A Rock on His Blanket

While Gulf Coast shells put our West Coast seashells to shame, they have nothing on our rocks.

Today my youngest fella joined me for a ladies’ brunch on the Coast. As a thank you for his brave foray into the adult world, I took him down to the beach for a bit. I was picturing a long stroll on the beach, but we did not make it more than 20 feet, thanks to the incredible collection of rocks that had tumbled in on the tide.

Being a rock collector, my guy had hit jackpot. I told him to pick out one, a favorite, to bring home for his collection. An impossible task.

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Every other minute, he would stop and scream with joyful urgency, “Mom, mom, mom, mom…You have to come here and see this one.”  At which point, I would pick up his “favorite rock” and hold it. A minute later, the scenario would repeat. And repeat. And repeat.

We ended up having to stop every five minutes to deposit his favorite rocks onto our beach blanket. When I asked him to par it down a bit, he simply couldn’t. Each rock had an explanation. “But this one is so reddish. And this one has sparkles. And this one looks like the Earth.”

When I seriously tried to reduce our pile, he nearly cried at the thought of leaving even one of them. Looking at his pile of favorites, I could find no pattern, no rhyme or reason. Some were huge and heavy, others were small and slight. To be honest, most looked utterly nondescript and normal. Yet they had his affection. And they had to be his.

As always happens when I slow down and pay attention in parenting (especially when in nature), the Lord used this morning to show me a tangible example of His love.

As a rock, I tend to feel the need to stand out from the rest of the rocks or to feel lost and nondescript when I don’t. There are just so many rocks. How can I be seen or known? Why would anyone choose me for their special treasure?

In Deuteronomy 7, we are clearly told why God set His love upon the tribe of Israel, one little pebble on a coast of ubiquitous rocks.

For you are a people holy to the Lord your God. The Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth. It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the Lord set His love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but it is because the Lord loves you and is keeping the oath that He swore to your fathers, that the Lord has brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt. Know therefore that the Lord your God is God, the faithful God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, to a thousand generations.  Deuteronomy 7:6-9. 

He set His love on Israel because He loved Israel, not because she was lovable or unique or extraordinary. In fact, they were an underwhelming people to say the least. He loved them because He loved them. He set His love on them in hesed love, and He would not remove it, even when they rejected him, ignored him, spurned him.

Peter, the pebble-rock upon whom Christ decided to build His church, understood this kind of unmerited, just-because-God-chose-to-love-me kind of love. It is interesting that later, in one of his letters to the Church, the New Israel, he harkens back to Deuteronomy.

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. 1 Peter 2: 9. 

Pete recognized that, as the New Israel, we are His people because He set His love on us in and through Christ.

Christ, the cornerstone, was rejected so that a random pile of ordinary rocks could be made into a living Temple for the praise and glory of God (Psalm 118:22 and 1 Peter 2:5).

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I am on His blanket. I was chosen from the shoreline of sin, plucked up, cleaned up and carried by His precious and powerful punctured hands to join His treasured collection.

Oh, how I long to continually re-experience the wonder that I am His, not because I stood out or performed well or merited anything, but rather, because I am His.

On Integration

I cannot braid, which is probably one of the leading reasons the Lord saw fit to give me all boys. I am not talking fancy braids or upside-down, fish-tail French braids (if I remember correctly from grade school slumber parties, those are things), I am talking plain old braids. My fingers fumble to weave the disparate threads together, and as such, God has spared me doing hair.

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That being said, in concept, I love braids. I love how they bring separate strands together into an integrated whole. I think I long for integration, in part, because life can feel so scattered and splintered and willy-nilly.

Integration comes from the Latin root word integer meaning whole.  While you most likely have forgotten the quadratic equation, hopefully you still remember the basics: an integer is a whole number, nice and smooth, not fractured into small bits and parts.

We were intended and created for wholeness (shalom to use a Biblical Hebrew term). We long for harmony, for a clear and overarching purpose, a river into which all the seemingly disparate streams of our lives unite and move as one in one direction.

