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Ancient yet New

Stale. Bland. Perfunctory. If I am honest, my time with the Lord for the past week has felt like the oatmeal that made you roll your eyes every morning when it greeted you for breakfast.

To be clear, the fault lies not in the gospel, but in my tastebuds and my small-mindedness, my acedia, as the church has historically referred to it.

The grace of God is variegated, multi-colored, multi-faceted, infinitely able to capture us and keep us exploring within its beautiful boundaries. We, however, are dumbed by sin, numbed by busyness, bored by our own limiting choices.

As I sat down to meet with the Lord, I found myself frustrated with the stale bread I was choking down. Jesus, being infinitely gracious, took me by the pointing finger and showed me what He saw.

A little girl camped out in a tiny corner of an infinitely acred field, hidden behind a makeshift fence. Inside the little corner, the land had been plotted and used well. Every square inch accounted for and accumulating trinkets and treasures.

The little girl’s eyes were pooling with tears, as she thought she had exhausted the beauty, the knowledge, the treasure of the field. Arms crossed, she looked upon her treasures. They were beautiful but they were not fresh.

Through a handful of verses in 1 John and an accompanying commentary. The Holy Spirit reminded me, that little girl, of the paradox that the Gospel is ancient yet ever new.

Inviting me out of my corner, the Lord showed me the flowing fields of which my tiny plot was only a portion of a portion of a percentage.

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Yes, it is the same gospel, the gospel that gripped me as a desperate high school girl; yet it is infinitely deeper and larger and richer than I can even fathom. No need for staleness with an infinite God and His living Word.

I don’t need a new novel or a new journal or a new coffee mug, I need new eyes to see the Ancient yet Ever New One. And He delights to give me those whenever I ask and fully intend to use them.

Jesus himself described the gospel as a treasure hidden in a field. Matthew records him saying, “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.” Matthew 13:44.

Sometimes, in my short-mindedness, I think that I have exhausted the treasure, figured it out, counted it all. The treasure and the field containing it seems to lose their luster. But God, being rich in His mercy, doesn’t let me believe that lie too long.

Concerning the paradox of the Ancient, yet ever new Christ, MacClaren wrote the following.

“And life’s new circumstances, it’s emerging duties, are like the strokes of the spade which clear away the soil and disclose to us the treasure in all its extend which we purchased when we bought that field. We buy the treasure at once, but it takes a long time to count it. The old Christ is the perpetually new Christ.”

Holding His Hand, being led by His Indwelling Spirit, I have much more to explore and find within this field. The infinite Christ who became finite that I might know the infinite love of the Trinity is here.

I’m off to explore new sights of the Ancient yet perpetually new One.

 

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Bury the Boat

While the only things I have experience burying are my children in sand and a dead guinea pig, I have found myself praying that I would learn to bury the boat. Allow me to explain.

Columba was an Irish abbot who left His native Ireland with twelve men to bring the Good News to the Picts, a group of pagan peoples in Scotland. He founded the abbey on Iona which would become a vibrant center of literacy and faith for centuries to come. Supposedly, after reaching Scotland in his animal hide wrapped wicker boat (called a currach), he burned it, knowing that he and his companions might be tempted to leave when life became uncomfortable or dangerous.

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Upon reading of his act of commitment in burning the boat, I have found myself noticing how often I like to keep my options open, just in case. One of the hallmarks of the Millennial generation is an aversion to commitment, as seen in the silly slang FOMO (fear of missing out) and the more serious struggle to commit to a marriage or a career. In a world full of options and potential paths, we seem to have a hard time picking one and remaining on it.

While the fear of commitment has been heightened of late, it is nothing new. When Christ was initially calling His disciples to follow Him and learn His way of life, He found himself facing would-be disciples with similar struggles.

“To another he said, ‘Follow me.’ But he said, “Lord, let me first go and bury my father…”
Yet another said, ‘I will follow you, Lord, but let me first say farewell to those at my home.” Luke 9: 59 & 61. 

While initially these sound like understandable requests, it is helpful to understand that the first man’s father may not have even been dead or close to dead. The phrase “let me bury my father” was often used in an idiomatic way to express, “Let me get my family and personal life in order.” Read as such, the first would-be disciple was essentially saying, “Sure, maybe later, once I…”

Both men seem to respond with a desire to follow but a procrastination to commit.  Jesus’ response to them speaks to all of humanity in every age, but has a particular poignancy in our age.

