not all at once

My arms are burnt toasty and my sunnies were still atop my adventure-tossled head at 9:30 last night. This weekend came straight out of the pages of grace, right up until the tea sipping, Sunday evening and right through the movie night. I’ve battled for and against a somber Lenten posture, but this weekend I tasted celebration in the 75 degree sunshine and in the picnics and in the ocean water and in the bike rides and in the conversation. This weekend I remembered that Lent is not forever.

I read this gem in my Saturday devotional from Journey to the Cross:

We are decluttering our lives, inside and out, testing the values and habits and desires that have become our acceptable norm. We are making room in our heart and mind to consider what Jesus gave up for us, and it is changing us. It’s not all at once, because that would rob us of the joy we experience in knowing the one who changes us.

I would rather it “at once,” I think. I’d rather be rid of everything entangling in one swift, sanctifying motion and not have to think about the wayward rhythm of human existence.

But God would rather not rob me of the joy I experience in knowing the One who changes me.

God would rather I have more joy than less, and the way to joy is knowing Christ. And the way to knowing Christ is slow and suffering. There is nothing more basic than the source of joy and there are few things we do a better job at complicating. All those fears I listed out on the backside of this weekend, crying to a group of strangers on the B44 SBS bus? If I dig down to the gnarled roots, those fears reveal a desire for temporary things.

But God is patient as He leads in the decluttering process, making room in my heart to consider His sacrifice and making room in my heart to consider His joy. And this is not an all at once transformation. For our benefit, He invites us to watch Him work slowly.

This weekend was a grace-filled spoonful of sugar in that process, a taste of the celebration of the Easter feast and of the coming return of the Bridegroom.

This is the secret beach where Patrick planned an adventure.
This is the secret beach where Patrick planned an adventure.

truth is like gravity

C.S. Lewis calls it “chronological snobbery.” I call it imagined progress or fake sanctification or foolishness. His words are better, I know (are we surprised?). He only needed two words to pinpoint our pride in the tick marks of a timeline, but I’m going to use this whole blog post to pound out my thoughts.

We are not the Israelites complaining in the desert and we are not Hitler’s Germany in 1914 and we are not our more segregated relatives and we are no longer our 15-year-old selves. Chronology cancels things out – time does not allow us to live in minutes that have already passed.

But chronology does not cancel out Truth.

Truth is always the same because God is always the same. What was true for the Israelites and wartime Germany and Rosa Parks and high school youth group – all of that is true right now, because truth does not change. Humanity is depraved and that depravity rears its ugly head in every generation. We will always fall short, always fail at perfection, always choose our own way. But God, being rich in mercy…

But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. (Ephesians 2:4-7 ESV)

Somehow, with all our progress, we have not developed out of a need for salvation and we never will. We still very much need God to be rich in mercy. We will always need for Him to show immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.

But sometimes, it seems like our tendency is to talk down to our 15-year-old selves – like the truth we heard in our youth was too simple, too naive, and too old-fashioned. It is tempting for my generation to look back on history and be proud that we don’t segregate water fountains or worship golden calves or let our taxes build incinerators. But truth doesn’t change like gravity doesn’t change. It just is. We will always need salvation and we will always need truth – the same truth the Israelites needed and the same truth Hitler needed and the same truth my youth pastor taught my 15-year-old self every Sunday night.

Depravity needs truth and truth never changes. We should be neither proud of our progress nor discouraged by our sinful state because depravity has an antidote. We are sanctified from one degree of glory to the next (2 Corinthians 3:18), but it is more like lights turning on in a farmhouse than mile markers passed on a highway.

We are not better than our ancestors or our younger selves; we all are faced with the same Truth. Little children and old grandparents and 15-year-olds in youth group and post modern hipsters in Brooklyn – by God’s grace we can all know the kind of truth that sets us free. And the truth of Jesus Christ never changes, ever. As we mature and grow in knowledge of the Lord, we are diving deeper into the same well.

If I read Ephesians 2 every day, I would be overwhelmed by the same Truth – different lights in the same house of my soul and none of the lights would cancel out.

