expose the monsters

I lived three whole days yesterday, three separate and beautiful days packed gently into one late winter weekend Saturday. It started with an introduction to the best new neighborhood coffee shop and then an early meet up at the Hilton in Manhattan, included a walk across the Brooklyn Bridge, a good sit by the river, a ferry ride back up to Midtown, laundry with the roommate, my first Prospect Park rollerblade, and it all ended with good, solid conversation.

Packed to perfection like brown sugar, I’d say.

The people in my apartment building probably think we’re crazy for rollerblading in the lobby, but I think they probably have amused conversations about it later (I take that as an “everybody wins” scenario).

The air is colder, but the sun is still shining over the little Brooklyn buildings out my window and I can feel the newness of today. I love the Sabbath because it pulls my heart like a magnet toward restful, quiet, deeper things. I resist often, but the morning is always the best time to get myself in the right current.

This is the second Sunday of Lent and I am meeting my monsters. You know the ones, right? The greedy monsters that hide in your gut or your mind or your wallet, growling to get filled on things that don’t last. I am meeting my monsters as I fast and as I feast these forty days. Honest? I want to give up and give in (and I have here and there).

I didn’t even do anything drastic, I am just that weak!

Getting empty like Jesus in the wilderness is not just a mental battle of self-control. Getting empty is asking Jesus with the rich, young ruler to examine my heart and then matching his loving gaze. I don’t know how many times I’ve read this passage and missed the way Jesus looked at this man before responding, “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” (Mark 10:21)

Jesus saw through all the ways this man had been filled by the world and then he looked at him and loved him (v. 21). With tender love and compassion, Jesus invited the man into emptiness so that he could be full to overflowing. It doesn’t make sense to explain and it didn’t make sense to the man who walked away with sadness like a garment.

Jesus wants to draw us inside this miracle of empty abundance. He wants us to expose the monsters hiding out in our hearts and feeding on all that is unlovely, because those things do not fill. Jesus is inviting us to get empty so that we can be full of a love that doesn’t rust or run out.

It sounds like a fairy tale and it isn’t in real life.

In real life it is hard, but very good and very right. In real life it is the current I want to get inside on this Sabbath Sunday. Join me?

breathing in the history of my salvation

Today is one of those days, sandwiched in between beauty and beauty.

I am caught in a funny paralysis, the kind that prevents me from Christmas gift splurging and the kind that prevents me from making my own Christmas wish list. I am stuck in a funny corner where I’m frustrated at my love affair with things (the giving and the getting) but I realize the elephant in the room is my love affair with things (the giving and the getting).

We’ve been studying the women in the lineage of Jesus on Sundays and in home group. Yes, a slightly different sermon series than most churches choose during this time of year, but it has swelled my soul. As we have read between the lines in the lives of Tamar and Bathsheba the past two weeks, the scandal of my Savior’s messy heritage has been… refreshing.

Scandal is not too strong a word, either.

The women named in Matthew 1, in the lineage of Christ, lived messy, scandalous lives but Jesus never conveniently forgot them from the family tree. God chose to send His only begotten Son by way of a family overwhelmed by strife and conflict and sexual sin. Jesus came from a long line of wayward souls.

Tamar (in Genesis 38) was forgotten and discarded after two husbands passed away, Judah was desperate and afraid, and God was faithful. He was faithful to care for Tamar, though her desperation drove her to search for righteousness on her own. He was faithful to Judah, whose fear led him to doubt God’s plan and provision. God’s faithfulness to both these wayward souls (Jesus’ ancestors) in all their scandal is a soothing medicine to my paralyzed heart.

Because honestly, I don’t know what is best – how to give and get things in a way that honors the Lord. I don’t know how many toy drives to join and how many gifts to forgo in an effort to support organizations living out the gospel. I don’t know what those numbers look like and I don’t know how my checkbook should look in light of them.

But I know I don’t want to be paralyzed. I want to believe that God has called us into marvelous light this Christmas, the kind that helps us hold things loosely. I know that the beauty of the salvation story has a whole lot to do with the way God wanted a family of wayward souls to be the heritage of the Son of God.

The beauty of our Savior’s life is that not a thousand scandals could mess up his reputation, because he took every wayward weakness upon himself. He lived the most scandalous story when he came as a baby and when he died on the cross. There has never been anyone more vulnerable than our Savior.

