering in the most literal, formerly dead sense. Though we have no part in causing new life to happen inside us, we very much are a part of the acting out of that miraculous gift.

The instant the Spirit produces faith, we do the believing.

I may be in an early-to-work, commuter stupor, but this is most definitely the brilliance that was shining through the stained glass at my Broadway Junction transfer this morning. As the sermon from Sunday night is still marinating in the marrow of my soul, I am thinking about what the death-to-life call meant for Matthew.

When Jesus said, “Walk the same path with me” to Matthew, He was calling him out of a life of darkness and into a life of light. And Matthew rose up and followed.

He acted out Jesus’ calling by joining him on the narrow foot path. He believed this man as a result of the Spirit’s gift of faith.

And today, whether I notice the minutes passing or not, God has authored transformation as he breathes life into my bones.

And as He miraculously sustains my life, I walk.

I walk and run and laugh and dance and as I do, I stretch out the fingers of this miracle. Because I was dead but He made me alive and He keeps me alive!

when He said, “walk with me”

The walls of my heart were near bursting in the middle of the evening service last night. If ever there was a sermon that hit the home I’m coming from as much as the home I’m headed to, it was this sermon.

The passage came from Matthew 9, when Jesus called Matthew to be a part of his motley crew. Jesus was just passing by Matthew’s shameful tax stand when he simply said, “Follow me.”

It was an invitation and a command and a whole bundle of things all rolled into one. Matthew didn’t have the luxury of reading over Jesus’ words to examine their meaning. He had only the moments flashing in front of his money-dirtied table to decide what to do. This man in front of him looked him in the eye and he didn’t just say “Follow me.”

He did, but Jesus said something else, too.

The invitation is much more than a cold command to walk behind a dictator. The invitation is nothing like that. The Greek word, akoloutheó, means not just to follow but to “accompany, attend” or literally, “to go the same way with.”

I squirmed in my pew when my pastor explained, “Jesus wasn’t just saying, ‘Walk with me.’ He was also saying, ‘I want to walk with you.'”

The invitation to follow Jesus is an invitation to accompany Him on the kingdom mission of heaven.

This invitation to follow Him means that He wants to walk in the same direction as me – that He is pleased to be going the same way. It is His perfect sovereignty that guides and directs our steps on the path, but He is not embarrassed to be seen at my side. He knows about my lopsided steps – about my clumsy, Amelia Bedelia ways. He knows that I’ve got baggage and that I get distracted.

He knows ALL these things and still He is pleased to invite me to walk with Him. And inside that invitation I know He wants to walk with me.

And do you know the first thing Matthew did as he walked alongside Jesus? He threw a party. He invited all the vagabonds and wanderers and outcasts and unlikely party guests to his house for the feast of all feasts and Jesus was at the center.

And there they walked together – Jesus and Matthew – hosting a beautiful gathering where more people could view the result of Matthew’s unlikely invitation to be a follower.

I’m still giddy with all this. Vito went on to preach a “party culture” into his congregation – a message of accountability that Christians should be hosting the craziest parties. Christians should be inviting the rich and poor and awkward and smooth into their homes to break bread and drink wine and give thanks to the Lord because we have been invited to accompany Him along the way.

We should be doing what Matthew did when Jesus called him to walk along the same path. This kind of thing is in my bones. I want to invite my car dealership/drug dealing neighbors and the owners of the cutest pizza place on Rogers Street and my co-workers and the young runner couple that lives on 2nd floor… I want to invite them all over for a party in honor of the Lord who has invited me to follow Him!

I know, I know – all my dear, safe Iowan friends are worried. I won’t go doing anything crazy until Patrick gets back in town and can make sure my ideas aren’t too dangerous. For now, I’ll just be giddy with the idea that Jesus called me to walk with Him, which means He is pleased to walk with me.

It’s good to be giddy about such things.

kingdom first, all things next

The Sabbath shines the beautiful light of the cross to illuminate what is best and cast a shadow on all other things. That’s what my Sabbath is doing, anyway.

