No Camping

We are not big campers. We don’t own a tent. We barely have enough cheap store brand sleeping bags to keep warm if we were to camp within our own home. In fact, my children are quick to declare that their father is “Indoorsy.”

That being said, if I were with Peter, James and John on the Mount of Transfiguration, I would have more than willing to join them in their plea to set up camp and live in tents right there.

cindy-chen-161349-unsplash.jpg

After all, they had come off of three years of intense, nomadic ministry training with Jesus. They had ministered to masses of fragmented, frail and fearful people. They were expecting Christ, any day now, to establish the kingdom on earth, to make wrong things right again, to restore Israel to the power and peace it had experienced in its golden days under Kings David and Solomon. Enough with the broken stuff, Jesus. Let’s move into the glory phase.

All three synoptic gospels include the story of the Transfiguration of Jesus on the Mount (see Matthew 17, Mark 9 and Luke 9). A picture is worth a thousand words, and it seems no words can do justice to what the three core disciples experienced and saw on that high mountain, although they tried.

And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became white as light. And behold, there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with Him. And Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good that we are here. If you wish, I will make three tents here, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah.” He was still speaking when, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.” Matthew 17: 2-5. 

Here was the Messiah they had expected: lifted high, exalted, glorified, radiant. This was the moment for which they and all of Israel had been waiting all those lonely centuries of silence.

Just as at His baptism in the River Jordan, the heavens could not hold back their applause on the favored Son of God. Jesus’ face beamed under the delight radiating out from His vocal Father in Heaven.

What comes next they never expected. The radiant, whole and holy Son of God would walk down the mountain resolved to climb a different hill for a much darker finale.

I long for order, wholeness, rightness, fullness. In the rare moments when I experience them, I desperately try to bottle it up so that I can save them and live on them forever. I want to build tents in those places, too.

But just as the disciples were to walk down the Mount of Transfiguration, taking the glimpses of fullness they had seen back among the fragmented flocks of humanity, we are called to be filled to get back down in the fray.

No Camping

Radiance, perfection, beauty.
Oh Lord, let us live on this height. 
We’ll build tents and live right here,
Where we saw glory in plain sight. 

For right here, our weariness waned,  
Burdens were banished – all was right. 
Insecurities secured, self right-sized
In godly fear without any fright. 

The Father said “Listen to Him,”
The path He takes leads to life.
Follow Him who left glory’s mount
And willingly entered the strife.

Brokenness, weariness, frailness
Await at the base of this hill,
Descend now and enter the fray,
For that is the center of His will.

Bind up the broken hearted,
Set the captive masses free.
Bid them look to the Healer
Lifted high upon the Tree. 

Places more permanent than tents
Jesus has gladly gone to prepare.
When He comes back to the earth,
Then in His glory you will share. 

Steeple & People

Steeple and people, quietism and activism, are two demands of the Christian life meant to be held in tension; however, as with most tensions, we tend to find ourselves off-balance in one direction or the other.

According to J.S. Stewart quietists are those Christians who are quick to embrace the indicative of the gospel but fail to catch the imperative. They believe in a mighty salvation accomplished by God and for them, the “one thing needful is to dwell in the secret place of the Most High, to cultivate the interior devotional life and aim at personal holiness.” Quietists are quick to look for the New Jerusalem, knowing that only there will the world find true rest and peace; however, they forget that God intends to use our labors to move our world closer to that ideal, that we are meant to pull the kingdom down to earth as it is heaven.

I think of quietists as steeple people. I know them well, as I tend to be one of them. Given the choice, I would much prefer to sit alone in my home and meet with God, cultivating intimacy with Him.

neonbrand-265875-unsplash.jpg

On the other hand, activists are those who are quick to remember the imperative of the gospel, while minimizing its indicative. According to Stewart, “they are so vividly conscious of the demand to be up and doing fo the salvation of this atrociously needy world that they can scarce tarry to consider what God has done once for all.” The problem is that activists can be quick to put hope in this world and their own labor or movement, “a future Utopia to be achieved by toil and tears and sweat and blood,” which can often lead to disillusionment.

