The Pressure on Politics

Politics cannot handle the pressure it is being asked to carry these days.

As Neil Postman spent his life powerfully proclaiming, our nation is in a narrative crisis. We are lacking a unified, agreed-upon over-arching story or aim that orders appetites, brings purpose, and gives significance to our lives.

Hyper-individualism, while it offers incredible freedom, also crushes any chances of a coherent society. With the gradual shift from a modern society where absolutes are assumed even if they are not agreed upon to a postmodern society where self and its subsequent choices reign supreme, society has been atomized into tiny particles of sovereign selves.

With millions of self-appointed sovereigns and a suffocating sense of isolation, it is no wonder that as a society our rates of depression, malaise, anxiety, and suicide were sky-rocketing even before a global pandemic.

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David Brooks describes tribalism as one of the outcomes of such mass existential crisis in his book The Second Mountain.

“People who are experiencing existential dread slip into crisis mode: ‘I’m in danger! I’m threatened! I must strike back!’ Their evolutionary response is self-protection, so they fall back on ancient instincts for how to respond to a threat: us vs. them. Tribalists seek out easy categories in which some people are good and others are bad. They seek out certainty to conquer their feelings of unbearable doubt. They seek out war-  political war or actual war- as a way to give life meaning. They revert to tribe.”

Brooks goes on to give words to what so many of us are getting caught in on our newsfeeds, at our dinner tables, and in our cities and churches.  While disagreement has been part of humanity since Adam and Eve agreed to eat the fruit of the forbidden tree, the entrenched, vitriolic environment of present politics goes far beyond basic disagreement and civil debate. While communities are built on mutual affection (whether that is the love of a hobby, a cause, or a place), tribalism grows community on mutual hatred.

“Community is based on common humanity; tribalism is based on common foe. Tribalism is always erecting boundaries and creating friend/enemy distinctions…Politics is war. Ideas are combat. It’s kill or be killed. Mistrust  is the tribalist worldview. Tribalism is community for lonely narcissists.” 

When vacuums of truth and community press isolated individuals deeper and deeper into different tribes, tribal warfare is the sure outcome. The deeper the trenches are dug and the darker the us vs. them lines are drawn, the chances for transformational, relational discussion around disagreements become more few and far between.

“Once politics becomes your ethnic or moral identity,  it becomes impossible to compromise, because compromise becomes dishonor. Once politics becomes your identity, then every electoral contest is a struggle for existential survival, and everything is permitted.” 

Politics was never intended to give us our life’s purpose; it was intended to be a vehicle towards an end, not the end in and of itself. It cannot carry the weight of human existence and purpose.

Brooks’s explanation of tribalism helped makes sense of the crossfire I feel caught in currently. Two entrenched sides unwilling to even listen to the other side because they so villainize each other.

For the believer in Christ, the lines are drawn up very differently.  As Solzhenitsyn  discovered in prison, “The line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either – but right through every  human heart- and through all human hearts.”

We were enemies of God, and in our fallen nature were children of wrath (Ephesians 2:3); we were without hope and without God in the world (Ephesians 2:12). We were set on our own destruction, deeply entrenched in our patterns of sin.

“But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared,  he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Saviour” (Titus 3:4-5).

We need not be sucked into political tribalism when we are the loved members of the family of God. Politics need not become our ultimate purpose because we know the end of all things and are invited to join God in His kingdom work and purpose. Rather than putting the weight and affirmation of our existence on to a political party or system, we know that such a weight can only be placed on the One who created us, redeemed us, and currently sustains us. As such, we ought to be the most free of all people to engage in politics without crushing it or others with it.

Lord, help us to that end as we approach even more vitriolic days ahead. Be our purpose, be our vindicator, be our identity. Amen. 

Crossing the Line

After having dreamed of freedom for nearly 30 years, Harriet Tubman took victorious steps into the free state of Pennsylvania. I cannot imagine the relief, the joy, the satisfaction that must have flooded her tired body after having conducted through various danger-laden stations of the Underground Railroad. She had left her husband, a free negro who had threatened to tell her Master if she sought to run away. She had left it all for the promise of freedom, staying true to her personal vow liberty or death.

