desire like dynamite

I’m looking at my week today. I’m just sitting here on this side of Monday thinking – what stories will unfold before next Monday comes? How will I step into the miracles of grace God has authored this week? What will those joyful moments look like and when will I do battle in the moments of temptation? What treasures are waiting to be discovered in the most unlikely of places?

I’m still on this side of Monday, just barely, and I’m ushering it in with Sandra McCracken’s song, “Dynamite” because I guess I want to think on the weight of another regular week. Yes, life goes on – an unsteady rhythm in an unsteady and shifting world that somehow feels routine. Another 9 am start to another five day week that’s about to happen… and these lines are breaking in to shake me free of going through the Monday motions.

You may not be in a place to imagine anything this morning, and if that’s the case you might want to come back and read this later because McCracken paints a picture you are meant to see in your mind’s eye.

“The heart takes what it wants, like dynamite.”

Dynamite is not a gentle thing – not a pleasant or friendly thing. It is unforgiving and indiscriminate in its destruction. And this is the image McCracken uses to talk about the heart: dynamite. That’s ugly.

I don’t like to think about my heart like destruction – the kind that thunders and smokes and overwhelms. I don’t like to think about a lot of ugly things. On this side of Monday, I am thinking about how desire is lit like dynamite.

“Those who have ears, as the smoke it clears, will see things as they are
To bend the will, you first must change the heart.”

But I’m also thinking about the moments before destruction is guaranteed – those moments when the will can still be bent by a change of heart.

Where are those moments in my today?
When will my heart race to take what it wants this week?

Oh, I know there will be many times. My heart is fickle and fragile and forgetting. I want things I’ll never admit to wanting and this week will not be any different than last week.

But, maybe if I know my desire like dynamite, I will listen for a different sound.

“Will we choose the noise of our desire or the hope that makes no sound?”

Maybe, I will choose to say “Yes!” to all the promises God has given me in Christ – all the ways He has provided the power to bend the will of my flesh by the change of my heart. Destruction is not unavoidable. The noise of desire is not so deafening that the silent sound of hope cannot penetrate it. A hope that does not disappoint (Romans 5) is as brilliant and as sure as this morning’s sun.

In 2 Corinthians 1:20 we read, “All the promises of God find their ‘Yes!’ in Christ.”

The God of creation sees our desire like dynamite and yet still offers a hearty and infallible YES in the person of Christ, who secures every promise God has ever given. Within this profound security, we can say “Yes!” to those promises – to the hope that makes no sound.

We can walk out this week in a way that doesn’t leave destruction in our wake.

I am reading through Future Grace by John Piper and this particular post is inspired by his words in Chapter 7 as well as Sandra McCracken’s song. 

threading the needle of His mending

I woke up feeling the ugliness. It slipped out my eyelids as I was doing laundry and felt like a freight train as I read my Advent devotional.

It was unnerving yesterday to see people jumping on platforms to make the tragedy in Sandy Hook political. This is a time for weeping and just that. Grief serves as a great reminder that the world is not broken because of systems or structures but because of people. The world is broken because people are not inherently good.

We are broken. We are wayward. We are disasters making disasters.

And so, this morning, when I read these words I remembered why it is important that we understand God’s law. When we look at His commands – at the weight and glory and perfection of them – we know what a mended world would look like.

Now the God of peace, who brought up from the dead the great Shepherd of the sheep through the blood of the eternal covenant [this is the purchase of the new covenant], even Jesus our Lord, equip you in every good thing to do His will, working in us that which is pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen. Hebrews 13:20-21

The words “working in us that which is pleasing in his sight” describe what happens when God writes the law on our hearts in the new covenant. And the words “through Jesus Christ” describe Jesus as the Mediator of this glorious work of sovereign grace.

So the meaning of Christmas is not only that God replaces shadows with Reality, but also that he takes the reality and makes it real to his people. He writes it on our hearts. He does not lay his Christmas gift of salvation and transformation down for you to pick up in your own strength. He picks it up and puts in your heart and in your mind, and seals to you that you are a child of God. (Good News of Great Joy  Advent Devotional, day 15)

His law is true and pure and beautiful. He writes his ways on our hearts when we put down all our human efforts and pick up His finished work on the cross. Then we will obey His commands because we love Him more than what is broken.