I think of activists as people people. They are drawn toward the masses, the orphan and the widow. They put feet to their faith and sometimes have little time for theology that does not land in the practical.

It seems that two such groups tended to exist, even in the early Church, as James had to remind the nascent church that activism and quietism were two sides of the same coin.

But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in the mirror and goes away and at once forgets what he looks like. But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets, but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing…Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction and to keep oneself unstained from the world.  James 1: 22-25 & 27. 

James sought to intertwine the two strands, activism and quietism. The letter he wrote to His churches that is now the book of James is often misread as being works-oriented as compared to the Pauline epistles; however, Paul and James are coming at the Christian life from two different angles, two different sides of the same coin. Both agree that the balanced Christian life, the desired end for every Christ follower, is a vital union of the two.

What God hath joined together, let no man put asunder.  The indicative of the gospel, what Jesus has fully accomplished through his life, death and Resurrection sends us out with the imperative of the gospel, lives modeling and proclaiming His kingdom in a lost world.

However, we do not live in a world of the ideal, we live in a world of the real. As such, we would do well to know our tendencies and fight to bring balance by intentionally infusing missing elements to our lives by seeking active quietism or quiet activism.

Active quietism means that I force myself to flip the coin to see the people side rather than myopically focusing on the steeple. It looks like pushing through to initiate toward messy people and causes rather than staying within the bounds of my quiet time. It looks like days of service or time around large groups occasionally when I would rather be alone.

Quiet activism means sometimes choosing to reflect on what God has fully done on the Cross rather than focusing on all that is still left un-done in the broken world in which we remain. It looks like saying no, at times, to right causes that one might sit long in the presence of the Righteous One who will bring His kingdom to bear fully on earth in His timing.

Jesus, of course, is our model for both. He has sent the Spirit to more fully form each of His children into His image until the day when He, our steeple will fully be among His people forever.

 

Faultlines

Southern California sits on hidden faultlines. One would never know that they exist down there, until they collide.

What is true of the ground beneath my feet is also true for the heart I carry in my chest. My soul has a complex maze of faultlines that I don’t usually know exist until they collide, creating obvious repercussions in my life and those around me.

To be a broken human in a broken world is to have a broken, beating heart. We all carry faultlines, and those faultlines often collide with those unseen faultlines of others, even and especially those that we love most.

faultlines

I am not sure why I continue to be shocked that my faultlines and those of others I love collide and leave messes. Human history proves that from the beginning of the undoing of the original four-fold harmony of the world (peace with God, peace with man, peace with self and peace with the earth), people’s plates have been colliding. When Jesus was on the earth, he told us it would be so.

When Jesus died on the Cross, the earth shook as hidden plates collided in revolt. The earth seemed to shout out that this was not right, yet only by His death and Resurrection could things be made right.

He promised us His presence. He gave us His healing balm, a balm that could only come from One who, though innocent, has suffered all things. He sent us the Third Person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit, to lead and guide us into truth, to convict us, to enable to forgive and be forgiven.

When my faultlines get to moving, I find myself comforted by the obvious and regular collisions that occurred in the early Church. Paul, Peter and John, the three who spent the most time with Jesus, seem to spend most of their letters correcting and exhorting the broken body of Christ to continue to run to Christ in the midst of their conflicts.

Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. Show hospitality to one another without grumbling. 1 Peter 4:8-9. 

Two simple verses, barely over twenty words. Easy to read, easy to memorize, yet oh-so-hard to live. On my own, I do not have the kind of love that covers sins or even miscommunications. I have the kind of limited love that tends to underline and emphasize the faultlines of others while minimizing my own. It is only when I have lingered long in the healing streams of His lavished, sacrificial love that I can even begin to apply this love to the collisions around me and within me.

When your faultlines get to grumbling and colliding with others, it is my prayer that you would be quick to remember the one who brings harmony and healing through His power.

Throbbing

Inflamed soul wounds pulse and throb,
As much, if not more, than their physical kin. 
Unseen, yet frightfully real, pain and fear
Suddenly circulate from deep within. 

