Your words, my sight

There is a mother bird feeding her baby birds outside our front window as the owl down the street sings his morning song. I don’t have a song to contribute, but I do have one to share. This song by Kye Kye is called, “My Sight” and it’s exactly the kind of seeing I need to do today. It reminds me of Jeremiah 15:16, “Your words were found, and I ate them, and your words became to me a joy and the delight of my heart, for I am called by your name, O LORD, God of hosts.”

The Word can become to us a joy and the delight of our hearts! Through the Truth of the Word we can believe fully, trust deeply, love fiercely – because in the Word we see the One whose grace empowers us and sustains us and loves us with a sanctifying love.

If the song isn’t your style, at least read the lyrics today and be encouraged as God shows Himself faithful in His Word to be your sight.

Lyrics:
Thoughts of cloth that lay on stone (Jon.20:6-7)(Ro.6:10-11, 8:6 ,12:2)
I am watching a cross that bled
alone to be the only valley of trust and hope we know (Ro.5:2)
we envision that place then watch it flow through us (Ro.15:4 &8:24-25)

Your words
Are my sight (2Cor.5:7)

Trails we walk then see them glow (Heb.11:1)
we are watching a church that builds
and grows to be a lovely picture with frames that hold so close
(Eph.4:12-13) (1Cor.12:12-13)
we imagine that place and watch it flow from us (1Jo.3:2)(Ro.8:29 & 12:2)(Eph.4:15)

 

I am not the fixer: a repeat lesson on grace and faith

No advice is ever new. It’s all been said before and probably many times. When she was growing up, my mom jokingly numbered her dad’s talks. He would sigh deep and launch into a lesson on life and she would say, “Oh, is this #642?” Because, of course, she’d heard them all (hasn’t every teenager?).

Yesterday, I needed to hear a repeat. I don’t know what number lesson it is, but it’s the one I need almost every day and especially on this day. A couple cases were just stretching my heart to breaking. I found myself thinking up ways I could make things easier for the kids and for the parents and for the transitions. But, it’s just all so messy.

Broken relationships, broken trust, broken love, broken houses. Brokenness can never stay as is without someone suffering payment.

When things break, someone has to pay.

I don’t have to tell you about the brokenness. You see it, too. Your best friend, co-worker, dad, brother, cousin, neighbor, step-sister… you are familiar with brokenness and you know its high cost.

I had about an hour after a meeting yesterday and before my nightly rounds began. After work ended, I would have another very difficult personal conversation about brokenness. In the middle of work and personal messes, I needed to remember that messes are well beyond my power to fix them.

I am not the fixer.

The very best way I can respond when messes make their way to my door or crawl out of my own heart is to seek the Lord.

So, I sat with my computer in my lap and read this little devotional from Solid Joys on Ephesians 2:8, “For by grace you have been saved through faith.” I needed to hear the lesson on faith because it rightly positions my heart to seek sufficiency where it can be found. It doesn’t matter how many times I’ve heard it before, my heart needed to hear it again.

Because I am not the fixer. I don’t have the tools or the expertise. I don’t have the right words or the right timing. I don’t have the power to mend brokenness or pay for its destruction. I don’t have access to that kind of bounty.

Faith is the act of our soul that turns away from our own insufficiency to the free and all-sufficient resources of God. Faith focuses on the freedom of God to dispense grace to the unworthy. It banks on the bounty of God. (John Piper, Future Grace p. 182-183)

Oh, but I love my Jesus!

In faith, I can believe that He is the same grace-giver today that He was yesterday, the same sufficient provider and the same bondage breaker. His resources never end. All the cost of brokenness that ever was does not exceed the payment of the cross. But He does not just make payment for all the ways we’ve been in wrong relationship with God and man, He restores us and renews us and revives us once again. The broken are mended and made new in Christ.

By His grace, we believe He is capable of this kind of miraculous mending. As often as I hear the lesson, I cling to the grace that allows my belief. Yesterday, I needed to hear a repeat.

And do you know what He did?

As I made a mess of nightly rounds, a colleague asked me, “You seem different, peaceful. You kinda strike me as the tree-hugger type…”

I didn’t really know what to do with that, but it felt like he was making a compliment. He backtracked and danced around political correctness (ah, government workers), but I kind of giggled, “Well, I’m not exactly a tree-hugger, but I do feel at peace.”

