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Held by A Hem

One touch of His garment was enough, enough to heal her inside and out. Her life was held and transformed by one touch of a hem. She had only half-believed He was the hope she had long sought. It was probably desperation more than deep faith that drove her, quite literally, to grasping measures. Grasping for straws, grasping at a cloak; same thing, right?

She had been right and wrong. Right to run to him, to risk it all; wrong in her fear that He would be another in a long line of harrowing disappointments.

All we know of the hemorrhaging woman is that she touched a hem of Christ’s garment. A mere hem was enough to hold her her hope and change the trajectory of her life.

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Her chronic bleeding stopped, which in and of itself would have been enough; yet, the empty ache of abandonment had been clotted and closed as well, which was something she had never even dared to hope.

Daughter, He had called her daughter. Not client, not patient, not thief, not nuisance, though all would have been accurate to some degree. He had addressed her as daughter.

One phrase and one touch are all that is recorded of her in the gospel accounts; however, that fleeting encounter was enough to turn her world right-side up, to shift her orbit from despair to belief.

Even if Christ never showed up in her life again, the touch of His hem would have been enough to hold her eternally. What kind of man must He have been, must He be, that one touch, one word, one word from Him was and is enough to begin the transformation of whole lives?

The God-man, of course. The living hope. The One who remains potent and present millennia later continuing to transform lives in a moment.

The power of the Risen Christ that extends to those who were not privileged to have physically known and seen and heard Him in His lifetime on earth. Frederick Buechner beautifully captures this by saying the following:

“He is also Christ risen in the shabby hearts of those who, although they have never touched the mark of the nails, have been themselves so touched by Him that they believe anyway. However faded and threadbare, what they have seen of Him is at least enough to get their bearings by.”

While one brief encounter with His word or His Spirit or His people would be enough to hold us in rapt attention and transform us, His grace goes so much further. He offers us, those who haven’t seen Him in person or touched His physical garments, more than a hem; He offers us His hand.

While the bleeding women was blessed into believing the Christ whose hem she physically grasped, we are offered a blessing far more powerful, though it is hard to imagine such.

Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe (John 20:29). Blessed by and through an ongoing, vital relationship with Him.

Her eternity, beginning right there at the crowded encounter was held by a hem. We, who would be held enough by a hem, get the invitation to continually, eternally hold His hand.

What manner of love is this?

When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars which you have set in place, what is mankind that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them? Psalm 8:3-4.

Yet I am always with you; you hold me by my right hand. You guide me with your counsel, and afterward, you will take me into glory. Psalm 73:23-24. 

May we be captured anew by the fact that God who could hold us eternally with his hem has chosen to hold us by the hand from here until glory.

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Tight Places & the Expansive Goodness of God

Birds, canyons, and trees can handle the sheer volume and silliness that seeps out of eleven and twelve-year old boys far better than restaurant-eaters and theater-goers. As such, and in an unabashed effort to fight the tyranny of the screen, we find ourselves hiking and exploring more outdoors. In this process, I have a newfound love for slot canyons.

Last Spring, we drove to the Anza-Borrego desert with friends to explore an extensive slot canyon.  The strange combination of desert heat with shadowed slots was the highlight of our break.

This past week, we drove up to North County to explore Annie’s Canyon, a much smaller, but no less beautiful slot canyon.

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It seems strange that we would drive multiple miles to put ourselves into tight places when we expend so much effort to avoid their real-life counterparts.

Walled in on either side, shuffling through a narrow passage-away, you find yourself literally stuck between a rock and a hard place. In a slot canyon, one finds it beautiful and compelling, whereas in real life, such tight places make one feel hopeless, powerless, frustrated and claustrophobic.

Tight Places, Biblically
Years ago, when studying the Hebrew words in some of my most visited psalms, I noticed that the same word kept coming up again and again.

The word tsar, often translated as distress or adversary, is used prolificly throughout the Old Testament.  Its root word more literally means narrow places or straits and conjures images and feelings of crowding, anguish and constriction.  Perhaps the modern idiom “Stuck between a rock and a hard place” captures its original connotation to the modern mind.

When Balaam was headed where he ought not have gone and God condescended to use his donkey to get his attention, we see the word tsar show up.

Then the angel of the Lord went ahead and stood in a narrow place, where there was no way to turn either to the right or to the left. Numbers 22:26.