Your human heart throbbed, steady and strong,
Beating beautifully in time with the Father’s will.
You walked steadily toward death and distress,
Of plentiful pain you willingly drank Your fill.

Your heart, completely crushed by the curse,
Laid sedentary there in the grave.
Then, throbbing again with Risen Life,
Walked You right out of that cave. 

In prayer I present my throbbing heart
And open my pain and wounds to you. 
Then Your scarred hands get to work,
Sanctifying me through and through. 

There, with defenses finally laid down,
You speak Your hope into my story,
Making me throb with your love,
A love laced with grace and glory. 

 

 

Self as Subscript

My children excitedly await the significant and wildly intellectual publications to which they are subscribed: the Lego magazine and Nat Geo kids. When they arrive, we experience a mini household holiday with its accompanying sibling spats over who gets to read them first.

Besides the immensely cute pictures of unlikely animal friends, the favorite parts are the games, most notably the “What is it?” game whereby an extremely zoomed in picture of something is featured and they are to guess the larger context to which it belongs.

I believe that we, as humans first, then as a culture, and lastly and sadly, often as the Church, have often sought to live in such a zoomed in, overemphasized view of self.

To be certain, self has a place. After all, God created each human with a distinct self that was intended to be His delight; however, self must always be known for what it is: a dependent and derivative subscript of our gracious God.

We must be certain to begin with God and end with God in our knowledge of self and our leading others to know themselves.

As I have been preparing a women’s Bible study course, I have been wrestling with the concept of double knowledge,  summed up succinctly in Calvin’s Institutes.

“Nearly all wisdom we possess, that is to say, true and sound wisdom, consists of two parts: the knowledge of God and of ourselves” (Inst. I.1.i).

I long for the women to leave the short, blitzkrieg class with deeper double knowledge. To that end, we will be exploring Gary Thomas’ Sacred Pathways this week to learn how we have each been wired to experience God and His Word.

I have been hesitant in my heart to spend a week focusing on self. In light of our sinful hearts and our self-obsessed culture, I have feared that such exercises might only tend toward self-absorption or making time with Lord all about them or an experience. Then, this morning as I was praying and preparing, the Lord gave me the image of self as subscript.

letters

Subscript is signifiant, but not central. One must begin at the main text to even need or see the subscript. When one rightly uses a subscript, be it a footnote indication or a cross reference, one is not meant to remain there. What is found in subscript is meant to compel and propel us back to the main text in a more informed and interested way.

Thus, there is a place for self-knowledge in the Church and in our relationships with the Lord. Relationships, after all, imply and presuppose two parties seeking to know and be known by one another. I want these women to know the various ways that they most naturally meet with God and experience Him. But all self-knowledge should exist to the end of pointing us back in a deeper and more grateful way to the God who has created self as significant subscript.

I was helped greatly through Knowing God by J.I. Packer in regards to not completely losing the place and experience of self in the fear of self-absorbed Christianity.

“The emotional side of knowing God is often played down these days, for fear of encouraging a maudlin self-absorption. It is true that there is nothing more irreligious than self-absorbed religion and that is is constantly needful to stress that God does not exist for our comfort or happiness or satisfaction or to provide us with religious experiences, as if these were the most interesting and important things in life….But for all this, we must not lose sight of the fact that knowing God is an emotional relationship, as well as an intellectual and volitional one, and could not indeed be a deep relation between persons were it not so.” 

As we seek to encourage others to press on to know God, we would also do well to remember that all our knowledge of God exists only because of His underlying, unbelievable loving knowledge of us.

“What matters supremely, therefore, it not, the fact that I know God, but the larger fact which underlies it- the fact that He knows me. I am graven on the palms of HIs hands. I am never out of HIs mind. All my knowledge of Him depends on His sustained initiative in knowing me. I know Him because He first knew me and continues to know me.”(J.I. Packer, Knowing God).

 

Tree Trimming

There are a few things (actually there are very many things) that are guaranteed to get a good cry out of me. The last song and scene in Les Mis. Watching mother/son and father/daughter dances at weddings. Reading The Giving Tree. 

