Author Archives: gaimee

The Habits of Hope

Everyone knew where to find them. After all, they had been daily perched in their particular haunts for hope with the regularity of sentinels.

They had little in common, as one was an aged prophetess, long ago widowed,  and the other a blind beggar; however, they had both cultivated habits of hope.

Persistent Patience
Luke goes out of us his way to let us know that Anna was a daughter of Phanuel, which comes from the Hebrew word meaning the “face of God.” A fitting fact, as her life seems to be characterized by a longing and panting for the presence and nearness of God, despite the fact that she spent the majority of her life widowed.

She had only been married for seven years when she lost her husband, a painful blow in the Ancient Near East as well as today. Instead of growing bitter or resentful to the Lord who had dealt her a hard hand, she became more attached to hope, longing day and night for His coming.

I wonder if she had days or even decades of wrestling with doubt and experiencing hope fatigue. I wonder if her steps were sometimes sluggish, mirroring a heavy heart, as she approached the Temple yet again to pray and fast and cry out and wait. Whatever was going on within her, we know that her habits of hope were strong enough to be the distinguishing characteristics of her life. She had a reputation for steady (some might say stubborn) expectancy, despite living our her entire life in the tenure of 400 years of prophetic silence.

Until one day, in the mist of her deeply engrained habit of heading to the Temple to wait on God, she saw the Hope of the World in the arms of a young, poor mother and father.

She did not depart from the temple, worshiping with fasting and prayer night and day. And coming up at that very hour she began to give thanks to God and to speak of him to all who were waiting for the redemption of Israel. Luke 2: 37-38.

Unabashed Neediness
As Jesus was walking out of Jericho, headed into Jerusalem for his last week of life that would end at Golgotha,  Mark tells us that Blind Bartimaeus was sitting by the roadside. This blind beggar is the son of Timaeus, whose name means “highly prized,” an ironic name considering his highly undesirable situation as both a beggar and a blind man.

Blind Bartimaeus was sitting there because this was his spot and had been his sad address for quite some time. Just as we have grown accustomed to certain homeless men and women who frequent streets in our neck of the woods, it is likely that Blind Bartimaeus was a permanent fixture at this particular gate of Jericho.

When he heard the large crowds leaving the gate, our beggar inquired as to the ado, to be told that Jesus of Nazareth was passing by.

He began to cry out, “Jesus, son of David, have mercy on me!” And many rebuked him, telling him to be silent. But he cried out all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” And Jesus stopped and said, “Call him.”  And they called the blind man, saying to him, “Take heart. Get up; he is calling you.” And throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus. Mark 10:46-50. 

While the crowd had used his common name, Bartimaeus called Jesus a much more significant name, Son of David. He understood that Christ was the long-ago promised, long-waited for king of David’s line. He cried out unabashedly and unashamedly, even to the point of awkwardness and discomfort to the hearers who tried to shush him. For if this was the Messiah, his cries would be heard.

From Anna we learn the hopeful habit of daily showing up and patiently persisting. From no-longer-blind Bartimaeus, we learn the hopeful habit of crying out boldly, confidently and consistently.

As those awaiting His second coming, may we learn to cultivate these two habits of hope in our long-waiting for the world to be made right again in His presence and by His power.

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Inscape in an Escapist World

Our newsfeeds, both the ones in our minds and the real ones that capture our attention, constantly bid us to escape from our realities. They invite us to wish we were on a secluded, tropical island or exploring the French Riviera. They tell us that if we could only get a new set of mid-century modern furniture and some macrame hanging plants, our lives would be richer, simpler, and more beautiful.

Our escapist culture allures us, whether explicitly or implicitly, to run away to external things for renewal and refreshment. On the backdrop of such an escapist world, inscape, a concept termed by the Jesuit poet Gerard Manly Hopkins, resonates deeply.

The Dearest Freshness Deep Down Things

Hopkins used inscape to describe the unified and complex characteristics that give each thing its uniqueness, and he captures this concept poetically in his famous poem God’s Grandeur where he wrote, “There lives the dearest freshness deep down things.”