In His power and strength, we will act the miracles He has written on our hearts – from one hard fought step to the next. We cannot legislate the mending of this world because the brokenness is deeper than our pens and papers.

The mending of this world must begin in our hearts – by believing that Christ was broken on our behalf, but that He did not stay broken.

When we believe there is only One with power enough to beat brokenness, He grants power that we might thread the needle of His mending.

let LOVE fly like cRaZy

not ashamed to blush, but I will not boast

As a 28-year-old, it feels childish to hide my face in a movie theatre during a bedroom scene. Sometimes, the devil on my shoulder says, “You are an adult – pull yourself together!” Shortly after, my mind jumps to an image of my mom (who could never find the remote) running in front of the ancient TV in our living room with arms flailing and singing, “Lalalalalalalala” to cover the sounds of a married couple walking towards the bedroom in “Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman.”

You can imagine my horror when I went away to college and realized the extent to which I’d been “sheltered.” I bet my friends thought I had a skin condition that caused a permanent rose tint to my cheeks. It was a strange thing to struggle through – trying to understand if there would be a time to grow out of my childish ways and into a more “experienced” phase of my life where I was more comfortable with sensuality.

The struggle was complex because my innocence got entangled with pride. Innocence, of course, is a beautiful thing but pride is not. Pride is sin. When my face burned guilty red around brazen sexuality I wasn’t used to, my soul had to figure out how to feel about it all. The prick of conscience punctures deep and holding in a response is simply not an option.

I swallowed hard and covered my ears or pulled a blanket over my head. Sometimes I cried. But often my heart chose to be proud about my “innocence” – about my mom running in front of the TV and about my being excused from 8th grade Sex Education class at school and about not knowing anything when it came to third base. I chose to be proud because having cheeks that burned felt… well, right.

(Sigh)

I’ve lived a lot of life since then. Turns out, my ears still burn and my cheeks still flare up when I’m in a movie theatre and a sensual scene plays out. I fidget uncomfortably and turn away and shield my eyes and pray for it to not remain in my memory. But, now I have a more humble view of blushing. My tender conscience is not something I can take pride in, but it is something I must try to preserve. Though I don’t claim to know what causes others to stumble, my red cheeks are sometimes a sign that my heart is getting pulled away from “whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things.” (Philippians 4:8)

We’ve really done an unfortunate thing in making sensuality something that females grow into – we can watch certain things or hear certain things or do certain things when we are “mature enough” to handle it. This kind of thinking sets up a threshold that the world is constantly pushing to a younger and younger crowd. The real deciding line for “mature enough” is sometimes never.

God’s desire for our hearts and eyes and lips and minds is to experience the most satisfaction in this life and this will only ever come about as He protects us in our pursuit of holiness.

I am now not ashamed to blush, but I will not boast that I’ve created the conscience that reveals sin. As God humbles my heart and draws me into a pursuit of holiness, I know He is the cause of my conviction and must also be the goal of my turning from evil.

Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.
Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

(Romans 12:9-21 ESV)

let LOVE fly like cRaZy

God the author, we the actors

I assume a certain posture when words escape me. Thankfully, it’s a much more culturally acceptable posture than the one of my mind in the same moment (jumping, leaping, and exploding with wild gestures). It looks like pursed lips, furrowed and thoughtful brows, shoulders bent in, and eyes fixated on the thought threatening to wriggle free of my grasp.

This is how I spent the weekend – with body borderline catatonic while my mind raced after revelations that came as a steady stream through the preaching and teaching from the Word at the Desiring God Conference. My pen sped across journal pages to scratch out notes and doodle inspirations; every once in a while I would nod or grunt or breathe out an “Amen!” with an agreement my heart could feel.

I think I would say this is one of many postures of praise, informed by a grace I still don’t fully appreciate. It is in this posture I heard these words,

God works in you as the Author of the miracle and then you act the miracle.