As a culture that has become increasingly complex and technologically connected, there is a huge push toward simplicity as antidote. While I believe that are many beautiful principles braided into the simplicity movement, I dare say that complexity is not the problem requiring a solution. Duplicity is.

We have duplicitous hearts, seeking to serve two or two hundred masters.  With affections running wild in often-opposite directions, no wonder we tend to feel torn and pulled like those being drawn and quartered.

The key, then to integration, lies less in our schedules and more in our affections. To have one over-arching, all-consuming affection is to find oneself leading an integrated life, even when the day’s duties seems disparate and disconnected.

In his commentary on Hebrews 12:1-2, MacLaren declares that “the only aim that is worthy of a man to live for, as his supreme and dominant (purpose) is that he shall be completely molded in character, disposition, nature, heart and will into the likeness of Christ.”

The Christian life, more than any other, has the potential to be integrated, even when complex.  As David cried out in the Psalms, we are invited to beg God to give us undivided hearts bent on this one purpose.

Teach me your way, O Lord; I will walk in your truth; Unite my heart to fear your name. Psalm 86:11. 

The Hebrew word translated unite comes from a root word meaning “to make or declare one.” The image that comes to my heart and mind is that of a braid in which all the various strands of our souls and hearts are drawn together and made as one with one overarching purpose: to fear His name.

The Christian’s overarching ambition to be conformed to the image of Christ provides a means of integrating the seemingly divided tasks and troubles of the day.

Even a day splintered with seemingly disconnected tasks like shopping for groceries, mopping floors, meeting with a hurting friend and balancing a budget can be integrated if all are done as unto Him. Thus, my day does not have to be simple and streamlined for my life to be integrated and whole; rather, my affections and purpose must be focused on Christ first. If this be the case, my day can be simple, no matter how complicated its tasks.

Despite the fact that I know this, tomorrow I will have to deal with a heart made complex by divided affections. Even though I know, cerebrally, that He is the One grand aim of my life, the Only One worthy of undivided adoration, my desires and affections continually desert the One to whom they are made to directed.

When this happens, when I find my own heart drawn and quartered, I must run with the wild, unkept strands of my heart to the One who can braid beautiful things from a hot mess of a heart. I must confess the complexity I have again brought upon myself and cry out for an overwhelming and ordered affection for Him.

Thankfully, God is far more skilled than I at braiding.

 

 

A Long-Belated Apology

Kumeyaay Highway. The green sign placed on the side of one of the most well-traveled (read bumper to bumper traffic) highways in San Diego did not capture my attention anymore than any other roadside sign. Until recently.

A few years ago, I read Dee Brestin’s Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee, the harrowing historical account of the way Native American culture at large was negatively effected and essentially eliminated by Westward Expansion. Since having read it, my eyes and heart are more sensitive to all things Native American.

The Kumeyaay were the indigenous people of what is today Southern California. They were resourceful, using the little that the dry land gave them. They moved closer to the sea in the sweltering summers and inland toward Coastal Oak Tree groves in the winters.  Their diet was mostly plant-based and they made every possible use of the acorn, even crushing them vigorously to remove the inherent tannic acid within them. Their habitations were simple dome-shaped units made of interwoven palm fronds.

Today, the only sign of the Kumeyaay people in Southern California are the few highways dedicated to their various tribes and the billboards for the handful of casinos that are featured on their respective reservations.

As if to add insult to injury, we named an intrastate highway after them. A highway. Highways represent efficiency, urbanization, speed, commercialization, most of which contributed to the bleaching of their culture and their separation onto small strips of land.

Every time I get off the exit to head to SDSU’s campus, I cringe as I read and reread the sign. I want to drive to the reservation and express my apologies in person. I have yet to build up the courage and gumption to do so, in part because of my own laziness and in part because of the grim stories I’d be likely to hear were I afforded the opportunity to build a relationship with someone of Kumeyaay descent.

