Faith Beyond Formulas

I still remember the quadratic equation, due in part to a dynamic teacher who made up catchy jingles and in part to a love of order and rules. In both high school and college Chemistry classes, I loved stoichiometry because all the equations balanced out. It may have taken many minutes and a headache or two, but eventually everything found its right place. Neat, clean, predictable.

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How often I have tried to force the Christian life into a formula. If I pray and tithe and seek you first, then fill-in-the-blank. In different seasons, the blank line has been filled in with statements like, “you will give me a spouse,” “you will redeem my entire family,” and “you will not let my children suffer.

Even more insidious are the side formulas I have created: If I suffer, you must show me tangible ways that you are working it for good on my timetable or These are the ways I am willing to suffer for you, Lord (x, y and z) but if these things happen (a, b and c) you must not be good or real or present. 

As I have been processing the unexpected and early suffering of close friends and reading Michael Card’s excellent and timely book, A Sacred Sorrow, I have been convicted of my inordinate love of formula faith.

Card makes the fascinating observation that the book of Job and the other books known collectively as Wisdom Writings were written during a time of confusion and upheaval in the life of Israel. The earlier books had led Israel to focus on Torah obedience. As they had tried (largely unsuccessfully) to keep Torah Obedience, they came to a period of disillusionment and questioning, “Is this really all it is cracked up to be? It doesn’t seem to be working.”

If you know anything of the book of Job, you know that his friends tried to press his situation of immense and complete suffering into their existing formulas of Torah obedience.

“Their one-dimensional conclusions are inescapable. Job is in the process of perishing for something he has done. There is no mystery, only the cold, hard reality of retribution.”

In his book, Intimacy, Henri Nouwen also talks about such formulaic faith that keeps God in the equations of control.

“God is the factotum which comes in handy in times of illness, shock, final exams, in every situation in which we feel insecure. And if it does not work, the only reaction may be to cry louder. Far from becoming the Other, whose existence does not depend on mine, he might remain the easy frame which fits best around the edges of my security.” 

According to Nouwen, “healthy development means a gradual movement out of the magical world.” If are not able to move beyond formulaic faith, “God remains the magical pacifier whose existence depends on ours. Prayers remain tools to manipulate him in our direction and religion is nothing more than a big, soft bed on which we doze away and deny the hardships of life.”

Thankfully, in the book of Job, we see God attempting to shatter His people’s rudimentary view of formulaic faith. We see the foreshadowing of a God who would break the incomplete equation of Torah obedience as He willingly broke His son on the Cross.

“The heart of the complete equation, which only Job’s suffering could have given him the arithmetic for, involves a God no one could have possibly imagined before, a God who pays the price for sin with Himself….The God of the completed equation is a God who is beyond all equations. He is wild and impossible and totally Other.”

Although we live on the other side of the Cross, we tend to live like Job’s friends, trying to force our live, our experiences and even our God to fit into a formula of our own making. When we do so, we negate the power of the Cross and cut ourselves off from the life-sap that flows from the mysterious yet marred Savior.

When you pray, what are the hidden formulas underneath your words and requests? Where are you approaching God with a formulaic faith? Where in your life do you see God showing Himself as the Mysterious yet approachable suffering savior who does not promise us a formula but Himself?

Oxyclean and Fear-Stained Souls

Oxyclean, the product that saved countless baby clothes in the early years of my mothering, has been on my brain. This weekend an image from its infamous infomerical stalked me: the magnified image of a stain in a woven piece of cloth slowly being pulled apart by the magical, mysterious chemical wonder that is Oxyclean.

Our unspoken thoughts and mediations stain our souls.  As such, if my soul was a cloth, it would appear to be tie-dyed shirt, with a few bright patterns of unstained freedom breaking up a mostly fear-stained background.

My soul becomes quickly stained by countless shades of fear.  Fears of harm coming to my children, fears of the future, fears of living an insignificant life, fears of making the wrong choices with my time, fears of being too busy for my children, fears of how I am inadvertently harming my children and fears of not having the money to pay for the counseling they will surely need.

