When I was training for a marathon, I would fill my pockets with orange slices in Ziploc bags. As weariness snuck up, one or two slices popped in my mouth would push it back and give me strength to press on another few kilometers. God's words and His encouragement sometimes come in bite-sized slices -impressions, experiences, encounters - and are just enough to push weariness back and keep us pressing on a little further...

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

The Great and Mighty Goodness of God

God is good.

In every circumstance.
In every circumstance.
All the time.

It’s true.

Our circumstances neither indicate nor dictate the goodness of God.  His goodness is independent of the comedies and tragedies that ebb along the edges of our lives.  He is good on good days and He is good on bad days.  He is good when we are happy and good when we are sad.  He is good when we are satisfied or left wanting, good when we are overwhelmed by sorrow or joy, by abundance or by need.  No matter what is or is not, no matter what we have or have not, no matter what we are or are not, God is good.

His goodness is not challenged when comfort is compromised.  It is not reduced when wind and fire and water fail in their charge, swiftly turning treasonous and cruel against the humanity they were created to sustain. The breadth of His goodness spans need, the length of it spreads across affliction, the height of it eclipses the blinding numbing burn of unexpected trouble.  Nothing can diminish His goodness, neither heat nor cold, neither sorrow nor pain, neither presence of possessions nor loss of all we call our own.

The slivers of pleasurable experiences we have known and attributed to the goodness of God – sweet laughter with well-loved friends, gilded hues of evening on grass and trees and sky, berries full of a flavor so rich no tongue could describe – all these and more are nothing but barely heard whispers of the symphony that is His splendid benevolence.

God is good.

His goodness is known in every galaxy, every solar system.  If stars have souls, they, the ones who sang in the coming of creation, blaze with praise unceasing.  All matter known and unknown, dark and light, quantum and classical is imbued with His magnificence.  The universe waits in expectation for the tiny puny cry of creatures on the planet inhabited, straining to hear the words that set it spinning with glory.  “God is good”, we muster, through tears of joy or of sorrow, sometimes choking, sometimes shouting: “God is good.”  The universe goes wild.

God is good.
God is good.
God is good.

Nothing can change it.  Nothing can steal it.  Nothing can reinterpret, redefine, or rearrange it.  God’s goodness is as present on the battlefield as it is at the peace table.  It dwells in the first breaths of life and in the last breath before death, in health and in crippling, pain-gripped disease.  It is sewn into us, pulsing through us like blood, breathing in and out of us like air, whether we know it, see it, acknowledge it or not.  Just as He is the I AM, God’s goodness IS.

And so I will say it, again and again, whether I understand the swirling winds that whip through my life or not.  I cannot earn God’s goodness nor strive to see it grow – how can the infinite increase?  What could press the endless into deeper corners of eternity?  We tiny puny creatures are made merely to recognize it, to enjoy it and to speak it, again and again, no matter the trouble that surrounds, so that the universe echoes with glory unrestrained.

God is good.
God is good. 
God is good.

 Nothing else is truer.
 “Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good;    
His love endures forever.
Who can proclaim the mighty acts of the Lord
or fully declare His praise?”
-Psalm 106:1-2

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Working for a Living

This world is no place for the faint of heart.  Children die in mall fires and in the scratchy heat of famine.  Illness stalks its prey and devours without discrimination.  The second law of thermodynamics shoves every last thing toward a destiny of decomposition and decay, our feeble attempts to hold it back crumbling like rust in its path.  Mention disappointment in any language and heads nod all around – we know it, we have felt it.  We have been disappointed, too.

I am glad I do not run this earth – I just work here.  The power to grant life or death, the wisdom to raise up governments or cast them low again is not mine to hold.  Directing the weather or the stars or the souls of men is a responsibility I’ve not been given.  And though I sometimes fuss and fret and deceive myself into thinking I can control more than I’ve been allotted (nothing but my thoughts, my words and my actions), ultimately, my powerlessness is a good thing.  It presses my heart to trust.  It presses that trust to God.

He knows this world is no place for the faint of heart.  He hears the cry of the childless mother and the weight of the doctor’s words.  He wrote the laws of physics and nods at the mention of disappointment – He has been disappointed, too.  He directs the weather and the stars and the souls of men, it is He who runs the earth and I just work here - but I work here. 

God rewards my trust with delegation.  While He controls earth and sky and sea, His intentions for mankind He shares with me.  He lets me be involved.  He drew me into His plans when I was born, breathing life first into my lungs and later into my spirit.  Now He breathes through me, warming cold and weary souls, whispering hope into hopeless hearts.  My job is to love and give and serve and pray and speak and praise, to sew and pay and bake and go and cry and laugh and hold.  I am asked to feed hungry spirits and bellies, to offer home to those with no home of their own.  Water to the thirsty, comfort to the weary, value to the downtrodden – there’s a lifetime of work to keep me busy.  Job security doesn't concern me.    

In this working life that is a privilege and a difficulty, a joy and a sorrow, I hold unswervingly to the hope I profess.  For He who promised (to be with me, to strengthen me, to love me, to forgive me) is faithful. And so I consider how I may spur others on toward love and good deeds (Hebrews 10:23-24).  Could any other work be more important?

