tension tamer and hard hats

I’m just now recovering from the injustice of two days ago when the internet ate my blogpost.

I wrote the blog on my phone and I felt good about the productivity of my commuter inspiration… until I looked at it later and saw that only half of the post got published. The other half is in the belly of the internet somewhere, gurgling and hopefully making a big indigestive scene.

I am aware my frustration is ironic, given the content of the post – that it was about whimsy and surprise and the unexpected. But what do you do when all of the above feels more like a series of unfortunate events and less like a fairytale – when city commuting and daylight savings darkness and spilt pumpkin bread feel a little more like failure?

There is adventure inside those places, too, I know. But my belief has to be big enough to swallow up the doubt that it is not so. Or at least my belief has to be big enough to wrestle my doubt into submission. And sometimes that sized belief is hard to come by, hard to pray for, and hard to keep.

Tonight, tension tamer is my tea of choice.

It was in the birthday package from my mom, shipped from Iowa with other useful things like measuring cups, Grandma’s homemade hot pads, and the angel food cake pan that carried all the spongey goodness of my childhood. How she knew that my tension would need taming on this day in early November, I’m not sure. I think it’s probably a “mom” thing and I hope it’s hereditary.

I do know that one of my loaves of pumpkin bread came out like this tonight. It’s more mangled in person, and for good reason: it somersaulted onto the oven window.

pumpkin bread crumble

I actually think it recovered well, all things considered. I think my roomie will find a way to convert it into morning deliciousness. She’s kind of a sucker for redeeming messes.

Maybe this is what it really means to worship with a hard hat – maybe it means headaches and heartaches and haphazard nights in the kitchen. Maybe the worship adventure is something that is always redemptive because this life is always broken.

Maybe the kind of posture Dillard thinks proper for worship in the Christian life is one that prepares for danger and doubt as much as it prepares for joy and song.

I am usually the joy-song type. Mostly.

I mostly love new things and crowded schedules and mishaps and detours. Mostly. Then, there are those days, those series of unfortunate events that remind me that my worship must be made of harder stuff. Anxiety isn’t believed away with joy-songs. They factor in, sure, along with tension tamer tea and well-timed laughter.

But there is a reason Dillard suggests a hard hat under the steeple on Sundays. I think it might be because worship can sometimes look like a demolition. It is not comfortable or pleasant, but it is right and it is good work.

My joy-songs are of a different kind when debris is flying overhead. The adventure is inside the danger and inside the belief that God’s identity has not changed. He is not less God and I am not less His child. My future is no less secure.

When your life so closely resembles Amelia Bedelia, you might remember every ingredient for vegetable beef soup except the beef. You might also forget the butter on the stovetop (in an effort to soften it for a cookie recipe when you do not have a microwave). In typical Amelia flare, you might somersault your pumpkin creation onto the oven window and then shove it back in the pan to bake the salvaged parts. You might miss the train that beat the daylight to the horizon and you might make one errand into seven.

And you might need to wear a hard hat if you plan to worship.

Because your heart will only respond to surprises with joy-songs if you are prepared for things to get messy. The only proper preparation is the Word taking root and establishing inside your heart and inside the series of unfortunate events. There is not a single curveball my Amelia Bedelia nature can throw in this life that the Word is not prepared for – not a single unfortunate event in this life that the Lord isn’t already planning to use for His glory.

Last weekend, I heard a message from Hebrews 12:18-23,

“For you have not come to what may be touched, a blazing fire and darkness and gloom and a tempest and the sound of a trumpet and a voice whose words made the hearers beg that no further messages be spoken to them. For they could not endure the order that was given, “If even a beast touches the mountain, it shall be stoned.” Indeed, so terrifying was the sight that Moses said, “I tremble with fear.” But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect,”

“Does anyone know the power we so blithely invoke?” Dillard asks.

Well, I’m learning at least. I’m learning that the power we invoke requires hard hats and a supernatural amount of perseverance. There are joy-songs, but they are not empty. They are hard wrought and wrestled from the grip of failures.

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)

 

the good kind of dizzy – reflections on Pentecost

I knew the pews would creak to announce our tardiness into the sanctuary, but no one seemed to mind. The rows were old like the building, but not unfamiliar. Worshippers sat spaced out, in clusters and alone, and they all seemed to be taking a collective sabbath sigh as the liturgy began.

And we spoke together, slowly.

I sank into the collective sabbath sigh and let the quiet rest my soul. The pace inside the church did not match the streets outside; it savored the words and the melodies and the notes of praise coming from the ensemble in the corner. And somewhere in the standing and sitting and reading and singing and praying, the pastor preached on Pentecost in the present tense – the now of God’s Holy Spirit provision that we wouldn’t be orphans.