Most of the time, I am unaware my soul has been dunked and dipped from fear bucket to fear bucket until the Lord graciously allows me an honest look at my heart. In those rare, honest moments of Spirit-enabled scrutiny, I see a soul stained by fear.

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This past weekend, our Church hosted its bi-annual Women’s retreat. Lovely moments laced the entire weekend: women worshipping God together, amazing teaching that made the Word come alive, cozy beds and deep connections. However, I most treasured the intergenerational discussion groups. It was in these groups that God began to Oxyclean away patches of my fear-stained soul.

Widows who shared about losing their husbands and empty-nest mothers who vulnerably invited us into the unexpected pain of watching adult children suffer from divorce or disease or unwed pregnancy were sprays of stain-remover from the hands of the Lord.

Through mixed tears of pain and pleasure, they talked about the ways the body of Christ had upheld and surrounded them and their loved ones through trials; they talked about ways God had redeemed or had at least begun to redeem their deepest valleys. They talked about standing with hinds feet on their craggy, steep places.

These women were on the other side of my unuttered but very real fears, yet they were full of trusting joy and faith.

Each hard story, rather than increase my fears, ate away at them, releasing me into the freedom and hope of Christ.  Their perspective and wisdom began to scrub away and loosen the places of deeply-entrenched fear in my soul.

Upon reflecting over those precious soul-scrubbing stories of God’s grace in the midst of the unfolding of these women’s deepest fears, 1 John 4 came immediately to mind.

So we have come to know and trust the love God has for us. God is love, and the man whose life is lived in love does, in fact, live in God, and God does, in fact, live in him. So our love for him grows more and more, filling us with complete confidence for the day when he shall judge all men – for we realize that our life in this world is actually his life lived in us. Love contains no fear- indeed fully-developed love expels every particle of fear, for fear always contains some of the torture of feeling guilty. The man who lives in fear has not yet had his love perfected.       1 John 4:16-18  (J.B. Phillips translation, emphasis mine). 

These dear saints have gradually become more and more perfected in love through tests and evidences of God’s sustaining grace. Their fears had been shot through with the perfect love and abiding presence of God.

Their contagious freedom and compelling stories of God’s faithfulness began to dissolve my deep-set fears, particle by particle.

Oh, how I long to be increasingly filled with complete confidence in the love God has for me and for my family. How I long for Christ to continue to pull away my fears, particle by particle, until my soul is free at last to sing unfettered praise to God.

 

 

In the Father’s Forge

In the strong fires of a forge, rigid, unbendable iron becomes molten and malleable. While I have known this, a field trip with my fourth grader to Old Town San Diego brought these truths to life this week.

Truth to be told, sometimes I check out mentally during field trips to survive as an introvert in the midst of the madness; however, the skilled and winsome blacksmith commanded everyone’s rapt attention including mine.

We watched in wonder as the blacksmith pumped the massive bellows to add oxygen, thereby heating up the already hot fire. In amazement we watch the transformation of rough and solid iron to a substance that could be shaped by the hammer and the anvil into innumerable things from fish hooks to brands to chains to candle sticks.

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While the kids could not help but make parallels to Minecraft, my mind went immediately to the forge of our loving Heavenly Father.

I have a rigid, immovable will most of the time. I don’t bend easily, and  I am most certainly not prone to yield and submit to the shape of His perfect will.

Each morning, as much as I hate to admit it, I awake with a stiff will. Daily and even moment by moment, the Lord has to warm my will in the fires of His love. Sometimes, when my will is particularly unyielding, He pumps the bellows of afflictions or interruptions or inconvenience to soften my soul.

When my soul is finally red hot, He proceeds to hammer and shape my malleable will into the shape of His will, perfectly ordered by Him, imperfectly understood and received by me.  I wish there was another less painful, less uncomfortable way to be made cruciform.