Our boys listened intently (a rare thing for our morning “motions” as Phin calls our devotions) as we read about Harriet Tubman this morning.  To be honest, the story fell upon my ears in a fresh way.

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She had made it to Pennsylvania. She had, by the grace of God and the help of so many now nameless and unknown abolitionists, crossed the line into safety.

What did she do with her freedom? She took her free self back over that line into danger, she crossed the line many times bringing over 300 other passengers to enjoy freedom.

The image of Harriet Tubman’s tired feet stepping from a place of safety and privilege and a hard-fought-for-freedom back into risk and uncertainty has been haunting my soul all day.

It would have been completely understandable for her to have said, “I have had my fair share of suffering; I have been hit on the head with a two-pound weight sacrificing myself so a runaway slave wouldn’t be caught; I have struggled with headaches everyday since; I had to leave my husband and my family. I get to rest now.”

It would have been admirable for her to build a house close to the border and cheer other passengers on as they reached safety, welcoming them to free ground.  Do all you possibly can from a place of safety to further the abolitionist agenda. If I am honest, that would probably be my natural inclination.

But she left a place of privilege, laid down her newly worn right to freedom and personally with great risk to herself, ushered others to freedom.

It makes for an amazing story. It reads well for a morning devotion. But it makes for quite uncomfortable application.

If I read Galatians 5:13 correctly, I am convicted that Harriet’s bold and brazen act of crossing the line is not meant to be the exception, but the rule of Christian living.

For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.

I am reminded of Numbers 32 when the Ruebenites, Gadites and half-tribe of Manasseh receive the land they requested east of the Jordan River with one important provision.

We will build sheepfolds here for our livestock, and cities for our little ones, but we will take up arms, ready to go before the people of Israel, until we have brought them to their place….We will not return to our homes until each of the people of Israel has gained his inheritance.”  Numbers 32:16-18.

They had found a land suitable to their way of living, a perfect place for raising livestock, but the rest of the tribes of Israel were still a long way from their places of peace. They vowed that they would not enjoy their own land or settle down fully until their brothers had received their respective lots.  For many years they did so, as seen in Joshua 22: 3-4.

You have not forsaken your brothers these many days, down to this day, but have been careful to keep the charge of the Lord your God. And now the Lord your God has given rest to your brothers, as he promised to them. Therefore, turn and go to your  tents in the land where your possession lies. 

Harriet and the half-tribe of Manasseh challenge me. They remind me that even though I have been graciously transferred from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of light and freedom, ther is work to be done.

It is not enough that I sit in church pews and pray for people to come to the Church’s doors. The example of Jesus who left Heaven to come and seek and save the lost bids me follow him out of my comfort zone. He calls me to cross the line back into enemy territory to go find would-be brothers and sisters. He bids me personally point them, spot-by-spot, danger-by-danger, step-by-step toward the One who offers a much deeper freedom than Pennsylvania offered Harriet Tubman.

Oh, that we would be a generation of Harriets, crossing back over many times to lead others to the true freedom found in Christ alone.

 

Right-sizing Summer

Expectations on summer somehow grew to exponential proportions in my momma heart. I did not realize the pressure I felt until tears were welling up in my eyes today.

When I look back on the summers of my childhood, I can taste ice cream cones, smell the chlorine of the pool, and feel the thick layers of neon zinc oxide gathering on my freckled nose. I am sure my mother remembered soggy wet towels and being our sherpa as we lugged supplies to the beach at Avon-by-the-Sea. But I don’t remember those.

The happy memories of summer, along with those memes that circulate to remind us that we only have eighteen juicy summers with our children, are not intended to heap pressure on already haggard momma souls. Nevertheless, they do.

I have the same internal wrestling match seasonally; however, this year the expectations feel more heightened because of the preceding months of a pandemic.  We have already been living the summer life of staying up later, lazy mornings, and dinners outside on the porch for a few months. While we have loved this slower pace, the end of school did not usher in a new season. It led us into more of the same without an idea of what the fall might hold.

We are not summer-camp-every-week people, but we do usually have a few exciting events that punctuate and give shape to our summer season. Those are not happening, which heaps more pressure on me to give shape to our days. Our growing boys are so hungry for friendships, but zoom calls are no longer packing the same punch. We are committed to fighting the good fight against the encroachment of screens, but such a fight is exhausting.

