carried away

With news like this morning, the world suddenly sees what ripples underneath the culture’s glossy veneer. It’s horrible. It makes us sick. It’s ugly.

The world is not okay.

No amount of money or brick walls or achievements of institutions will suffice to mend it.

The world is not okay.

It’s painful to peek through the blinds and view the world outside ourselves – outside the way we’ve arranged our lives to make things comfortable and proper. It hurts because what we see outside our windows is ugly. When we pull back the curtains, it’s horror we see when people can walk into a school and kill our little children. And how startling, once the drapes have been drawn, our own reflection in the window as we look out.

The world is not okay and it’s not just the horrors in the news.
It’s the horrors that don’t make the news, too.

Oh, friends. Be encouraged before you get carried away with fear and doubt and pain and sadness. Ask the Lord to teach you to know the number of your days (Psalm 39:4) and then ask Him to be the strength to keep your heart grounded in His Word and His promises.

Teach me to know my number of days
hold on, my heart, from gettin’ carried away

The world is not okay.

But what better reason to introduce a Savior?

let LOVE fly like cRaZy

a steady boat | a raging sea

O, goodness.

When life is like a fistful of jacks, jostling around in a child’s sweaty palm and waiting to be thrown to the carpet – when life is like that, you get desperate for something steady. My first inclination is to pray for the jostling to come to a gentle stop because the obvious antidote to jostling is the opposite, no?

I recently scrawled this prayer,

Thank you, God, for your provision that steadies the seas so you are glorified in my sailing.

And then, I thought about my prayer. I tried to cut through my poetic tendencies to find out what my heart was saying (sometimes my pen gets carried away and wants the words to read like a song). I thought about my prayer of thanksgiving for steady seas, paused, then added,

Thank you, too, for “steady enough” to sail through the thickest of storms looming on the horizon. 

If I only thank the Lord for steadying the seas, then I would be silent while I walk through the valley of the shadow of death. I was offering God thanksgiving that depended on His actions (and my judgment of them) and not on His character. God is always able to steady the seas, but sometimes He instead steadies the boat. When we pray desperately for Him to stand up and lift His hands to silence the storm, sometimes He simply readies the boat to weather the waves.

I am thankful He provides and protects, but if my thanksgiving is dependent on the existence of storms, I will end up feeling abandoned. His provision and protection are simply part of His character – He will never not be Provider and Protector.

We can always describe the Lord as being steadfast – His love never ceases. During the storms? He is steadfast. During the stillness? He is steadfast.

For the LORD is good;
his steadfast love endures forever,
and his faithfulness to all generations.
(Psalm 100:5 ESV)

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; His mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness. Lamentations 3:22-23

We must always remember that it is appropriate to be thankful for who God is even when we are hoping for His character to provide or protect in a specific way. The raging storm is not evidence of His carelessness.

God is always able to steady the seas, but sometimes instead he readies the boat to weather the storm.

let LOVE fly like cRaZy

shouting praise with sinner-strangers

Lord of all the earth we shout Your name, shout Your name
Filling up the skies with endless praise, endless praise
Yahweh, Yahweh! We love to shout Your name O, Lord!

There was something sacred about a the crowd of sinners filling up the Knapp Center with praise last night. And I’m not just saying that because sacred sounds postmodern and ambiguous and the right kind of religious. I use the word sacred because sometimes I need to shake off all my cynicism about Christian music and shout the name of the Lord with a bunch of stranger-sinners because the Lord deserves my praise.

Period.

I didn’t know very many people – what kind of car they drove up in or what kind of family situation they’d be driving back to after we all filed out – but we must have all understood the invitation to fill the skies with praise. I was literally sing-shouting in harmonizing fashion and I couldn’t stop the grin that raced across my face. I felt like Will Ferrell in Elf,“I’m in love, I’m in love and I don’t care who knows it.”

J.I. Packer said, “Any theology that does not lead to song is, at a fundamental level, a flawed theology.” And sometimes we have to start singing to remember all the songs hidden in our hearts. Sometimes we get wrapped up in the time signature and the notes on the page and the really tricky key change on page 43… and we forget to sing.

We forget all His benefits. We forget His abundant goodness. We forget what we once were. We forget He is the Giver of every good and perfect gift.

We forget to sing.

I really did get a little overwhelmed – thinking about all the sin we brought into that place; all the brokenness and despair and guilt and regret that hung on us like dark clouds. Sin is not unfortunate or uncomfortable – not something we can “get over” or medicate with the right public service announcement. I got overwhelmed because there was a song on the other side of the dark clouds hanging from all of us sinner-strangers.