And then I explained it was because of my faith that I could have any peace at all. I thought that might be the end of it. Nobody wants to hear about “religion” these days, so we’re told. But, he did and he started asking questions. We were both a captive audience in that car and I knew the clock said I was late to my next two appointments, but I felt a very perfect calmness.

He’d been brought up Baptist, but then he got “curious” and frustrated with a God who required punitive damages – the exchange of hellbound consequences for actions didn’t seem consistent with forgiveness and mercy.

I’m almost positive he did not take a direct route to our destination and the part of me that was antsy about the time was won over by the part of me that was excited about his questions. We talked about sin requiring payment (from somebody) and the mercy God showed in giving the payment on our behalf. In our line of work, we are familiar with brokenness and payment required… but the miracle of salvation is that a third party steps in to pay AND to mend. And God is the only one with the power and authority to do so.

I prayed for him and his family all the way to my next appointment – that they would soon be numbered as sons and daughters of the King. And I breathed deep the grace that gave me faith to believe it is possible – for him and for me. This is a lesson I need on repeat.

let LOVE fly like cRaZy

the long walk

Someone asked me if I missed Honduras the other day… and I still struggle to know how to respond. This life is a strange thing, isn’t it? Time passes and phases fly faster than your ability to enjoy rightly while you are inside of them, and before you know it you are talking about 10-year-old memories.

It’s so strange to talk about things as though they have happened in a chronological sense. It is for me, anyway. Because Honduras, college, Austin, Ames, Des Moines – these phases are happening to me and in me all at once, presently. There are moments when I crave people and cities like homesickness, but there are other moments when I feel like I’m walking inside those memories again – close enough to touch.

I don’t miss Honduras like nostalgia. I miss it more like… like wishing it was one my errands today. I wish I could hear the crackle of the loudspeaker announcing early morning produce for sale out of the back of a truck. I wish I could meet up for coffee with students this afternoon. I wish I could worship in the courtyard tonight with the most beautiful ragamuffin group I’ve ever met. But I don’t wish it more than I wish to be in the present moment.

It’s been a long walk of three years, my coming back Stateside, but chronology does nothing to help in understanding the journey. I’ve always thought it was so funny to want to be anywhere different than where you are. I get it, a certain amount of discontent stirs up healthy ambition and productivity, but too much discontentedness makes every moment almost unbearable.

Do I miss Honduras? I suppose the best answer I can give is this: I love right now. I love the way the Lord writes a story and the way He opens our eyes to see bits of the masterpiece. I love His sovereignty. I love that I can believe in His moment-by-moment provision. I love that He surprises us with gifts of grace that we would never imagine.

I love thinking about His delight as He watches us delight in good gifts.

I love right now.

I can not believe the blessings that burst the moments of right now. And even when belief is impossible, God overcomes to grant me belief so that He is glorified as a promise keeper.

In this moment and the next, God is accomplishing a work of grace that confounds the wise. And if His grace confounds the wise, I am definitely bound to a constant and glorious state of blessed confusion.

let LOVE fly like cRaZy

to change a life at its root

I spend a good amount of time considering the power and possibility of change. I suppose I’m in that kind of business – the kind where success depends on people changing from bad to better.

But we’re all in stages of bad to better and change is really something everyone is obsessed with – more like this, less like that, etc. And then we funnel our obsession into determination and make every effort to move forward on that sliding scale towards better.

Change, the positive kind that moves us towards something better, is a slippery and untamable little animal.  Keller writes in Jesus is King, “…no one has ever been deeply changed by an act of the will. The only thing that can reforge and change a life at its root is love.”

I’ve spent many frustrated seasons rustling up impressive acts of will in an effort to change (the “many frustrated seasons” should help you know how those turned out). I come from a long line of go-getters, on both sides. I’m not sure if you can grow up on the farm and not be a go-getter, actually. Many times it was a literal ‘pulling up by the bootstraps’ that had to happen to keep our little farm afloat.

In any case, I know what determination looks like and it is a great credit to my parents and family that my understanding hasn’t produced any entitlement. We worked hard, gave generously, and loved fiercely. Oh, we didn’t do it perfectly, but I saw it all happen with a healthy dose of will power. My family’s is a survival story of sorts and outsiders looking in might say we wouldn’t have made it (changed for the better) without an impressive act of the will.

But none of that resolve changed our lives at the root.

The root of a life runs deeper than health and finances and farm accidents. And the root is the only depth that has the power to change the whole tree. Keller writes that in Mark 8:34-9:1 Jesus pointed to the cross (to love) as the only thing that can change a life at its root.