My children thoroughly exploit me on the last one, asking me to read the story to them and timing me to see how soon the tears start flowing.

God has given us an incredible tree in our front yard, which was the one non-negotiable our boys prayed for when we were looking for a new home.  Our sweet tree has already been climbed daily by many pairs of bare feet and has more recently become the gracious host of our homemade tire swing. I keep imagining our tree smiling like the tremendous tree of Shel’s Silverstein’s classic story, glad to be enjoyed and cherished. The tree hasn’t even flinched when it has been hit my multiple Nerf arrows and bullets, making it one step ahead of even that famous Giving Tree.

tree pic

Our tree is larger than life, so much so that that we had fears its roots might negatively effect the foundation of our home. Thus, we brought in a tree expert to inspect it this weekend.

Quirky at first, our tree expert inspected our tree, telling us all about the heart and the cambium and prop roots and drip lines. But the more he talked, the more we could sense his genuine concern for the preservation of our tree.

He went on and on about how it takes expert cuts to reshape and restructure trees, even when they have grown to maturity. He talked about proper angles for cutting and the perfect time to shape our tree. And he wasn’t giving off the salesman vibe, but radiated a sincere passion to see this tree live healthily and thrive for as long as possible.

After he left, I found myself going back to our interaction regarding said tree throughout the day. I was reminded of the fuming prophet Jonah, sitting under a beautiful plant that shaded him and gave him relief from the blazing sun. In an effort to simultaneously convict Jonah of his own racism and bitterness toward the Ninevites and also show the breadth of His love for the people He created, God caused the vine to die. Jonah was livid, and He and God proceeded to have an interesting conversation.

“Do you do well to be angry for the plant?” And he said, “Yes, I do well to be angry, angry enough to die.” And the Lord said, “You pity the plant, for which. you did not labor, nor did you make it grow, which came into being in a night and perished in a night. And should I not pity Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also much cattle?” Job 4:9-11. 

I love our tree already and our boy are obsessed in the healthiest way. We were going to be devastated if the tree expert told us that we would have to remove it.  Yet, God loves His people, even His most wayward and backwards, with a sacrificial love that makes our care for the tree look like nothing.

Similarly, I could not help but think of John 15 where Jesus talks to His disciples extensively about abiding in Him, the True Vine.

I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. John 15: 1-2. 

If our tree could talk in October, when it will be significantly trimmed and reshaped, it would probably not have kind words for its trimmer, who plans to lob off 40 percent of its branches and bulk.  Yet, if the tree knew the care, the expertise and the passion that its trimmer has for the sake of the tree’s preservation, longevity and health, it would dance with delight.

As our tree, even when it appears mature and healthy, needs thinning and reshaping, so our souls need constant care and shaping.  His goal, after all, is eternal preservation and ultimate maturity for our souls. When we are pruned, we would do well to remember that our pruner, the One True Vine, was pruned for us that we might be grafted in to His life.

 

Wonder Walks

I am wired for long, quiet meandering walks in the woods. Sounds lovely. Never happens. First, we don’t have woods here. Second, meandering walks require lazy afternoons which are few and far between in the season of motherhood in which I find myself.

One day while I was lamenting my lack of time to marvel and meander, the Lord was quick to remind me that I can reclaim even small crevices of time to do short, yet soul-reviving stints outside. Thus began my wonder walks.

Every day I try to take a wonder walk. Sometimes they last 2 minutes, sometimes twenty. Admittedly, some of these walks can barely be called walks. They are often more momentary jaunts from the car to the next sporting event or errand; yet, even on these pathetic excuses for wonder walks, the intentionality of actually looking for beauty right where I am leads me to moments of wonder and worship.

This week, while taking a short walk on our busy street, the sheer beauty of commonplace plants that are a dime-a-dozen here shook me. Though these plants are His lower creation, they put me to shame in their obedience.

image.jpeg

Hoping and Humming

The bright bougainvilleas
Make me blush at my dullness;
Quick are they to do His bidding,
While all of me is slowness.

The picayune poppies
Correct my closed-off heart;
So easily they open up,
Yet I must be pried apart.