So, today is sandwiched between beauty and beauty, and I am thinking of bigger things. I am breathing in the history of my salvation and the way my Savior chose to come, chose to die, and chose to redeem the wayward.

I still don’t get it – how the details are supposed to work out or what I’m supposed to wrap and send and buy for underneath the tree. Maybe that’s okay.

round me rings the music

I remember trying to conquer this hymn for a piano recital. I didn’t love it because my left hand always got stuck and the chords seemed to stutter. It has been several years since that recital in middle school and this morning was begging for this song to be sung.

The robin mothering babies in her nest and the sun dancing across the dining room – both declare their Maker’s praise. My Father owns all the birds in every nest and every streaming ray of light in every morning window. This is my Father’s world.

All of earth and heaven are His, wrought by His hand and held together by His word. He did not fashion a dull and dreary creation in shades of gray, but instead a vibrant and lively masterpiece with layers of sound and color that make His glory known.

This is my Father’s world. I know Him and He knows me – what a glorious thought!

This is my Father’s world, and to my listening ears 
All nature sings, and round me rings the music of the spheres. 
This is my Father’s world: I rest me in the thought 
Of rocks and trees, of skies and seas; 
His hand the wonders wrought. 

This is my Father’s world, the birds their carols raise, 
The morning light, the lily white, declare their Maker’s praise. 
This is my Father’s world: He shines in all that’s fair; 
In the rustling grass I hear Him pass; 
He speaks to me everywhere. 

This is my Father’s world. O let me ne’er forget 
That though the wrong seems oft so strong, God is the ruler yet. 
This is my Father’s world, why should my heart be sad? 
The lord is King—let the heavens ring. God reigns—let the earth be glad. 

This is my Father’s world. I walk a desert lone. 
In a bush ablaze to my wondering gaze God makes His glory known. 
This is my Father’s world, a wanderer I may roam 
Whate’er my lot, it matters not, 
My heart is still at home. 

This is my Father’s world: the battle is not done: 
Jesus who died shall be satisfied, 
And earth and Heav’n be one.

raced the river

Last night, I raced the river (chasing the current like I thought I could catch up) with a silly smile across my face. The trees had shaken off the snow from the mysterious Spring storm and I shared the path with bikers, runners, dogs, and the most adorable lady with a walker. I threw my smile at all of them, giggling at the children who roamed unaware of the etiquette I assume is standard on any city path (don’t walk directly towards someone running in your direction).

I raced the river and caught several times on the breeze what C.S. Lewis would describe as “joy.” It was an excitement that fluttered with a “heaven-like longing” that cannot be fully satisfied on earth, but even the presence of the longing overflowed in delight.

Dr. Jerry Root explains one of the central themes in Lewis’s writing, heavily influenced from his own experiences with Joy. He spoke reverently in “Surprised by Joy,” his autobiography, about the brief passing moments where he experienced an unexplainable bliss and then was left to figure out how to experience it again.

Well, anyway… as I raced the river last night I knew I wouldn’t catch it. I knew I could not really take in the beauty of the cool early evening in the way I wanted to, the way the evening wanted me to. I think that was part of the blissful moment – knowing there was too much beauty to take in, even if I drank in every scene as I ran on the path.

So, my joy bubbled out because it couldn’t be contained. The river, the overcast sky, the families, the bikers, the little old lady with her walker, and the children wandering out into the middle of the action – all these very simple and mundane threads in the fabric of a Sunday night, but every bit a reason to smile.

Sunday evenings are great medicine for Monday mornings, yes? The scenes are different, but there is joy hidden in this day – the sunshine, the birds, and that crazy owl that is trying to tell me a story. I’m on my way to a staff meeting, but I’ll first be dropping off these little love bundles for “every day in May” creative challenge.

blessings, stamped and ready for sending
blessings, stamped and ready for sending

 

Spring is waking the slumbered

I never thought my heart would race at full parking lots or that my lips would form a smile at the line of shirtless men fishing off the 4th Street bridge. Nope, never thought I’d be getting a rush from the sound of a lawn mower or the open-window chatter in the neighborhood.

Does Spring race your heart? It does mine.

I was running the river path, breathing in the hot Spring air and battling the strong breeze. My feet pounded steady while my thoughts jostled into some sense, but I kept wanting to giggle. I did a few times, I think. All those white-chested, shirtless men on 4th Street were quite the spectacle – with their fishing poles hanging lazy over the bridge. You know, just city fishing on a Sunday afternoon.