All these realities compounded with the complexity of social distancing and walking in wisdom leave me feeling frail, fragile, and faulty as a momma. I assume I am not alone. When I hit this wall, I need my perspective adjusted and put back into its proper place. I need the Scriptures, not nostalgia, the consumer market, or the newsfeeds of friends, to inform my summer.

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Repentance > Resorts
I need repentance, not a resort. I find myself daydreaming of a vacation on the Mexican peninsula and imagining that having a pool would cure my discontentment and restlessness.  But my issue is not our location, it is my idolatry of rest and comfort and quiet. I have bought the lie that summer exists to make me and my children happy and shiny (both literally and figuratively). I have forgotten that the chief end of man is to enjoy God and glorify him forever.

I have been daydreaming about escaping on the highway and missing opportunities right here at my house to travel the byways into my children’s hearts that are set before me. The little squabbles are opportunities to train my children. The windows of boredom can also be doors into creativity and a cultivated contentment that takes practice. It seems that as much as they need to be trained, my own heart needs to be retrained and refined.

Sanctification does not take a summer break. Motherhood does not offer a sabbatical. But God knows these realities and has promised His steady provision and sustenance even in the summer when our budgets and our patience are simultaneously stretched.

For thus said the Lord  God, the Holy One of Israel, “In repentance and rest you will be saved; in quietness and trust is your strength.” Isaiah 30:15. 

Vivification > Vacation
I need vivification, not vacation. As much as we want a change of location and a change of the monotony of the past few months, my soul needs to re-home itself in the Lord and His ways. While I want to float in a lazy river and read in a hammock, what I need is for my soul to be refreshed by the Word of God.

Reviving the soul. Rejoicing the heart. Enlightening the eyes. While these may sound like an add for a vacation rental, they are promises that come from God Himself.

The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul;
The testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple;
The precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart;
The commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes. Psalm 19:7-8.  

Rest in the midst of the ordinary; peace in the midst of the pressure; purpose even when a pandemic has life and summer plans on halt. These provisions of the Holy Spirit are helping to right-size our summer.

 

Rods & Rings

Having recently rewatched Selma, I’ve had rods on my mind. The way the officers used their batons (among other weapons) as rods of undeserved wrath on nonviolent protestors has been burned on my brain. The present context where racist police brutality has been on the forefront only serves to highlight the way the King of Kings and Lord of Lords uses the rod.

Psalm 45 begins on a happy note as a wedding song. While it may have signified an actual wedding between two high-ranking people, the inspiration of the Holy Spirit indues it with deeper meaning as an analogy between Christ, the groom, and His bride, the church.

The first half of the Psalm (verses 2-9) paints a portrait of the groom beginning with “You are the most handsome of the sons of men; grace is poured upon your lips;  therefore God has blessed you forever” (Psalm 45:2). The second half (verses 10-17) paints a picture of the doting bride, beginning with “Hear, O daughter, and consider, and include your ear: forget your people and your father’s house, and the king will desire your beauty” (Psalm 45:10). 

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Rods

After having introduced the sweet-lipped, strong-armed groom, the writer begins to talk about his manner of ruling. Thus, the rod enters the wedding psalm as something used righteously in the hand of the righteous one. The Hebrew word shebet translated scepter literally means rod or club.

In your majesty ride out victoriously for the cause of truth and meekness and righteousness; let your right hand teach you awesome deeds!…Your throne, O God is forever and ever. The scepter of your kingdom is a scepter of righteousness. (Psalm 45:2-4 & 6). 

Unlike the batons used to beat law-abiding protestors, this baton is a symbol of security  and justice. The lacing together of humility and meekness with strength and justice should shock us because they are so rarely found living in unison. However, in Christ, the King, they are inextricably bound together. The King who rode into Bethlehem meekly on a donkey proclaiming peace (Matthew 21:1-11) will return on a white horse ready for the final judgement of all evil  (Revelation 19:11-16).

Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse. The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war… He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the almighty. On his robe and on his thigh he has a name written, King of Kings and Lord of Lords  (Revelation 19:1:11 & 15-16). 