“Leave the dead to bury their own dead. But as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God… No one who puts his hands to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.” Luke 9: 60 & 62. 

Jesus did not mince words, nor did he lessen the cost of discipleship. He did not lower the bar or paint a rosy picture of a life spent following and proclaiming Him to widen His audience or make more palatable a hard pill to swallow. He gave full disclosure, yet He knew the sweetness and rewards of such a life would far exceed the inconvenience and discomfort.

In essence, when we decide to follow Jesus, we must burn (and keep burning) the boat. Tensions and awkward situations, renunciations and reviling will meet you on this path; you will be tempted first to look back and then to turn back to an easier way of life with self at the center. From the outset, Jesus asks that we commit to Him.

While this sounds overwhelming and almost impossible, we must remember that the One who asks for a commitment to Himself, His Word and His ways has fully committed Himself to us.

Before we were born, before time was wound, He had already decided He was all in. He knew He would leave it all to give it all so we could have it all in Him. He left us with the Third Person of the Trinity, one who calls alongside us from close beside us, coaching us, convicting us, comforting us.

By His grace and His empowerment, may we be those who burn the boats that might allow us to turn back to a comfortable and cross-less life. May we fix our eyes on Him who has gone before us once.  May we take courage in His constant commitment to us as seen through His promise, “And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20).

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On Emptiness & Fullness

We experience emptiness only to the degree that we have experienced fullness.

Naomi, whose relational cup had been filled with a husband and two sons, felt bereft and empty when she lost all three (thus her temporary name change to Mara meaning bitter).  To the degree that she had been full, she experienced a haunting emptiness.

Those who have been wealthy and file for bankruptcy likely experience more sadness and shock at the emptiness of their account than those who are accustomed to the living paycheck to paycheck, frugally saving.

Those who have feasted most will experience famine more acutely.

In light of this principle, the fullness which was poured into Christ only to be emptied on the Cross is staggering.

In his letter to the Colossian Church, most notably in Colossians 1: 15-20, Paul soars to the heights of Christology.  Here, as in Hebrews 1, Paul paints a glorious theological portrait of the Incarnate Christ, the second person of the Trinity.

I have been slowly trekking through said portrait, but today I was stopped in my tracks in awe.

For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell.  Colossians 1:19. 

Simple sentence. Profound implications.

The Greek word for full is pleroma which literally means filled, completed, abundantly supplied. The image in my mind comes from the Disney movie Aladdin which was a huge  blockbuster hit when I was a child. After Aladdin has accidentally rubbed a magical lamp, the genie attempts to describe his powers and his tight quarters within said lamp. “Phenomenal cosmic powers … Itty bitty living space.”

God was well-pleased (the literal meaning of the Greek word eudokeó translated was pleased) to pour all the fullness of the uncreated, self-existing, all-powerful Triune God into the frame of his Son. I feel like the phrase well-pleased does not do justice to the immense feelings of joy, excitement and anticipation that must have come across the heart of the Father as He prepared His Christ for the height of His divine self-revelation. As a mother, I feel like I have the tiniest taste of such a feeling every Christmas Eve when all the presents and special, unique treasures I have been storing up for my children for months are laid out beneath the Christmas tree and shoved into their stockings, ready to be unwrapped.

God shoved all the fullness of the Trinity into the person of Christ; talk about an itty bitty living space!

After a sweet moment of imaging the Father’s good pleasure at the fullness of God dwelling in Christ, my heart quickly moved to the unimaginable pain of the Father as He emptied His son on the Cross.

After all, Christ was made full that He might be emptied, poured out on our behalf. In another letter to a different church, Paul unpacks the inevitable emptying of the Son which was the desired end for His being made full. In Philippians, we see the emptying of Him who was in very nature with God, yet did not consider equality with God something to be grasped or utilized, but made himself nothing, taking on the very form of a servant (Philippians 2: 5-7).

Kenoo is the Greek word translated as made himself nothing in the above verse. It comes from the root word kenos and literally means to be emptied, to be poured out, to be made valueless.

The heart of the Father knew what He was doing when He was pleased to have the fullness of God dwell in His son. He knew that such fullness would be emptied, poured out on our behalf that we might be filled with His Spirit.

Oh, that we might know His fullness today; that we may live as rich as we are in Him who was emptied on our behalf. Oh, that we might follow His lead, emptying ourselves that others might experience the fullness of the gospel!