Here the word is used to describe a literal tight place; however, the same concept is often transferred to the soul’s situation, emotionally or spiritually, particularly in the Psalms.

O Lord, how many are my foes. Many are rising against me. Many are saying of my soul, there is no salvation for him in God. Psalm 3:1-2. 

Answer me when I call, O God of my righteousness! You have given me relief when I was in distress. Be gracious to me and hear my prayer! Psalm 4: 1.

In my distress I called upon the Lord; to my God I cried for help. Psalm 18: 6.

You are a hiding place for me; you preserve me from trouble; you surround me with shouts of deliverance. Psalm 32:7

Tight places, Experientially
The list goes on and on, but you get the idea. Scripturally and historically, God’s people have been well-acquainted with tight places emotionally, phsyically and spiritually. In their squeezing places, situations, seasons and relationships, they cry out to God for deliverance.  It would not be too much of a stretch to say that tight and constricting places were the rule, not the exception, of their seeking earnestly after God.

Tight places wean us from entitlement and ease. Tight places whet our appetite for broad places and freedom. Tight places train us to cry out to God in dependence reflexively. Tight places magnify to us the elastic ever-presence of God with us.

After one of his many experiences of tight places, this time, being stuck in a besieged city (talk about cabin fever),  David remembered how wonderful God had appeared to him in  such a hard, helpless place.

Blessed be the Lord, for he has wondrously shown his steadfast love to me when I was in a besieged city. I had said in my alarm, “I am cut off from your sight.” But you heard the voice of my  pleas for mercy when I cried to you for help (Psalm 31:21-22).

Another translation says, “He has made marvelous His goodness to me in a besieged city.”

God’s expansive goodness being all-the-more revealed and appreciated in tight places.

Madame Guyon knew a bit about tight places and an expansive God. A French mystic of the 17th century, she was imprisoned in the Bastille for over seven years. Her crime: writing a small book about prayer.

Yet, imprisoned for seven years,  she wrote poetry about the sheer wonder of her God.

My Lord, How Full of Sweet Content
My Lord, how full of sweet content;
I pass my years of banishment!
Where’er I dwell, I dwell with Thee
In heaven, in earth,  or on the sea.

To me remains nor place not time,
My country is in every clime;
I can be calm and free from care
On any shore, since God is there…

If you find yourself in a tight place, be it financially, emotionally, relationally or spiritually, may you learn the expansive goodness of God that is often best seen in the slot canyons of the soul.

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When Ensemble is Enough

Every Thursday evening from 6 to 9 pm for years, I would go to theater classes at Spring Lake Community Playhouse. To most, this would seem a beautiful opportunity, a normal feat.

But for this shy little girl who was utterly tone-deaf and only slightly coordinated, those years in theater were a near-Herculean feat.  We spent one hour at voice lessons, standing around a piano or warming up our voices. But since there is no warming up a voice that is clearly broken, while others sang and found their pitch, I watched the minute hand on the clock slowly edge towards relief, an hour of dance. I enjoyed the freedom to move, or, should I say, I enjoyed as much freedom one can feel in a room surrounded on every side by mirrors. In dance class, time moved as quickly as we leaped, and in no time, we would find ourselves in acting class. Outgoing students thrived as they did soliloquies and made impromptu commercials and such. Shy students with a tendency of blushing tended to turn into little bundles of nerves.

I survived my very short season as a very unknown novice actress in a very unknown theater. And that is precisely what qualifies me to talk about ensembles and such.

I may not be able to sing and I may not be able to dance and I may turn four shades of red when people even glance at me, but I do know about ensembles.

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In my theater years, after auditions there would be an excited, nervous gaggle of children crowding around the casting list. I would wait my turn, run my finger down the sheet of paper, and sigh an earnest sigh of relief to find my name safely in the ensemble. That’s where I belonged. Those were my people, be they nameless orphans in Oliver Twist, street children in A Christmas Carol or flowers in Alice in Wonderland.

Despite my lack of talent and my fears, I actually enjoyed my short foray in the theater.  Even though I only uttered one phrase in all my shows combined, being part of something bigger than myself thrilled me. In the midst of the long practices and the ridiculously tedious dress rehearsals, I had a sense of something greater, grander than my little heart or mind could even articulate.

Ensemble was enough then. I long for ensemble to be enough now.