I loved it. I think it’s because Spring shakes out all the winter slumber of indoor activities. Spring beckons us to come out and frolic in it’s sunshine. Have you noticed it is incredibly hard to say “No” to a barbeque or a picnic or a walk in the park when Spring arrives? Am I the only one who feels the stretching and waking of Spring in my soul? I wanted to stop and savor the city fisherman and the crowd of bikers at the bar and the full parking lot at the park.

I wanted to let the delight sink in.

Maybe Spring doesn’t inspire you. Maybe your neighbor doesn’t have the most beautiful flowering magnolia tree. Maybe your neighbors don’t grill out on their patios and play latin music. Maybe where you are from, people stay indoors and don’t mow their lawns or pick up sticks in the front yard. Maybe the sun doesn’t shine on the river and the breeze doesn’t feel electric against your skin. Maybe your neighbors don’t accept your dinner invites and maybe you don’t have a patio set that your dad picked up at a thrift store.

I guess I could see how that kind of Spring would have a hard time waking you from winter slumber.

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

living risen on Monday

It had its own paragraph, tucked away on page 117 in Gospel Deeps by Jared C. Wilson and this one sentence struck a chord that has been resonating ever since,

If suffering was good enough for Him, shouldn’t it be good enough for us?

Well, wow. What to say here… We all say “yes” because it would seem so horrible to say anything else. Our Savior, Christ the Lord who holds all things together died. He held all things together as fully God while walking around as fully man. And then…

He allowed Himself to be undone unto death so that we might rise and be held together in Him.

And Christ was never less than perfect. Though he died the death of a criminal, He never lived less than perfectly. The God of all creation became like us (whoa) and then became sin for us (wow) and suffered every temptation for us (oof) and endured death on our behalf so that we might become the righteousness of God (oh my).

For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Corinthians 5:21, ESV)

The resurrection swell of Easter was still spilling over yesterday, burying again the death of Jesus with the triumph of his third day victory. The Easter season, according to the church calendar, has really just begun and I want to observe the fullness of it. Because resurrection changed everything, not just a food-packed Sunday selected by the lunar calendar. EVERYTHING. And, I think it’s good to have a season set apart to reflect on the weight of “everything.”

Even a full season won’t condition my heart as it should, but God has promised to complete the work He has started and to make perfect (in Christ) my imperfect attempts to believe. And so, I stand in the swell of the Easter season asking what it looks like to live risen on Monday… and Tuesday – Friday.

What happened in the living, dying, and rising of Jesus happened in real time – the clock measured His footsteps up to Calvary and the three days after he died. The light broke the dawn on Sunday, marking the morning and Jesus’ day of resurrection.

But the glory of Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection is not contained on the calendar. Before the foundations of the world (Romans 8:29) – before the light broke the first morning and before the ground felt the weight of any feet – God planned to lavish love on His chosen through the person and sacrificial work of Christ.

How deep the Father’s love for us,
how vast beyond all measure,
that He would give His only Son,
and make a wretch His treasure
(How Deep the Father’s Love, Stuart Townend)

The beauty of God’s love for us runs as deep as eternity stretches long. We know from Psalm 115:3 that God acts out of His pleasure, “But our God is in the heavens; He does whatever He pleases.”

Just let the weight of “whatever He pleases” sink in deep. He was pleased to plan before the dawn of time for our redemption. He was pleased to send His Son, who emptied Himself and died in our place. He was pleased to bring reconciliation through the resurrection. It was God’s will to crush His Son so that we could be counted righteous.

Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him;
he has put him to grief;
when his soul makes an offering for guilt,
he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days;
the will of the Lord shall prosper in his hand.
Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied;
by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant,
make many to be accounted righteous,
and he shall bear their iniquities. (Isaiah 53:10-11)

What does it mean to live risen on Monday and Tuesday and Saturday? It means believing that God’s love was not constrained to a weekend nor the power that it produced. God was planning in the forever past for our redemption and prepares a place for us in the forever future.

Christ’s suffering did not take away from God’s glory, but revealed it. In Christ, God pulls back the curtain so that we can gaze on His glorious character and find it is nothing like anything we know. What we see and savor in Christ will allow us to endure the suffering the same way – revealing the glory of God.

Living like I’m risen means believing God planned all along for me to rise and trusting God to keep His promises.