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called “the uncircumcision” by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands—remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit. (Ephesians 2:8-22 ESV)

These are my morning musings – the things I can pound out in the 30-45 minutes before leaving for work. I do not pretend they make every kind of sense, but I do hope they inspire thought and response and a deeper examination of the Word. 

long obedience in the same direction

Here’s an excerpt from my post over at Of Dust and Kings today (go check out the full post if you want the rest):

Christ, who holds all things together, offers Himself to be savored and then promises to make us look like Him.

My parents didn’t know just how narrow the gate and hard the way would be as foster parents, but they didn’t sign up for a short spasm of passion that they could forget after a while. My parents signed up for the long and tedious work, committing to trust God’s grace to light the way for their next step on the hard way. They aren’t doing it perfectly, but they are daily looking more and more like Christ.

If you want to hear Gary Haugen’s talk from The Justice Conference that inspired this soapbox of sorts, check it out below. The last few minutes are worth watching, so if you only have a bit of time start from 41:30. You won’t regret it.

I wrote previously about my parents’ experience here: “mid-life: exchanging crisis for calling” and here “the opposite of mid-life crisis”.

wooed many times into love

I have been reading the Hymn Stories from Challies blog and (this will come as no surprise) the words are often deeper and richer and fuller than what we choose to sing throughout our days.

As I read the bit of history on the hymn, “How Firm A Foundation,” I thought of something I heard recently in a sermon. The pastor said, “…the Bible is aware of the complexity of sin.” It didn’t sit well with me and as I thought over these words I realized why. Is a foundation merely “aware” of all that’s built on its top or does it inform and support and uphold every piece in place?

The Bible is more than aware of sin’s complexity because the Bible is the Living Word of God and our only guide against sin, a firm foundation and as steady as 4/4 time.

We are wooed many times into love with Truth.

There is the first initial drawing and calling and wooing that opens our eyes to the Love that grace helps us receive in Christ. And then there is the falling in love – the delighting in being betrothed and chosen. And then there is the wooing that comes round after we’ve chased other loves and forgotten how to stand.

This wooing again into love with Truth comes through the firm foundation of the Word. We are reminded that, by grace, God keeps us secure in His promises. He has claimed us as His own and offers the inspired words of Scripture as a constant love song to draw us out of fear and into strength.

We forget, I do anyway, the deep love and affection of the resurrection. I forget my place “while still a sinner” when Christ reached into the depths and sang his love song to my dead bones. I forget what I once was (1 Corinthians 6:11) and what I would be, if not for Christ. I forget the first few redeeming notes of the salvation song.

But Truth has many pages and the salvation song plays when we open the Word! God’s promises are not shifting shadows. His faithful song remains unchanged and when we have ears to hear, we will be wooed once again by His melody.

Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. (1 Corinthians 6:9-11 ESV)

The Word reminds me what God called us out of – that we were once sexually immoral, idolaters, adulterers, practicing homosexuals, thieves and the greedy, the drunkards and revilers, and swindlers.

God graciously interrupts the barrage of sinful labels to remind us that we are washed, sanctified, and justified in the name of Jesus and by the Spirit.

We are wooed many times into love and it is by the reading of the Word. God has given us the treasure of His divinely inspired words to uphold and inform and support everything else that is built in our lives. This is the kind of transformational building the resurrection empowers.

I am awake, today at least, to the way the Word woos me into greater love for the salvation song. Do you hear the melody or have you forgotten? Have you ever heard it?

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

mid-life: exchanging crisis for calling

When I left for college, I thought I was joining the ranks of “students” – a thoughtful army my parents had already been a part of and had since graduated from. I was going off to learn so I could approach “real life” with the right information, equipped with the tools for a career. I thought that being a student was a phase and not just in an academic sense.

My growing up years are replete with examples of spiritual mentors and faithful witnesses who crowded around to pour light and truth into my self-centered soul. In many ways, I looked up to these folks because they had been through the “student” phase and seemed to still have their wits about them on the other side. Not that they ever encouraged my thinking that they had “made it,” but in my ignorance I believed them to have arrived somewhere I hoped to soon be.

As it turns out, God never intended us to stop learning (please, no jokes about it taking me years to figure this out).