There is a song to sing when we step back and look at the sheet music and realize the Lord of all the Earth upholds all who are falling and raises up all who are bowed down. He is Provider, satisfying the desires of every living thing. He is righteous and kind and near to those who call on Him in truth (Psalm 145:14-18 paraphrase).

His response to a bunch of sinner-strangers singing His praise is delight. He delights in the praises of His people (Psalm 149:4). He delights. The Lord of all the Earth delights when sinner-strangers sing His praise.

Please, let’s not forget to sing.

I will extol you, my God and King,
and bless your name forever and ever.
Every day I will bless you
and praise your name forever and ever.
Great is the LORD, and greatly to be praised,
and his greatness is unsearchable.
One generation shall commend your works to another,
and shall declare your mighty acts.
On the glorious splendor of your majesty,
and on your wondrous works, I will meditate.
They shall speak of the might of your awesome deeds,
and I will declare your greatness.
They shall pour forth the fame of your abundant goodness
and shall sing aloud of your righteousness.
The LORD is gracious and merciful,
slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
The LORD is good to all,
and his mercy is over all that he has made.
All your works shall give thanks to you, O LORD,
and all your saints shall bless you!
They shall speak of the glory of your kingdom
and tell of your power,
to make known to the children of man your mighty deeds,
and the glorious splendor of your kingdom.
Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom,
and your dominion endures throughout all generations.
[The LORD is faithful in all his words
and kind in all his works.]
The LORD upholds all who are falling
and raises up all who are bowed down.
The eyes of all look to you,
and you give them their food in due season.
You open your hand;
you satisfy the desire of every living thing.
The LORD is righteous in all his ways
and kind in all his works.
The LORD is near to all who call on him,
to all who call on him in truth.
He fulfills the desire of those who fear him;
he also hears their cry and saves them.
The LORD preserves all who love him,
but all the wicked he will destroy.
My mouth will speak the praise of the LORD,
and let all flesh bless his holy name forever and ever.
(Psalm 145 ESV)

joy: a moral obligation

Given the opportunity to experience joy, are we morally obligated to take advantage?

My cousin Vince sent me a text in the hours between night and morning – just a little note about he and his new college friends wrestling with the idea of joy.

It’s something I’ve been in the middle of pondering for a couple days and reading his text in partial wakefulness brought it into clearer view – what do we do when joy is on the other side of an open door?

Open Doors
Open Doors (Photo credit: *Fede*)

“Taste and see that the Lord is good,” from Psalm 34:8 and “Delight in the Lord and He will give the desires of your heart,” from Psalm 37:4 both imply action before experience. A person can read these verses a hundred times, recite them with monk-like stoicism and meditate on them with scholarly reverence. But, there is a threshold implied in the command, for tasting and seeing happen only with open mouth and eyes.

Something must be eaten to be tasted, no?
Something must be experienced before it is pronounced delightful, no?

What do these open doors to joy look like and how many have I walked by?

It’s crazy how relentless God is to pursue us with opportunities to experience Him. He doesn’t give up when I pass by an open door marked “FOR YOUR JOY” with a foolish hope that there is something better down the road. He doesn’t flinch when I’ve opted out of His best for my safe settling of just okay. His patience in pursuit overwhelms me because it’s so altogether different from our apathetic inclinations.

I’m still thinking through these joy questions – still trying to figure out if it’s a sin to walk by those open doors clearly marked for God’s glory and my joy. But I’m not confused about joy being good. It’s something I’m willing to fight for.

Here are some helpful ways to fight for joy, from John Piper at Desiring God.

don’t forget His love

I was driving around today, overlapping errands with more errands while the next few weeks ran circles in my brain. The breeze picked up as I accelerated little Eddie down the road with the windows wide open. My arm reached out as Ellie Holcomb came over my radio and I had a moment there on George Washington Carver Ave. I started smiling to myself because I was strapped in and my brain couldn’t run away without my body. I was stuck in my car for a stretch of minutes – confined to enjoy the wind and the sun and the melodies in my speakers. I was stuck and I loved it.

With my hand out the window, I thought about those times in our lives where we feel we are holding on for dear life. I pictured my hands clenched around a vine with knuckles white. Then, the picture in my mind zoomed out and I knew the vine could take all my weight. I also realized I was not only holding on for dear life – I was enjoying the greatest rush as I swung over lakes and rivers and treetops in the jungle. “Holding on for dear life” might feel desperate, but it is also feels exciting and unafraid.