While the world bids us look out, Hopkins invites us to look deeper into the things, places, and people all around us. When I find myself imagining that a trip to Hawaii would satisfy me, Hopkins would invite me to fight to see the beauty of the Hibiscus flower growing in a pot in my own backyard. When I find myself buying the lie that what I need is a new set of circumstances, Hopkins gently invites me to ask God for new eyes to see the same things more deeply and differently. With the help of the Holy Spirit and an attuned focus, the mundane drives to soccer and baseball practices with my sons become opportunities to see who God has made them with fresh eyes.

When the world lures me to run away, Hopkins bids me grab a spiritual shovel to begin digging for a dearer freshness deep down the things and people in my present life. Hopkins can say this because he knew that those who dig deep enough would eventually find God, the Creator, at the bottom. For freshness can only come from the abundance of the life-giver and source of all refreshment: the Triune God.

The Dearest Freshness Deep Within Us

Scripturally, we see a similar invitation in the Word of God. Although Christianity is the farthest thing from navel-gazing and looking for life in things and people themselves, Christ gives his children new eyes to see God in all things. The Scriptures are replete with terms like “inner man,” “within,” and “the secret place” which reminds us that God sees us all the way through. While the world looks upon the outward appearance, God looks upon the heart or in the inscape, to borrow Hopkins’ term (1 Samuel 16:7).

Our God desires truth plastered not only on our newsfeeds and walls but more significantly within our deepest parts: “Behold, you delight in truth in the inward being, and you teach me wisdom in the secret heart” (Psalm 51:6). The psalmists found hope and stability knowing that even if the earth gave way and the mountains slipped into the sea, God is in the midst of his people therefore, they would not be moved (Psalm 46:2-5). Similarly. the Apostle Paul prayed that the church in Ephesus would be “strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith” (Ephesians 3:16-17).

Freshness without our sin-flawed hearts only happens by grace through faith in Christ. For Christ alone had truth in his inmost part and wisdom in his inmost place. He alone constantly drew strength and life from the source of life. He always saw as God sees, looking past appearances to the reality. Yet, he took within him the foulness of our sin, drinking to the very dregs the wrath of God we deserved. After rising and ascending to the Father, he sent us the Spirit who would dwell within us, making his home in us and inviting us to make our home within the Triune God.

The Holy Spirit within us gives us the dearest freshness deep down at the soul level. Even if outwardly we are wasting away and the world around us is fading, yet inwardly, we are being renewed day by day (2 Corinthians 4:16-18). By the power of the Holy Spirit, we are invited to begin to see as God sees and to think with the very mind of Christ (2 Corinthians 5:16; 1 Corinthians 2:16). As such, we don’t need to escape our circumstances, but we need to run and hide in the arms of the One who lovingly ordered our circumstances (Psalm 16:5-6). We get to ask him to show us more of himself deep down in the places and people of our everyday lives.

Spiritual Angioplasty

I came into this week thinking it would be a normal one. But as I sit here on my couch this morning, I feel like the Lord has begun to perform the equivalent of an angioplasty in my soul.

When arteries are clogged due to the slow build up of cholesterol (whether inherited, induced by habit, or the common combination of both), doctors often perform an angioplasty.  A small catheter is placed into the artery and then a ballooning technique is used to stretch and reopen the artery so that more blood can flow through it.

If you asked me even on Monday if I was aware of racism in the world and its roots in my own heart, I would have said yes and been honest in saying so; however, after a week of hard conversations and convicting moments with the Lord, I feel like I went to the doctor and was diagnosed with multiple clogged arteries of the soul.

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I didn’t realize how little I have listened to my friends who are people of color or even asked about their experiences with racism. I have been open to conversations, but I have not initiated them; rather, I have expected them to come to me and open up about hard things. Even that exposes a position of power in my heart that I did not realize I have had.  This spiritual artery needs some unclogging.

I have failed to address the significant shaping power of culture in spiritual development and discipleship. As one who loves to address family of origin with those I disciple, I have largely missed the culture of origin level in discipleship. As such, I have unintentionally shown my disciples that I am interested in most of their lives, but not all of it. This spiritual artery needs some ballooning.