I watched the blacksmith, whose hands and face were covered in the black soot and residue, talk with passion and joy about his art. He loved what he did, as even the most casual passerby could gather.  He spoke with excitement and anticipation about the myriad of ways the iron could be molded and shaped, about how there was no limit to the amount of reheating and reshaping of iron objects.

I thought of our Heavenly Father, covered in the soot and residue of our sin and stubbornness, gently and artfully placing the all-too-often iron wills of His purchased possessions, His people, into the blazing fire of His nearly-consuming love.

I thought of His intent and purposes, not to harm or incinerate, but to warm and shape and form each soul and will with great care and perfect execution what was necessary for each day, each moment, each season.

I watched the blacksmith powerfully hammer and tug and twist and pull the molten iron. If sentient, the iron would surely have resisted such contortions and begrudge him. I know I cry out all the time, inconsolable iron, indicting the very One who has chosen me and has plans to conform me to His better purposes.

We saw steam rising, as the heat transferred from the burning iron form to the water, leaving the object cooled and hardened, ready to be used. As he placed the still-sizzling, newly formed pieces into a barrel of cold water, I remembered with relief many moments of temporary release from the fires of forge.

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When Christ was on the earth, He spoke to His people in ways they could understand, using timely yet timeless examples of agriculture and politics.  Yesterday, in the midst of the mundane mid-week duties of field trips and parenting, God offered me a living parable.

Ironically, I had begrudged Him just that morning, not wanting to give up time during an insane week to head to another field trip. My soul resisted, but He graciously allowed me to overcome my selfishness so that He speak to me through living images.

Oh, how I long to become familiar with the forges of the Father, to learn to welcome the bellows and the burning temperatures that make my soul malleable in His powerful yet nimble hands. How I long to be an instrument made useful thousands of times over to my Father, the artist and the arranger of all things.

 

On Sloppy Soldiering

While nothing about my life or personality screams soldier, the Bible is replete with images of Christians as soldiers. As one who has lived her entire life in the privileged place of safety from wars and one who has not married into the military, the soldier mantle feels far from fitting.

I can most assuredly say I would never make it through boot camp, yet, if I take the Biblical imagery seriously, I have to consider myself as a soldier.

In addition to screaming of discipline, training and a life of service under careful command, the soldier imagery also forces me to remember that life is war.  Laced throughout the New Testament, one finds the language of spiritual warfare. In Ephesians, Christians both ancient and new are bidden to put on the whole armor of God, to wage war against the rulers, the authorities, the cosmic powers over this present darkness.

When Christians are born again by the power of the Spirit, no matter the times and places in which they live, they are children born into the ravages of a war. As C.S. Lewis so powerfully wrote, “There is no neutral ground in the universe. Every square inch, every split second, is claimed by God and counterclaimed by Satan.”

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The final letter of a near-death Paul to Timothy, his replacement in the kingdom cause, exhibits a similar thread of soldiering.

Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ. No soldier gets entangled in civilian pursuits, since his aim is to please the one who enlisted him. 2 Timothy 2:3-4. 

As I was walking yesterday, the Spirit brought this Scripture to mind, gently convicting me that I have been living this week as a sloppy soldier. While I haven’t defected or deserted, while I am indeed actively enlisted in His service, I have found myself more and more entangled by civilian affairs.

The Greek word emplekó, translated entangled above,  can also be translated to weave or to entwine. It comes from a root meaning to braid, to plate, to twist, bringing connotations of threads being woven together tightly.

Christians are not called to neglect civilian affairs like their children’s education, their homes, their futures, their possessions and the likes. Yet, they are warned to not become entangled by those things. It seems that God knew that such things have a way of finagling themselves into the holes in our souls and getting entwined in our deepest senses of identity, security, contentment and worth.

As soldiers who must be ready at any time to follow the orders of their direct report, we are called to live lightly, to sit loosely in civilian affairs. We are supposed to be ready to leave our current stations and situations should our Commanding Officer redirect us or have need of us for the sake of the greater cosmic war. We are commanded to leave room in our hearts and lives to become entangled in the fight for the kingdom of God to come to earth.