I mangled my notes with doodles and arrows and bold letters. The beauty of Jesus promising that even better things would be achieved in this provision than He achieved while on earth is astounding.

 But now I am going to him who sent me, and none of you asks me, ‘Where are you going?’ But because I have said these things to you,sorrow has filled your heart. Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you. John 16:5-7

sermon notes

Though the air was quiet and my soul full of Sabbath rest, my mind rushed to gather insight from the Word. Bread for the soul is the best way to understand the way the Word nourishes our spiritual bones. And it is this hunger that spun my mind’s wheels on that creaky pew.

The Spirit lives (in the present tense) and gives (in the present tense) peace and fights (in the present tense) for my sanctification.

When Jesus left, we were not abandoned. In fact, the Holy Spirit expanded the reach of Jesus beyond a locality and beyond the limit of a lifetime. The Holy Spirit ensured my rescue from abandonment and God’s faithfulness to His promise to sanctify the chosen.

He is daily, joyfully, continuously, and graciously rescuing me from orphanhood. His promise-keeping secures my place in His family, forever.

I don’t mean to say there is a danger He would not, but the beauty of being awed by His doing so re-positions my worship. Hm. I can’t quite tame the wild realizations of my heart or find words to make sense of my joy. The moment I think I’ve grasped an intelligible way of relating these discoveries, I’ve lost it. But I know it was something wonderful because the surge in my soul was electric.

I am rescued from orphanhood and my rescue is present tense as much as it is past. At the end of the sermon while I was caught in my doodles, the pastor said something and I can’t tell you what it was. But while he said it I wrote this down,

“Our good works are the evidence of God’s promise-keeping.”

God sent the Spirit to be active in the present tense to reach beyond the locality and lifespan of Jesus and reach people like me. God is daily keeping His promise to be faithful, to provide, to delight, to redeem, to rescue, and to reveal His glory.

This powerfully translates into our completing the good works that were planned for us to do (Ephesians 2). When we are effective for the kingdom, it is not because we were faithful to answer the call or maintain the resolve or finish the race.

We are effective because He is faithful to keep His promises.

We are being made holy because He is faithful. We are humbled because He is faithful. We are successful because He is faithful. We mourn with the grieving because He is faithful. We live in community because He is faithful. We serve our neighbors because He is faithful. We love the downtrodden because He is faithful. We release the captive because He is faithful.

His promise-keeping enables us to do good works and those good works return glory to the One whose faithfulness empowered them.

Oh, what a mess. I’ve made no sense and much sense and many circles. Sometimes the circles spin my heart with delight and I give in. I don’t mind if delighting in the Lord makes me dizzy.

I got the good kind of dizzy on Sunday, spinning around in circles to understand the mysterious faithfulness of our gracious God.

let LOVE fly like cRaZy

but He has made provision

Thank goodness God, in His grace, gave me beautiful women mentors who ministered faithfully with the Word of Truth throughout my childhood and adult life. Even while I snubbed the corporate ministry of women, God was blessing me with the very personal ministry of a few very special women.

I was the kind of woman who ran the other direction when “women’s ministry” events were announced in the bulletin. The chit chat and the centerpieces and the circle discussions never seemed to get deep enough into the thick of theological things to convince me of their importance. I much preferred a coed conversation around the dinner table to a room full of hormonal ladies with space to air their grievances.

O, pride, you nasty little devil – keeping me from things my heart needs because my heart is too proud to receive them. 

But I have been feeling God make provision. He is creating space where pride once stood so that He could bless my heart and so that I could fall in better love with His beautiful design.

This weekend, I attended a two-day women’s ministry conference (gulp): many women, large room, round tables, chocolates, and vulnerability. I shuffled in just as a session was starting and the panel of speakers spoke on God’s design for womanhood and the way it reflects God’s over-arching story of cosmic redemption.

It was a slow succumbing, really. And it was kind of like a springtime bloom.

The room was full of ages – from pre-teens to great-grandmas – and I was realizing that God’s Word speaks the same beautiful message to each one of our souls. Genesis 1:27 says, “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” His creative display of His glory in mankind was very intentionally reflected in male and female. I need not roll my eyes at my femininity like it will carry me away to frivolity. God’s glory is displayed in His creation, intentionally in the inner-workings of relationships and uniquely in the differences of men and women. His reflection does not hide. His glory is proclaimed in creation whether or not eyes roll in rebellion.

And His grace pressed down on me with a heavy heartbeat.

This is my God, my Creator, my Redeemer – this God made me to reflect Him and know Him and love Him. His reflection does not hide behind my female-ness but shines through it.