While I have yet to trace our ancestry and I did not myself take part in the Westward expansion, the same greed and myopia that infected those who did lives within me. The desire for more and more and a similar sense of Manifest Destiny lies latent in my heart. Bigger, better, more, at all and any cost.

The sign acts as a regular check to my heart and a reminder to get to know the land around me, the native flora and fauna, just as the Kumeyaay people did.

A Long-Belated Apology

We dedicated a highway to you,
An insulting consolation prize;
For we still don’t see the earth
As if through your aged eyes.

Miles of concrete ribbon
Making static the living ground
A pathetic peace offering
For treatment wholly unsound.

To glean from your culture
An more apt apology would be.
To study the earth around us,
Each hill and rock and tree.

I am sorry for my part
In the exile of your ways.
I long for your remnant
To know much better days.

I am not attempting to eulogize a people I do not know as, first of all, they are not completely gone, and secondly, I know they have vices of their own. It’s just that I find my heart thinking of this people group I know of only through books and stories and a smattering of artifacts in cases in museums with longing and apology.

Especially as a believer in Christ, I want to learn from them. While I do not agree with a worship or deification of the earth itself, I am convicted by the accounts of Native American respect for and stewardship of the Earth.  One would expect a people so closely united to the earth, so deeply dependent on its resources to care for the earth in such a way; however, Christians should be one step further toward caring for the earth, not multiple steps closer to consuming the earth. After all, we are closely united to the Creator of the globe and the galaxies beyond. We are as dependent upon Him as the vine upon the branches. As such, we have more motivation, not less to steward His creation.

Understated is an Understatement

In an overstated culture prone to hyperbole and hype, the life and death of Jesus is the ultimate understatement. The emanating Creator of an expansive universe limited to a particular time and place. And not just any time and place, but born to a young mother and a blue-collar father who live on the wrong side of town. Can anything good come from Nazareth?

From an earthly perspective and seen from the human plane, Christ’s life and death were the universal understatement; however, from a heavenly perspective and seen from the eternal plane, His life and death can never be overstated. All our attempts at hyperbole and our wildest exaggerations come ridiculously short of their reality.

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Today I found myself thinking about the juxtaposition of the understated life and death of Jesus which cannot be overstated.

By sight…
A couple, weary and travel-worn,
In every way nondescript,
Cuddling a fragile newborn,
Their hearts by love gripped.

By Heaven’s Light…
The long-awaited solution
To humanity’s every sigh,
From eternal comfort
Through birth draws night.

By sight…
Ten calloused, clumsy fingers
Following a father’s lead,
Working with splintered wood
’Til his hands begin to bleed.

By Heaven’s Light…
Fulfilling an active obedience,
Despising not the day of small things
Walking in stride with the Father,
Even when the dirge He sings.

By sight…
Exhausted and nearly extinguished,
Hungry for the help of his friends,
His forehead beaded with blood,
As grief his human heart rends.

By Heaven’s Light…
The One to whom homage is due,
Praying prone in a garden space,
Wildly wrestling with His portion,
Crying before the Father’s face.

By sight…
A nobody from nothing Nazareth
Hangs upon the cross of shame,
Crowds gather for the spectacle,
Most don’t even know His name.

By Heaven’s Light…
All Creation reaches its climax
The Perfect Lamb lies on the altar,
But soon Death He shall conquer.
His Kingdom will never falter.

 

 

 

An Ode to Spiritual Mothers

Some of the very best mothers I know don’t have children, at least not physically. Two of them are young, single women raising siblings with special needs or foster children. Two more married later in life, beyond child-bearing years; yet they have more children whom they feed and nurture and protect and guide than the Duggers. Still others, well past their own mothering years and well into their grandmothering years, continue to invest intentionally in the lives of younger women.

They probably don’t get invited to special Mother’s teas and Muffins for Moms.  They likely don’t receive tender trinkets presented by eager little hands; however, they are every bit as much mothers as those who have raised physical children.