My heart has become entangled with civilian concerns which, in and of themselves are legitimate; yet, their hold on my heart this week has been illegitimate and inordinate. I have been anxious and worried over house offers and counter-offers, over school zoning lines and other decisions which are gifts and privileges, not weights.

Yesterday, I took my overly entwined heart on a walk in an attempt to take captive every thought to the obedience of Christ. On one block, I would have my unruly fears and concerns and hypothetical situations in an obedient headlock. Then, on the next block, they would pull a full-nelson on me and have me back in a chokehold.  My internal WWE match was interrupted by a thumping party scene (we live in the throes of the college area, so parties are a regular scene).

I saw crowds of young ladies dressed in what I would consider less than lingerie, walking tipsily into a rowdy house party. I saw guys consuming alcohol in a desperate attempt to alter reality and find life.

The Spirit graciously cut some of the suffocating civilian cords from my heart. Life is war, Aimee. You are a soldier of Christ, positioned, postured and trained to battle for the souls of these students. You so easily forget the context into which you have been reborn and what is expected of you as a good soldier of Christ.

While we know victory has been secured by Christ, we live our daily lives on the fields of the last skirmishes of this eternal battle. I am so thankful that God promises to equip and train often sloppy soldiers like myself.

May God graciously remind of these truths when the civilian concerns threaten to obscure this reality. May we sit loosely and live lightly in our necessary civilian affairs.

 

On Secret Places

When the volume and pace of life get too loud for me, my soul starts to ache for my secret place. Almost subconsciously I find myself driving to Mission Trails, a vast regional park that provides wilderness in the midst of our city.

Even simply pulling in the parking lot, my heart begins to beat in excitement. Don’t be deceived: there is not much going on there. The landscape is mostly dry chaparral, cacti and dirt. The excitement comes from the promised lack of contrived excitement that my secret place promises.

When I go there, I know what to expect. The trees and trails don’t move. The water, which sometimes trickles and sometimes gushes with life, knows where to go. The rabbits, unconcerned with my concerns, go about their merry way.

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In The Winter of Our Discontent, John Steinbeck perfectly captures my sentiments about my secret place (not so secret now that you know; notice that I didn’t give you details).

“It is odd how a man believes he can think better in a special place. I have such a place, have always had it, but I know it isn’t thinking I do there, but feeling and experiencing and remembering. It’s a safety place -everyone must have one…”

I find it interesting that the Psalmists often talk about God being their secret place. Inwardly I know that Mission Trails is only the outer shell of my secret place, the container. The substance of my secret place is My Savior, the self-existent one who made every seen and secret place in the universe.

He who dwells in the shelter of the Most high will abide in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say to the Lord, “My refuge and my fortress, my God in whom I trust. Psalm 91:1-2

The Hebrew word translated shelter above comes from the root word sathar which means hidden, concealed, secret, hidden parts.

Let me dwell in your tent forever! Let me take refuge under the shelter of your wings! Psalm 61:4.

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

Oh, how abundant is your goodness, which you have stored up for those who fear you and worked for those who take refuge in you in the sight of the children of mankind. In the cover of your presence you hide them from the plots of men; you store them in your shelter from the strife of tongues. Psalm 31:19-20.

These Psalms are merely a sampling of the cries of the soul for God to be the secret place, yet they remind us that we are not alone in our longings for the shelter, security, sameness of hidden places. We were made for them, just as surely as He knit us together in the secret places of our mother’s wombs.

I see this innate longing in my children as they seek secret nooks in our small home, create forts of blankets and pillows almost daily and request to be tucked in tightly into bed each night.

No matter what is happening in the circumstances of  life, the children of God have access to the secret place of the presence of the Lord through faith in Christ. The amazing thing about the secret shadow of His presence is that one need not drive to it or book a hotel or exotic vacation to find it. Through the indwelling Holy Spirit, we have access to the secret place in the throes of life, in line at the grocery store, in carline and in the chaos.