I have been tempted to be defensive, to point out all the ways that I have loved and engaged in the lives of my friends of color.  I felt misread and wrongly judged and overly generalized into a lump stereotype. Until I realized that those exact feelings are only a tiny sliver of what my friends of color have been experiencing daily for most of their lives. Another clogged artery.

If am honest, I sat down to meet with the Lord this morning defeated and exhausted, exposed and sore. Until I remembered that it His great love for and commitment to me and His bride that He would appoint for me a spiritual angioplasty (or a series of them).

He won’t leave well enough alone (Philippians 1:6). He will not settle for anything less than Christ-likeness in His children (Galatians 4:19). He will not leave our soul’s arteries clogged with even unintentional narrow-mindedness and partially working flow of the Spirit. He will look right through us with His gently exposing gaze and will flag every place where the flow of His Spirit through us is clogged or limited.

He will painfully insert His Word into us and will stretch us in ways that feel uncomfortable (Hebrews 4:12-13). He will make space in us to contain love for His entire body. And all of this is for our good, the good of the body, and the good of the world and His glory.

I want a heart that fully functions. I want a heart that is unclogged and wide open, not constricted and strained. I want to look like my Father whose heart is expansive; I want to be shaped to be like the Son whose blood was literally poured out for the world. This will only happen by the surgical expertise of the Holy Spirit within me. While He is always ready to do His healing work, He does not force or coerce. He allows circumstances that reveal just how clogged our hearts have become. He waits for consent and readiness in His patients.

Please be tender with the hearts of those around you. Surgeries, both minor and major, are happening all around you.

“The wounded surgeon plies the steel
That questions the distempered part;
Beneath the bleeding hands we feel
The sharp compassion of the healer’s art
Resolving the enigma of the fever chart.
Our only health is the disease
If we obey the dying nurse
Whose constant care is not to please
But remind of our, and Adam’s curse,
And that, to be restored, our sickness must grow worse.
The whole earth is our hospital
Endowed by the ruined millionaire”

T. S. Eliot, Four Quartets

Meanwhile in Midian: The Purpose of the Messy Middle

It’s about to be graduation season where we celebrate beginnings with their vague hope and endings with their celebratory finality. I love watching the pictures of proud families and excited soon-to-be high school and college students. We rightly highlight beginnings and endings, but we would do well to also remember that life consists mostly of the messy middle.

The first image that usually comes to mind when most people hear the name Moses is a Prince-of-Egypt-like bearded man holding up a staff and parting the Red Sea. This is the memorable Moses, the heroic Moses, the deliverer Moses. While this image is beautiful, I find myself most drawn to the Midian Moses, the Moses of the middle years.

I imagine the young Moses as having a strong sense of “manifest destiny” (or shall we say “manifest providence?”). After all, he was miraculously saved from sure death when he was drawn out of the Nile by none other than the Pharaoh’s daughter. He was beautiful in appearance; he was educated by the finest tutors in Egypt; he was clearly set apart.

He knew God had plans for his life, and I can imagine him eager to leave his mark. But life took a series of turns that he did not anticipate, culminating in his fleeing for his life from his home.  Thus, Moses, God’s chosen instrument and one with whom God would one day speak face-to-face, found himself in Midian.

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I imagine Moses’ years in Midian were spent swinging between contentment and confusion.

Exodus 2:21 says that Moses was willing to dwell in Midian. The Hebrew word translated willing is “yaal” and literally means to yield, to be content, to be pleased.”  The Lord provided him a wife in Zipporah and a father figure in Jethro. Thus, Moses was content to dwell for decades, living as a common shepherd, husband and father. Contentment.

Yet, I wonder if Moses ever had days when he felt terribly confused at the way his life was panning out. Did he ever have a burning desire for more? Did he long to be used by God to help the Hebrew people with whom his heart was knit? I imagine him wandering through the vast wilderness with his flock asking, “Was this really what God rescued me for? Family and sheep are wonderful, but I feel as if I were wired for more.” Confusion.

In all those years of shepherding and living a quietly faithful life, God knew something that Moses didn’t: Moses needed Midian as much as the Hebrews needed deliverance.