It is through love and good deeds that the world becomes bearable for the faint of heart.  It is through partnership – God’s strength, my skin; God’s voice, my lips; God’s power, my weakness but willingness – that comfort, healing, and redemption kiss the wounds common to man.  Most days I am more human than holy and don’t feel worthy of the task, but what God starts, He doesn’t quit.  He writes even my humanity into my job description, for who can empathize with a broken heart if they have never felt the sharpened stab of it in their chest?  Who can speak knowingly of forgiveness if they have never been forgiven?  Who can offer comfort if they have never known sorrow in need of comfort?  He who has called me is faithful, and He will do it – empathize, forgive, comfort - no matter what it costs.  It’s in the contract.

There are fleeting moments of feeling settled in this world, when the long-broken arms of Eden brush my own in simple pleasures – laughter with friends, early morning sparkles on the water, pistachio gelato.  Most days it’s good to be alive and work is a pleasure.  But some days I feel the silence of Eden.  It echoes with innocence lost and a world gone wrong.  The cries of motherless children and childless mothers rock my spirit till the tears are shaken free and fall like rain on a ground crumbling and thirsty for more.  Disappointment smothers like a blanket. 

We, who in this world march unswervingly towards decay and decomposition and are often blind to God's full intention for mankind, are pressed to trust.  We trust in an unseen future that will not disappoint, a home that will not decay or decompose.  We trust in a God who with His own hand will touch our cheeks, catching our tears with His thumb and casting them farther away than our memories will reach.  Spirits and bellies will be filled, the downtrodden crowned with glory, the faint of heart finally find themselves home.  I know, because that’s where I live – really.  I just work here.        

"Rather, as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: in great endurance; in troubles, hardships and distresses;  in beatings, imprisonments and riots; in hard work, sleepless nights and hunger; in purity, understanding, patience and kindness; in the Holy Spirit and in sincere love; in truthful speech and in the power of God; with weapons of righteousness in the right hand and in the left; through glory and dishonor, bad report and good report; genuine, yet regarded as impostors; known, yet regarded as unknown; dying, and yet we live on; beaten, and yet not killed; sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, and yet possessing everything." -2 Corinthians 6:4-10 

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Pieces and Pictures of You...

Dear God,

If I had a photo of You, this life might be easier.  If I could picture every one of Your million different glances or Your smile wrapped up around Your eyes, if I could watch the wind in Your hair when storms come whipping through my world my heart might not be so prone to doubt.  When tears come on like a clap of thunder, sudden and strong and heaving in my chest, I could see through the watery blindness to a face worn familiar by gazing.  I might not mind if I could look at You looking at me.  I might be stronger.

But You come to me in fragments, not all at once, like so many puzzle pieces.  I have found them scattered long and wide across the earth and collected them as far back as this mind can reach.  I find You in places I wouldn’t expect and when I don’t, it’s because You were right where I thought You’d be all along.  Every bit of You I find is worth hunting because I’d rather have an incomplete idea of You than none at all.  I’ll collect those bits till Your image comes as clear in my mind as You say it should be in my mirror.  I imagine I’ll collect them till I die. 

I found a piece of You laying at the base of trees once, with the sun all fine and dappled on leaves above it, the sugaring of nameless flowers in the air.  Its gentle corners revealed Your preference for peace, the edges curling round my heart and lips and soul until contentment pressed and stretched them into a grin unrestrained. I gathered that things might be made to be lovey simply because You like them so, and that green might be your favorite color.

I found a piece of You at the seaside, too.  Charging waves and sherbet stripes of sunset where sky and water kiss were on it, a double-sided coin of variability and stability.  It showed that change may blow through sky and sea and me, but You remain the same.  Crashing waves churn the same salty water, and the same heavens re-dressed debut every evening.  The hand that bids them come is the hand that beckons me, calling me to follow though waves of pain crash over and skies grow dark and dim.  When life moves in ways I don’t understand, the ground slipping beneath me like sand, I remember I saw You there (where Your favorite color is blue).

I have found You wild and untamable, humble and strong and passionate for joy in the papery thin rustle of Scripture. I’ve seen You walk steady and faithful across problems without answers, and questions without reply.  Your unwavering determination for love at all cost swaddles me like an infant when my soul flails and    Your presence is stitched in and out, up and down along the uneven edges of me, continually sewing back together scraps of a heart shabby and torn. The bits and fragments and puzzle pieces of You as protector and provider, healer and helper, father and fiancĂ© and friend have been gathered, collected and compared with those found by others.  They are clutched tightly, sweaty and slightly bent by fearful palms but legible if I look close, visible in the same manner as memory, pieced together to show a God who is no less real for lack of polaroid picture. 

And so, I suppose, a composite is building.  Your heart is taking form, Your hands nearly visible when I look at mine.  Your image is clearer than Your face and though I cannot see Your eyes, I feel your million different glances when I close my own.  It might be true that I’d be stronger if I saw You, but then maybe strength isn’t found as much in the seeing as in the knowing.  I’ve met You a thousand times over, through the pieces I’ve collected, and every time we meet I see You more clearly than I ever have before.  I know Your smile is all wrapped up around Your eyes though my eyes now are sometimes blind and full of tears.  I’m finding Your Spirit worn familiar by gazing.  I imagine I’ll find You like that till I die.