The slight, sonorous songbirds
Train my reticent tongue;
Before my heart is roused,
Their worship set has begun.

Daily Your lower creation
Carefully chastises its crown,
Bidding us to take our place
In declaring Your renown. 

All creation awaits on tip-toe
The full redemption coming;
Yet while it yearns and hopes,
Simultaneously it is humming. 

 

Worry Dolls

While chaperoning my son’s field trip yesterday, my eyes were drawn to the brightly colored worry dolls in the souvenir shop, that robber of parent’s funds and supplier of children’s joys.

Seeing the worry dolls reminded me that I had, indeed, proudly donned a worry doll headband when I was younger. Yes, I was that awesome. Big, round glasses before the hipsters reclaimed them as cool and braces with a worry doll headband to complete the ensemble. Winning.

worry dolls.JPG

I wish that the dozens of worry dolls that dotted my head like a half-crown were actually able to deliver on their promises. But a million worry dolls would not have been enough to absorb the myriad worries and fears that I concocted.

There is something charming about the tradition attached to the Guatemalan toys. According to the stories, the tradition is to be traced back to a Mayan princess who received a special gift from the sun god which enabled her to solve any problem or worry. As such, parents began to give their children worry dolls which were to receive their fears and worries, enabling them a modicum of peace and relief.

I love to study cultures and traditions because in them we should find the longings that have been planted in our hearts by the One true god. While I do not believe in a sun god or the special gift given to a young Mayan princess, I see in this story the universal longings and needs of the human heart.

The world was not meant to be broken. Before autonomy was valued over trusting obedience to the Creator God, neither thorns nor worries existed. Shalom existed on every plane. Man was right with God, mankind, self and creation. Yet, since mankind mutinied, we have felt the painful presence of brokenness on every plane.  Shalom was shattered.

Every since then, humanity has hunted for something to piece the shards back together into some semblance of peace. Innately, it seems, we know that we cannot and will not find the solution within ourselves, though that has not stopped us from trying.   Thus, we find ourselves placing our hopes and our haggard selves into outside relief, even in the form of precious little worry dolls.

There is something so right about the worry dolls. We do need a place, and not just a place, but a person, on whom to place all our worries.

But the person must be the unique God-Man, the person of Jesus. He is the One and only mediator between God and man that Job found himself longing for in the midst of his suffering.

For he is not a man, as I am, that I might answer him, that we should come to trial together. There is no arbiter between us, who might lay his hand on us both. Job 9: 32-33.

We are on other side of the Incarnation and the Cross. We know the Mediator whom Job longed for and whose presence we see panted for in the existence of the worry dolls.

We are invited to cast our worries, cares, longings and fears unto Him, the only one who can truly shoulder such burdens. For with His life, death and resurrection, He has solved the cosmic conundrum of our sin and done what the legendary Mayan princess could never do. He who has solved the greater need with Himself can surely be trusted with the lesser needs of the lesser planes.

Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. 1 Peter 5:6-7. 

As one who is worry-prone raising worry-prone children in a worry-filled world, this is good news, indeed. Christ is sufficient. He has already completed the work, and He is coming again to restore shalom for those who will trust in Him.

Gardening Goals

I have been looking forward to planting a garden since the day we purchased our new home. As we are on the home stretch of tax season and finally had a free (ish) day, Phin and I declared today was indeed the day.

Phin picked out a new kid-sized rake and proudly carried it around the local hardware store as if he were a seasoned farmer. He talked a big game while we were picking out our veggies for the garden.  He dressed the part and was all smiles…for about ten minutes.

Then it got hot and boring, so he decided he would rather rake the astro-turf in the shade. Then he began making things with sticks. Then he created a puddle with the hose and splashed.

gardening

As I continued to sweat, breaking up the hard ground in the future garden, the Lord gently reminded me how often I garden like Phin.

I love to dream about kingdom work. I voraciously read books and gather knowledge about soil and plants, souls and cultures. I look at other kingdom gardens and critique them or gather ideas for my own plot. I even attend conferences to be around others who labor and garden in the kingdom. Yet, all too often, when it comes to actually getting my hands dirty and breaking up rock-solid ground and cultivating sandy soils, I don’t last long. The sun is too hot, the work is too imperceptible, the plants are too flimsy.