Moses needed to mature, to have his desires and gifts refined. He needed the mundane, the simple and the small to whittle away at his pride and self-reliance. I imagine that everyday of those decades, God was hand-crafting him to be an instrument that was able to hear and to respond to His voice.

The pre-Midian Moses was strong, self-confident, ready to act as a deliverer for the Hebrew people in his time and his way. The post-Midian Moses had learned to take his sandals off before a holy God, had learned a healthy humility that truly questioned whether God could use him.

Midian made Moses.

We all need Midians. We need secret seasons of preparation and identity-forging in which we learn to trust in God’s power and not our own.

For some Midian looks like an extended season of singleness that was neither anticipated nor welcomed. In these years, the God-planted and good desires for marriage and parenting are rounded out and refined. For others Midian looks like unemployment or underemployment where God-given, God-pleasing talents are put on the back burner for a season. There are a myriad of Midians, but they share this in common: they are appointed by an all-wise, all-loving Father and will not last forever (though it often feels like they will).

Sometimes it seems that everyone else’s lives seem to be falling into place or moving forward in the fast lane while we sit in Midian, swinging between contentment and confusion.

Know this: the same God that planted desires deeply within you plans to fulfill them in His time and in His way. Meanwhile, in Midian, He is with you, refining you, refreshing you, reminding you of His truth.

I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus. Philippians 1:6. 

A Legacy of Covenant Love

Every time I walk down a certain hallway in our home, I see, among the family pictures hanging on our wall, a picture that nearly arrests me. A stunning woman looks askance at a handsome, proud young groom. Her eyes show the anticipation we normally associate with weddings, but they also betray a look we don’t expect: a nervousness which is closer to fear than wedding jitters.

She had only met her would-be husband two times, yet she was walking to the altar to vow a covenant of lifelong love to him. No wonder her eyes revealed mixed emotions.

My parents-in-law, as was the custom in their culture, were arranged by their parents. The decision was prayerfully and carefully considered. Each set of their parents saw in the other a good match for their children.

The concept seems foreign to me, one raised in a culture where there is no need for a descriptive adjective before the word marriage. When all marriages are love marriages, chosen by the marrying parties (and often blessed by the parents), there is no need to distinguish between” love” marriage and “arranged” marriage.

As an outsider looking in for the past fifteen years of their long marriage journey, I am astounded at the depths of their relationship. I am humbled by the way friendship and romance grew out of covenant and choice. I am deeply indebted to their marriage, not only for producing my husband, but also for painting a realistic yet regal picture of covenant love.

Their marriage exemplifies what Thomas Hardy so poetically and powerfully captured in his classic book Far From the Madding Crowd.

“Theirs was that substantial affection which arises (if any arises at all) when the two who are thrown together begin first by knowing the rougher sides of each other’s character, and not the best till further on, the romance growing up in the interstices of a mass of hard prosaic reality.

A mass of hard prosaic reality is an understatement. They worked hard to move their family to a foreign nation where they had only tertiary contacts and tenuous hopes. They weathered losing jobs, raising children, and moving multiple times. While there marriage is neither dreamy nor perfect, it is weathered and well-woven.

The strength of their covenant love has been highlighted by over a decade of being tested by the slow, steady decline of Parkinson’s disease. Amma serves as Appa’s primary caregiver, bathing him, feeding him, managing his litany of interventions and appointments. She rarely leaves the house. She has to steal a few moments away for a relaxing trip to the grocery store. Her world has shrunk considerably to match the needs of her hurting husband.

Yet, there are still moments when the two laugh together over Appa’s less-than-lucid thoughts. Playfulness pops out in the midst of the plodding perseverance. Watching her serve him so steadfastly with all of her life literally brings tears to my eyes and refines my view of marriage.

If what C.S. Lewis says about romantic love lighting the slow coals of covenant love is true, their marriage is even more astounding. Their covenant coals were lit only with the fire of promise and trust. They give my husband and I a moving, real-life picture of the love between Christ and His bride.

Covenants and Coals

If romantic love is flame
Lighting covenant coals,
Their love is hard to name:
The arrangement of souls. 