Christ lost himself in every ultimate sense so that we could be found.

Any positive movement on the continuum of change depends entirely on a work that has already been accomplished. I am not working to be approved, but an approved workman who is unashamed (2 Timothy 2:15) to exercise the freedom to live redeemed. The change already took place at the cross and is still taking place through the Spirit in my life. This is sanctification – that we are called holy and set apart because of Christ and that we are becoming holy and set apart because of the Spirit’s faithful work inside us.

All my acts of will are helpless to change my life at its root. Only love can do that.

Keller writes, “Once you see the Son of God loving you like that, once you are moved by that viscerally and existentially, you begin to get a strength, an assurance, a sense of your own value and distinctiveness that is not based on what you’re doing or whether somebody loves you, whether you’ve lost weight or how much money you’ve got. You’re free – the old approach to identity is gone.”

You’re free. Live free today.

let LOVE fly like cRaZy

before all that: exploring a life of desperate dependence

Before the breakdown and before the last straw that falls on the camel’s back.

Before all that.

What if we got desperate and dependent before anxiety wrapped its cold, stubborn fingers around our hearts?

I’ve learned dependence before, many times. While boarding with  a leaky car in Austin and while bumming on a co-worker’s couch I learned some important things about dependence. But we have a tendency to label lessons like mile markers – things we’ve passed along the way. Once we’ve learned a lesson, we move on with a forward gaze, assuming the lesson is added to our lives like a scout badge on a vest.

Well, maybe it’s just me that does that – but I’m only cheating myself out of joy if I live treating lessons like mile markers or scout badges.

Oh, how I love my patient and faithful Savior! He is reminding me that “casting all your cares on the Lord because He cares for you” is not merely for the SOS moments. Maybe let me rephrase: our lives are a string of SOS moments.

This is what I am learning and living.

We are made to be desperate, but not the kind of desperate that builds up to a breaking point and then explodes out of control. Not that kind of desperate.

We are made to depend desperately on the One who will trade our need for His provision.

That is His good design. Our dependence is deeper than bread and water, but our needs are all in the same well that His grace is sufficient to fill. That is His good design – desperate dependence, all the time.

We cast our cares on Him because He cares for us – because He has been faithful and promises to be faithful in the future. Our God has never broken a promise, not ever. My desperate dependence is evidence that I believe Him to be just that.

So, when a string of days fills with SOS moments, there is not less joy available. It is not a lesson of dependence that marks another mile walked on the faith road. Desperate dependence is the road we walk, the path we tread as we daily rejoice in His provision for us. He provides all that we need, according to His riches in glory (Philippians 4:19) – and there is no bank with better credit. Our provision comes from the source of all things.

The deep well of His sufficient grace offers peace (Philippians 4:6) when we cast our cares (1 Peter 5:7), believing that God is the strength for our hearts and portion forever (Psalm 73:26).

Before the breakdown and before the last straw (but of course, in those times too), we are invited to desperately depend on the One who can sufficiently provide for our needs and overwhelm our lives with joy.

I could tell you about the past two days – about the car trouble and the appointments and the millions of ways that God gave me good gifts. I could tell you about the near disasters (averted, I know, by the grace of God) and the very friendly repair shop on SE 14th Street. I could tell you about the songs I sang in my car with littles in the backseat and the way they explained the songs to their parent. I could tell you about sitting around a coffee table in community and laughter.

I could tell you just a few of the millions of ways God is providing in the desperately dependent state, but then it might seem like this is something I “learned” in the past two days.

And I didn’t learn it, in the past tense way.

This desperate dependence is meant to be a lifestyle that flows like the lifeblood in my veins, keeping me existing here on earth. So, I’m exploring a life of desperate dependence, walking that road with eternity hidden in my heart.

don’t stop too soon

It is a brave soul that uncovers raw pain
to search for meaning in existence,
that wearies and wars the shallows
to dig the depths of sorrow’s persistence

Don’t stop too soon.

It is a brave soul that sheds skins
and peels off veneers to find what truth is,
that pulls hard against peril when
layers reveal atrocities and ugly ruins

Don’t stop too soon.

It is a brave soul that opens eyes
against the blinding light of the sun,
that burns its heat and with fierce
impression reminds from where it comes

Don’t stop too soon.