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Spiritual mothers deserve to be showered with our thanks and affection. While it may not be appropriate for us to make play-dough bowls or paper flowers to present to them, we are called to honor them for the ways they have invested their lives.

In his letter to the Jewish believers, the writer of Hebrews encourages us to remember, to study and to imitate spiritual parents.

Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith (Hebrews 13:7).

Remember Spiritual Mothers
The Greek word for remember is mnémoneuó, which aside from being a mouthful, means to call to mind, to hold in remembrance, to recollect or even to rehearse. Fittingly, it is from this root word that we derive our phrase mnemonic devices (like My very excellent mother just served noodles to remember the order of the planets in our Solar System).

The writer challenged the Church to continually call to mind and to remember those who had invested in them and others. We are asked to rehearse, to go over and over, the ways in which they have served the spiritual family.

Study Spiritual Mothers
First we are called to remember and to notice them.  Then we are called to look intently at the ways they have lived their lives.

The Greek word  anatheóreó, translated consider above, means to gaze upon, to look intently at, or even to dote upon.  While we are commanded to study their lives, we also have every reason to be compelled to study them, their practices, their priorities and the outcomes they have shaped. And we are not limited to those we know in time and space.

While I have never met Amy Carmichael or Elisabeth Elliot or Corrie Ten Boom, these women have nurtured me. I hear phrases they have written and mottoes by which they have lived regularly in my daily life with both my physical children and my spiritual stock. I have gazed long at their lives through biographies and sermons, and I am seeking to glean every ounce of wisdom I can from these spiritual matriarchs.

Imitate Spiritual Mothers
Lastly, the writer of Hebrews bids us imitate these spiritual mothers. The Greek Word  mimeiomai means to follow, to emulate. Just the reading of the word calls to mind our modern words mimic and mimeograph (the forefather of the copy machine). Interestingly enough, this word is always in the middle voice in the Greek. While we don’t use the middle voice often in English, the middle voice implies a high level of self-involvement. It assumes that we are highly motivated to mimic and follow the lives of our beloved leaders.

Thankfully, this last step flows naturally out of the first two. Once one has noticed the women who have spiritually mothered others and looked long and hard at the harvest of their long investments, it is almost impossible to not want to emulate their lives.

I wish it was a simple cut and paste project, this attempt to imitate the lives of the spiritual mothers who have gone before us. I  have tried that to no avail, as apparently I am not wired like Amy or Corrie or Betsy (my spiritual mothers on paper) or the handful of women who have faithfully invested in my life with their actual flesh and blood lives. No one else is in my exact situation or place with my exact personality and my calling; yet, I can distill principles from their lives that can applied to my context in nuanced ways.

This Sunday, as you receive a flower at your Church or get ready to be fed a homemade breakfast like the Queen of Sheba, remember those who have spiritually mothered you. Notice them. Dote on them. And then spend the rest of your life seeking to imitate them as they imitate Christ.

 

Validation

“Have you been validated?”  The question felt more than a little intrusive coming from a waitress bringing us eggs. How did she, a random waitress, know the depths of my insecurities and desperate hunt for validation?

It turns out she was talking about parking. Upon moving to San Diego, we entered a whole new world in every way, including parking. When parking in a mall or shopping center’s provided parking structures, one is expected to bring a small card to a small machine in said mall to prove that one was, indeed, at said place for said time.

This whole parking validation world was new to me; unfortunately, what was not new to me was my deep need for validation. If only one could validate one’s being by inserting a card into a machine.

The word validate literally means to make valid and comes from the Latin word valere, meaning to be strong, to be well, to be worth. Every human, like every parking pass, it seems, needs validation.

We seek for validation in countless avenues.  Some travel the road to fame and fortune in search for validation, others strolls streets of significance. Still others loiter on relational lanes seeking worth and worthiness. Whether we are looking for validation in a paycheck, a marriage license, a report card, a pant size or the result of an interview, the hunger is the same: to be measured and found ample and important, needed and necessary.