My favorite part of my physical secret places is that they set me for the stillness that strengthens my spiritual secret places. Literally. There is a huge boulder that I sit under when the scorching San Diego sun and lack of shade trees has me sun-burnt and sighing.

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As I sit under my huge boulder, I cannot help but think of the renewing shade of Jesus, our Eternal Rock.

Behold, a king will reign in righteousness, and princes will rule in justice. Each will be like a hiding place from the wind, a shelter from the storm, like streams of water in a dry place, like the shade of a great rock in a weary land. Isaiah 32:2

Oh, how I hope you have a secret place; even more so, I pray you know the secret place of His presence.

 

Adversity Anniversaries

It does not surprise me that calendars don’t include “Adversity Anniversary” among their Hair Appointment and Birthday reminder stickers, as there is not much cute or marketable about remembering devastating days.

But then again, usually these days don’t need marking out. The amygdala and the soul have their own built-in reminder systems. Smells, sounds, temperatures, songs. Even the smallest things have a way of alerting us of the approach of a weighty anniversary, whether it mark the passing of a beloved family member, an exile from home, a day of sudden disaster or a dreaded diagnosis.

On these weighty days, time seems to stand still and lives are turned upside down yet again. Haunting memories are relieved, even if one has come to the other side of the trauma. Like regular aftershocks after an earthquake, anniversaries of adversity have a way of once again shaking the ground that has been slowly settling with time.

My dear friend is approaching the anniversary of a sudden sickness that left her fighting for her life. Although God graciously spared her life and miraculously brought her back from the precipice of death, she lives with daily reminders of the trauma.

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She and her family have no need to mark out this day, this day and the subsequent days have marked them. Time is now measured and remembered as before the sickness and after.

Of course, they have deep gratitude for her life being spared. Yet, this first anniversary will be far from a day of celebration. Despite so many answers to the desperate prayers of so many loved ones, questions still swarm.

As I was processing their approach to this anniversary, the Lord was gracious to lead me to a book by the talented Michael Card. A Sacred Sorrow attempts to bring back the language of lament to an often overly-victorious Western Christianity. Card winsomely and beautifully makes the case that lament is a gift that will lead us to our lasting home.

“Jesus understood that lament was the only true response of faith to the brokenness and fallenness of the world. It provides the only trustworthy bridge to God across the deep seismic quaking of our lives. His life reveals that those who are truly intimate with the Father know they can pour out any hurt, disappointment, temptation, or even anger with which they struggle. Jesus’ own life is an invitation to enter through the door of lament.” 

The pathway of lament is not a popular highway; in fact it is not even a highway at all. For each person, it is a unique path through our own particular pains and problems, losses and longings. Yet, this path was trodden by our Older Brother Jesus who followed it to Golgotha, the place of the skull.

We know that the Cross and the tomb were not the end of His journey. We know that He wrestled with questions and wept in lament in the Garden of Gethsemane that one day His purchased people might weep and question no more.

Yet, the journey between the Cross and the Crown feels long.

May we help our friends grieve the days that have marked them; however, may we also be those quick to remind them and ourselves that all our days have been marked in His book, but that they have been written by a hand marked with the scars of a sacrificial love.

In a culture that thrives on optimism and victory,  may we become a people comfortable with lament. May we also have eyes fixed on the Coming Christ, who has prepared for us a city without walls and tearless days without end.

On Excel and Excellencies

The part of my brain responsible for Excel sheets is underdeveloped and probably most resembles the shriveled grape-transitioning-into-raisin I found in the back of my car a few weeks ago.

What would take the average sixth grader ten minutes to do on Excel or its Mac-equivalent takes me about an hour. And even then, the printed result is wonky and truncated. While I have been aware of my glaring administrative weaknesses for quite sometime, they have been accentuated of late my new-ish role in women’s ministry at our Church.

As we are in the throes of preparing for an incredible women’s retreat and about to kick off another Bible Study, I have been spending my time looking at lists of names in Excel files. If I am honest, working to maintain systems is not my strength, so the hours of list-looking had left my soul a little deflated.