We live in a culture enamored with celebrities and giftedness and fame. This obsession cuts through  every field of interest and industry. In its most obvious form, this myopia is evident in the music and film industries, in collegiate and professional athletics, and in academic settings from elementary school and beyond. However, in a more subtle form, it has bled its way into our neighborhoods, and, yes, even into the Church.

If we peel back the cultural layer, we find this idolatry with notoriety and fame rearing its ugly head in churches and homes. Peeling back one more layer, we find the culprit: the human heart.

According to the Bible,  the desire to upstage reared its ugly head in the human drama shortly after the curtain opened.  In Genesis, the book of beginnings, Moses recorded what Yahweh had revealed to him concerning the origin and purpose of mankind on Mount Sinai. Moses writes that in the beginning of beginnings, Adam and Eve were discontent with the role they were given by God, desiring to have more power, more control and full knowledge. Meanwhile, as Moses was likely receiving these revelations of the fall of mankind, it was happening again, as his own brother and sister Aaron and Miriam, became discontent with their secondary roles. On and on and on, the cycle repeats itself throughout the entire Bible and continues on into the present day.

Most of us most naturally live as if the world is a stage and everyone else is merely a player in our story. Is there any way to assuage this human hunger for the fame and notoriety of the lead role?

Thomas Chalmers, a Puritan writer, wrote about the “expulsive power of a greater affection,” the notion that the only way to fight desire is with desire. According to this line of thinking, one gets rid of a lesser desire only when a greater desire settles into one’s heart, thus expelling the old desire.

If this is the case, and tradition and experience seem to say that it is, then the only way to fight our desire to be the lead role in our own two-bit story is to be invited into a greater epic story. It’s one thing to be caught up in something bigger than yourself, like I was in my children’s theater ensemble days; it’s quite another to be called up into THE story of human history, the story of God’s redemption of the world through Christ.

The screen-writer and director Himself has written each of His children into roles in this grand drama, be they two-bit parts, minor speaking roles or major roles. This realization has the power to completely transform and rearrange our little lives; it can and should endue our lives with meaning and purpose. In light of the bigger picture, the grand production, we are able to move from competing with other two-bit actors and actresses to cooperating with them to see the story come to fruition and success.

I know this to be true, as do many of you. The problem is that we sometimes lose sight of the big picture. We get lost in our little corner of the ensemble and begin competing and setting up our own ramshackle little stages and sets right there on His stage.  We fret and fume and fester at how no one notices us or appreciates us; we fight for attention, recognition and purpose. When we don’t get it, we sit down with our arms crossed and our hearts crestfallen.

We would continue in such a state, were it not for the graciousness of our God. Somehow, in His winsome manner, He reminds us of the bigger picture. It may be that we hear the faint sound of the chorus in the background, streams of individuals that have joined to become a rushing sea of praise and purpose. It may be that peaking from behind the curtain, we catch a glimpse of the show that leaves us longing to be back in the ensemble, back where, though we were small, we were significant and secure. How He brings us back into contentment in His company if of little matter; what matters is that we find ourselves back in His story.

For when we are in His presence, in His company, ensemble is enough.

“Not to us, Lord, not to us, but Your name be the Glory because of your lovingkindness and because of Your truth.” Psalm 115: 1

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The Great Reward

Sometimes I forget that the Bible has parts in it that are far more exciting than the classic adventure novels or the recently released box-office hits. And then, out of nowhere, I find myself enamored and amazed yet again by the length and depth and scope of the Scriptures.

Genesis 14 has all the elements of an unbelievable movie, but it also has the ability to move the soul as the living and active word of God.

Setting the Scene

Factions of kings allying against each other to throw off a twelve-year rule (verses 1-4). Four kings against five (verse 9). A battlefield that happened to be naturally covered in tar pits into which some of the more unlucky kings fell to their deaths (verse 10). An entire city’s inhabitants and their possessions taken into captivity, Lot and his family among them (verses 11 and 12).

This is the part of the movie where the camera lens would move in and focus on a single man. Abram. Having separated from Lot and settled in different lands, he gets news from an escapee of what has happened to his kinsman (verse 13). He has a decision to make: will he sit comfortably in safety or will he risk everything to attempt a dangerous rescue of your relative and his clan.

Abram does not hesitate; rather, he enlists 318 of his trained me. They are victorious and bring back not only Lot, but also the women, children and other people, along with their possessions.