I know the right answer: the ultimate source of validation comes from God alone, through grace alone and by faith alone in Christ. Yet, I find myself vying for validation from my friends and family, my chores and checks, and even from my ministry.

My response to such a deep hunger to be validated, even as a believer, used to secretly sound something like this: “What is wrong with you? Don’t you know that you have been validated by Christ’s victory on the Cross? You have His approval. He determines your worth.”

While I still testify to those timeless truths, the tone has begun to change over time. The conversation between God and I have switched from being highly informational to more intimate. Perhaps the switch of tone can be attributed to the fact that I have children who, despite being raised in a (mostly) secure, loving and affirming home, still pander after the praise of their parents. After spending hours working on Lego droids of their own dreaming, they still come clamoring for my praise, wanting to describe every detail and point out every unique feature on repeat until I, too, am enamored with their handiwork.

They are inviting me into their delight in their work. They want to share their joy. And they have come to me, the authority and adult in the home. They can have all the praise of their brothers and friends, but they still long for my stamp of pride and seal of approval. For to validate our validation, we need to be certain it comes from the highest source.

To have your mom tell you are good at soccer or art means very little compared to hearing such praise from Messi or Mr. Pappy. To have a mediocre boss impressed with your work means little compared to the applause of the authorities in that milieu. Just now, my five year old came to show me the Star Wars book he has been working on for days. It is one thing for me to applaud him, but it would be quite another for George Lucas to affirm him!

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We need our validation to come from a valid source and our praise to come from an apt authority otherwise, the significance won’t stick. What is unbelievable about the Christian’s validation is that the One we are to naturally run to for validation is both Our loving Father and the Authority on all things!

Just as my children bring their work to me to invite me into their delight and to give me opportunity to speak profound praise into their hungry souls, God invites us to continually bring our vying for validation to Him. When we are hit with a wave of insecurity or drowning in the desperate need for someone to see and acknowledge our uniqueness, God delights in our coming to Him. He is not put off by our intrusions or our constant need to be affirmed. After all, He is our Father.

When we come to Him as such, three things will surely happen. First, He will gladly welcome us. Second, He will proudly point us to His One True Son, as if to say, “Look at Him! You matter so very much to me that I was willing to send my Son to suffer so you could bask in my praise.” Thirdly, the doting affection of the One True Authority, the Eternal judge will begin to swallow up my desperate hunger for lesser validation from lesser judges.

 

Authority & Autonomy

Authority is often considered a dirty word in our culture. People who have been nurtured on American values have a tough time swallowing the concept of any authority, particularly an absolute one. We like freedom and choice, which are indeed amazing gifts that were purchased for us by the lives of countless brave men, women and children who fought for such rights. Yet, freedom and choice must be balanced by authority. 

At the beginning, in the world as it was meant to be, authority had no such negative connotation. God’s loving, protective authority over the lush land He created and the dynamic duo that crowned His creation was the understood context that ordered the perfect shalom that existed. Authority was experienced as relational care, provision and protection in the atmosphere of adoration in the garden.

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Yet, we all know how quickly humanity traded such loving authority for an audacious autonomy. In The Drama of Scriptures, writers Bartholomew and Goheen recognize that the temptation faced by the first humans in the garden was one to autonomy. 

“The temptation they face through the serpent is to assert their autonomy: to become a law unto themselves. Autonomy means choosing oneself as the source for determining what is right and wrong, rather than relying on God’s Word for direction.”

Since then, we have continued in the way of our parents, claiming our own autonomy even when it annihilates any chance of a peace, protection and provision that could flow from a loving yet authoritative God. We have seen authority abused time and time again, and as such, we overcorrect by throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

It seems we have three stances toward authority: ambition to gain authority, abhorrence of authority or an ambivalence towards authority.

However, there is a glorious encounter in Scripture that depicts Jesus as having lived His life under the absolute authority of the Father in such a way as to redeem authority.