And when I do, it’ll be less like death and more like birth because all the fragments and bits and pieces I've placed this way and that, here and there searching for You through squinted soul will fall into their rightful places.  You’ll be all of YOU and I’ll finally be all of me and we’ll meet as our full selves for the last and best time because there will be no need to ever be introduced again.  Doubt will be as if it had never been and cries of recognition will echo with delight up and down the grand avenue of heaven.  Gold will shine like glass, twinkling and true in the all-pervading light of You.  When I find myself there, I’ll know I’m home with You - it’s Your favorite color…  

"You will seek Me and find Me when you seek Me with all your heart." -Jeremiah 29:12-14

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Running On and On and On...

There’s a determination in weariness that is seldom found elsewhere.  Tired steps have nowhere to go but onward, and though the road home may be formidable, it is feasible.  If steps are possible, they must be taken.  Forward is the only way back. 

I run.  Not because I have high aspirations of being an athlete (I know I am not) or because I have great strength or stamina (I know I have not).  I run because the steadiness of my steps sorts things out in my head.  I run because I love to be outside, to drink in the scents of every season, to see the sun, translucent and yellow from the underside of leaves.  I run because it draws me wide-eyed into awareness of beauty and settles my mind so that new, interesting thoughts find space to enter in.  I run because, more often than not, I run into God along the way. 

But, that doesn’t mean it’s easy.  Two days ago I ran a mile farther than I normally run and for some reason, my body rebelled against the effort.  Tired, sluggish, weary, my muscles whimpered and whined and wanted to stop.   My blood felt thick enough to clog my veins.  I knew we were all capable, even if we weren’t comfortable, so I pushed tendons and muscle and corpuscles on to the end.  Spent and breathless, we crossed the mental finish line, sweet gulps of air beneath boughs of honeysuckle our reward. 

The ordeal was quickly forgotten in the casual busyness of days until my run this morning.  Extra strength seemed to spring from every step, my muscles gliding with ease along the well-worn route.  So opposite and surprising was it from my previous run that I was startled into turning the experience round and round in my head 'til it was sorted.

It seems that the very weariness tempting my muscles to give up on Tuesday was, in reality, the strength-building mechanism enabling them to fly today.   Perseverance through the slow and difficult steps built in them a resilience that wouldn’t have come if I had quit.  Pressing on in the midst of weakness didn’t just get me to the finish line – it actually made me stronger.

I have no doubt that there a plethora of inspirational online posters touting this same sentiment and maybe Nietzsche said it best: “That which does not kill you makes you stronger.”  However, in life there’s always knowing something and then knowing something, knowing it in the recesses of deeper understanding that lie at the base of our command centers.  Now that I have seen it and I have felt it, I know that weakness is not a thing to be feared or avoided.  It is the passage through which I often must pass in order to become strong.

I take it back about Nietzsche – God always says it best: 

“Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything” (James 1:2-4)

“…We know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.  And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.” (Romans 5:3-5)

I run because it forces me to simply keep putting one foot in front of the other.

There are times in my life when I feel tired, sluggish, and weary.  My heart whimpers and whines and doesn’t want to go on.  Hope seems so distant and the world so dark, I just want to stop.  But the steps taken on those days are the ones most crucial.  When I have nothing and I understand nothing and my sorrows seem thick enough to clog my soul, all I can do is keep putting one foot in front of the other.  I have nowhere to go but onward, and though the steps may be painful, they are also strengthening.  Each step is obedience.  Each step is praise.  One after the other, again and again, step by life-giving step I run after the One who ran to me.

The road is formidable, but it is feasible.  I don’t run it alone.  I run it with the God whose strength shines in my weakness, whose promises include hope, maturity, and a shameless abandon to love.  Difficult runs happen, but if the steps are possible, they must be taken.  They lead onward and upward, to strength and to glory, to the awareness of beauty and God along the way.  They lead me back Home, and when enough steps have been taken, I’ll fly.

Friday, April 13, 2012

The Unlikely Scent of Hope...

There’s a familiar scent riding these early-April breezes.  Though lilacs kiss the tips of heady branches and strips of honeysuckle peel to reveal stamens sweet and sticky, the perfume that lingers is neither heady nor sweet.  It is pungent.  Landscaper trucks line the curbs of lawns well-manicured and bright, their drivers heaving wheelbarrows of the pungent seasoning up and down the green.  Manure.

I have to laugh sometimes at the way God designed the world.  He could have designed it any way at all, but in Romans He says that His invisible qualities have been made visible through the things He made.  I believe He means that every “thing” we see and experience – every cell, every process, every physical, emotional, intellectual, and psychological paradigm – has been intentionally sewn into the fabric of life on earth.  I believe He hid hints of His character and His purposes in plain sight so that when we look out at the world and into our hearts, we will find Him (and in doing so, wonder how we ever could have missed Him before).