Abram meets a mysterious priest-king named Melchizedek who blesses God Most Hight and pronounces a blessing upon Abram in the name of God Most High, Possessor of heaven and earth  (verses 18-19).

The ruler of the captured people tells Abram to return all the people but to keep all the possessions (verses  17 & 21). In a shocking turn, Abram turns down the astounding, yet well-earned reward.  His reasoning: I don’t need  your possessions, for the Possessor of Heaven and Earth is mine. He alone will make me rich (verses 22-24). He has enabled my very great victory, and he shall provide my very great reward.

A Great Reward

On the heels of such a bold declaration and  decisive act of faith in God,  I wonder if Abram had a moment or two when he wondered, “What was I thinking? Life could have been so much easier if…”

What we do know is that Moses picks up the tale with the word of the Lord coming to Abram  in a vision, saying,  “Fear  not,  Abram,  I am your shield; your reward shall be very great”  (Genesis 15:1).

Abram responds with an honest question, “O Lord God, what will you give me, for I continue childless” (Genesis 15:2). 

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Suddenly,  we have a window into the heart of Abram.  He did not want possessions, he wanted the people that God had promised him. Yet, he was still sonless and aged. In a manner that follows in suit with God’s interactions with Abram in the past,  God calls him to look away from his sonless lap and toward the star-filled sky.

“Look toward heaven, and number the stars,  if you are able to number them…So shall your offspring be” (Genesis  15:5).

In the midst of an action-filled story with surprising twists and turns, the next verse  is the most astounding.

And he believed the Lord, and he counted it to him as righteousness  (Genesis  15:6). 

The Great Reward

Abram believed God for a son, but even that son would not be his very great reward. For a greater son was coming. An even more long-awaited and hoped-for child would be born to an even more unexpected mother. That son would be the fulfillment of the promise. Unlike Isaac who was rescued by God’s provision of a ram, this Son would be sacrificed as the Lord’s provision for a sinful people who outnumbered the stars.

And He is our very great reward.

In light of such an astonishing reward, we can, like Abram, choose to decline the shiny, over-promising, under-delivering rewards the world offers us. For we have the guarantee and down-payment of the Holy Spirit who reminds us that our full adoption and our fullest reward is coming (Ephesians 1:14-15 and 2 Corinthians 1:22). For one day,  we shall know Him even as we are fully  known by Him.

 

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Growing Young

In a world obsessed with external youth, it is a strange thing to see how sin ages the soul. Anti-wrinkle creams abound, promising to ease the effects of aging outwardly, but few people stop to take inventory of the aging that is happening within.

I have had aging on my heart and mind this week. While this could be due to the fact that I am beginning to have some stubborn wrinkles taking up permanent abode on my forehead, I think it has more to do with watching the joy and wonder in the lives of children.

The Eternal Appetite of Infancy
G.K. Chesterton forever changed the way I think of the Ancient One in the chapter “The Ethics of Elfland” from his classic book Orthodoxy.

“It is possible that God says every morning, ‘Do it again’ to the sun; and every evening, ‘Do it again’ to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of  infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we.”

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The eternal appetite of infancy.  It is possible to wonder afresh every morning looking at the same trees on the same walking route in the same neighborhood. But sin ages our hearts and hardens them.

Sin-Aged Souls
In the Old Testament, God continually warned His sin-struck people about the weariness and soul-aging that results from sin. The book of Jeremiah is replete with examples of how God’s people were exhausting and deadening themselves through entrenched sin patterns.

Everyone deceives his neighbor and no one speaks the truth; they  have taught their tongue to speak lies; they weary themselves committing iniquity. Heaping oppression  upon oppression, and deceit upon deceit, they refuse to know me, declares the Lord (Jeremiah 9: 5-6)

In the New Testament, Paul warns the Jewish Christians to not be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness (Hebrews 3:13). Likewise, he talks to the learned yet sin-aged souls in Athens about the blinding effect of sin and the need to grope and feel our way toward Him because of our ignorance (Acts 17:26).

In our own experience, it is likely  that we have both witnessed and lived the detrimental effects of sin.  We know the weariness of chasing after sin in our own lives and we have seen people who have aged tremendously through addiction, hidden sin patterns and seasons of sinful sowing.

Growing Young through Repentance
If sin is an aging agent to the soul, then repentance is its revitalizing agent. 