The Centurion was a military man, well acquainted with rank and command.  Just as our current military personnel know what it means to live under authority, the Roman military men knew a thing or two about power and priority.  As someone in the power structure, it is probably safe to assume that he was attempting to gain authority. Yet, this powerful and most likely successful military leader hit a wall that his authority could not climb in the serious sickness of one of his servants.

When he had entered Capernaum, a centurion came forward to him, appealing to him, “Lord, my servant is lying paralyzed at home, suffering terribly.” And he said to him, “I will come and heal him.” But the centurion replied, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof, but only say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I too am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. And I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes, and to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.” When Jesus heard this, he marveled and said to those who followed him, “Truly, I tell you, with no one in Israel have I found such faith.”…And to the centurion Jesus said, “Go, let it be done for you as you have believed.” And the servant was healed at that very moment (Matthew 8: 5-13). 

The Centurion, not of the Jewish lineage, recognizes in Jesus Christ what most of God’s own chosen people have completely missed: this Jesus of Nazareth is a man of great authority under the command of a greater authority than the world has ever known.

The Centurion also sees something in the nature and character of this Jesus that tells him that He is the type who would wield His authority for the service and welfare of others, even the poorest servants who are accustomed to being stepped on by powers and authorities.

Like notices like, but the Centurion is also quick to notice that He is the presence of another kind of authority altogether. As such, he sees his own lack of worthiness, yet trusts that Jesus will graciously grant his request, not on the basis of the centurion’s track record or lineage, but because of the goodness and character of this ultimate authority.

Our demands for autonomy will be quieted and calmed in the presence of the loving authority of Jesus. For He who laid down His ultimate autonomy to be sentenced by broken human authorities to death on a Cross will most assuredly change our view on living under the authority of God.

To live under the authority of such an altruistic, sacrificial God is to be put into the path of life. To come under His provision and protection and to order our lives in light of His priorities are the initial steps back toward the garden from which we were banished after claiming our autonomy.

Safety Scissor Theology

Scissors frequently go missing in our home. I presume that they run off with the rebellious socks who flee their matches and the Tupperware lids who jilt their respective containers.  This morning, I found my adult hands forced into a pair of barely metal safety scissors trying to cut through thick cardboard. Safety scissors really don’t do much; while they have the shape of scissors, they are not sharp enough to do the work scissors are intended to do.

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My harrowing experience with the safety scissors this morning got me thinking about theology. Safety scissor theology tells us the promises of God without the commands, offers easy-believism, Jesus as the top-off to an already existing life. Like safety scissors, such threadbare theology shares a common shape with Biblical theology, but it doesn’t work. It doesn’t hold up under suffering, and it cannot cut through the hard places of our hearts.

I actually saw a bumper sticker the other day in traffic that perfectly summed up what this safety scissor theology: Add Jesus, written in the form of the Adidas symbol.

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Just add Jesus to your current life, put Christ as the cherry on top of your search for satisfaction. Come to the Word when you want and find a promise that you can just add onto your life like a Girl Scout pin.

I know Safety Scissor theology well, because in my flesh, it was what I look for and what I want to offer to people around me. As prompted by the bumper of the car in front of me, I want to add Jesus to finish off what is lacking and attach pretty promises to life.

But the Word of God is not a la carte, and Jesus is not safe. When we submit to God’s Word, which St. Augustine called the humble door, we put our whole lives under its authority.

We don’t get to pick and choose. We are called to prize its commands and its promises. We are not allowed to selectively choose the parts of our lives to which Jesus has access. We don’t get to come with a contract and have Jesus sign on the line after our demands for ease or security or comfort or safety.

While I know this for my own life, I find resistance when it comes to the lives of my children. I want them to know the Word, but I am hesitant to let the sharp edges of the Word of God and Jesus, the living Word, wreck their lives in love. I want them to know Him, but I often want to protect them from the suffering, pain, discipline and struggle that will likely be God’s handmaidens, ushering them into His presence.