Barely more than strangers,
They vowed longterm love,
Trusting their arrangers,
Depending on God above. 

As they walked through life,
True companionship grew.
As they navigated strife,
One formed out of two. 

After a decade of slow decline,
Years of suffering and serving,
They stand with covenant spine
In their tested love unswerving. 

Coals without first fire lit
Still offer steady heat,
God by His hand has writ
A lifelong love still sweet. 

To God be the glory, great things He has done!

The Power of a Visit

I thought I knew what a visit was until the Lord allowed me to make some Afghan friends. I visit with friends over coffee and have been to plenty of house-warming parties. Yet, I clearly had no idea of the power of true visiting. My Afghan friends consider anything less than three hours a short visit, and when they are with you, there is nothing else going on in the world but you and the visit. Appointments can be skipped, errands rescheduled, and work left undone when a friend over to visit and drink tea from a clear-glass cup.

My American-ness shows in my typical approach to visits: clear purpose, clear timeline, clear boundaries. But God has been teaching me so much through the Afghan approach to visiting. And, come to find out, this concept of God visiting his people is laced throughout the entirety of the Scriptures.

The God who Visits His people

The Hebrew word paqad, often translated as visit, shows up consistently throughout the Torah, speaking of God and his desire to visit with his people.

In Psalm 8, the writer exclaims, “What is man that you are mindful of him and the son of man that you care for him?” A more literal translation here would be, “What is the son of man that you would visit him?” (Psalm 8:4).

In Genesis 21, when God fulfilled his long-in-coming promise to Sarah for a child, the writer records, “The Lord visited Sarah as he had said, and the Lord did to Sarah as he had promised (Genesis 21:1).

Before Joseph dies, as he looks back over his painful and eventful life, he leaves his brothers with the promise, “I am about to die, but God will visit you and bring you up out of this land to the land that he swore to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob…God will surely visit you” (Genesis 50:24 & 25).

When God comes to Moses to appoint him to lead his people out of slavery (in fulfillment of the aforementioned promise), he uses the same visiting language. God tells him, “Go and gather the elders of Israel together and say to them, ‘The Lord, the God of your fathers…has appeared to me saying, “I have observed you and what has been done to you in Egypt, and I promise I will bring you up out of the affliction of Egypt”.'” (Exodus 3:16-17). The word observed is once again pagad: “to visit.”

Soon after, when Moses had obeyed, the writer of Genesis records, “And the people believed, and when they heard that the Lord had visited the people of Israel and that he had seen their affliction, they bowed their heads and worshipped” (Genesis 4:31).

This seems to be the appropriate response to the realization that the God who made the universe would visit us, seeing us and meeting us where we are: we bow our heads and worship.

Christ’s Visit with Us

All these hints at a God who longs to visit his people come to a culmination in the person of Christ who visited his people quite literally by tabernacling among them as a person. He visited with his creation for 33 years. And while he visited the earth, he made it a habit to visit with people: to meet them where they were and invite them into relationship with him.

One particular instance brings this concept home, and it is only recorded by Luke, who seemed to have a particular heart for the outcast and the sinner. In the story of Zaccheus, we see God’s desire to visit his people showcased in all of its stunning and shocking beauty.

Zaccheus was a Jew who worked on the inside with the Roman powers who were occupying Israel. He lined his pockets while his own people starved, and as such, he was not often welcomed or celebrated. His being rich did not change his diminutive physical stature, so he climbed a tree to see what was going on with this Jesus fella. You likely know the story (Luke 19:1-9).

Jesus sees him, names him, and invites himself over to his house in a gesture that would have shocked both Jew and Roman alike. As if the invitation itself were not enough, the timing of the visit underscores the nature of our God. This encounter took place in the last week of Jesus’s life. He had set his face like flint toward Jerusalem. To say he had a bit on his mind would be the understatement of the century. However, he made time for a visit with a notorious sinner.

An Open Invitation

Visits are costly. They require time which is quite the commodity in our Amazon age. They require proximity and presence in an age where we can far more easily send a package that will arrive in an hour or two. They require flexibility and response. When I think of the reality of God himself wanting to visit with me daily, I am blown away. Yet, God freely and continually offers the gift of his presence (Hebrews 4:14-16). Even though he maintains the universe and upholds matter, he still wants to hear about the details of my day. Such a reality leaves my mouth echoing the psalmist, saying, “What is man that you are mindful of him?”