The more we walk towards our Redeemer by the two-step shuffle (repent and believe),  the more life we find returning to our souls. Life becomes new and fresh again.  We see old things and ordinary people through new eyes.  The hopeless, helpless limp of lifelessness is replaced by a God-wrought hope that puts the pep back into our soul’s step.

Young Again

The world has grown old
From its slavery to sin.
Chasing a moving target,
Weary without, withered within.

The globe has gone gray,
Exhausted from racing.
Souls became misshapen
By years of inward-facing.

Wrinkled and wretched,
Constipated with our own cares,
We’ve grown older than God
In our soul-aging, unawares.  

Turning home in repentance,
Ancient souls grow young.
With every step Son-ward,
Self-shells are shed and flung.

Running to the Redeemer,
Whose soul is evergreen,
Repentance revitalizes,
As souls regain their sheen.

May we experience the soul-revitalization that comes from repenting of sin and turning  to our Redeemer!

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God’s Guidance

I would love to have a mocha with Moses. Among the myriad questions I might ask him over said mocha, a few rise quickly to the top of my curiosity list. I would love to pick his humble brain about the weight of leadership. After all, he carried some incredibly heavy weights with the grumbling nomadic town he essentially mayor-ed and all. I’d love to glean from the rich truths the Lord taught him in those in-between, liminal years he spent in Midian waiting. But I’d also love to hear him speak into God’s guidance.

As someone who spends many hours processing the mysteries and profundities of God’s will with young adults and also as someone who continues to wonder what I will do and be “when I grow up,” God’s guidance remains on the forefront of my heart and mind.

Moses knew God’s guidance up close and personal. Really personal. Like burning bush in your face and pillar of fire going on ahead of you close.

There was very little questioning involved in God’s guidance of Moses. He spoke to him after getting his attention from sheep to a strangely burning bush. He sent him very clearly with step-by-step instructions to Egypt to be an instrument of rescue for God’s enslaved people  (see Exodus 3 & 4). As he held a staff in his hand as an instrument, God was holding Moses in His hands. His calling was clear, though not easy.

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After the miraculous Red Sea crossing, God moved ahead of His homeless people in a miraculous and marvelously clear way.

And the Lord went before them by  day in a pillar of cloud to lead them, and by night a pillar of fire to give them light, that they might travel by day and by night. The pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night  did not depart from before the people  (Exodus 13:21-22). 

When wandering to the next encampment by day in the scorching desert wilderness sun, God provided a directing cloud to shade and steer them. In the frigid temperatures of the desert night of pitch black darkness, God provided them a directing fire to warm and direct their wandering. Their extremity became God’s great opportunity to provide for them and direct them.

I wonder if Moses ever feared that the pillar would stop directing him, if maybe this time, he would be left to his own devices or his own wisdom. I wrote the following poem from Moses’ perspective.

Follow the Fire

What if the cloud becomes concrete,
Leaving us stuck in no man’s land?
What if the fire fizzles and fades?
How’ll we know what you’ve planned?

I’ve learned to sense its gathering,
The readying again to roam. 
In this wilderness wandering,
Your Presence has become home.  

At times, I’m reluctant to roll up the tents,
To again loose these pegs from their place. 
Yet I long to be postured to follow these
Pillars more deeply into your grace. 

Remember, Lord, they follow me,
Heavy with hope, hard on my heals.  
Compounding weight weights on me;
Be the One who continually reveals. 

While You rain down on us manna,
Your map you keep close to your chest.
You would  have our eyes on you
To know when to roam, when to rest. 

Shekinah glory before and behind,
As You lead our sojourning sect. 
For, no matter the travel or trial,
Your presence our path will perfect. 

Oh, leading Lord, please make us those
Who follow the Lamb where’er He goes. 

So often, I hear from others (and think to myself), “Well, if God would make His will that clear to me, of course I would follow. Life would be so much easier.”

We have something far better than a burning bush or a pillar of cloud or smoke. In fact,  we don’t have a something at all.  We have a someone called the Holy Spirit. Rather than whirl around outside of us intermittently, He has chosen to take up abode within us.

And we don’t have to wonder what the destination is. God’s will for every believer is that he or she be conformed to the image of Christ. As Paul wrote to the Church in Thessaloniki, “For this is the will of God, your sanctification”  (1 Thessalonians 4:3).