If so, He’s a genius.  He’s also addicting, because I’ve found that when I peel back one layer of what He said and meant, there’s often another layer of meaning just beneath.  And another layer below that one.  No matter how many layers of His brilliance I peel back, I discover He’s been there waiting (very often with a twinkle in His eye) all along.

So, when I watch landscapers pushing and pulling and planting and weed whacking, I get a glimpse of the layer beneath, of the Kingdom God is sowing and reaping in us, just below the surface of our souls.  I see that the landscapers can only organize the plants, placing them like so many calico squares, or well-chosen notes in a melody.  God is the Magician pulling the blooms into being, peeling back petals into a quilt of color and making music for the eyes.  In the same way, I can organize my time, my actions and my words, but God is the One who pulls my growth into being.  He peels back beauties I never knew were there, weaving me into a source of comfort, and singing me into great gusts of joy. (“So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow.” 1 Corinthians 3:7)

Under the layer of “only God makes things grow”, I see that plants shy of sunlight and water do not live.  Such hidden hints in plain sight whisper that not only is God the power behind growth, He is also the manner through which growth occurs:

“In Him [Jesus] was life, and that life was the light of all mankind.” (John 1:4). 

“Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to Me and drink. Whoever believes in Me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.” (John 7:37-38)

God very cleverly likens us to branches and seeds and fruit, then fleshes out the metaphor by sowing the earth with vegetation literally dependent on light and water, as we are dependent on Christ our Light and Living Water.  We, as fruit, as branches proceeding from the Vine, are incapable of calling forth either sun or rain ourselves – we are equipped only to receive, humbly holding out our fragile petals for His warming life and soaking grace.  As we rest in the gift of His goodness, allowing His glory to bloom through us, He grows us into vibrant beings delightful to Him and to all those who encounter the lushness of His presence in us.

And, lest I miss the irony and the twinkle in His eye, I cannot argue that the buds which blossom brightest and the foliage most verdant and green are those seasoned with the pungence riding these early-April breezes.  Manure.  The stuff of curses and foul words, the waste remaining when all that is good and useful has been absorbed, the distasteful, disgusting, displeasing pile of rejection has only one use when recycled – to make beautiful things grow.

Our lives reflect the same.  That which we wish we could reject – an unwelcome diagnosis, a sudden death in the family, a heartache born of love rejected – is very likely what God will recycle to bring forth color we never could have imagined otherwise.  “…We also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.” (Romans 5:3-4).  How drab and dry would life be without hope?  

The more manure, the more stunning and vivid the petals pressing up through it – it’s how the world works.  If God made it this way, He means to say something through it.  Sometimes life stinks – not because God is not present, but because He uses what we would reject if we could to weave and sing and grow us into beings reeking of life and hope and joy. 

Suffering cannot do any permanent damage after all.  We have heard the rumors of a Tree of Life, of Eternal Light and streams of Living Water flowing through the Kingdom sown just beneath the surface of our souls.  A day is coming when the hard shell of this life will break open and we will burst through the soil of Heaven, flinging wide petals more lush and vibrant and alive than earthly minds can comprehend.  All memories of sorrow and pain will be distant and flushed away.  Nothing will ever again wound our limbs made whole, nothing will crush our hearts made new.  No pungence will pollute where the air is sweet and the company sweeter.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

A Spring of Random Thoughts....

"Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!"   -2 Corinthians 5:17
Maybe it’s the spring.  Maybe it’s the first smell of shaved grass or the succulent colors of once-buried bulbs, maybe thickly blossomed branches and their pink and white confetti enchanting are to blame for these just as scattered thoughts.  Maybe.  Maybe my mind just wanders the length and breadth of eternity for fun.

There are things I’ve believed but never understood.  I assumed that’s what faith was about - seeing enough puzzle pieces laid side by side that I could accept the gaps, and could generally guess the picture without the box top.  But, something about spring makes me greedy.  Something about sun on the corner of my eye warming ear and chin and neck, the woodwinds of birds in the trees and a breeze sugared with the scent of soon to bloom honeysuckle that makes me hungry for understanding, makes me bold in my pursuit of a God who boldly re-paints the earth every orbit round the sun.  I want to know more.  I want to understand.  I want a belief breathless with unabashed wonder, a faith that leaps from height to height with joy unrelenting.

I think about autumn and spring and the beauty of wintery death in between them.  I think about the integrity of heaven and the perfection that defines it, the population of souls made right that define its appeal. I think about trees and gardens and why the Tree of Life is mentioned in Genesis and Revelation, before sin was born and after it will pass, unavailable to mankind when it seems we need it most.  Yet, God said that His eternal power and divine nature have been clearly seen, understood from what has been made, so He must have tucked the clues to His mysteries in every leaf and fruit and petal, under every rock and above every star, pulsing in every human need and love and desire.  Somehow, a tree that blooms never-ending life, and does not die hinders my understanding of a God who died for me.  The gnawing, spring-fueled hunger grows. 