I listened to wisdom from friends and strangers and teachers, just listening. My favorite moments came as we delighted in Scripture together. There is great power in opening the Word with right expectation that it will not return void. And, I believe, there is also great beauty in the corporate delight of Scripture.

The slow succumbing came as I swallowed the prideful expectation that women’s ministry events were about chit chat and centerpieces and circle discussions. The blooming came as I saw God’s nature reflected in the lives of these women. I imagine the honesty, support, and encouragement are exactly the reasons why such gatherings are so important.

After the women’s event, I spent the rest of the weekend making precious memories with my grandparents. What a gift. Not a moment was out of place, even as we squeezed every last laugh out of the midnight hours Saturday night.

And, when we listened to the story of Abraham and Isaac play out in Genesis 22 on Sunday morning, I felt fresh the reign of my rebellion. I marveled at Abraham’s obedience and his early morning departure to sacrifice his only son and I asked if my heart was capable of that kind of trust. My belly twisted as Abraham raised the knife to slaughter his son and I asked if my faith would ever be that kind of bold.

My spirit sighed when the ram appeared, overwhelmed that God had made provision. God had promised Abraham He would provide and Abraham trusted that He would keep His promises. Abraham’s trusting meant early morning obedience and his believing meant conquering his heart’s rebellion. When death was certain for his son, Abraham believed God to be a promise keeper.

Though death is certain, God has made gracious provision for our salvation, that by faith we would be rescued from rebellion.

Communion tasted different on Sunday. It was hard to swallow. Because this mystery of salvation doesn’t make any sense.

I choked down the bread and the wine and breathed the kind of prayers I imagined Abraham might have prayed after God made provision for Isaac.

Even for all my rebellious and prideful ways, He has made a provision that is sufficient for my salvation.

O, that I would trust that God is my constant provision.
O, that I would live believing His provision is sufficient.

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

trading B for A game

After two days of sniffling and coughing and chugging various zicam and emergen-C products, I got in my car and drove two hours to be a counselor for junior high girls at winter camp last weekend.

I was sure, just sure it would be my B game I was bringing… especially after the emergency level phone calls were still ringing at 7 pm on Friday night. It was one of those “you can’t win ’em all” moments when you think you’re beat before you’ve started.

Winter camp started on Saturday, so Friday found me pulling in to my parents’ long driveway, opening the front door, and throwing my “Hello?” into the living room. I collapsed a little bit into the comfort – the way this home knows me.

My parents were sitting in the living room decompressing their own crazy weeks and I joined them like it was a regular thing for me to be there on a Friday. It always feels kind of like a time warp when I’m in that place – the same two people with the same caring faces in the same living room always brings me back. That night I played hymns on my mom’s piano, sang with my sisters, and didn’t check my work email.

I slept well even in the chilled upstairs and woke up to help my mom transform our valentine’s tradition into a breakfast spectacular. I packed quickly, drank strong coffee and headed in the direction of winter camp, refreshed but still expecting B game.

And then 36 junior high and senior high students happened… at a camp… in the country… where Christ is the main event… and B game is not an option.

It wasn’t even like I decided anything. I was just making decisions to believe God’s grace would be enough for the next moment – and not just enough, but abundant to the point that I was capable of every good work (2 Corinthians 9:8).

As I was making those grace-depending decisions, I stepped further into God’s glorious plan for the weekend: wide eyes, praise, wonder.

I listened to my campers work through what it means to be a fan vs. what it means to be a follower of Jesus. We didn’t mess around during our breakout sessions. I mean, we made bargains (like when they said, “we’ll pay attention if you sing us a song.” Of course, I did), but we got serious about opening the Word and chewing on what we found.

I’m not boasting in bringing A game – not at all. It was like A game was brought to me… if that makes sense. Two days full to the brim with talking about the glory of God, listening to the glory of God, and reading the glory of God in the words of Scripture will make A game happen.

You will love when you have nothing left. You will keep your eyes open when your body wants to sleep. You will create a rap with a ninth grade boy about salvation. You will make up a song and dance with 6 squealing young ladies about the way Jesus made you beautiful. You will run in unseasonal February sunshine. You will glow.

Have you ever experienced this – when you thought you had little to offer but God’s grace proved otherwise?

God’s grace is amazing – so amazing that it can take a body that is not good for anything and make it fit his purposes so that He would be glorified and salvation would be proclaimed.

The Word transforms every kind of body into something useful for the Kingdom. And the process of transformation wakes up the soul to shout praise.

Maybe you are bent or broken or bruised on this Monday and you think you’ve only got B game to offer. Let me tell you, an awakened soul is full of delight and surprises.

“Whoever serves, let him do so as by the strength which God supplies; so that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belongs the glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.” 1 Peter 4:11

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