We have the Holy Spirit, who descended on the disciples in Pentecost in tongues of fire, now indwelling us to direct and to guide us into all wisdom. Rather than guiding us into the promised land, the Spirit continually directs us towards our Lord.

Oh, may we be those who follow the Lamb wherever He goes (Revelation 14:4).

 

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The Thorn

You have not seen a thorn until you see that of the bougainvillea. Trust me, I have pricked myself more often than I can count by those suckers. Underneath the gentle, papery flowers painted in the brightest hues of pink, thorns hide.

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Our church has been in a series in the Gospel of Mark, which landed us talking about the Passion in an unexpected time in the liturgical calendar. Since we were studying a familiar passage in an unfamiliar time of year, different parts of the Passion story stood out to me, most notably those poor thorns.

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Those poor thorns, they probably belonged on a plant like my bright bougainvillea. They were created to guard those petals spoken into existence by their mutual Creator. I imagine that those poor thorns,  had they been animated, would have fought against their lot. They were made to declare and point to their Divine Creator-Artist, not to pierce his head. That Sacred Head deserved a garland of flowers and victory, not the gashes of unjust suffering.

I imagined our Christ comforting even the thorn that would pierce His head, knowing the Crown that would come.

The Thorn

Oh, let it not be my lot, Lord,
To pierce your beautiful brow.
They twist and contort me,
You watch them even now.

I see that you can see me
Through your bloodied gaze.
You care for Your creation,
Even on your worst of days.

Your voice spoke into being
The plant I do adorn.
Must I be an instrument
To make your voice mourn?

Must I unmake my Maker,
Slicing His Sacred Head?
Must I be enlisted in a plot
Leaving Life-Maker dead?

Fret not, my fibrous friend,
                 For a better crown yet comes.
                 My desperate, dying gasps
                 With life will fill their lungs.

                 Rest here on my brow,
                 Play your part in this story,
                 For suffering and submission
                 Will end in lasting glory.

 

 

 

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Keep Your Lamps Burning with Oil

The parable of the ten virgins has always been a strange one for me. I know I want to be like the five virgins who are wise. I mean, who wants to be grouped with the foolish sisters? And why don’t they share? Initially, they seem like stingy, wise virgins to me.

Then the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. For when the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them, but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. As the bridegroom was delayed, they all became drowsy and slept. But at midnight there was a cry, “Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.” Then all those virgins rose and trimmed their lamps. And the foolish said to the wise, “Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.” But the wise answered, saying,  “Since there will not be enough for us and for you, go rather to the dealers and buy for yourselves.”

It helps a little to understand, as much as one can, the culture and customs into which this parable was spoken. Weddings back then were more like traditional Hindi weddings are today in that they took place over numerous days. And we thought waiting as bridesmaids for the actual wedding to take place after all the preparation and getting dolled up and hours of pictures was hard. We are talking days of waiting and an uncertain start time, let alone start date.

Even a toddler can understand that bottom line of the parable: stay prepared, stay ready, for you never know when the bridegroom will announce himself.  That part I understand.

The wise girls brought enough oil to last through delays. They had the longer view. I also understand that part.

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But how does one read this parable through a Christ-centered lens rather than a moralistic lens?

This morning, as I was stuck in traffic, the Lord reminded me of another story from 2 Kings in which oil supply plays a significant role.Unlike the parable, this story involves the end of a marriage, rather than the beginning.

A poor widow who had lost her husband found herself at the end of her supply financially, spiritually, emotionally and physically.  A creditor to whom the family owed money had come to take her two children away to be his slaves since there was no money to pay for the debt and no husband to work to pay it down. In desperation, she came to the prophet Elisha.

And Elisha said to her, “What shall I do for you? Tell me; what have you in the house?” And she said, “Your servant has nothing in the house except a jar of oil.” Then he said, “Go outside,  borrow vessels from all your neighbors, empty vessels and not too few. Then go in and shut the door behind yourself and your sons and pour into all these vessels. And when one is full, set it aside.” So she went from him and shut the door behind herself and her sons. And as she poured they brought the vessels to her. When t the vessels were full, she said to her son, “Bring me another vessel.” And he said to her, “There is not another.” Then the oil stopped flowing (2 Kings 4: 2-7). 

I want to be like the wise virgins who have ample oil. But so often,  I am more like the widow. I don’t have enough physically, emotionally, spiritually and relationally to do one day, let alone plan days in advance in a state of preparedness.