It is a braver soul who believes
that Christ paid the ultimate cost,
tortured Himself so the tortured soul
would no longer be living lost

Don’t stop being brave too soon,
and whatever your bravery may find,
know that Christ Himself is brave for you
and His victory is thine.

This is day 4 of my “every day in may” creative challenge – to write something (poem, story, note, thought) as a special blessing for someone. I won’t share each day, but I wanted to share this poem from day 3.

There are several people in my life going through difficult times right now, so I’ve been thinking about bravery. If we are brave enough to be exposed and vulnerable (great thoughts from recent TED talk on this), then we will most definitely step into a mess of pain. But if our bravery ends there, we will miss out. We must be brave enough to see the deepest and most vulnerable hurt to experience the deepest and most satisfying joy.

I sing because

Today, I will rest on His goodness – in my doubting and in my fears.

And inside my resting I will sing freedom and joy into the blowing, Friday sunshine. I will sing to remember His constant friendship, His faithful refuge, and His future grace. 

I will wake up my affections at morning and noonday and evening to throw my heart’s melodies at the skies because this is what my heart is most at home to do.

let LOVE fly like cRaZy

 

standing, living, moving, being

I wrote a few weeks ago about the firm foundation that woos us many times into love. That foundation, the truth of God’s word, is still doing it’s wooing work today on my soul – gently shaking and drawing and whispering sweetness into this overcast Sunday afternoon.

I love the smell after the rain. I love to watch the earth drink up the Lord’s provision and I love to breathe it in. Clouds can seem ominous, but they often accompany the rain and they did today while I was in church. I walked out to puddles and gray skies and … that smell.

Before I left for church this morning, I listened to John Piper’s last message as Pastor at Bethlehem Baptist Church and this little nugget wooed my little wandering heart back into love with a fragrance like the rain.

… stop thinking of God merely as the foundation of the building of their life, because foundations are hidden, forgotten things. Foundations are taken for granted while people love the food of the kitchen and sex in the bedroom and the family in the den — too often the real gods of our lives while we pay token tribute to the unseen, unloved, uncelebrated, unexalted cement block foundation in the basement called God Almighty.

And my point was: God does not like to be taken for granted. The heavens are not telling the glory of God because he likes to be taken for granted. From him and through him and to him are all things, to be conscious, hourly glory (Romans 11:36).

I had foundations on my brain as I sped through a deserted Des Moines downtown. God does not like to be taken for granted. Yes, the foundations are the most important part of the house. Without the foundation, we could not enjoy dinner in the dining room or hide-and-seek in the attic. It would not be a reality because it would not be a possibility – the joy within any room is made possible by the sound structure of the foundation. But, the foundations are not visible, not recognized, not cherished.

Hm.

We read from Ephesians 5:18-33 in the service this morning because the sermon series is called, “Marriage, Sex, and Singleness” and Ephesians is one of the obvious texts. I cringe at the way I think I know how a sermon is going to go before I open the Word, like I think I can’t be wooed again. How foolish I am!

This morning, with foundations on the brain, I read the passage with freshly wet eyes and with a soul newly tied up in knots.

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.

The pastor said something about Christ empowering “staying in love” and it was like someone crushed fresh herbs in front of my nose. One moment you have sprigs of rosemary or lavendar and the next the smell explodes into the air and covers your fingers, waking up your senses. I scribbled in my journal, Christ is not just the foundation of the house called relationships, Christ is also the air in every room. He is both the structure that makes each room possible AND the air that makes the rooms delightful and full of life.

The One whose love has miraculously stayed on us empowers our staying in love – our standing on the foundations and our living on top of them.

The scent of crushed rosemary sticks around and I’ve been breathing these truths all day. I had a 80 minute round-trip drive to an appointment today and my heart was churning up all these things. Along the way (while getting gas), I saw Tim Challies posted a new “Hymn Stories” on his blog about the song Rock of Ages.

That got me to singing and thinking about the architecture involved in the “cleft of the rock.” There’s a reason Moses was able to be hidden inside it in Exodus 33 – it was more than a foundation. In fact, a cleft is a space you can only squeeze into, covered on all but one side by craggy rock. This illustration of being hidden and secure in the Rock of Ages who both gives us the refuge and maintains its structural soundness reminded me of Christ’s perfect maintenance of His love. Christ provides the escape and then in His power keeps it secure.