May the Lord visit with you today. And may his visit with you change the way you visit with those all around you!

Blade by Blade: Painting the World Blue

Red and blue. Progressive and traditional. These words have become battle lines and rallying cries in our  alarmingly divided nation. Yet, in the midst of this battle, the Church must stay the course by sticking to the mission entrusted to her by her Head (even and especially in the midst of a culture that rushes to drop tradition in lieu of a notion of progress).

The Church should always be traditional, so much as she should be looking back to measure herself against the standard that the Word of God, passed down the ages, has set for her.

Our culture, our hearts always search for the shiny and new. The same seems to be true of the Church. We love conferences on the “new” theology, the “new” strategy, the “new” perspective.

The obsession with the “new” is nothing new. Jeremiah cried out, on behalf of God, to God’s people, “They have healed the brokenness of My people superficially, saying ‘Peace, peace,’ but there is no peace…Thus says the Lord, ‘Stand by the ways and see and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way is, and walk in it; and you will find rest for your souls.’ But they said, ‘We will not walk in it.'” (Jeremiah 6:14 & 16)

I am not saying the Chuch ought to stick with tradition merely for the sake of tradition, as we all know that the Church is a beloved but broken bride and has been since her inception. However, I am crying out, like Jeremiah, that tradition, insofar as it is lined up with the standard of God’s word, deserves a weighted vote. “The democracy of the dead,” as Chesterton calls tradition, merits a sound hearing.

The Church should always be progressive, so much as she should be looking ahead and moving closer to the vision set before her in the Word of God. Here, I am using progressive in the truest sense of the term. Christ’s bride and body here on earth should always be moving closer and closer to the New Jerusalem, to the picture of the New Heavens and the New Earth so artfully captured by the captured John, imprisoned on Patmos and recording Revelation.

G. K. Chesterton addressed the wrong notion of progress present in his England in Orthodoxy. As usual, his assessment applies today.

“We have mixed up two different things, two opposite things. Progress should mean that we are always changing the world to suit the vision. Progress does mean (just now) that we are always changing the vision…We are not altering the real to suit the ideal. We are altering the ideal: it is easier.”

The mark of true brilliance is the ability to bring thoughts from the highest shelves of human thinking down to the lower shelves in such a way that the average man can access and understand them.  G. K. Chesterton shows his brilliance by illustrating this wrong idea of progress in the example below.

“Silly examples are always simpler; let us suppose a man wanted a particular kind of world; say, a blue world. He would have no cause to complain of the slightness or swiftness of his task; he might toil for a long time at the transformation; he could work away (in every sense) until all was blue. He could have heroic adventures; the putting of the last touches to a blue tiger. He could have fairy dreams; the dawn of a blue moon. But if he worked hard, the high-minded reformer would certainly (from his own perspective) leave the world better and bluer than he found it. If he altered a blade of grass to his favorite color every day, he would not get on at all. If, after reading a fresh philosopher, he started to paint everything red or yellow, his work would be thrown away; there would be nothing to show except a few blue tigers walking about, specimens of his early bad manner.”

Top-class hockey on world-class grass bluegrass RS1932221-23718

If Christ told the Church her purpose was to proclaim the gospel and the Word and the supremacy of Christ in all arenas of life, then we must stay the course. Watching the gospel advance soul to soul is painstaking work. Blade by blade, we are to be painting the world blue.  The work is slow and far from sexy. It seems old-fashioned in such a technicolor world. In light of these realities, one can understand how tempting it would be to alter the vision of the Church to something simpler, quicker, more attainable, to start painting the blades of grass another color.

But we must be the traditional, progressive Church. We need to glance back and glance ahead from time to time, but our gaze must be on our bride-groom, Christ. And blade by blade, we must work to see His will be done on earth as it is in Heaven.

The new thing is the old thing with new people.