God has appointed each of His children a plot of kingdom land to cultivate. Some may be entrusted with rolling acres of kingdom soil, others a sizable backyard, still others the space inside a used tire. He tells us not to compare, either in pride or insecurity, our little kingdom land to any one else’s plot, but to faithfully cultivate as unto Him. The Lord as the Planter, the Gardener, the Vine-tender is laced throughout the overarching narrative of Scripture.  Often times through the prophet Isaiah, God laments over his wayward vineyard, the beloved vineyard he tenderly planted. When Christ painted pictures of the kingdom of God though parables, we see sowers and mustard seeds and gardens and vineyards.

When we become His adopted children, we take on the family business and the father’s passions. Thus, we join Him in His grand scale, century-sweeping gardening. And it isn’t sexy. It is hard, slow work that causes blistered hands and burned skin. Yet, as with planting an actual garden, the work not only promises great reward but also proves to be a reward in and of itself.

A man’s harvest in life will depend entirely on what he sows. If he sows for his own lower nature his harvest will be the decay and death of his own nature. But if he sows for the Spirit, he will reap the harvest of everlasting life from the Spirit. Let us not grow tired of doing good, for, unless we throw in our hand, the ultimate harvest is assured. Let us then do good to all men as opportunity offers, especially to those who belong to the Christian household. (Galatians 6, J.B. Phillips translation). 

A strange thing happens when you tend to a garden: you actually begin to care about the little plants, because you have invested in them and they are under your care. I know that my little strawberry plant will probably only provide us with a handful of strawberries all summer, barely enough to make two spinach salads, yet those handful of strawberries will bring me more joy than two Costco flats I could purchase in twenty minutes.

One day, when the Great Gardener returns and combines Heaven and Earth into a garden-like city, I believe we will walk with him around our little plots. I imagine Him pointing out the various plants we have invested in various seasons with great delight. For while the kingdom is quantitative, it is also qualitative. God wants many plants in His  garden, but He knows each plant, notices each new tendril and bud.

I long to walk with Him on that day with the same proud smile I saw Phin donning as he watered our little plot. It may be small, but it is ours. May we tend our little plots by His power, in His presence, to His praise. Small as they may be and insignificant as they may feel, they are pieces of His kingdom, known, seen and loved by the Great Gardener. We may not have a green thumb, but He most certainly does.

Cloaked

This week during Spring Break, I donned a bathing suit for the first time in a long time.  Such a daring feat took great courage due in part to the fact that I am an Irish-blooded, fair-skinned sun-burning machine and also to the fact that the only running I have been doing of late is running my fingers over tax forms.

I survived the experience, even though my precious children decided it would be a good time to lovingly call me one of their favorite titles, “My sweet, squishy momma.” That being said,  I am definitely looking into a cloak-like cover-up while I grow back my confidence.

beach

As such, cloaks were on the forefront of my mind this morning. And, as providence would have it, our pastor talked about cloaks today at worship. Beginning a new series on Jacob and Joseph, he taught today about Jacob stealing Esau’s blessing.

He spoke of how Jacob cloaked himself with goat skins to portray himself as his hairy twin. While the image initially made me feel better about the bathing suit situation, he went on to remind us how we cloak and hide our true selves in false identities and performances, desperate to receive blessing and favor from others. He ended speaking about the One son who deserved the birthright, the full favor, the beaming branding of the Father, Jesus, cloaking himself in humanity through the Incarnation. He wore said skin cloak that we might be able to wear the cloaks of His righteousness, that we might put on Christ and experience the undeserved and unwavering favor of the Father.

For my Sabbath time today, I spent time writing a poem to praise the Christ who wore so many different cloaks that we might be wrapped up in His righteousness rather than our own self-righteous rags. Knowing that I am covered in Him completely gives me confidence and courage, even in a bathing suit.

Cloaks

Cloaked in clouds He created,
Wearing the whimsical wind,
Caped in the cover of cosmos,
The sky around Him was pinned.