Our husband and king is not an ivory-tower bystander who only reads about injustice. He led the charge on injustice by showing his great power expressed in unthinkable humility first on the donkey then finally on the cross. Though He was the one who from all eternity had wielded the rod of uprightness, He was beaten and bloodied by weapons used unjustly on himself.

He fully and completely understands and hates injustice. And soon and very soon, He will return ready to finish the battle that has already been won. In his forever rule and reign in the New Heavens and the New Earth, weapons will be smelted into tools for construction like plowshares. Rods will no longer be used as tools of shame and racism.

Until then, we are called to be his bride who shares his love for uprightness and hatred for wickedness.

Rings

When we understand the altogether perfection of our groom, it is a fitting response to be ready to leave everything to be altogether his. His loves become our loves, His hatreds become our hatreds. He holds the rod and we proudly wear the ring of His covenant love,

Since he is your lord, bow to him. (Psalm 45:11). 

We are called to be ready to leave all that is familiar and ingrained us by our families and shaping cultures to be one with our glorious groom. He sets the standards. We do the bowing and leave the blessing to him. We forget what is behind and strain toward what is ahead (Philippians 3:13-14), we take on the nature of our groom and become the aroma of his coming kingdom.

 

Quilts of Influence

For many, Brother Andrew is a household hero name. God used his adventure-seeking personality to help strengthen the believing church behind the Iron Curtain of communism. He experienced incredible miracles sneaking Bibles and gospel tracts into countries where hundreds of believers had to share a few Bibles. His life left ripples into eternity.

As my son and I have been reading about his life, I have been struck by the colorful and diverse group of people who influenced and shaped Brother Andrew. A stunning quilt of influence shaped this young man who shaped the course of redemptive history in Europe.

The Whetstras. Uncle and Mother Hoppy. Karl de Graff’s prayer group. Though their names are not well known, their influence in the kingdom of God through their influence on Brother Andrew is unmistakable.

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The Whetstras loved a wild and rebellious young boy who was a constant nuisance through his teenage years into faith and beyond. They gave him their brand new car in a time when a car was a rare and prized possession. Uncle and Mother Hoppy took in Andrew when he was a brand new believer waiting for a spot in a ministry training program. They modeled care for the forgotten and the unseen. They fed his body as well as his soul.

Karl de Graff faithfully prayed for Andrew, knowing through the prompting of the Holy Spirit his needs before he himself did. He offered to teach Andrew how to drive long before Andrew knew he would need a car to deliver Bibles or was offered the car from the Whetstras. While these moments of care, hospitality, and training might seem small and even seemingly insignificant by themselves, God sewed them together into the most beautiful quilt of influence to shape Brother Andrew and the lives of believers struggling under communist regimes.

As believers, we each have our own quilt of influence. We each have a beautiful patchwork of people and moments that God has used to shape and train us into who we are and are still becoming today. Conversations around a table, moments of people modeling the life of faith, offers of housing, food, and encouragement. God uses these small and often largely unconscious moments to do huge things in hearts and minds. At the same time, God invites us to invite others into our lives’ little and big moments.

By faithfully loving our neighbors and/or children, inviting people into our hearts, and opening up our bank accounts and homes (when and where appropriate in these strange times), we might be able to become to others what the Whetstras, Uncle and Mother Hoppy, and Karl de Graff were to Brother Andrew. In the book of 1 Peter, the Apostle Peter uses the word poikilos, an interesting word meaning many-colored or variegated.

In 1 Peter 1:6, Peter speaks of the many-colored trials that have been experienced through in the diversity of the body of believers. Later in in the same letter, Peter uses the same colorful language to speak about the beautiful diversity of gifts and experiences given to the body of Christ.

As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace (1 Peter 4:10).

A quilt of all one color and stitch would be terribly boring. Our many-faceted, multi-colored God splinters His beauty into the lives of His children through many-colored threads of many different lives and gifts. May we trace the varied patterns and pieces of our own quilts of influence and may we eagerly invest in the lives of others, thereby becoming minor or major patches in their quilts of influence. After all, you never know when the next Brother Andrew or Corrie ten Boom is sitting in your class, eating at your table, or watching your life

Hosting the Lord of Hosts

I am not a natural host, as the domestic arts are usually not my strong suit. It takes work for me to meal plan and to clean our home beyond our usual surface cleaning. I usually work myself up into a bit of a tizzy before guests come, as my husband and children will attest. However, all the preparation and planning are always worth it once the guests arrive.