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Maybe I am not cut out for this role. There are so many capable women who could do this stuff in their sleep. What am I doing?

As God always does, He quickly interrupted my spin cycle.

These names, these precious names and emails and cell phone numbers are my people. They are my women who have stories to share and truths to tell. They are the sheep of my flock whom I have called by my name. They have sheep to go get and bring into the fold. They are women whom I long to connect with and to connect to other women in a life-giving family.

I love my job, and I am privileged to do it. I don’t doubt those things; however, in my flesh and when I am operating out of weaknesses, I do doubt that my capacity is fit for the calling I have received.

God gives us capacities equal to our callings rather than callings equal to our capacities.

As the son of the great King David, Solomon was called to take fill in his father’s shoes (sandals?). Those were big sandals to fill. He was inheriting a literal nation at the height of its power and prestige and peace, and heights are hard to maintain. There was nowhere to go but down for him, and he rightfully felt overwhelmed by fear and inadequacy. While Solomon is remembered for his many wives and his poor ending, he had some glorious, grace-filled beginnings. We would do well to learn from that early Solomon in addition to being warned by the mistakes of the later Solomon.

At Gibeon the Lord appeared to Solomon in a dream by night and God said, “Ask what I shall give you.” And Solomon said, “You have shown great and steadfast love to your servant David my father, because he walked before you in faithfulness, in righteousness, and in uprightness of heart. And you have kept for him this great and steadfast love and given him a son to sit on his throne this day…although I am but a little child. I do not know how to go out or come in. And your servant is in the midst of your people, whom you have chosen, a great people, too many to be numbered or counted for multitude. Give your servant therefore an understanding mind to govern your people, that I may discern between good and evil, for who is able to govern this, your great people? 1 Kings 3:5-9 (emphasis mine). 

I am not in charge of a kingdom, and thank goodness, as my our small-ish house has enough squabbles and property battles regarding Lego pieces to keep me humble and dependent. You are likely not in charge of a nation-state. However, you have been called by God to works that are likely outside of your comfort zone and capacity.

Unlike our culture that loves to accentuate strengths and tells us we are entitled to sweet spots, God has a tendency to call us way above our pay grades and well out of our capacities. He does this that we might depend upon Him by lovingly and carefully exposing weaknesses and limitations that lead us to beg of Him, the strong and unlimited One. Unlike our American culture that would have us be all in all as individuals, He sets us in a body of diverse gifts, wirings and capacities and bids us lean into one another.

He has called me to dabble in Excel files, not that I might excel on my own, but that I might, in weakness and in community, declare His excellencies.

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

Whatever your calling today, be it stay-at-home mom, manager, job hunter or the like, know that God will give you a capacity equal to your calling as you lean into Him and His people.

I’m off to drown in Excel files to the glory of God.

Bound

I woke up this morning feeling bound.

Bound by the tasks that are right and necessary, like feeding my children, paying our bills, taking care of my body.  Bound by the expectations of others, the responsibilities that have been laid upon me as well as those I have chosen to pick up. Bound up by busyness; bound by competing drives to succeed and to rest, to get things done and to be simply be with my family.

Some of these cords are beautiful bindings, ropes laden with love; others are heavy manacles that were never intended to tie me down; however, all pale in comparison to the one cord that leads to true freedom.

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Contrary to the popular and regnant belief that freedom is not being bound, freedom is being bound in love to the Good Master. Our culture and our conniving flesh would have us believe that there is such a thing as a masterless life. The Scriptures and our experiences tell us otherwise; we are all mastered.  The question that should concern us, then, is,  “To whom or what are we bound?”

Listen to the voice of the One Good Master, God Himself, speaking of His unrelenting, inexplicable love for His children.

When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son. The more they were called, the more they went away; they kept sacrificing to the Baals and burning offerings to idols. 

Yet it was I who taught Ephraim to walk; I took them up by their arms, but they did not know that I healed them. I led them cords of kindness, with the bands of love, and I became to them as one who eases the yoke on their jaws, and I bent down to them and fed them.  Hosea 11:1-4. 