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Can Crossfit Coach the Church?

Full disclosure: I do not do Crossfit. I do what I have dubbed “Mom Fit” which means that I daily carry heavy children and groceries and book bags in addition to my brisk walk. That being said, I have been observing the Crossfit movement from afar for quite some time. Many of my dear friends are involved in various Crossfit movements and gyms, and I have even nearly died a few times trying to join them.

As such, I have been pondering this morning what the Church might glean from the Crossfit movement. After all, I see these gyms mobilizing people to do insane and often terribly uncomfortable things daily. I see people involved becoming raving fans who cannot help but invite others to join them. I see Crossfit bringing people together across political, economical and racial lines.

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Clarity & Incremental Goals

It took me quite some time to realize what in the world WOD meant. For those who are couch potatoes or brisk walkers like me, WOD is an acronym meaning Workout of the Day. Each day, the people walking into the Crossfit gym are challenged to a very specific workout. The goal for each day is clear. If the WOD is too challenging, there are adaptable exercises that help participants incrementally gain the strength and form required to eventually do them with greater comfort and ease.

While I am not suggesting that our churches post a daily workout on a chalkboard sign, I do think that we could learn to offer people more clarity. What does it mean to be a member? What is required of volunteers? What does a community group (gospel community, life group, cell group, etc…) actually do for its members?

Rather than expecting that everyone who walks into our doors already possesses the necessary skills to open, read, study, apply and cherish the Word of God, we might learn to offer incremental trainings to get people to place where they can do their daily spiritual workout with confidence and skill.

Community & Consistency 

It seems that people who Crossfit love Crossfit. The community that begins over squats and burpies tends to bleed into other parts of life, morphing into friendships and dinner parties and the likes. From the outside, it seems that they have done an excellent job creating community around challenging tasks, around a shared mission. I most certainly find it hard to imagine waking up and getting excited about pushing my body to its uttermost limits, yet these gyms seem to have done just that!

Perhaps such a sense of community comes from the near-daily expectation of working out; perhaps the community is birthed from the consistency of having a shared public space which is neither the workplace nor the home. Either way, Crossfit gyms seem to have done what the Church continues to try to do: create an intimate community around a shared vision and task.

I recognize that the Church delves into messier areas of life than a gym; however, as a women’s ministry director, I sense I have a lot to learn from the contagious community around a terribly uncomfortable mission.

After all, the Church exists to make much of the name of Christ, to be the family of God here on earth and to equip its people to do the hard work of mortifying sin and living to righteousness (which is a far from comfortable task).

Long-Range Goals & Celebration

I don’t imagine that the Crossfit community promises results overnight. If I were to walk my not-so-toned self into a gym, I presume that they would tell me that while results take time, the end result will be well-worth the sore muscles and torn hands.

Similarly, sanctification and depth of relationship in the context of the local Church will not yield instantaneous results. We would do well to continually set the end-goal of Christ-likeness before our people while also reminding them that day in and day out practices might not always feel good or worthwhile. For no discipline at the time seems pleasant, but painful, but in the end, it produces the peaceable fruit of righteousness in those who have been trained by it (Hebrews 12:11).

Perhaps by celebrating the small wins more regularly and highlighting the reality of the struggle on the backdrop of the greater goal, the Church might move closer toward equipping its people for a long obedience in the same direction.

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A Word to Stumpy Souls

Plumerias are strange, stumpy plants that produce the most exotic flowers. Their milky, thick, fragrant flowers, which grow in a variety of colors from fuchsia to white with subtle yellow and everything in between, are used to make beautiful Hawaiian leis.

A friend gifted us a Plumeria stalk which we planted in our old backyard.  Its blooms were arresting, so when we moved, I took a cutting to bring the beauty to our new address.

And so, a strange, stumpy stalk has been sitting in a pot on our doorstep for months. My kids have taunted me, telling me it is dead. To be honest, I can’t fault them for their teasing, as it has most certainly appeared dead, even to me.

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The other day, a tiny leaflet appeared from the stump, and I nearly burst into tears. Lest you think I am that crazy plant lady, I need you to understand why a single leaflet led me worship.

Of late, my soul has felt like my stumpy cutting has looked. It seems that only uncomely things have been coming out of my heart this summer. I am doing the things I know to do, remaining in the Word, fighting to take my thoughts captive, praying and pondering; yet, I have felt like a barren stump.