Hosting guests in your home has inherent duties and delights. The invitation of the other interrupts regular routines and rhythms which is simultaneously exhausting and exhilarating. Having new sets of eyes in our homes and cities, in addition to helping us see the dust and dings in our houses, gives us permission to see the ordinary in new light. We become tourists in our own cities, enjoying its unique beauty and noticing its particular brokenness anew.

The ordinary is infused with perspective and the overly-crowded table encourages fresh conversations. However, the hosts or hostesses must give focused attention to their guests, interrupt their normal routines, and limit their own activity to best serve their guests.

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Perhaps because we host quite often, or perhaps because it was written so poetically, a short eight lines from Emily Dickinson offered fresh perspective for my soul this morning.

“The Soul that has a Guest,
Doth seldom go abroad,
Diviner Crowd at home
Obliterate the need,
And courtesy forbid
A host’s departure, when
Upon Himself be visiting
The Emperor of Men!”

Every believer is a constant host to the Lord of hosts through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Such a reality should shock and stir us, keeping us preoccupied with desire to make our guest most comfortable and at home within us. It should rearrange our desires and reprioritize our time just as much as and even more than having a human guest within our physical walls. It should give us permission to live differently than those around us who are not hosting such a divine dignitary. Such constant divine presence should give us pause when we are tempted to sin as much and even more than having extra sets of eyes around us keeps us on our best behavior.

Zacchaeus was shocked enough to nearly fall out his tree when the Messiah invited himself into his home  (Luke 19:1-6). After all, as a tax collector, he was hated by his own people whom he willingly stole from in the light of day and with Rome’s blessing. People avoided him like the plague, crossing streets to avoid him. Yet, the treasured rabbi chose to stay in his home, allowing him who was a parasite the dignity of being a host.

We ought be far more shocked than Zacchaeus by the fact that the Holy Spirit has chosen to make his abode within our crowded, cantankerous hearts. The disciples understandably did not understand what Jesus was hinting at in his final discourses with them before the Cross.

Jesus answered him, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my  word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him” (John 14:23). 

It had not fully clicked yet that Jesus was God come to pitch his tent among humanity (skenoo, the Greek word used in John 1:14, literally means “to pitch one’s tent among”). If they struggled to understand this reality, how were they to understand that the Helper, the One whom Jesus would send after his return to the Father, would literally live within them?

None of it made sense until the Spirit descended upon them and took lodging within them at Pentecost. Even then, it probably made no sense. Why would the very Trinity choose to dwell inside humans? How could this be? What an honor and a privilege that must have been to them initially, as it was in the early days of conversion to all who believe.

Sometimes, nay, often, I forget that my soul has a guest — not just any guest, but the dignitary of all dignitaries, the Spirit of the King of Kings and the Lord of lords (Revelation 19:16).

I pray that I would begin to treat this God-guest with exceedingly more care and concern than I approach human company. I pray that I would linger long in His company and gladly prioritize my day around His priorities until the day that we are physically at home and face-to-face with Christ, the forever host.

Politics & the Primary Language of Individualism

‘Tis the season. Political season is upon us (not that it ever took a break). If I am completely honest, I dread election seasons more than I dread just about anything. I think I would rather walk a mile on Lego pieces than dance the delicate dances that will be required in the upcoming months.

Under normal circumstances, election seasons are exposing; however, the stakes and the tensions in our nation are higher than they have been in decades. Our patience is already worn down from the pandemic. Anger and confusion are boiling in our blood as conversations around racism seem to grow more and more polemic. What used to be funny caricatures of both sides are becoming scarily realistic as the ideological delineations become more and more entrenched.

Our political leanings will be questioned, cornered, and cajoled. As much as I want to run away from these conversations, I know I must engage.  I long to be prepared to chime in to the chaos, but to to chime into as a citizen whose primary citizenship and hope is another kingdom led by another king.