This is part of our sanctification – humbly adopting the title of student. When we stop pressing on to know the Lord in a deeper way, we have said “I know it all,” which is nothing less than a lie. God has designed the refining process to draw us into a greater knowledge of Him, a greater dependence on Him, and a greater satisfaction in Him. Being a lifelong student is the best kind of blessing there is when your subject is the Creator of the universe!

I remember having conversations with my parents while I was in college and many more since, where I shared inspiration about the light bulbs turning on in my head. Their responses were not, “Mmmhmm. Good, glad you’re learning that” but rather, “Now, that’s interesting. I wonder if that also applies…”

A giant light switched on when I realized I was learning WITH my parents and not to catch up to them.

I’ve never seen their pursuit look so different from the world then right now. When their peers look for worldly pleasures and social science studies reveal what they should be doing and desiring, they are venturing into wildly unknown territory.

Because they love their Lord and treasure Him, they are exchanging a mid-life crisis for a mid-life calling. Yesterday, they officially invited Sadie and Sierra into our family and into their home. Their bags had been packed for two weeks, before they even knew the destination. Yesterday they moved into the room above the kitchen I called my own for several years of high school. And now I’ll call them sisters.

Sadie and Sierra getting cozy in their new room (my old room)

As my parents are clinging to promises they have taught and studied for years, they are challenged to believe the promises hold power enough to be strong when they feel weak. And I’m sure they feel weak and ill-equipped and even awkward about the transition, but there they are in the midst of it.

I can’t tell you how much my love for them has grown as I watch them lean into the Lord. And as I see the Lord sustain and sanctify them, I can’t help but love Him more as well. What a beautiful Savior who looks after the lost and lonely and finds them refuge.

My heart is full for these two young ladies who will change our family forever. I can hardly wait for thanksgiving to come so I can count them as blessings around our family’s abundant table.

let LOVE fly like cRaZy

See the first in this mid-life series: the opposite of mid-life crisis as I look at what it means to always be in the life development stage called “sanctification.”

freed from bondage | freed to weakness

I was thinking about the Exodus as I climbed out of my dreams and into the morning. I can’t explain why I had Exodus on the brain, but I remember reaching for a blog title and rolling around the words “bondage” and “weakness.”

This pre-waking creative exercise faded into daylight tasks until a friend sent me a text update. The jumbled Exodus-freed-bondage-weakness message popped into my head and came out as encouragement that my friend and I both needed to hear.

Remember that slogan that appeared on every men’s athletic shirt in high school?
“Pain is weakness leaving the body”

It’s not true.

Pain might remind us of our weakness, but no matter how many hours we spend in life’s weight room we will always be weak. No matter how strong we manage to make our muscles or how disciplined our diets, we will always be weak. No matter how many times we beat the diseases that threaten our health or how many tragedies our hearts weary through, we will always be weak.

When the Israelites marched in a freedom parade out of the place of their bondage, they might have felt like they conquered. I imagine they felt a sense of national pride at what had been accomplished by way of the (somewhat questionable) negotiating techniques of their leader. As they put one free foot in front of the other, I wonder if they spoke to each other, “We are no longer slaves to those who oppressed us! We are absolutely free to order the day as we please!”

Free. They probably waved their own kind of flag that day – proud to be a nation set apart and not defined by slavery.

But, O! how their hearts forgot who bought their freedom!

Freedom has a way of emboldening a person – planting a seed of misplaced courage. I wonder if a strong, newly freed man turned to another and said, “Look – we are free! Think what we can do now!”

We know what they did with their freedom and it wasn’t praise God for life and breath and rescue.

I’ve been thinking about weakness and not because I want to get rid of it.
I’ve been thinking about weakness because the white flag is the only one that can fly when we walk out our exodus.

The only reason I am freed from the bondage of sin rests squarely on the shoulders of Christ – the sacrifice planned by God’s grace to release me from my chains. But it is not a singular freeing event. The victory He won over my sin is not simply a mark in the timeline of my sanctification.

If I shake the Eqypt dust off my feet and believe the glory of the sin defying victories was a one time event, I will forget that I will always be weak.

My weakness is an invitation for Christ to be strong.
My weakness is a proclamation that I have nothing in which to boast.
My weakness is a reminder that it is to this we have been freed.

We are freed to be weak and our sanctification will never lead us to be anything else.