I think about separation being the ultimate pain of death – as relational beings, nothing could hurt us more.  Some lives are buried so deeply in our own that the thought of pulling them out rips our souls to shreds.  To pay for our imperfections, our selfishness and our sins with such torn and bloodied sorrow seems a heavy punishment indeed.  But the wages of sin is death…

I search for clues again in thoughts of spring, in succulent colors bursting from bulbs that died to see them bloom, in once bare branches now thickly blossomed and scattering pink and white confetti enchanting.  They are trees that died yet live again.  Eden's Tree of Life that would not die could not reveal to me the necessary door of death, or the passage it opens to a different sort of life just beyond the hinge.

Sin fractures our souls in a way that cannot simply be patched – they must be completely dismantled and re-built out of in-fracturable material.  The integrity of Heaven cannot be maintained if populated by anything less.  Just as winter separates autumn from spring, death separates the old life from the new, the dark from the light, the broken from the unbreakable (“and we shall be raised incorruptible”). 

The punishment for our sin is not simply death as separation from every love buried in our souls.  It is the necessary door beyond which lies the hope of resurrection to every love reborn.  Jesus went through the process to show us how it works and because He knew we could not do it right ourselves.  Dying by my fractured self would only birth another soul subject to fracture.  Christ’s death substituted mine so I am re-made into a creature born of borrowed righteousness.  The fear of separation is no more.  A renewed soul enjoys renewed relationships, with both God and man enduring beyond the end of time.  Death, where now is your victory?  Grave, where now is your sting?

Death on this side of the door seems cold and dark and colorless.  But the door isn’t locked, and if you listen close, there’s a knock.  Maybe it's the life you always dreamed of with trees that never die.  Maybe it’s the spring.
"When my body lies in the ruins of the lies that nearly ruined me, will You pick up the pieces that are pure and true and breathe new life into them, and set them free? ...Will You make me new out of the stuff that lasts, stuff that's purer than gold and clearer than glass will ever be?  And, can I be with You?  Can I be with You?" -Rich Mullins

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Tears in Heaven...

“For, as I have often told you before and now tell you again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ.  Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is set on earthly things.  But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables Him to bring everything under His control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like His glorious body.”   
Philippians 3:18
There are dark places in our souls.  We’re not born with them, but sometime before we can speak our names and claim a toy as “mine!”, they’ve begun to grow.  A slow, spreading cancer, they seep into our thoughts, our words, our relationships.  The courses of our lives are mapped by choices they push us to make, by the rippling of choices others have made out of their own dark places.
None of us is immune, none of us has the power to defeat them.  We may deny the dark places, hide from them or call them by another name, but when we’re quiet and alone, we know they’re there. Pain or numbness, shame and fear - these are signs of their presence, little blue flames of loneliness creeping along the floors of our hearts.  Our bodies show scars of illness and brokenness, our minds, scars of anxiety and depression - the dark places wound and war with us until our bodies succumb.  Death is the cry of their victory.

It’s no wonder long-time inhabitants of earth, themselves stained by selfishness and greed, bearing scars of the dark places, discovered ways to keep the pain at bay. Temporarily, at least.  Drink to make the mind forget, a physical thrill to mimic intimacy, overindulgence in anything which made them feel valued or important by his or her own strength.  Distraction, entertainment, comparisons to one another - they would gladly try anything to forget the shadows of pure humanity lurking in their souls.  We, who have inherited their world, have inherited their tendency towards such defenses.

But we are not doomed to use them.  There is a greater defense against the dark places.  Darkness cannot exist in the presence of light - it’s impossible.  It’s a dynamic built into the fiber of the universe, another picture to help us understand the God who unbelievably claims us as His own.  When He turned up as Jesus on our shadowed planet, His friend John described it this way: “In Him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” (John 1:4-5).  Dark places in any soul simply dissolve when light of Life shines in.  The darkest moment in human history (the cross) threw open the shutters to everlasting morning.  Light is the greater victory.    

When Paul speaks of those who are living as enemies of the cross, he speaks of them with tears.  I can understand why, because they’re friends of mine, too, and I know how he feels.  They defend themselves against the dark places the only way they know how, and from their point of view, earthly things offer the only relief; of course they worship the god in their gut (“If it feels good, do it”), of course the only glory they understand is in their shame.  It’s in their blood.

Knowing Christ does not make me better than them - it only makes me honest.  I know the dark places hiding in my own soul when I am unwilling to let the light of Christ shine in, and I know who I am without Him.  It’s not pretty.  My citizenship is in heaven, but I was born into it when I was born into a new life, with new blood I didn’t pay for or earn.  Jesus did.  I, myself, was once darkness, as Paul reminds me in Ephesians 5, but now I am light in the Lord.  I should live as a child of the Light. 

This means many things.  It means that while I remain in this broken body on this broken planet, I will continue to war against the dark places in my soul.  It means that victory is my right (as a citizen of heaven), but the source of it lies not in my own strength - victory lies instead in my willingness to surrender to the Light of Christ.  It means that as His light shines in me, it will also shine through me, spilling out as words and actions which mimic Him.  It means I must be willing to face the dark places in myself and in those around me, loving them as Christ loves them, reflecting His light for His glory, whether any of them acknowledge Him or not.  It means I will share the true Light with everyone I know, loving them even unto tears, because I so desire their relief from dark places, not because it is my Christian “duty” to do so.