Jesus gave sight to the blind, but it is the blind man who opened his eyes to do the seeing.
Jesus healed the lame man, but it was the lame man who stood up to do the walking.
Jesus canceled my debt of sin at the cross (Colossians 2:15), but it is I who must do the living out of my new sinless status. Through faith, it is I who must daily conquer that canceled sin by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Imagine if the blind man had not opened his eyes or the lame man had not stood up to walk. Imagine the miracles begging to be acted out, already authored by God but with hearts unwilling to be the actors. If the blind man does not open his eyes or the lame man does not stand, there is no evidence that he can see or stand. We must act out this miracle because in its acting out we see its reality.

I must act the miracle God authored because, as John Piper said, “Killing sin – pursuing holiness – is essential for salvation. The will to kill sin is the SIGN that sin is canceled.”

Whooooosh. Like the thrill in knowing a roller coaster must descend with the rush of gravity after climbing to its highest height, my heart raced with these words that explained a truth already hidden in my soul.

Though my arms waved wildly in my mind, I maintained my outward posture of praise as I considered sanctification. I felt literally swept up in the joy and exhilaration of acting out the miracle God has already authored in my life. The process of becoming holy begins with the reality that God is holy – and we are invited to share in His holiness (Hebrews 12:10).

We are invited to be like God (1 Peter 1:14-16) as we effectively conform our feelings, thoughts, and actions into complete harmony the infinite worth of the transcendent, trinitarian fullness of God.

What. an. invitation.

let LOVE fly like cRaZy

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.

treasuring Christ means sharing the treasure

If I was to write letters to the people who have heard the gospel from my lips, I wonder if I could say what Paul said.

For we never came with words of flattery, as you know, nor with a pretext for greed—God is witness. Nor did we seek glory from people, whether from you or from others, though we could have made demands as apostles of Christ. But we were gentle among you, like a nursing mother taking care of her own children. So, being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us.

(1 Thessalonians 2:5-8 ESV)

As I read from Paul’s pen, I imagine what it must have felt like to know he and his little missionary band were “affectionately desirous” of me – ready to share the Gospel and their very lives because I was so dear to them.

Hm. These words come to mind: treasured, valued, loved.

Though I’m sure you would make assumptions about my extrovertedness if we met, relationships aren’t something I instinctually sacrifice to develop. Often (ahem, too often) I would rather choose a book or a journal or precious time writing over developing relationships.

I remember moving to Austin, Texas after I graduated from college. After living with college friends for four years, renting a room from a nice couple in the suburbs was quite the adjustment. I read a lot of books those first few months. Sometimes, I would go to BORDERS to see how many books I could finish on the overstuffed chair in the biography section (I was on a bit of a budget). But, I’ll never forget the phone calls I would receive from my new Austin friends. It would be 6 pm on a Thursday night – prime time to dig in to my newest biography on Blaise Pascal – and I would get a call from Katelin or Stephanie or Christine.

Selfishly, I knew Blaise Pascal was safe – that he wouldn’t make drama or ask much of me. There was something else, though, that stirred me to say, “…Sure! I’ll meet you there in 15 minutes.” That something else was hidden in my DNA, woven into my identity by the hand of God while I was still in my mom’s tummy.

We were made for relationship.
We were designed to enjoy and share and give life in relationship.

Christ Himself proved it was a good design when He became flesh – intentionally walking into humanity as a human who reached out to serve, love, give, and bless. He did not stoop to walk in a flawed design. No, He lived life showing us how it was truly designed to be lived.

Being human is not an unfortunate mistake. God’s design is good and the life of Jesus reveals it to be beautifully so.

And how is it that Paul can write with such deep love and sacrifice for the people with whom he shared the Gospel? Because Paul had experienced being treasured and valued and loved by God. Paul was overwhelmed by the amount of grace and mercy he’d received and wanted nothing more than to be spent living as Christ.