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In Habits of the Heart, Robert Bellah and his associates use Tocqueville’s seminal study on democracy as a loose guide to studying the the role of individualism in American culture. He rightly claims that the first language of every American is individualism, though that individualism can come out in different forms, namely expressive utilitarianism and utilitarian individualism. Utilitarian individualism most prizes the capital gains, power, and status (all rolled together into the complicated term success), while expressive individualism tends to highly prize feeling, emotion, and freedom of self-expression. While on the surface these two seem to be completely different camps, they share in common a base of individualism: I have the right to go after what I deem to be success and/or freedom in my eyes and government exists to secure that right.

While both sides tend to vilify the other, they share a primary foundation of protecting that individualism which is inherently and intentionally laced into the American spirit. They just define freedom and rights differently and go about seeking them differently.

The upcoming political season will expose more than our political affiliations; it will expose the idols and hopes of our hearts, the longings and rights that wake us up in the morning and keep us up at night. As much as I don’t look forward to this exposure, as a believer in Christ, the discomfort can be more than something to survive. While everyone else might be frantically or fanatically doubling-down on party lines and their respective idols, Christians are invited to double-down in dependence upon Christ.

For the believer in Christ, primary citizenship has been shifted and a new primary  language is learned. Devotion to and dependence upon Christ slowly uproot deeply engrained patterns of individualism (see 2 Corinthians 5:17-21). Short term hopes shift from our own increase to the increase of the kingdom (see John 3:30 and Philippians 3:7-9). Long-term hopes are lengthened to converge on the consummation of the kingdom of God in the New Heavens and the New Earth (see Philippians 3:20, Hebrews 11:10, Hebrews 11:14-16).

This primary citizenship does not extinguish our earthly citizenship, but it does right-size and inform it. It allows us to engage in politics but to do with loosened grips and increasingly humility, knowing that we do not know all things but our Heavenly Father does.

Within the body of Christ, both at large and in our local expressions of the church, there will be those with very different political leanings. We do not need to pretend otherwise. To do so would be naive and dangerous.  We do not need to attempt to manipulate and convince people of our leanings. To do so would be narrow and narcissistic.

We are, however, called to ensure that our primary leaning is into the person of Christ and our primary allegiance is to His Word and His ways. May we guard our hearts which are the wellsprings of our lives (Proverbs 4:23) more than we guard our political stances or positions. May we be more concerned with a humble and obedient posture to Christ than we are with the way parties are positioning themselves for power. May our deepest allegiance be to the One to whom all allegiance will ultimately given (Philippians 2:10-11).

May election season only deepen our dependence upon Christ. See you on the other side of November.

 

 

The Dew Drinkers

I did not know what dry was until we moved to San Diego in the middle of a multiple-year draught.  We came by way of South Carolina where we leaned to take for granted hikes under shady canopies of towering trees and thick grass growing in yards.  With the exception of the Pacific, we were underwhelmed. Dry and drab. Brown and browner.

However, the dry environment has trained my soul for dry spiritual seasons.  It has taught me to appreciate nuanced, subtle beauty. It has taught me to enjoy momentary slivers of shade on a sun-soaked, waterless trail.  Whereas I used to need gushing gallons to impress me,  even the slightest sound of trickling water makes my heart leap now.

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In desserts like the Namib where there are some years with literally no rainfall and a soaking year brings in a mere four inches of  annual rain, minor components of the water system became major. Plants and animals learn to use the low-lying fog and the dew as their largest water intake.

Likewise, those who have traveled long in their journey with Jesus know that in dry soul seasons, the same rings true.  When one cannot rely on downpours, one grows accustomed to drinking the dew, much like God’s people learned to rise early to gather their flakey sustenance. If they did not adapt to deep dependence upon God’s just-enough daily provision, they would starve.

The Dew Drinkers

Dwellers in draught-ridden lands
Grow accustomed to drinking dew,
Greeting dawn with gathering hands,
Mastering the art of trusting you.

Rising early,  they realize
The subtleties of sustenance.
Daily, desperate dependence:
The source of soul revival.  

Dew-drinkers dance for joy
At even  the slightest rain.
Yet they know His provision,
In seasons of loss and gain. 

In their circuits of the badlands
they know nuanced nourishing.
His presence is their portion;
His favor is their flourishing. 

Dwelling in the desert develops in us dependence upon the Lord so that if and when seasons of spiritual abundance arrive, we will enjoy them but not feel entitled to them.