It also means that I eagerly await my Savior.  Someday, dawn will break on that everlasting morning and the war against dark places will finally be over.  My Savior will come for me, gathering my brothers and sisters who have also struggled with borrowed weapons for the sake of one another, who have also prevailed through surrender and we will be welcomed home - where we are safe, where we are known, where we are loved - with great gladness and joy.  All that is broken and scarred will fade into distant memory, our lowly bodies finally transformed into glory, forever and ever and ever.  This is our hope, our destination, the final result of our faith.  Souls will dance with the joy of it for eternity.  Until then, may the Lord, the Light of this universe, use us to bring His light into every dark place, no matter the cost, so that the ones we dearly love may join the dance and cry with us sweet tears of joy.  
“The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.”

2 Peter 3:9    

Thursday, March 8, 2012

The Art of Being Human

“And now, Israel, what does the Lord your God ask of you but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in obedience to Him, to love Him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to observe the Lord’s commands and decrees that I am giving you today for your own good?”
Deuteronomy 10:12-13

When my father was a boy, he and my uncle were fascinated with figuring out how things worked. As young curious boys do, they decided that the best way to conduct such research was by taking things apart.  Things like my grandfather’s car radio.  Unfortunately, while disassembling the radio did help them discover its million moving parts and unravel the magic of how the music played, it didn’t help them figure out how to put the radio back together again.  When my grandfather found out, silent car trips weren’t the only consequences to their unintentionally destructive quest for knowledge.

Over the last century or so, curious minds have been performing similar dissections.  Jazz music examined the harmonized melodies of band and orchestral pieces and stripped them down to their distinct individual sounds. When they rebuilt, notes were architected into a sum of their parts, rather than the swelling symphonic ensemble they once were.  The result, though very cool, was occasionally jarring and discordant. 

Art took a similar journey, dismantling faces and landscapes into shapes and colors, dots and angles, wandering down the hill of genre from Classic to Impressionistic to Abstract.  Arms and legs could occupy separate spaces on a canvas and still represent humanity, swirling swaths of paint could portray beauty or love or anger without any defining reference point except the intention of the artist.

Biology picked up on the theme of separation, as did psychology and religion.  In fact, medicine exploded and psychology thrived because of their newfound ability to take mankind apart and by examining each piece, figure out how the magic of the music played.

The dissection of man, like the dissection of music and the dissection of art, into original building blocks is, in itself, neither morally right nor wrong.  The danger lies in our capacity to rebuild.  We’ve taken ourselves apart, and we’re not sure how put us back together again.  We’ve forgotten what “whole” looks like.

Our faith has suffered the brunt of this unintentionally destructive quest for knowledge.  We’ve allowed ourselves to separate our minds from our hearts, our souls from our bodies.  Our beliefs are confined to a nebulous space inside of us we call our spirit and all prayers, groanings, hopes, intentions, and decisions are corralled inside.  The rest of ourselves we apportion out when we feel it appropriate.  Our faith comes on stage when we’re at church, our intellect runs the show at school or work, our heart steals the spotlight when relationships, sorrows, or sappy movies call, and our bodies do whatever feels best, no matter where or when they are called into action.

No wonder we feel like our faith isn’t relevant to real life.  No wonder we feel like we don’t belong anywhere – we’re not ever showing up all in one piece.  We’ve been stripped down to our distinct individual parts and the effect, while occasionally cool, can be jarring and discordant.

God calls us to be whole.  He designed all of our parts to work together as one integrated organism, not simply the sum of its parts.  We are to fear Him with our intellect, to walk with obedient muscle and sinew and bone, to love Him with our will, to serve Him heart and soul – our faith should cover us like skin, should run through every part of us like blood, carrying the life-giving oxygen of His power and purpose into every cell (did He not breathe it into us at our inception?  Does the reenactment of that holy respiration not bind us to life every moment of every day?)

My faith exists in fingers on a keyboard, a voice on the phone, and feet on the gas pedal.  My love for God lives in my knees and ears and too-busy mind intentionally quieted so that a voice desperate to speak might be heard.  Obedience to God cannot be corralled into a nebulous space in my spirit – it must be breathed into being, as I once was, into literal space and time and motion.  My intentions to serve God must bleed into actual physical obedience or I cannot call myself His servant.

We belong in one piece.  That’s how we were composed, how we were designed, how the Author of creation wrote us into history. Taking ourselves apart for examination is beneficial for discovering our million moving parts and how we function, but we must not remain disassembled, or we will forget why we function.  If we do, the consequences will be more than just silence - the magic of the music may be lost all-together.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Pressing On

“Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.  Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead,  I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”  Philippians 3:12-14 

The hardest part is putting on my shoes.  I’ve been running for a few years now, but I still wouldn’t call myself a runner.  A less than stellar track career in Jr. High (I may have gotten a black eye running hurdles and hit someone in the head with a discus) ruined any notion of claiming an athletic title.  Still, running is good for me - good for my muscles and my mind.  It’s my heart exercise, improving atria, ventricles and soul.  I’m not fast and sometimes my hips and heels complain, sometimes it takes everything in me to tie up my running shoes and walk out the door.  But when I do, God meets me there.  He dips me in His goodness and I come up breathless every time.