Far from being the One who laid heavy burdens on them, God describes Himself here as one who gently led and cared for His people with gentle cords of love. He lifted burdens from the false and fierce masters and cared for His children were, in His own words just a few short verses down, “bent on turning away.”

God set up some rules and parameters for His people via His servant Moses which are recorded in the book of Exodus. In Exodus 21, God describes the laws regarding slaves, which was then a common practice in the Ancient Near East. The laws were not meant to condone slavery, but to create protection within an already existing and broken system.

According to Exodus 21, if someone were to buy a Hebrew slave, they were to work for him for 6 years and be freed in the seventh year, in the same condition in which he was received.

Then, Moses adds an interesting addendum to this law in verses 5 and 6.

But if the slave plainly says, “I love my master, my wife and my children; I will not go out for free,” then his master shall bring him to God, and he shall bring him to the door of the doorpost. And his master shall bore his ear through with an awl, and he shall be his slave forever.

As strange as this sounds to our modern ears, what with the piercing of the ears as his property and all, there is beauty to behold here.

The picture is one of a chosen, willful, voluntary servitude to a Good Master whom one loves, trusts and respects.  The piercing of the ears would have been an outward sign to all the world that this man was accounted for and was under the care and responsibility of the Good Master.

As believers, we are the prized property of the Good Master. As those who have seen the love of the Good Master clearly displayed through His Son being killed on the Cross to free us, we have chosen slavery to our Savior over slavery to self, Satan and the standards of the world.

As such, we are marked by His Spirit; we are led by the cords of love of our Good Master.

We are bound, but we are bound by love to the Good Master who has purchased our freedom which thereby ensures our voluntary servitude.

In the midst of all the other bindings of this life, it does my heart good to remember that first and foremost I am bound to my Savior who promises, as only God can, to somehow simultaneously lead me and go behind me while staying with me.

 

 

 

When the Wine Runs Out

I haven’t hosted a wedding yet, and as I have three sons, it looks like I will only be hosting rehearsal dinners unless the norms change in the next few decades. Rather than be sad about this reality, it makes me sigh with relief, as I am not a natural party planner or host.  I feel nervous when I host birthday parties, and those stakes and expectations are not nearly as high.

That being said, I feel strangely drawn to the account of Jesus’ first miracle at the wedding in Cana of Galilee.  Today, the scene came to life in my imagination, namely because I feel like I can relate to the feelings of the host who ran out of wine.

The story resonates with me, not because I am accustomed to throwing parties with huge amounts of wine, but because I know what it feels like to calculate and ration and still come up short.

When it comes to the tightrope act of attempting to balance motherhood and ministry, I try so very hard to plan head, to read the signals, to pace myself so that I have the best wine for the whole party.  But I inevitably run out. Usually in the middle of the day or busy season or the month (or all of the above).

Looking around at the guests in my life, those whom the Lord has called me to invite into my life and soul and heart and capacity, I see thirsty crowds. I frantically look to the wine cellars of my soul and I find that I have nothing but tepid tap water to offer them.

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The waves of shame commence: “But I thought I planned better than that. To whom did I offer too much wine? Were there guests who were not supposed to be here?”

I wonder if Mary felt the same feelings in her empathy for her host friend. I mean, after all, this is her first big request of her son who is gathering his disciples to enter into his public ministry. Clearly, this was a cause close to her heart.

In those days, to run out of wine at a wedding would have has strong social and cultural implications. It would have been, in a sense, to have been caught publicly with your pants down, in front of the whole town.

Mary begs her son to do something. Jesus pushes back for a brief moment, not because He is insensitive or unwilling to help, but because He knows what this first public miracle will set into motion. He pushes back on His mother who has a certain idea of what the Messiah-ship of Jesus will look like; He knew that this miracle would have set into motion the grinding gears that would lead to Him dying on the Cross. Such a weighty reality in the midst of a wedding feast would give anyone in their right mind pause.