Today, I am praising the Lord and forgetting not His benefits.

Bless the LORD, O my soul,
and all that is within me,
bless his holy name!

Bless the LORD, O my soul,
and forget not all his benefits,
who forgives all your iniquity,
who heals all your diseases,
who redeems your life from the pit,
who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy,
who satisfies you with good
so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.

The LORD works righteousness
and justice for all who are oppressed.
He made known his ways to Moses,
his acts to the people of Israel.

The LORD is merciful and gracious,
slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
He will not always chide,
nor will he keep his anger forever.

He does not deal with us according to our sins,
nor repay us according to our iniquities.
For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him;
as far as the east is from the west,
so far does he remove our transgressions from us.

As a father shows compassion to his children,
so the LORD shows compassion to those who fear him.
For he knows our frame;
he remembers that we are dust.
As for man, his days are like grass;
he flourishes like a flower of the field;
for the wind passes over it, and it is gone,
and its place knows it no more.

But the steadfast love of the LORD is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear him,
and his righteousness to children’s children,
to those who keep his covenant
and remember to do his commandments.

The LORD has established his throne in the heavens,
and his kingdom rules over all.

Bless the LORD, O you his angels,
you mighty ones who do his word,
obeying the voice of his word!

Bless the LORD, all his hosts,
his ministers, who do his will!

Bless the LORD, all his works,
in all places of his dominion.
Bless the LORD, O my soul!
(Psalm 103 ESV)

satisfied

I am satisfied in you.

It’s a hopeful statement, yes, but it very much ends with a powerful period. This morning, I am forgetting not His benefits and I am satisfied.

Psalm 103:2
Praise the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits

When there are ripples of discontent or rumblings of doubt, God reminds me that He responds to my questions with an answer always as full and lush as Spring.

He satisfies.
He satisfies.
He satisfies.

So, today I’m hoping that I will…

“Let my sighs give way to songs that sing about your faithfulness
Let my pain reveal your glory as my only real rest
Let my losses show me all I truly have is you”

let LOVE fly like cRaZy

lessons in location

“Caroline Nichols.”

The voice on the other end of the line came from another world and there was no greeting when she picked up the phone – just my first and last name in a way that also said, “finally.”

It had been too long.

Then there was a kind of rustling somewhere in my soul.
“Why am I not there?” it seemed to say.

A swell of confused discontent crashed tidal waves on my stateside resolve as Ana shared stories of trial and triumph in the everyday working out of her faith. God is transforming her life, making her new. And I am not there.

___

The Lord hid my computer cord in the desk drawer this past week, I’m sure, because He knew I needed some unplugged space to breathe. He’s been teaching me lessons in location.  After living in five states and another country, I know about location. I know what distance does to relationships and how important it is to look someone in the eye. I know about airports and unfamiliar city streets and walking into a church where no one knows my name. I know a little about location and what it does to the soul when you make roots and rip them out.

Somewhere in the unplugged breathing space this week, my question of location – being there or here or somewhere else – became quite irrelevant. Because my question implies that location is about me. “Why am not there?” places all the significance and purpose on my location. And how foolish; how prideful! God, who laid the foundation of the earth and decorated the heavens, is not confined by our human understanding of location or our physical presence in any certain place.

He is always here and always there and never hidden out of reach.
He is forever present.
His
 location is always and everywhere. 

Of old you laid the foundation of the earth,
and the heavens are the work of your hands.
They will perish, but you will remain;
they will all wear out like a garment.
You will change them like a robe, and they will pass away,
but you are the same, and your years have no end.
The children of your servants shall dwell secure;
their offspring shall be established before you.
(Psalm 102:25-28 ESV)

Isn’t that beautiful? God is never lost amidst the far reaches of His creation. He is always at home everywhere and our home is in Him. 

There is fullness of joy in the presence of the Lord (Psalm 16:11) and the Lord is present everywhere! Now my physical location becomes a detail in God’s greater story. I may be present in Iowa and far from Tegucigalpa right now, but God resides in His people – He makes a home in us.

___

So, when I hear her voice from the other side of the world; when I think about all the places I am not, I breathe deep and trust that God is. My heart wants only to join with Him, wherever I am, to make known the message of His grace.

This is home; this is the always location.

let LOVE fly like cRaZy