Hear, O my people, while I admonish you! O Israel, if you would but listen to me! There shall be no strange god among you; you shall not bow down to a foreign god. I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt. Open your mouth wide, and I will fill it! Psalm 81:8-9. 

May we learn to be dew drinkers whose mouths are open wide for the Lord’s mysterious daily provision even in the driest lands.

On Protests and Pressure Points

Since moving to California, I have attended more protests than I had in my previous  years. That being said, by disposition I live much more in the contemplative and relational spaces. Over the years, I have been challenged by those whose solitude leads them into solidarity, whose adoration leads to action. Without the help of community, I would be floating in the theological clouds rather than walking with two feet on the actual ground.

This whole world is very new to me, but like the parable of the workers in the field, God welcomes laborers to join him in different fields of kingdom labor in many different shifts. He doesn’t chide or chastise the newer workers, but puts them to work towards His ends: a harvest of righteousness and justice that is from Him and to Him and through Him. That beings said, my heart has been wrestling with a few pressure points that I needed to disentangle through writing.

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Repentance

I wrestle with such massive and sudden “wokeness” in myself and others. In every news feed, I am seeing public apologies. I absolutely agree that sins that affect the public need to be addressed publicly, but I feel a growing pressure point regarding repentance.

Biblical repentance flows from conviction through God’s word, God’s people and the Holy Spirit. Conviction differs from condemnation. While on the surface, both seem to create a change in stance and behavior, only one gets to the heart. Condemnation is broad and fuzzy;  it seeks to change by self-empowerment and is often motivated by shame. Conviction, on the other hand, is God-wrought, specific and pointed.
 (see 2 Corinthians 7:10-13).

David’s private sin of adultery with Bathsheba had most certainly bled into public life through his part in indirectly arranging the killing of her lawful husband;  however, after being loving and creatively confronted by Nathan, he repented towards the Lord first and foremost.

Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love, according to your abundant mercy, blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly of my iniquity  and cleanse me from my sin. For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. Against  you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight. Psalm 51:1-3. 

David was less concerned about his image and the approval of those around him and far more concerned that he had broken God’s heart by his habits. He was undone because of what he had done to the heart of God first and foremost.

I fear that many of us have missed a few steps in our haste to try to catch up and get on board. While I am so thankful for the healthy stirring of the present protest movement and the activism of those who have long labored in this field, I fear that the contagious energy and enthusiasm will be short-lived if we don’t spend some time kneeling before the Lord in repentance to Him first.

Proving Grounds

When John the Baptist had the opportunity of baptizing many curious Pharisees in the Jordan River, he seems to have had some skepticism of his own. Were the religious leaders merely jumping on the popular band wagon of being dunked in the river, or were they truly turning from their self-righteousness and admitting their need of the coming Messiah?

In response to their interest in baptism, John warns them sternly, “Bear fruit in keeping with repentance” (Matthew 3:8).

The manner of their lives would be the proving ground of how deeply the change had rooted in them. I long for my daily life, my conversations, my private chat-threads with friends, and my methods of discipleship to be the proving ground of the Lord’s beginning to open my eyes to the sins of omission that have marked my life regarding understanding racism and fighting against the systems that support it, even those that have profited me.

But, if I am honest, I feel pressure to join the throngs in posting all the books they are reading, the documentaries they are watching, and the places they are protesting. It almost feels like one has to prove where and how one is doing the work. While I do understand that awareness and education are significant aspects of change, I do sense that there is almost a pecking order that is being built that doesn’t smell like the aroma of the gospel.

As he repented, David understood that God was after truth not lacquered on top, but permeating down to the deepest places of his heart.

“Behold, you delight in truth in the inward being, and you teach me wisdom in the secret heart” (Psalm 51:6). 

I am a recovering people-pleaser in addition to being a newbie to the fight against racism. I want the world to know that I am changing. I am so tempted to skip the necessary and foundational steps of truth in the hidden place to get to the public approval platform; however, more than I want man’s approval, I long to swim in the approval that was purchased for me in the proving ground of the cross.

Even in the good, necessary, and God-honoring arenas of reform work, the dangerous quicksand of merit lays and lurks. We must be careful not to create a “hierarchy of wokeness” by which people begin to stand on the sinking sands of self-righteousness.