Treasuring Christ above all else means sharing the treasure.

let LOVE fly like cRaZy

believing the gospel is beautiful means sitting in the theatre

There is a way of sharing the gospel that makes people wish it was true, even if they believe it’s not. At least, Tim Keller thinks so (The Faith to Doubt Christianity).

There is a way of sharing the gospel that draws people in first because it’s beautiful. Not at first because it’s reasonable or socially responsible or sweet sounding, but because it is simply beautiful.

I know we can do battle about beauty – what it is and who decides – but that’s for another day (and a day that’s already been).

Today, I’m trying to be a student of this kind of gospel sharing. I’m trying to understand what it means to put the beauty of redemption on display – to draw back the curtain on the glorious story acted out on the living stage. I’m trying to remember what it felt like to see the hero die for the villain… and the horrible knot in my gut when I realized the villain was me.

To share a beautiful story, one must believe the story is beautiful.

And for that, I must go and sit in the theatre. I must watch wide-eyed and remember every interaction and every awe-inspiring stage direction. I must hang on every word because every time I know the villain is doomed, but every time the story plays out opposite what I am sure I know. And it is beautiful.

To share a beautiful story, one must first believe the story is beautiful.

There is a way to share the gospel that makes a person sit on the edge of their seat and hang on every word. There is a way to share the gospel that makes one appreciate and even wonder at the beauty so much that one wishes it was true.

I want to learn this way.
And so I must go again to the theatre.

let LOVE fly like cRaZy

the sexual revolution, a theologeek’s confessions, contemporary art, and living life

Have you ever had a string of days where putting one foot in front of the other seems harder than it should seem? I mean, have you ever been frustrated at being frustrated?

I’m just wondering, I guess.

Here are some things that are taking my mind off my feet this week. I hope it pushes you to think harder or differently … and then I really hope that your knowledge grows feet. I mean, I hope your knowledge does something because otherwise it’s just about puffing up.

Do you know Al Mohler? Well, he’s kind of a big deal. Anyway, he wrote an article in The Atlantic recently about Helen Gurley Brown’s influence on the sexual revolution. It is an interesting piece that speaks to one of the most confused cultural categories (sexuality) of our generation.

Bryan McWhite writes in a post for the EFCA online magazine about the difference between simply knowing theology and doing theology and what it means for reaching young people today. This is exactly what I like to hear! We must be about living theology not about knowing it. He writes,

What I didn’t understand at first (and realize now that I am a recovering theologeek) is that the younger generations are intensely pragmatic. And contrary to what many in the church might assume, their pragmatism is in no way opposed to serious theological thought. Young people really do desire theological understanding. But they want theological inquiry to serve a purpose beyond simply knowing.

To this generation, studying theology merely for the sake of knowing is inextricably linked to arrogance. For them, the study of theology isn’t complete until it ends in praxis. They do not abide the last three chapters of Ephesians being severed from the first three. They want to understand how knowing culminates indoing.

This piece on contemporary art, “Absolutely-Too-Much” admits that contemporary art can be a hard thing to appreciate, but it remains something to be admired. I like how this article shifts to philosophical implications in contemporary art because, of course, they are connected.

“We all had new iphones but no one had no one to call…” Thats a line from the song, “Life’s for the Living” by Passenger. Sometimes, on those days when one foot drags as we put it in front of the other, we just have to remember that “life’s for the living. So live, or you’re better off dead.” Sometimes, it’s as simple as that.

let LOVE fly like cRaZy

Fanfaronades and Delighting in Others’ Delight

Fanfaronade
Swaggering; empty boasting; blustering manner or behavior; ostentatious display.

This word, fanfaronade, popped out in the list of Unusual Words Rendered in Bold Graphics. I love words, or don’t you know that already? Well, I do. I love words because words make language. Language is that stuff that floats between people and between people and God. Language describes things, explains things, and… puts clothes on the skeletons of emotions, ideas, and surprises.

Fanfaronade is just funny to say. The syllables fold out like the person who wears them. You know the type, right? She’s that person everyone is regularly embarrassed to be around. She’s known for “making a scene” at the airport check-in counter and also when she’s ordering coffee at Starbucks. Her recent accomplishments are never secrets and her failures are unfortunate misunderstandings of her gifts. She’s never a supporting actress, even if she has to cause an emergency backstage to be front and center.