Mary, in full confidence of her son, tells the servants of the bridegroom, “Do whatever he tells you.”

Jesus takes over, bidding the servants, “Fill the jars with water,” which they did, quizzically I am certain. Jesus continued, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the feast,” which they did, reluctantly I imagine (John 2:7-8).

The master of the feast drinks it, calls the bridegroom and announces,”Everyone serves the good wine first, and when people have drunk freely, then the poor wine. But you have kept the good wine until now.” (John 2:10).

While I cannot say I have ever seen Jesus turn water into wine physically, I have seen Him do this countless days and seasons when I have exhausted my storehouses of patience, perspective, wisdom, energy and peace (which happens on the regular in this home).

Looking out upon an insane February for our family with sports, ministry events, Bible studies and trips, I have already run out of wine and the month has not even begun.

This morning, in my preemptive exhaustion, the Lord reminded me of His miracle at the wedding feast.

He bid me bring my nasty tap water to him, and did so without shaming or chiding me. For He knows my frame, that I am but dust. He also knows that none of what I keep in my short storehouses was ever mine anyway.

He loves when I finally run out of “my own” resources, because when I do such, I look to Him in desperate dependance. I finally have a heart that is ready to, as Mary bid, “do whatever he commands.”

I love the hymn He Giveth More Grace, and one of the stanzas has been playing on repeat  in my mind.

When we have exhausted our store of endurance,
When our strength has failed ere the day is half done,
When we reach the end of our hoarded resources
Our Father’s full giving is only begun.

He is the best wine.

In the words of George Herbert from his poem The Agony, “Love is that liquor sweet and most divine,Which my God feels as blood; but I, as wine.”

 

On Carpentry and Canons

We have only recent left the stage where the only safe tools for our youngest to touch in the garage/shop are levels and measuring tapes.  I imagine that for years in his father’s carpentry shop Jesus, likewise, was only allowed to assist Joseph by grabbing him the Carpenter’s Rule.

I imagine his little eager fingers grabbing the measuring rods and lines that must have been ubiquitous in their little shop. He probably knew the textures of those important tools well.

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Recently while studying the closing of Paul’s letter to the Galatian Church, the image of Jesus holding a carpenter’s rule took on a whole new depth of meaning.

But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. For neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation. And as for all who walk by this rule, peace and mercy be upon them, and upon the Israel of God. Galatians 6:14-16. 

Upon digging deeper into the Greek words, one word jumped off the page: the Greek word translated rule in the above Scriptures, kanon. The word refers to a measuring standard, which would have been a rod or a cane used as an accepted standard of measure. Fancy speak for a level, a straight edge, a carpenter’s rule.

Paul uses the gospel and the Cross of Christ as his kanon, his rule of life, his measuring rod. He encourages the Galatian Church then and the modern Church today to accept this as THE rule of all of life. He not only measures the entirety of life against the truths of Christ, the Word of God, but He commands all Christians that Christ is the universal standard.

Interestingly enough, we now refer to the Holy Scriptures as the Canon, the rule and summary of orthodox Christianity.

In light of the depth of the meaning of the word kanon, the images of Christ and his familiarity with an actual kanon from an early age were painted in richer and more transformative hues.

The Creator and Ruler of all creation became a little boy who worked in his daddy’s carpenter’s shop with an actual ruler. His life, death and resurrection would become the standard by which all of the Christian life for every Christian is measured for all time.

The Carpenter’s Rule

As a young apprentice,
Carpenter’s rule in hand,
Could He fully grasp all
That You had planned?

Carpentry needs a standard,
A measure widely accepted.
Yet He, the perfect standard,
Would be universally rejected.

A straight edged rod held
By the only straight soul.
In time, He’d be mangled,
And the crooked made whole.

His life and death now serve
As the Rule of His bride,
Words of the Living Word
To measure every stride.

Standards of the kingdom:
Christ, Canon, and Cross.
Against these we measure
Everything else but dross.