I want to get there. I want to be woke. But I want to be woke through means of the gospel. I want to repent before God and stand on the proven ground of the gospel as I learn to be anti-racist.

Feasting in the Midst of the Mess

Picnics are my love language. Something magical happens when I load up my motley crew, fill the saddle bags with snacks and head to an outdoor space. I love the act of spreading out our massive, well-worn blanket. I love creating a little haven, even if it is only 36 square feet. I love how my children return intermittently to the blanket after roaming, scavenging, sliding or swinging. I love how picnics provide little patches of peace in the midst of the mess that is real life.

Lately, the Lord has been inviting me, in the most tender yet tenacious way, to picnic with Him. Not next week, not when the house is cleaned or the kids are well, not when my marriage is stronger or when my friendships are less messy, but right now, in the midst of the mess.

The Lord told us Himself “sufficient is the day for its trouble,” meaning each day will have messes all its own. We tend to be a people who insistently trust that “in the next season,” things will be neater, easier, less busy. We power our way through to-do lists, seasons of sickness and endless doctors appointments, unwanted singleness or hard marriages, thinking that once we get to “the other side,” we will enjoy God’s peace and person to a greater degree; however, “the other side” continues to be pushed into the future, swallowing up all our todays.

I am guilty of listening to the voice that says, quite loudly, “After this load of laundry,” or “Once I have the children down,” or “When the Church gets through this crazy season.” But lately, the Lord has been doing the sweetest thing. In those moments of mess, He has been unfolding a blanket and spreading it out right there, on top of a layer of a real life. I can almost literally hear the crisp snap of a blanket, His way of inviting me to come and feast with Him right now, right here.

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It is so tempting to want to clean up the mess, the spilled milk of a marriage that has been worn thin, the piles of friendships that could use a little TLC, the stubborn stains of personal failures that need addressing. It is in our fallen nature to want to clean up before we commune. If this is true of our friends and family, how much more so when the communion is with the Lord Himself.

If our fellowship with Him and our ability to enjoy His peace and presence depend on the mess being cleaned up,ordered and organized, we will never experience the gifts He purchased for us at so great a price.

You prepare a table for me in the presence of my enemies.  Psalm 23:5.

I have always wondered about this line in the 23rd Psalm. In the midst of a such a melodic psalm of peace and promise, the idea of supping in the midst of angry enemies sticks out like a sore thumb to me. Who would want to do that? I’d much rather the meal be a celebration of enemies taken care of, conquered and subdued than a meal eaten in the presence of danger, dis-ease, or disappointment.

The snapping of the Lord’s picnic blanket in the midst of messy life with messy family, friends and circumstances has changed the way I read that troublesome line. What used to sound uncomfortable and unappealing to me, a meal in the presence of problems, is beginning to sound like the tender whisper of a lover to come join Him. “Don’t clean up, don’t wait, just come join me. Now, yes, now, even in the midst of the messes within and around you.”

In one such moment this week, when the Lord had invited me to His picnic blanket in the midst cankerous and uncertain circumstances, He took our picnic peace to the next level through His Word.

On this mountain the Lord Almighty will prepare a feast of rich foods for all peoples, a banquet of aged wine- the best of meats and the finest of wines. On this mountain he will destroy the shroud that enfolds all peoples, the sheet that covers all nations; he will swallow up death forever. The Sovereign Lord will wipe away the tears from all faces; he will remove his people’s disgrace from all the earth. Isaiah 25:6-8. 

Jesus is the feast that He invites me to daily. He is the richest of foods and His spilled blood is the finest wine.  And even though we live in and among persons with internal messes and places with external messes, He cleaned up the biggest mess. Death has been neutered, declawed and destroyed by Him.

I can come join Him on the picnic blanket in the midst of these little messes because He was faithful and fierce with the biggest mess. If He accomplished the greater, He can most assuredly accomplish the lesser. My fellowship with Him, my enjoyment of the peace He need not wait until the minute messes are tidied. He spreads out His picnic blanket for me right here, right now, in the midst of them.

Come, all you are who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost. Why do you spend money on what is not bread and your labor on what does not satisfy? Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good, and you will delight in the richest of fare. Give ear and come to me, listen to me, that your soul may life. Isaiah 55: 1-3.