As much as I cringe when I hear the Christian radio station advertising that safety for the whole family, I cringe even more when I realize that, in my heart of hearts, I often settle for wanting such safety scissor theology for them.

For the Word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account. Hebrews 4:12-13.

These Scriptures are more parts challenging and uncomfortable than safe and comforting.

When we place ourselves under the authority of God and His Word, we will be laid out on his operating table, exposed and naked under the hands of the Wounded Surgeon, as T. S. Eliot called God.

The Wounded Surgeon plies the steel,
That questions the distempered part; 
Beneath the bleeding hands we feel
The sharp compassion of the healer’s art,
Resolving the enigma of the fever chart.
(T.S. Eliot, The Four Quartets)

The Word of God and the Spirit of God will expose us, will force our lives under the searching and scorching light of God’s holiness. We will not be allowed to simply “Add Jesus” in a safe and comfortable way. The clarion call of the Scriptures and those who have been changed by them is “All Jesus.”

We will be cut and pierced by the Wounded Surgeon. Surgery of the soul will most assuredly hurt us before it heals us. It will not be safe; rather, it will result in a twin salvation and sanctification that will shake our false securities to the core.

However, on the other side of such sharp incisions, we will experience joy, wholeness and health that far exceed a false sense of safety. Safety scissors can’t do much, but the loving knife of the Scriptures in the hands of the Wounded Surgeon can do the impossible. They can make us alive to God, align us with His will and ways in the world and actually make us like Him.

 

Stingy Hearts and Supernatural Love

I found myself in tears in traffic today and not for what you might imagine. While I do, indeed, hate traffic, and tis true that San Diegans have no idea how to drive even in the lightest drizzle, I was not crying about my commute. I was crying about contentment.

You see, our oldest son has been enjoying an epic field trip to San Francisco with his father and all his school buddies. Gold mining, Pier 39, Alcatraz. Mixing foods into nasty concoctions at B grade restaurants, giggling on the bus and all the other gateway from elementary to middle school shenanigans. While I am thrilled for him, I have seen our middle son wrestling for the past few days. In him, I see my own wrestling before the Lord. Yet, I have also seen the Lord’s perspective on my wrestling in a fresh light.

We have always prayed that our boys would love each other like David and Jonathan, and God has been gracious to knit their souls together in like ways. They are best buddies, they share common interests and silly inside jokes that no one else on earth would find funny. Thus, it feels like a thousand stabs when one gets to experience something amazing without the other.

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Despite my best efforts to spice up our normal routine for the past few days, I have seen my son’s little deflated spirit trying so hard, but wrestling to be content. He has expressed both great joy that his brother is having such a great time and deep fear that he won’t experience the same, that he is missing out, that he has received the shorter end of the stick.

He forced a sweet smile as we ate special treats, and he will give me a tender hug tonight when I surprise him with a trip to an arcade/ diner (a boy’s version of Xanadu) tonight. Yet, those specials don’t fully make up for what he is missing. They cannot and they should not. He is wrestling to believe that we see him, hear him, know him and have good things for him.

I cried this morning in the car because I am just like him. I wrestle deeply with contentment. I feel torn even when those I love most deeply are blessed and lavished upon, fearing that there will not be enough to go around. I hate that I am that way. I wish I naturally just delighted in their delight, but it takes work and lots of wrestling to get there.

What brought me to tears this morning, mingling wet eyes with wet windshields, was seeing afresh the way the Father’s heart hurts with my heart when I am in those places of fear. My heart has been aching for my stuck at home son’s heart all week, as has his sweet brother who is away. We so desperately want him to know how deeply loved and seen he is. We want to pour out good things on him, and he will be showered with a heap of useless souvenirs purchased with care by his brother.

We repeat the fears and failings of our forefathers daily, us broken humans who no longer trust the heart of the Father. We look at the tree we have been refused and question the character of our Creator, certain He must be withholding from us. In a forest of trees of His provision, we focus on what we do not have.