My soul is shifting into a more right position as I stop and listen and breathe: kingdom first, all things next.

My life has too many lists. Lists on papers, lists in books, lists of books, lists on receipts, lists for groceries, lists for tasks, lists of bills, lists on bills, lists for the future, lists of people. Maybe it’s not too many. Maybe all the lists are okay.

But, this morning as I was thinking about seeking the kingdom, a peace seemed to settle all the many numbered things I keep adding in bullet points to my life.

But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. (Matthew 6:33, ESV)

My lists of all things too often come first. My plans and schedules and scribbled to-dos too often crowd out the first thing. That’s when I find myself living in the shadows instead of enjoying the sun.

We are invited to seek the kingdom of God and his righteousness first and then promised that the lists of all things will get rightly sorted.

The cross perfectly illuminates our freedom and perfectly beckons us to joy.

His kingdom is the best thing to seek, the most rewarding and the most exciting. Today, the Sabbath is reminding me to rightly order what I seek.

to obey is to believe

I felt like a cat chasing my own tail.

The rain pounded outside the cafe and the sky took flash photography of the earth below while the thunder rumbled the grey skies. There was a draft creeping in and swirling around our feet and we were talking about obedience.

The grit-your-teeth kind that you can only learn about from someone who is paralyzed. It’s true – you should try it. Read a paragraph or a book by Joni Eareckson Tada and then try to have the same grumbling attitude about obedience. Feels way different, way wrong.

So, we read about a middle-of-the-night fight where Tada woke up in a sweat battling familiar fears of anxiety and claustrophobia and panic. She could reach for pills or wake up her husband or just lay in agony. Or believe.

She spoke a simple verse she had hidden in her heart long ago, “whispering the Word of God into [her] anxious heart,”

Look on my affliction and deliver me,
for I do not forget your law. (Psalm 119:153, ESV)

And my friend and I sat there spinning in circles to chase the wonder. This quadriplegic woman submitted in obedience by claiming the promises of God. Her obedience was the physical act of believing God to be who He says He is in the midst of her middle-of-the-night fight. 

God gives grace to believe and it is only in believing that we can obey.

When we walk out the steps of right belief in God, our disastrous moments can be obedient moments of submission – our stranded in the middle of certain, paralyzing death stories can be memoirs of deliverance.

And in obeying (read also: in believing) God did look on her affliction and delivered her, right there in the midst of her paralyzed battle.

I’m not sure how many times I will have to learn before the wonder wears off, hopefully never. Our believing obedience brings about breathtaking reward. God has never broken a promise. As he commands our obedience to His Word, He promises to provide a way for the obedience. He promises to deliver us. He promises.

He promises.

The Lord of all creation is making you promises. And His promises always end in deliverance for His children. Always. But to enjoy the deliverance, we must believe.

The disciples had their own in-the-middle-of-the-night fright during a crazy storm that rocked their boat and their belief.

And when he got into the boat, his disciples followed him. And behold, there arose a great storm on the sea, so that the boat was being swamped by the waves; but he was asleep. And they went and woke him, saying, “Save us, Lord; we are perishing.” And he said to them, “Why are you afraid, O you of little faith?” Then he rose and rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was a great calm. And the men marveled, saying, “What sort of man is this, that even winds and sea obey him?” (Matthew 8:23-27, ESV)

Jesus calls attention to their fear and reveals their lack of faith – they needed to examine their belief about who Jesus was and what He was capable of accomplishing. If He really was God, then believing meant trusting and trusting meant calm in the middle of calamity. The lesson here is not that God will stop the wind and waves every time we feel like we’re going under. The lesson is that our belief and trust in the Lord will place one obedient foot in front of the other as the storm swells around us.

Because God is a promise keeper and He will deliver us.

The believing does not always feel like a lazy Sunday afternoon because sometimes it feels like a wrestling match. Sometimes it feels like your throat is closing in and no option looks good, especially when you are fighting for air. But in those times, God is the same.