When I started, I could barely run for two minutes without stopping.  Four years later I ran a marathon.  Yesterday, I struggled through a mile and a half.  Neither past inadequacies nor past successes determine if I run today.  Putting my shoes on determines if I run today.

Our spiritual lives are similar.  There are things in our past which could cripple us if we let them, painful memories or experiences, guilt-ridden moments we can’t let go.  I used to let sin send me into a vortex of shame and hiding from God.  It could last for months.  I ignored Him, pretending that He didn’t notice, convincing myself that He wouldn’t want me around anyway, or that we’re both better off if we don’t see each other for a while.  The problem is that solution to sin isn’t mentioned anywhere in the Bible.  The options I’ve been given are to believe God means what He says when He offers forgiveness and restoration for my confession (1 John 1:9), or not.  To believe He chooses to be with me and has not rejected me (Isaiah 41:9-10) or not.  The option of allowing past sin dictate my present spiritual condition has not been offered.

And, just as I cannot live in the shadows of my past failures, I cannot rely on the spotlight of past successes to light up my present spiritual life.  There were moments I felt God near, closer than my own soul, moments I stood strong for Him and saw Him work in mighty ways.  Those were precious moments, but they are memories now.  I live in these moments, the ones the clock ticks by as I breathe and blink, and they could still go either way.

Paul talks of forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead.  He knew how crippling past pain can be and he knew contentment with past accomplishments was just as debilitating.  Our past may influence our present circumstances (every choice has a consequence, for good and for bad), just as a steady or an inconsistent running regime influences whether I am capable now of running one mile or ten.  But, my choice to run today, to live today, to serve God today is not made by looking backward, but by straining forward.  I am told to stop living in the past, throwing off everything which holds me back (Hebrews 13:1), and pressing on to take hold of that for which Christ took hold of me.

I’ve read that more times than I can count, and in the haste of familiarity, my eyes have always glossed over the bit of it that arrests me now.  “I press onto take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.”  Jesus took hold of me.  Wow.  I have no fancy spiritual explanation for that.  Just tender impressions on my heart: He grabbed me in His arms, He left heaven to scoop me up.  He rescued me, He knows me, He’s got me.  There is a prize, a gift so important that He dropped everything to run after me and call my name, to sweep me up, burying me deep in His chest.  The prize of His presence  seizes me and draws me heavenward.

And it is for that prize, that I press on.  I don’t give up.  I keep going.  No matter what happened before, I continue knowing Him, loving Him, sharing Him.  Serving, giving, listening, praying, sacrificing, running, running, running towards the One who ran to me.  Today’s present is tomorrow’s past.  Today’s broken world could be tomorrow’s paradise if we press on.  Today’s pain could melt into tomorrow’s healing if we press on.  Today’s sorrow could become tomorrow’s joy if we press on.  So, tie your shoes, my friend.  Put on your big girl pants, cowboy up, and forget what happened yesterday - tomorrow’s coming and it starts today.  Let’s press on.    

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Hope, Unfettered...

“I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. They will come in and go out, and find pasture.  The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” –John 10:9-10

Nearly gone.  Lungs weary and trembling.  Pulse thready, barely there.  But there.  If she were conscious enough to know it she would have cursed.  A pulse meant she had failed.

Fifteen and already fed up with the story life had written her.  She had spent months - years even - drowning in a suffocating sea of being misunderstood.  She felt unloved, unappreciated, unknown.  Her arms were delicately ribboned with scars, the tops of her thighs, too, deeper-than-skin tracks of a desperate journey towards feeling.  Something.  Anything.  Anything but the emptiness she woke and fell asleep to every twenty-four hour turn of the earth.

Hope.  It was an empty word, one she only associated with eternal nothingness.  Maybe death would silence the condemning voices she heard alone in her room, whispering words of disapproval wherever she walked, humming pain in the pauses of every conversation.  Silence was the only thing she hoped for - life had become too loud.

There are things that are true whether we know them or not.  Protons, neutrons and electrons whiz around the atoms building us up whether we understand their frenzied dance or not.  Stars are born in intricate nurseries out past Orion’s Nebula whether we witness their hazy burning birth or not.  And the Creator of it all loves humans, deeper-than-skin wounds and all, whether we realize it – whether we feel it - or not.

Our souls were birthed with a purpose; they were made to be known.  They were created to be understood, designed to breathe deep the air of love, peace, and hope.  Our souls are programmed with a longing to find pasture, to run free in safe places and gloriously be our unfettered selves. 

But, we have been robbed of our spiritual birthright.  Sin condemns and isolates, whispering words of disapproval and humming pain in the pauses of every conversation.  Our sins, coupled with the sins of others, twist into a deadly noose that chokes the hope right out of us.  It steals, kills, and destroys.  Feeling unloved, unappreciated, and unknown, we get fed up with the story life is writing us.  Sometimes, we get fed up enough to quit.  