Though she would protest her theatrics described as such, fanfaronades are exactly what they are. The word doesn’t even have the dignity of distinguished pronunciation.

fan-fer-uh-neyd

It sounds like something an Uncle Bob might say about his out-of-control, pre-teen daughter Samantha who insists people call her Savannah the Singing Star. “Somebody’s gotta tell her we’ve had ’bout enough ‘o them fanfaronades ‘o hers,” he’d say. Can’t you just hear him?

I love the graphic from Project Twins because this is the noise following people who are known for fanfaronades – bleating horn blasts that crowd out all other sounds in the room.

I’m thinking about fanfaronades as I spend time with family in one of my favorite places – where beaches rival any in the world and half the blueberries never make it past the pickers. This little one, Natalie, is my almost constant companion for our West Michigan family vacation.

I chase her around and then she chases me. And I see how my brother and sister-in-law spot her fanfaronades and find many teachable moments. She announces her time-outs with resignation, but she always comes back calmly accepting her supporting role (at least for now). She doesn’t exactly know she’s fanfaronading, which is why she’s not… yet.

But we should know better.

Why can kids call spades spades without hesitation and we struggle to admit our charades?

I love to be around Natalie because something wild in me wants it to be all about her – I want to do things that spark wonder in her eyes. I want to give in when she says, “again” again and again and again. I want to hear her giggle. I want to witness her taste blueberries off the branch and build sand castles on the beach. I want to watch her delight in life.

I know there’s such a thing as smothering little ones with too much. But, I realized something happens when I’m around her. I want to do less fanfaronading because it’s not about me anymore.

I’ve wandered around with words to land at these conclusions:
1) Jesus – the One most qualified to speak all and only about Himself – spent his whole life pointing to the Father. He didn’t consider equality with God something to be grasped.
2) I’ve got to figure out how to take my affections for Natalie – the way I delight in her delight – and live that way with everyone. I want to delight to watch others delight.

Is this some of God’s heart for His creation? Does he delight in us as He watches us delight in Him, in life, in others?

let LOVE fly like cRaZy

I was never brilliant

It’s true. I was always that girl who grew up on a farm and knew how to work hard, but I was never brilliant.

In high school, I campaigned enough to be President of all the right groups and practiced enough to make first chair trumpet. I played enough to letter in sports and performed enough to be cast as lead roles in musicals. I studied enough to make the Honor Roll and tested high enough to opt out of finals.

I was smart enough, but I was never brilliant.

In college, I earned enough good grades to be invited into the Pew Society and find my name on the Dean’s List. I was active enough in the community to annoy my friends with my schedule and passionate enough about missions to let it consume much of my time.

I was smart enough, but I was never brilliant.

I don’t mention these things to puff myself up, actually I’m about to do the opposite. As I consider the reasons why I haven’t pursued further study, I discovered a very twisted kind of pride. See, because I was not a child prodigy, I tried not to measure myself against brilliance. I read and thought and wrote and digested as much knowledge as I could get my hands on, but I didn’t want anyone to test me on it. I wanted to be an expert in areas I could handpick (and self-declare my expert status).

Ugh. This is ugly.

It didn’t matter that the topics I raised for discussion weren’t as interesting or as important to the people at the table (or that I rarely raised questions about their area of expertise), what mattered was finding that sweet spot where my “smart enough” looked pretty good.

I remember thinking, “Now, that’s brilliance,” as I listened to visting speakers and read various authors. I’ve always said that a dream of mine is to sit with C.S. Lewis, Corrie Ten Boom, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and G.K. Chesterton in a musty, old library. That’s a room full of brilliance, right there. But, I wonder if I would have chosen to hang out with those folks, had they been on my campus. I wonder how I would respond to their rebuke or their questions.

I was never brilliant, but I was comfortable thinking I could be the best of mediocre.

I wonder what Dietrich Bonhoeffer would say to that.