He promises deliverance and our obedience is the walking out of our belief that He will come through.

Because He will come through. And do you see now why we chase our tails? I don’t know where the goodness starts and ends. There is delight in it all, even the wrestling. Because He will overcome and bless those suffering as they are shaped more into the image of His Son.

grace > believing > obedience > reward > believing > grace

We hold on tight to the Love He swore. And as we hold on, we obey.

My friend and I are reading through voices of the true woman movement: A Call to the Counter-Revolution and Joni Eareckson Tada wrote chapter 7, which is what inspired this post (and the beautiful storm all day long). But seriously, pick up anything from this woman and you will be inspired.

saying no to things we like in favor of things He loves

I remember saying it in AWANA, speeding through a mile-a-minute. Those little jewels might have been plastic, but it was a big deal to fill up that little brown crown on my bright red vest.

Someone, Denny Messenger probably, slowed me down and asked me to say it again.

Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. (Matthew 16:24 ESV)

I always memorized things in a sing-songy way, little phrase by little phrase and it almost always ended up sounding like an awkward poem. I would rock back and forth and scrunch up my face if I got stuck. Once successful, I’m sure I beamed as I grabbed my book back to review for the next verse.

Someone like Denny Messenger would take the time to ask what I thought Jesus meant when he asked the disciples to “take his cross” and I would respond in the same sing-song fashion that we have to “do hard things for God.” Well, I’m not sure what I really said, but I imagine it being something like that.

Now, 20 years later, that verse is still hidden in my heart, along with a host of others from the NIV and I can’t tell you how often I’ve been grateful for the early investment. When truth is planted, it grows and always returns blessings.

I was reminded of this verse recently in several conversations with friends. One of the conversations was about vision – is everyone supposed to have a specific vision that requires sacrifice on behalf of Christ? Another conversation was more specifically about understanding what it practically means to “take up your cross.”

Twenty years is a long time for something to be hidden… you’d think the goodness of it would be exhausted by now, that there would be nothing to mine for in one measly little verse from an ancient book that an 8 year-old memorized, partially out of the desire to stand in front of a group of kids to receive a plastic jewel to put in a plastic crown on her vest. But, in the currency of grace, twenty years is an investment that proves its worth.

What does it mean to take up my cross and follow after Christ? What does it mean for 9 am and in the break room and for Tuesday night? Does it mean we start up non-profit organizations? Does it mean we live amongst the poorest of the poor, or at least give all our funds away? Does it mean we find something very, very heavy and then commit to carrying it?

What does it mean to take up my cross and follow after Christ?

My friend shared thoughts on the verse from a devotional that talked about the importance of choosing this “cross.” It is not something situational that you cannot change, but something that you elect just as Christ elected to suffer for the joy set before Him.

But, “What do I choose? How do I find this cross Jesus speaks about?”

I wonder if we race too quickly past Jesus’s first words in this verse, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself…”

Often, I think, Christians are paralyzed because it seems a great chasm exists between walking unencumbered and walking with a heavy cross. Of course, this chasm does exist – the Christian life is not easy or comfortable – but maybe the concept of finding an uncomfortable and heavy cross at 9 am and in the break room and on Tuesday nights is overwhelming to the point of paralysis.

“let him deny himself”

Just as the sanctification process is from one degree of glory to the next (2 Corinthians 3:18), our “taking up of the cross” is a daily denying of ourselves and in the littlest things treasuring Christ first. Very few will feel the weight of a cross on their backs (though Christians are still being crucified), but we all choose what we treasure the most with the weight of daily decisions.

Are you willing to be inconvenienced? Uncomfortable? Awkward? Humiliated? Hated?

Do you treasure Christ more than you treasure popularity in the workplace?
Do you treasure Christ more than you treasure your Monday night TV program?
Do you treasure Christ more than you treasure your weekends of leisure?

We say no to the things we like in favor of the things He loves, because we love Him and believe His promises.