That’s where He found her.  Though her life was weary, thready, and barely there, there was a beauty in her still – He knows because He placed it there, Himself.  He can’t forget.  Jesus loves her – loved her when she carved out the delicate tracks of her journey towards feeling.  Loved her when she held tight to things that robbed her, loved her when she would rather love the thief of her soul.  He loved her when she couldn’t hold on – He loved her when she let go.  What else could He do?  He, the source of all love, peace and hope, came to bring her life –more of it, not less.  He came to lead her soul to safer pastures, came to call her to a life of being her gloriously unfettered self.

It’s what He offers every human soul. No matter where He finds us.  No matter what state we’re in, no matter how dead we nearly are. Bringing dead things back to life is what He does and He has a lot of experience.  He's been there before.             

Some things are true whether we know them or not – but knowing them makes a difference.  Praise God He sometimes lets us fail because she knows, now.  Knows that she was made for life. Knows that she is worth loving not because of what she does, but because of who He is.  She is discovering the beauty He placed inside of her. The scars will remain, for a time, but her pain?  It’s nearly gone….

(Hope.  It was an empty word, but now it’s overflowing with eternal promise… and life.)

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Into the Great Unknown....

There’s nothing quite like flying.  Nothing like looking down on clouds from the sunny side of the sky, nothing like watching ribbons of river flash gold as though traced by a celestial finger.  Patchwork farms and gently rippling mountains mark the spots in between as blinding fire passes from lake to pond to river again.  Cotton wisps drift lazy in the middle, pulled thin by winds unseen.

The world looks different from here.  My usually limited lens has zoomed out to big picture view, so details blur vague and hazy like the smoky clouds leaning up against my window. Forces I cannot see jostle and gently jar my sense of stability as the steel below skips over choppy tides of air.  The motion is both soothing and unnerving.  Knowing the cause of it doesn’t prevent the occasional leaping heartbeat when greater waves crash against the hull, sudden drops and dips expected and yet unexpected.  Like the sea, oceans of air are untamable.

I’m going somewhere, but getting there is beyond my control.  Lifts and currents carry me, powerless to steer or stop, from one point to another. I’ve actually lost all sense of direction.  Perhaps if I studied the angle of the sun, measured it as it leaves a gilded trail along the land below I could reorient, but clouds make it difficult, and I’m unsure if we’re flying due west or tipped slightly north or south.  I suppose knowing wouldn’t make any difference - the tossing sky is navigated and captained by hands not my own.  I placed my life in them under full disclosure that I would not be consulted on such matters.

Flying is a matter of trust, but it is also a matter of choice.  Waiting at the gate I assumed the same posture I assume now, seated and drowsy (though slightly less cramped).  My flight was booked but I still had a choice – to board or not to board.  I still maintained some sense of control over my comfort and my whereabouts.  Abandoning ship was as simple as getting back on the escalator.

But I want to go places in life.  I want to see new vistas and meet new people.  I want to become what I’m meant to be and sometimes that means submitting myself to lifts and currents I am powerless to steer or stop.  

The grand adventure of knowing God is the same.  Too often we reduce our lives of faith to a manageable hobby, a casual pastime we pick up and lay down as we find convenient. When we gave our lives to Christ, however, we did just that – we gave our lives to Christ. We often forget that in doing so, we gave up all rights to ourselves, forget that when we boarded this flight, we did so with full disclosure that we would likely not be consulted on matters of navigation.  And while there are breath-taking glimpses of gold amid smoky hazy clouds, we control neither.

Loving God is a matter of trust, but it is also a matter of choice.  I choose whether I will allow God to captain my life or whether I will abandon ship.  Positions of waiting may look the same as positions of movement and sometimes it’s hard to distinguish between them.  The difference lies not in the posture of surroundings, but in the posture of my soul.  When I am waiting, wondering when the life I’m expecting will finally go somewhere, I maintain the choice to get on board with God’s leading or walk away.  The me I could become hangs in the balance.  

Once I step out, however, I abandon myself to forces I cannot see and currents I cannot control.  I am headed for a holier life, but may lose all sense of direction along the way.  God’s Word leaves a gilded trail to help me reorient, and though invisible waves may crash in, my sense of stability jarred and jostled, sudden drops and dips coming on expected and yet unexpected, I am confident in the Captain of this craft.  He knows where He is going and will take me where I need to be – I have only to sit back and let Him.

Life is a journey.  Whether moving or standing still, going forward or pausing to rest, I always have a choice.  I can dig in my heels, refusing another step; I can turn back, ignoring the destination to which I am called; or I can willingly take off into the great unknown, letting God carry me along on currents unseen.  My life is not up to me, is not about me and is not meant to please only me.  It is in giving it up, in posturing my soul towards surrender that I gain everything I never knew I always wanted.  Life is untamable and though the occasional leaping heartbeat rises up, I’ll be all right.  I have learned to let go and simply follow the golden traces of a celestial finger.  It’s the only way to fly. 

“Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.”  Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.” James 4:13-14

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:11