But what if the way to be prepared and keep our lamps burning with oil is to have empty vessels lifted unto the Lord in dependance and desperation like the widow?

We don’t have the oil we need. We never will. The stores don’t sell it. And even if they did, it would not be enough.

In the Old Testament, oil often represents the work of the Holy Spirit. If this is the case, it would make sense why the wise virgins did not share their oil. The Holy Spirit cannot be purchased or borrowed, it must be given and received from the Lord Himself. It is a personal and intimate exchange. My dependence upon the Lord and His provision for me cannot be shared with you,  and vice versa.

Each one must bring his or her empty vessels to the Lord to be filled continuously. This is  what John 15 assumes when it speaks about abiding.

Preparation for the day of the Lord’s coming is a daily dependance upon the abundantly unctuous one. Lifting empty vessels,  admitting our own utter lack and looking expectantly to the Lord for provision.

If emptiness,  neediness,  and desperate dependance are what it takes to keep one’s lamp burning with oil, then maybe, just maybe, I can join the wise virgin club.

 

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Crickets

Before we moved to San Diego, when we were in the exploration phase, people used many truths about San Diego to lure us here. Among these were the following: “You really don’t need air conditioning in San Diego, the weather is nearly perfect year round,” “You don’t realize how humid it is in the South until you live in San Diego,” and “There really aren’t bugs like mosquitos in San Diego.” Needless to say, we took the bait with the help of a clear call from God to head West.

And let’s be real, all is pretty well here. That being said, I was unprepared for two natural phenomena that have shocked me here in San Diego. The skunks and the crickets. Skunks are to San Diego what squirrels are to the Southeast. They are everywhere, running about as if they own the place. I would much prefer a cute nut-hunting squirrel to a nasty striped skunk any day. Mater, our dog who has been skunked more than a handful of times, agrees whole-heartedly. They don’t write about them in the tour books. So consider yourself forewarned. You can thank me later.

Now onto the crickets. Maybe this is not a San Diego wide-phenomenon, but I can most certainly attest to the infestation of small, nasty, nearly see-through crickets in and around our home. I know they don’t bite like mosquitos, but they are loud, prolific little creatures.  I have begun hiding out in my home in the evenings for fear of walking out the front door to be greeted by walls that are acting as cricket hostels. You were not invited, nasty beings. You are ruining my picturesque visions of San Diego.

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Crickets don’t get much representation or marketing in life. In fact, only two things come to mind immediately when I think cricket. The first is a great childhood book called A Cricket in Times’ Square, starring a polite little cricket who is most assuredly not related to the cricket clan living in our home. The second is that awkward silence when no one is talking, when an attempt at conversation or a small group discussion goes nowhere, leaving everyone standing and staring at their toes. Crickets.

Sometimes that latter view of crickets is how I feel about God. There are so many times when I or those I love or those I don’t even know have cried out to God and asked for some miracle, some sudden stop to the evil around us, some answer to the profound suffering on this earth. And the response from Heaven often seems to be silence. Crickets.

“A silent heaven is the greatest mystery of our existence…Society, even in the great centres of modern civilisation, is all too like a slave-ship, where, with the sounds of music and laughter and reverly on the upper deck, there mingle groans of untold misery battened down below. Who can estimate the sorrow and suffering and wrong endured during a single round of the clock…?”

Robert Anderson, writing from England over 150 years ago, captures the sentiments we often feel perfectly. Dean Mansel, quoted by Anderson in his book, The Silence of God, says something similar. “There are times when the heaven that is over our heads seems to be brass, and the earth that is under us to be iron, and we feel our hearts sink within us…”

Crickets from Heaven seems to be a shared human experience. And I, as every human ought to be, am confused by this seeming indifference from a God I know and believe to be loving and gracious and just.

Anderson’s explanation of this seeming Divine Silence has been a great help to me as I seek to follow a God who often does not work when and how I think He ought to. He writes the following:

“A silent Heaven! Yes, but it is not the silence of a callous indifference or helpless weakness; it is the silence of a great sabbatic rest, the silence of a peace which is absolute and profound – a silence which is the public pledge and proof that the way is open for the guiltiest of mankind to draw near to God…If God is silent now it is because Heaven has come down to earth, the climax of Divine revelation has been reached, there is no reserve of mercy yet to be unfolded. He has spoken His last word of love and grace, and when next He breaks the silence it will be to let loose the judgements which shall yet engulf a world that has rejected Christ.”