Yet, the heart of the Father goes out to us in our wrestling and attempts to wrangle our sin. He sent His Son who climbed another tree, a cursed tree, that we might know fully and finally His character and His kind intentions toward us.

He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Romans 8:32.

He withholds not. He withdraws not from His children, even in their wrestlings to believe such wildly inconceivable love.

My tears today were for my son, but they were also for my own heart that fights against a stingy view of the God. Oh for the day when ours is full trust and full knowledge of His love, unaffected by human jealousies and fears and sins and insecurities.

A Radical Rock

I am raising rock hounds. While I am glad to be putting a fraction of those hours in various Biology labs that monopolized my college education to good use, I do grow weary of the piles of rocks I find everywhere in our home.

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From the amount of times God or His people talk about rocks in the Bible, one gets the idea that God, too, may be a bit of a rock hound. After all, He, the Rock, created all rocks with their different lusters and hardnesses and shapes and colors. I bet Heaven houses a rock collection that would put the Nat to shame.

Moses was graciously and protectively hidden in the cleft of the rock when God’s glory passed by (Exodus 33:22). He struck the Rock (two times, unfortunately) and water gushed forth to the thirsty people (Numbers 20). Even at the end of his life, before he passed the leadership baton onto Joshua, Moses sang of God using rock imagery: “The Rock, his work is perfect, for all his ways are justice. A God of faithfulness and without iniquity, just and upright is he” (Deut 32:4).

Oftentimes, after a decisive victory or a significant moment, God instructed His people to gather large rocks and set them atop one another as remembrances (1 Samuel 7:12).

David was ubiquitous in his use of rock imagery in the Psalms, as seen particularly in Psalm 61:1-3, but also in  Psalm 27: 5, Psalm 78:35 and Psalm 81:16. “Hear my cry, O God, listen to my prayer; from the end of the earth I call to you when my heart is faint. Lead me to the rock that is higher than I, for you have been my refuge, a strong tower against the enemy.” 

Jesus instructed His disciples, both then and now, to build their houses upon the Rock, rather than the shifting sand (Matthew 7:24).

Jesus said that man would not worship Him, the inanimate rocks themselves would cry out (Luke 19:40).

I love the image of God being my rock, I love to pray to the Rock of Ages, the steady and unchanging One. Clearly, I am not alone in this, as we have seen through the brief and cursory walk through the Bible searching for rocks. Yet, this week, while reading a book written by J.S. Stewart about the Church’s mission, an indictment regarding rocks rocked me (pun intended) to the core.

“Of those whose religious experience has meant the pleasant comfort and security of having a solid rock beneath their feet not all have realized that the rock is volcanic, and that sleeping volcanoes can awake. Long ago at Thessalonica the objection urged against the Gospel was that it ‘turned the world upside down’; and still wherever the Gospel comes, the authentic gospel- in India and Africa, in Britain and America – the same revolutionary force is unleashed.”

Guilty as charged. I love the static nature of the Gospel, I love that the work on the Cross is finished, that our hard labor is over (Isaiah 40:1-2). I love enjoying the stability and assurance that Christ purchased for us, I love knowing that I can be hidden in God’s presence, that I might approach the throne of grace with boldness through Him.

But I tend to shy away from the commands of the Gospel, the imperatives that are implied and pulled out of those indicative truths. The Gospel is static in that it is the same and always will be; however, it is dynamic in that it does work, it moves, it compels us to move to the outermost parts of the earth or at least the outermost parts of our comfort zones.

As Stewart so winsomely wrote, we are compelled into the mission of the Gospel: “The present age, by the fiat of God Himself, is to be characterized as the era of mission, in which every Christian is implicated…Like its Master, it was to take upon itself the burden of the plight of men, and to involve itself in all the conditions of their life on earth. From that warfare there is no discharge, from that concern of love no possible release, until God is all in all.”

The Rock is moving beneath our feet, moving the ends of the earth to know and love and worship Him who loved them while they were yet sinners.