My soul has felt withered and tight, trapped and taut. With each passing week, my heart became more and more frantic, desperately wanting to feel and sense His presence, to see His face.

What am I doing wrong? Where are the flowers? Is there something wrong?

It has taken a great amount of effort to remain potted, to simply stay where God has me and my soul.

The Lord has had my soul idling in Isaiah 30, the Scripture I run to in barren places, clinging to His word rather than my feelings (or lack thereof).

Therefore, the Lord waits to be gracious to you, and therefore he exalts himself to show mercy to you. For the Lord is a God of justice; blessed are all those who wait for him. For a people shall dwell in Zion, in Jerusalem; you shall weep no more. He will surely be gracious to you at the sound of your cry. As soon as he hears it, he answers you. And though the Lord give you the bread of adversity and the water of affliction, yet your Teacher will not hide himself anymore, but your eyes shall see your Teacher.
Isaiah 30: 18-20. 

It helps me to know that in my waiting for His presence, for His face to shine through my numbness, the Lord, too, is waiting. He is actively waiting, preparing, positioning Himself to move in my seemingly stagnant soul. He bids me remain and trust His character and promises, not my discipline, ability to stir up my own soul or pathetic attempts to produce forced blossoms.

He hears my desperate cries for deliverance from the stuck places of sin, for a vibrant walk with Him. And He promises that even after what has felt like scant rations in the unfavorable climate of my soul, I will see Him.

I believe that I shall look upon the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living! Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord!
Psalm 27:13-14. 

Wait. Stay potted. Abide. Remain. Keep watering what appears to be dead. Don’t trust in appearances, trust in His promises.

These have been my watchwords of late, which is why two little blades of life coming from my stumpy cutting filled me with timely hope.

If your soul feels stagnant and stumpy, barren and bald, I pray my slowly growing and gradually returning to beauty Plumeria plants hope in your soul.

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The Unsung Heroes of Summer

We just wrapped up a week of VBS, which is to say that we washed and wore the same t-shirts for a week, ate our weight in Goldfish crackers and came home with glitter and glue in the strangest places.

As someone who did not grow up attending VBS and, in light of my call to minister to women, college students and young adults, I feel like I have an outside-in view of children’s ministry.  What I saw as a volunteer this past week left my heart swollen with great joy and gratitude for those who, year in and year out, pour themselves into the often-unsung work of ministry to children.

While a local church’s VBS or summer programming will likely never make headlines in the news, I am certain that in the annals of Heaven those who gave themselves for such events will be clearly celebrated.

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Perhaps I am late to the party (as I often am),  but I wanted to share what I saw happening this week.

 A Massive Planting Effort

I love planting seeds in my garden, but I don’t often (read: never) find myself planting in my neighbor’s yard or a stranger’s yard, as I want to enjoy the harvest. However, this week I saw a hoard of helpers planting seeds by the barrel fulls into other people’s gardens. I saw young mothers with sleeping infants on their backs or bosoms giving their time and energy to bless other people’s toddlers or early elementary schoolers.

I saw dads wrangling the attention of distracted day-dreamers back to the Word of God. I saw them teaching rich theological truths in a way that children could grasp them.

Each, in their own way, was doing his or her part to sow the seed of God’s timeless Word into tiny hearts. Some tilled the soil with humor and ridiculous skits, while others, through conversations, dug little holes into which the seeds might fit.

From the surface and perhaps to those accustomed to VBS, this may seem normal. But from the Lord’s perspective, I imagine such massive planting efforts are seen and celebrated as the Herculean and supernatural tasks that they are.

An Intergenerational Family

This week, I watched high schoolers, who are stereotypically known for being too cool and aloof, doing goofy hand motions with children clinging to them like barnacles on a boat. I saw middle schoolers who are known for their sloth-like sleeping tendencies dropped off at Church at nearly ungodly hours to wipe the sleep from their eyes and step into service. I was blown away by the way these older students were following the examples of their youth leaders who were leading the charge in blessing the greater Church body.

I watched empty nesters busily preparing animal crackers and oranges when they could be playing golf or sipping coffee in the quiet of their home.  I watched them help wash sticky, slimy sets of hands. I watched them pick up trash and break down boxes when no one was looking.

It may be decades before these seeds take root and reap a harvest, and they may never see or enjoy any of the fruit from the planting of this week, but I watched our diverse and intergenerational church family rally around a worthy cause.