While not a popular view point, I believe Anderson is correct. “The advent of Christ was God’s full and final revelation of Himself to man.” God’s response to suffering, to natural disasters, to loneliness and pain and evil is most clearly seen and expressed in Christ. In Christ, God said to the world, “I will not leave you alone; I won’t ask you to fix the mess you have made; I will not be content to leave the world like this, to be separated from you. I will come to earth and will do what you cannot do. I will create a way, the Way, for you to be reconciled to me. I long that all would be put back to its rightful place in proper relation to me, you and your world.”

Anderson aptly says, “Men point to the sad incidents of human life on earth, and they ask, ‘Where is the love of God?’ God points to the Cross as the unreserved manifestation of love so inconceivably infinite as to answer every challenge and silence all doubt for ever.”

God is not silent because He is cold or careless, but because His best and only answer is the offer He has given in Christ: the offer of a Suffering Savior who demands only trust in Him, as hard as that can be at times.

Crickets, yes. But crickets in light of the Cross.

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Redefining Success

We lugged our chairs and the sun umbrella down to the shoreline with our books in hand, ready to read silently together (because, when you have been married for 13 years, and become comfortable in your skin, this defines an ideal date). I buried my feet in the  sand and glanced up to watch the waves before diving into the pages. But I never got to the book.

Surf school had my undivided attention for the remainder of our hour at the beach.

It was not the neon rash guards the students were wearing, though those most certainly draw attention. It was not said party’s incredible talent at riding the waves.  It was not even the proud parents who were fully clothed and wearing sneakers attempting to take action shots of their would-be surfers.

It was one particular surf coach who arrested my attention.  After carrying the bulky  board down the beach for her teenage student, both got into the white water. Every few minutes,  the student would get up on the board and ride a tiny wave onto the shore.  I honestly did not watch the surfer because my gaze was glued on the elated coach.

With every tiny wave the student caught, the coach would thrust both of her fists into the air as if she had just won an Olympic gold or the lottery. It was not a feigned or false excitement. It was her guttural, reflexive response to the success of her student.

I wondered at the beauty of the scene. A coach more elated at the small successes of her pupil than even the pupil herself.  Certainly,  this surf coach could be out in the deep waters, catching the uncharacteristically large waves that were churning that day. She clearly knew how to surf, and, as such, she could have been enjoying the wave herself.

Yet, here she was, wildly celebrating a newbie surfer in the shallows.

I kept watching, wondering if she would remain as excited throughout the lesson. Sure enough, every wave caught left the coach smiling from ear to ear with pride.

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My husband and I spent the remaining minutes discussing the beauty of someone attaching their own success to the success of another. As those who disciple a staff team of twenty-somethings, we have had to learn to make the success of others our success. If they begin to learn their gifts and their unique contribution to the kingdom of God, if they find the lane in which they have been called to run the race marked out for them, we are successful.

I wish I could say I was always like the surf coach.  But celebrating the success of others is not natural to my flesh, nor is it celebrated in our get-your-own culture. If it were, teachers would be our celebrities, but, alas, they are not.

Left to ourselves, we (and I don’t mean the royal “we”) tend to measure success by our own moments in the spotlight, our trophies, and our individual triumphs.

But what if we defined success biblically? Then, success might look more like service and seeking the welfare of another above our own. My success as a disciple-maker does not always look like me getting to exercise and strengthen my natural gifts. It often looks like staying put and doing the same thing over and over again in the lives of new people. Rather than crushing it on the waves, God has called me to coach others in the white water. That means that their success, their learning to walk with God and share Him with others, their discovering their own gifts, is to become my success.

When he was on the earth, Christ could have done a number of things successfully. He was, after all, the God-Man. Yet, he poured himself into the lives of twelve men. He trained them, coached them, corrected them, and cared for them. Before he even went to the cross, when he was praying what has become known as the high priestly prayer,  Christ said something profound.

“I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do.” John 17:4.

Part of Jesus’ work on earth was to develop the disciples who would become God’s chosen instruments to bring the news of the life, death and resurrection of Christ to the world. He attached the success of his mission to his faithfulness in pouring into those men.

May we learn to do the same, no matter what the arena of our coaching and training.