Yet at the Father’s bidding,
The Son pealed off His glory,
Trading it for humanity’s hues,
Humbly entering our story.

Around his new and naked frame,
The swaddling clothes were wrapt.
The Ancient of Days, willingly, in
Human limitations daily trapped.

Putting on the tunic of a teacher,
As itinerant preacher, he did roam.
He who prepares rooms for us,
Wandering without a true home.

Then they publicly stripped Him,
Mocking Him with a purple robe,
Stained with blood and blistered
His naked back did bear the globe.

Risen and cloaked again in glory,
He has returned to the throne,
Leaving robes of righteousness
For His siblings to wear on loan.

May You be cloaked in our praises,
Variegated cloth for the favored Son.
May we wrap ourselves in You,
Until heaven and earth are finally One.

 

Megaluno

Megaluno. Not to be confused with Stellaluna, a great children’s book. Also not to be confused with megalomania, although the two words share some roots.

Megaluno is the Greek word meaning to be make or great declare great, to enlarge, to magnify, to extol.

magnify

As I have been studying the first chapter of Paul’s joyful letter to the saints at Philippi, megaluno continues to ring through my mind.

Paul’s tone radiates joy and gratitude in this letter to the beloved Church he literally walked into planting when he walked up on Lydia’s prayer gathering by the River.  Most of the first chapter is consumed with Paul’s remembrances of these dear brothers and sisters, his gratitude for their partnership in the work of spreading the gospel and his prayers for them to continue to grow in knowledge and abound in love.

It would be hard to guess from Paul’s focus on the gospel cause and the Church he so loved that he wrote the letter from a prison in Rome, where he was shackled and mocked, awaiting trial before Nero. Yes, Nero. The sixth emperor of Rome who set his own city on fire while playing the harp and then proceeded to put the blame on the Christians community. Nero who was known to have Christians sewn into animal skins and attacked by dogs.

If I were imprisoned, even under American standards of safety and civility, I find it hard to imagine that I would write a letter to my dear friends gushing with gratitude about their faith. My friends would much more likely receive a long lamenting letter of complaint and fear tinged with undertones of self-pity and self-justification.

Yet, Paul, awaiting trail under Nero, simply says,  “I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel” (Philippians 1:12). 

What has happened to me. Quite an understatement considering the circumstances. Imprisonment. The inability to continue to the progressing pioneering work of evangelism to which he had given his life. Being cut off from the missional partnerships and mentoring relationships that so clearly gave him life and joy. Being beaten and likely tortured.

How did Paul pen Philippians, a letter which became a book ringing with the great gain of following Christ, contentment and ambition for the sake of the gospel cause, in the midst of the dire circumstances into which he was thrust?

Megaluno. Paul’s one grand, epic pant for his life was to magnify Christ. His overarching aim was to make much of God, to declare, to make great, to spread broadly the Good News which had been good news to him on the road to Damascus.

With that as his aim, he was able to rejoice from prison that others were sharing the gospel, whether by false motives or pure. If his ambition had been even for the kingdom work attached to his name, he would have been jealous or territorial. Yet, as it stood, he was able to declare, “What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed (Philippians 1: 18). 

 

With that as his aim, he was able to spend the hours locked in the stocks praying for his friends to grow in their knowledge and experience of the love of God. When they ought to have been writing him letters of encouragement, he was encouraging their hearts concerning his ill-treatment.

These cutting circumstances give us a glimpse into the hidden lifeblood of Paul, the purpose that had been pulsing through his veins since his conversion: megaluno Christ.

Because Paul had lived under this unifying purpose, he was now able to face death with contagious courage. For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain (Philippians 1:21). 

I long to be able to say that with Paul, and, by God’s grace, I will in time be more and more able to declare such a simple yet profound statement.

Such a pulse of purpose is in me because I am in Christ, but other, rival objects vie for me to megaluno them: my own name, my ministry, my family, my desire for comfort. These maimed megalunos that take away from the grand megaluno for which we were made.

May we megaluno Christ together until the day when He will be revealed fully and completely in His greatness, when every knee will bow and every tongue confess His worth.