By the end of the week, everyone was spent and the church household was a mess, but the family had pitched in to powerfully present the Word of God, entrusting the harvest to Him.

Large-scale Hospitality

I watched three precious refugee girls walk nervously into our church wearing their hijabs. And then I watched them be quickly absorbed into a wild game of tag without any one so much as turning a head. My heart soared morning by morning as they clapped their hands when we arrived at the Church parking lot. I watched other children go out of their way to include them, to sit by them, to teach them hand motions, to make space for them.  I was blown away by the hidden efforts that went into making our property and our people hospitable, from registration to leader training.

I also watched my precious 4 and 5 year old classes gladly pack backpacks for strangers they don’t know. I watched them make cards to slip into their packs, scribbling the love of God in their own little chicken scratch.

For those who have given themselves this summer to some version of VBS, thank you. Thanks for doing your bit part in the bigger story of God raising up a new generation to fear and proclaim His good news.

In a society that seeks to climb ladders and network, you slid down the slide back into the silliness of childhood. You met toddlers and tweeners where they were with the Word of God. You are the unsung heroes of summer.

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A Different Lever & A Better Place to Stand

Archimedes of Syracuse, a Third Century mathematician, philosopher and scientist, supposedly said during a demonstration of the lever, “Give me a place to stand, and I will move the world.”

Levers, while incredibly simple, are powerful tools. While I have known that for quite some time, recently while building a garage with my husband, I saw the power of a lever first hand. We had ridiculously heavy Hardee Backer walls we had constructed on the ground; however, we had to figure out ways for the two of us to get them off the ground and into place. Using simple leverage techniques and after much experimentation (and a few choice words), we were able to lift the walls into place.

As my boys are science nerds in the making, we spend hours working with Kevu blocks and simple machines; yet, I have not grown tired of watching levers at work.

Archimedes was right to be proud of the lever, such a simple thing that can move great objects. He was also right to know that in order for a lever to work, one needs a proper place to stand.  Lately I have been thinking of the a different lever and a better place to stand.

In Acts, the story of the early Church following Jesus’ Ascension back to the Father, we read the following account.

But the Jews were jealous, and taking some wicked men of the rabble, they formed a mob, set the city in an uproar, and attacked the house of Jason, seeking to bring them out to the crowd. And when they could not find them (Paul and his crew), they dragged Jason and some of the brothers before the city authorities, shouting, “These men who have turned the world upside down have come here also, and Jason has received them, and they are all acting against the decrees of Caesar, saying that there is another king, Jesus.”
Acts 17:5-7. 

This small group of disciples led by a ragtag leadership team of  under-schooled, overlooked fishermen and other misfits, were upsetting the status quo, shaking up the established order of religion and political life. What were they using to change the world?

Their lever: the cross, an instrument of shame and execution.

Their place to stand: not an official position or a country or a theocracy, but a place where, through Christ’s substitutionary atonement, they could confidently stand before the Throne of God.

From the beginning of the Church, the same strange lever and the same shocking place to stand have been slowly moving the world.

Those who have come under the kingship of Jesus, boldly proclaim the cross of shame on which He took our place and invite others to an eternal place to stand confidently before the throne of God.

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This news met with mixed reviews then and will continue to do so until our King finally establishes His forever reign in the New Heavens and the New Earth. Some saw and heard and experienced their own hard hearts melting, others scoffed and tried to stifle the strange news.

Sometimes, we forget the tools by which the Church is intended to move the world. Sometimes, instead of using our God-given lever and place to stand, we try to imitate the world’s tactics. We try to impress or intimidate or create our own little separate worlds. Other times, we forget that the gospel was intended to do work. We make it a trinket or a club membership card and sit in our comfortable rooms, unconcerned with the unmoved world and unclaimed hearts.

May we get busy with the same strange work that has been happening since Christ equipped us with His Spirit upon His leaving.

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Hungry Ears

“Water, water, everywhere, nor any drop to drink,” wrote Samuel Taylor Coleridge in The Rime of Ancient Mariner. While I can’t really relate completely (or at all) to the irony of a sailor feeling parched when surrounded by water, the phrase captures a feeling with which I am all too familiar. We live in a society and an era where words are ubiquitous, yet so often I find myself starving for life-giving, deeply significant words.

Os Guinness expresses a similar sentiment in his book, Unriddling Our Times.