You keep him in perfect peace
whose mind is stayed on you,
because he trusts in you.
Trust in the Lord forever,
for the Lord God is an everlasting rock. (Isaiah 26:3-4, ESV)

I hope I never roll my eyes at Colossians 1:17, “And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” All things hold together. Every room built on top of every foundation and every breath inside and outside the walls. Everything we see and everything we don’t see is held together with the staying power of a risen King.

We do not merely proclaim the glory of a solid foundation. No, we proclaim the excellent depths of His glory as we breathe in the rooms built upon the firm foundation. As we play and sing and shout and dance and question and study and laugh and mourn and… as we live, we proclaim with confidence that the foundation will hold.

God’s grace empowers us not just to stand on top of a firm foundation, but to live and move and have our being.

The rest of the Ephesians passage from morning church is still swimming around in my soul, asking me to push the limits of God’s empowering my “staying in love.” The way that He has woven everything in life to reach for Him is more mystery than my mind can entertain.

And it is beautiful.

Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands.

Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her bythe washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.

In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body. “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.”This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband. (Ephesians 5:22-33, ESV)

I’m breathing in deep the grace that empowers me to stand on solid ground… and the same grace that empowers me to live and to move and to have my being (Acts 17:28).

let LOVE fly like cRaZy

when pounds of paperwork are proven wrong

Every once in a while, a day like today flies in the face of the cynic.
It blows up all the pounds of paperwork proving it’s not possible.

This day is a gift and it’s not even noon.

It’s called reunification, which is a lot of syllables packed into one word that means the court says it’s okay for a family to be together again. And that’s what happened at court.

I cried a little bit and tried to shield my eyes from all the legal people who claim detached objectivity. I try to claim it sometimes too, but I have a heart that likes to trot out on my sleeve on a regular basis (I am aware I may not be in the right profession). So, I cried a little bit when I saw parents reaching for tissues and looking at me with red-rimmed eyes.

I know it’s not the end. All my co-workers and any veterans of the public welfare system will tell you: it’s not over. And I get that. I know the road is long and the battle is intense, but today I got to say the word reunification and the six syllables will be on my tongue until 8:30 pm tonight when I finally drag myself home.

Now, to pray this reunified family into reconciled reunification with a forever family. That happy day would stretch for eternity!

Today, I know that every good gift comes down from the Father of Lights and this good gift called reunification was authored by His sovereign hand. These tearful moments were in the mind of God before the world began. He is in this, even this and always this. There is not a moment that surprises Him, not one good or evil thing that prompts a plan B.

This good thing today is one of many millions of merciful good gifts that God will pour out. 

Oh, this day can’t even contain them! We might feel ten raindrops in a downpour, but imagine the amount raindrops! Imagine that each raindrop is planned and counted, just like the hairs on our heads. Our Father knows all and showers down every good gift!

You are good. You are good, O Lord. You are good and Your love endures forever.

the foolishness of too many things

All the markers were strewn around his feet. He stretched his chubby fingers, determined to pick up every one and carry them across the room. But he was too ambitious – every time he grabbed more than three the first two would fall out.

I just watched as he bent over with furrowed brows and his little bum in the air. He started grunting after several failed attempts and my heart swelled. He didn’t want just two markers or even three and he certainly didn’t want to make several trips across the room. He wanted all of them at once, no exceptions.

Oh, little one, I understand.

Everybody thinks you are crazy (seriously, kid – fifteen markers at once is never happening), but I get it. I get that those markers became super important the minute they became impossible.

Sometimes I wish it was culturally acceptable for me to just hang out with my bum in the air and grunt while I try to do what is obviously impossible. I don’t know why I wish that (I know I will have to give up eventually), but maybe it has something to do with our efforts as adults to keep things hidden.

I don’t want my foolishness out in the open. I don’t want to be caught with my bum in the air and furrowed brow, determining to do something impossible and foolish. But little ones – they get a “pass” when it comes to things like this because they don’t know any better.

I watched this little guy pick up and drop the markers until something shiny distracted from his frustration. And, I thought, I understand.

But there is something else – something about growing and knowing and being aware of what is good and wise and possible.

As much as I wish I could be foolish without consequence, I am glad to be rescued (to some degree) from futility. Deep down, I don’t really wish to go back to ignorance (even though it looks carefree and blissful at times).

I am grateful for knowing what I know on this side of things. I’m grateful for God’s promise to grow us from one degree of glory to another and that He teaches us what is foolish and what is wise. I claim this wisdom daily as I walk out steps of faith in obedience.

It just feels… complicated sometimes.