When we treasure Christ the most, our footsteps follow His into self-denial. We present our bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to the Lord (Romans 12:1) in the ways we deny ourselves and follow Christ into and through any suffering our treasuring of Him might bring.

Want to read about someone who is doing this well? I’m learning a lot from this young man and his journey to make much of Christ as he denies himself and follows Him. Check out this post and see if you don’t agree.

let LOVE fly like cRaZy

being innocent

Last night, I tried to give an update in the form of a limerick. It didn’t pan out, so I’ll spare you, but I did realize that I must discover again what it means to be childlike.

My beautiful friends asked, “Do you find joy in what you do?” in the incredulous ways friends do when you’ve just thoroughly depressed them. I snapped out of the glazed-over “here’s-how-I-answer-questions-about-my-job” mode and realized I will not survive if I forget to be as innocent as a dove.

Being innocent is possible.

Evil is not a new thing. It has not developed with the introduction of new laws and the deterioration of others. Evil has been around since those two lovebirds had a forbidden meal in paradise. Jesus’s “sending out” was not to go into the world and build houses to hide inside, away from the evil. Wisdom like serpents doesn’t come from staying safe, incubated from the weary world outside our doors. Jesus admonishes his followers to be innocent as doves – to step into all the ugliness and evil and somehow stay innocent.

Jesus was well aware of how twisted and sinful the world was when he gave this directive.

“Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. (Matthew 10:16)

Being innocent is possible because Jesus is involved and he said so. That’s the bottomline. He would not command his followers to do something impossible – something He would not make possible in His power. I believe being innocent in this ugly, evil world is possible because God said so.

Being innocent is painful.

For a long time, I had the wrong view of innocence – a sheltered and unexposed upbringing fashioned it. Don’t get me wrong, I’m beyond thankful that I didn’t know many things of the world until recently (and still am pretty clueless). I am thankful for all the ways I was trained up by my parents in righteousness and pointed towards Truth. Where my view of innocence got tangled up was when I started equating my experience to innocence. This does not match up with the experience for which Jesus was preparing His disciples. They would see horrible things, hear horrible things, and experience horrible things. They were not to sit comfortably indoors, far from the evil raging outside. Jesus commanded them to walk towards the pain and even into the pain so they could speak words He would give them. I love that His recruiting schpeel is probably the least persuasive invitation you’ll ever read. “Come, you will be hated by all for my name’s sake.” There is no sugarcoating this gig. Jesus is clearly not out to win the crowds into his service.

Beware of men, for they will deliver you over to courts and flog you in their synagogues, and you will be dragged before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them and the Gentiles. When they deliver you over, do not be anxious how you are to speak or what you are to say, for what you are to say will be given to you in that hour. For it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you. Brother will deliver brother over to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death, and you will be hated by all for my name’s sake. (Matthew 10:17-22)

Being innocent ends in reward.

But the one who endures to the end will be saved. When they persecute you in one town, flee to the next, for truly, I say to you, you will not have gone through all the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes.(Matthew 10:22-23 ESV)

Jesus sent them out, into the evil, and told them to be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. I often turn this over and over in search of something spelled out in letters that can slice a dividing line. When am I too much like a serpent and when am I too fearful and distant like a dove? How does one straddle two extremes perfectly as she walks out the kingdom directive to go?

Christ.

I mean that as simply and mysteriously as it sounds. Christ answers our questions of when and how by telling us to be both wise and innocent, an impossible thing. In this impossibility, we begin to understand He is also the reward. Only someone who is God could give an impossible directive. Christ enables the straddling of two extremes in a way that brings us to our knees in praise. This most powerful God calls us into the impossible at the same time that He invites us into His presence. How deep the Father’s love that He would enter such a twisted, evil world and invite us to be with Him – to share in His heart for the nations. How deep the Father’s love. This is our reward.

Christ is the way we walk out wisdom and fly out innocence. Christ is the reason I can laugh and jump and play like a child even while I am learning the evils of worldly wisdom.

let LOVE fly like cRaZy