“Words, Words, words – we are assaulted from all sides by words, but we are starved for a word from God. Blaring, blasting, hectoring, seducing, words come at us from all sides today – on billboards, bumper stickers, newspapers, television and junkman.”

In the midst of an inundation of words, I find my ears hungry (an odd image, I know) for words that cut through the superficial to the deep hunger in my soul for affirmation, purpose, truth that holds up under suffering and scrutiny.

Seasonally, my palate seems to pant for the words of affirmation, the complements, the notice of others. While we all long to hear sweet words, sometimes my desire becomes an over-desire, a desperate need for someone to affirm me in ways that no human can.  I am beginning to see that underneath that frantic desire to hear sweet words from people, what I am deeply hungering for is a life-giving word from the Word, the only One whose words can really fill my insatiable need for affirmation.

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After having spent a considerable time around Jesus hearing deeply pervasive and powerful words in the context of His equally pervasive and powerful life, a considerable number of his throngs of followers began to turn away when the stakes got high and the call became heavier.

In chapter six of his gospel account John writes, “As a result of this many of His disciples withdrew and were not walking with Him anymore. So Jesus said to the twelve, “You do not want to go away also, do you?”

Simon Peter answered Him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”

Even though the words of Jesus were not sugar-coated, ego-stroking, sunshine-and-rainbow words, the disciples recognized that they were life-giving words, truths that cut through the surface and penetrated deeply into the human heart and experience. While they were hard-to-swallow and even harder to actually live out, his closest friends recognized something different about them, something other-wordly, something substantive.

They recognized that one word from Him, as painful and penetrating as it may be, was a feast compared to the hollow promises of the world.

I find myself similarly hungry for His words, spoken through His word or His Spirit or His people, into and over me. In a day when blogs (mine included), books, and status-updates are literally a pocket away, I find my soul starving even more for words of eternal life.

Oh, how I long to say with the prophet Isaiah,“The Lord God has given me the tongue of the disciples, that I may know how to sustain the weary one with a word. He awakens me morning by morning, He awakens my ear to listen as a disciple. The Lord God has opened my ear, and I was not disobedient nor did I turn back (Isaiah 50:4-5)”

We must strain our ears at the door of the Divine, we must wait eagerly and regularly to hear from Him. He loves to speak to hungry ears.

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Strengthened to Stay

Sometimes a slow, incremental exertion is harder to achieve and maintain than a sudden burst of strength.

My mother-in-law being daily empowered to care for her ailing husband is not as exciting in the world’s eyes as someone receiving a burst of dramatic strength to climb the warped wall in American Ninja Warrior; however, her staying strength honors the Lord far more than a sudden burst of short-lived faithfulness.

While marriages that last 25, 50 and 75 years don’t often make headlines here on earth, the sustained staying power deeply pleases and adorns God and His gospel.

Stay-at-home mommas washing the laundry, packing the lunches, and sifting through sibling spats don’t seem like they require slivers of the kratos (dominion power) of God; however, a decade into this calling of motherhood, I can vouch for the fact that the dailyness of motherhood most certainly requires His moment-by-moment empowerment.

Of late, I have been camped out in Paul’s letter to the Colossians. It has been a few weeks, but I haven’t been able to move on from his profound and power-packed prayers for the saints in Colossae.

Reading the depth and sincerity of his prayers is convicting to the core. He goes far beyond “God bless the Colossians” or “Please be with my friends,” placing very specific requests before the throne of God on their behalf.

And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God. May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy, giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light.
Colossians 1:9-12. 

Notice that none of what Paul asks on their behalf is circumstantial. Paul is not asking for a secure housing situation or safety or provision of a physical need; rather, Paul daily begs God with his ministry partner and son in the faith, Timothy, that their knowledge and understanding of God would continually grow.

Auxano. To increase. To grow. To become greater in size and maturity. Paul uses variations of this word three times in a handful of verses. In the opening of his letter, as he was introducing himself to a church he had never met but only heard about through yet another ministry partner, Epaphras, Paul shares his joy in the way that the gospel had been spreading (Auxano) internally in their hearts and externally in the world. Then, he uses it a third time in his prayer that this same expansion and growth would continue always.

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Paul longs that their hearts and minds would grow in wisdom (sophia) and understanding (sunesis). He then prays that such wisdom would inform their living, their manner of life, causing them to bear fruit and consistently please the Lord in all things, the big and the little, the seen and the unseen.

Next, Paul starts dropping power words like a piñata drops candy. He prays that they would be strengthened (dunamoumenoi) with all power (dunamei), according to God’s glorious might (kratos).

Why all the focus on power? At this point, it feels like we are in a roller coaster that is slowly climbing the first huge hill, building up power and momentum. But to what end?

For all endurance and patience with joy (verse 11). 

Really? Doesn’t that seem a little underwhelming. Shouldn’t Paul have given us something big and wowing, like a fireworks show?

At first, I felt let down after all the power-filled words led up to enduring and long-suffering, rather than a sudden, phenomenal act or display of strength.

Then I realized that staying the course, remaining in the places and roles God has apportioned for us, however exciting or bland they may be, takes a far greater exertion of sustained strength than a sudden and dramatic act of prowess or strength.

He strengthens and empowers us, placing his dunamis (from which we get the word dynamite) in us that we might stay the course, living lives worthy of the callings we have received.

This morning, as I face another blank summer day with the three humans who have been entrusted to me, I find myself deeply grateful for the strength to stay. To stay the course, to not despise the day of small things, to do small things with great love as unto Him.

Today, may you, likewise, be strengthened to stay where God has placed you in quiet faithfulness.

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Poolside Parenting

In my head, I had a picture of what parenting in the summer looked like. Sitting poolside, reading a book while my children happily swam in a neighborhood pool. None of those things really happened the way I thought.

There is no sitting at the pool with my crew. Ample splashing, yes. Sunscreen slathering, of course. But sitting? Only in the forced 15 minute family swim break from 2 to 2:15 pm. We don’t have a neighborhood pool, but when the sweltering heat makes our skin (and sin) boil, we fork up the cash to head into the SDSU Aquaplex. I don’t even bring a book with me these days, just swim toys and the few scraps of sanity I can muster up.

All that said, last week I had a profound parenting moment poolside. Thankfully, no one knew I was crying because I was in the process of being splashed by the zillion happy kids in the pool beside me.

No one would have known the profound moment, as I looked like every other mother in the pool, smiling through splashes and trying to focus on three kids at once.

In order to appreciate the story, you have to know that swimming has been a long process for one of our children. While he is confident in the shallow end, the deep end is akin to an abyss to him. He plays the role of brave boy pretty well, but his heart is petrified of swimming long distances and deep water. For years, I have worked with him, strengthening his strokes, building his confidence, talking through his fears.

This was the first summer when his big brother was able to pass the swim test with flying colors, leaving him in the shallows for the fun on the diving board and the inflatable obstacle course. I saw the embarrassment in his eyes, the deep desire to get over his fear and join his brother in the fun.

We worked in the shallow end for about 15 minutes, treading water and such. I watched my little man bravely walk up to the lifeguard to ask to take the swim test. You would have thought my son was Michael Phelps the way that I cheered alongside him as he swam his 25 meter length of the pool.

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He passed. He glanced over at me with a smile that made my heart melt and then proceeded to ride his hard-fought wave of victory to the deep end. I did not see him for the rest of the afternoon, except as a little ant jumping off the high dive scores of times.

For everyone else, this may have appeared as a normal day. No one but he and I knew the profound moment that had just occurred. My heart swelled with joy and satisfaction; he gleamed all day. As I watched him take his place with the big boys, I found tears streaming down my eyes.

I cried because I knew that this was a picture of parenting. All those years of unseen, often unnoticed coaching and training and character building to the end that our children would become confident and leave us with a smile.

I cried because I felt, maybe for the first time, the joy that God must have felt parenting me many times. All the small victories that to everyone else most likely did not look like victories at all: overcoming anxiety, beginning to trust, opening my mouth to verbally share hope in Christ, staying home with my children.

I cried because I thought about all the unseen investment, development, training and coaching God has labored over in my life without my so much as noticing.

I cried because I realized that behind every conquered fear, every idol exposed and left, every truth clung to in my life, He has been behind me, strengthening me, cheering for me, celebrating our secret victories. He left His Spirit to far exceed my crazy running alongside the pool lane cheering.

As my chest swelled with pride for my son, I realized how proud my Heavenly Father is of me in even the smallest victories. And the tears piled up in the pool.

I am so thankful for the way that parenting provides transformative vantage points into the heart of our Perfect Parent. In parenting them, I see His parenting of me and am profoundly changed. I may not be propped up poolside quietly reading a book, but His version of parenting poolside is far better.