Precious & Painful Death

When the Lord speaks, a sentence can feed and fuel a soul. This morning in the corporate reading of Scripture, a seemingly random verse jumped out, arrested my attention, and comforted my soul.

“Truly, truly I say t o you, when you were young, you used to dress yourself and walk wherever you wanted, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go.” (This he said to show by what kind of death he was to glorify God.) And after saying this he said to him, “Follow me.” (John 21:18–19).

“By what kind of death he was to glorify God.” In some ways, it seems like a throwaway phrase. After all, it is a parenthetical statement John added to aide the reader. But every word of God drips with soul-deep meaning.

The same God who had directed his steps all this life would direct his steps in death. The God who had given him a portion in life appointed for him a specific death, tailor-made for the glory of God and Peter’s good.

Peter’s first hints at the death apportioned for him didn’t paint a hopeful picture. Rather, Jesus eased him into the grim reality of an approaching martyr’s death. But Peter is not the same Peter whose flesh raised up against the idea of redemptive suffering in Matthew 16. When Jesus initially shared his own coming suffering that would eventually lead to his death, Peter would have none of it.

And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him saying, “Far be it from you, Lord!” This shall never happen to you.” (Matthew 16:22).

Stubborn though he was, Peter learned his lessons. What he balked at before the cross, he understood afterwards. His self-willed ways were giving way to deep dependence upon and trust in God’s ways.

If God would be glorified in Peter being led to cruel death, Peter would walk with confidence and calling toward that end. For he knew it was not the end, but the beginning of being fully reunited with his resurrected Lord forever. The same call that equipped him for life would equip him for death: “Follow me.”

Precious & Painful

Everything in culture tries to avoid death, yet it comes nonetheless. Sometimes death is sudden and shocking; other times it is a long, drawn out roller coaster of disease after diagnosis. For the past decade, my mother-in-law has done little else than care for my father-in-law who suffers from Parkinson’s Disease. Death is an ever-approaching reality for him and thus for us who love him. The imagery Jesus gave Peter about his death is actually an apt description of what Appa’s last days (or decade) have looked like. A once strong, gregarious man now being dressed and led by many hands from bed to bathroom and back again. God is leading him where he would never have wanted to go.

A friend shared about her dear friend dying from ALS this week. She, too, had been led where no flesh wants to go. Another church member lost his father two weeks ago. A dear friends lost her husband to COVID over a year ago. The list goes on and on. In light of a growing list of deaths, the reality that God knows by what deaths his children will glorify him comforted my aching soul.

When friends lose a loved one, I try to send a beautiful floral handkerchief as a reminder of beauty amidst the brokenness and hope in the midst of hollowing loss. In the notes to these friends, I always share Psalm 116:15, “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints.” While I always include it, it always give me pause when I write it. It feels so off. The death of his children is precious in the sight of the Lord?

But precious does not mean cute like the little porcelain figurines I collected as a child. The Hebrew word yaqar literally means “rare, splendid, costly, or weighty.” God does not take death lightly, but he also knows what (or rather whom) is on the other side. What is painful in our experience is precious in his.

As believers, we can trust that faithful daily dying will lead to faithful final breath. We, like Peter, need only to do one thing: keep following Jesus. For he knows by what deaths we will glorify God and he will enable us to meet death like a friend knowing that God’s presence awaits us on the other side.

When Death Comes for Me

When Death comes for me, 
Let there be little to take. 
Let all be given, entrusted
Into hands nothing can shake. 

When Death comes for me, 
Let me see him only as friend,
The mean doorway leading
To His presence without end. 

When Death comes for me, 
Let him find me already spent,
Poured out as living sacrifice
Laid down in delighted consent.

When Death comes for me, 
Let me remember whom I serve,
The One who conquered death
To give me love I don’t deserve. 

Imposition & Accommodation

We are an imposing people. When stepping into a culture, we tend to impose ourselves and our ways onto it. We impose our own agendas. We impose our own plans. We impose our blueprints. 

Some of this knack for imposition is commendable. After all, it allowed our forefathers to create a nation in a hostile landscape against all odds. It was the stuff that shaped the American Dream. However, this same tendency that raised our nation, also caused us to raze the culture of the native people who lived in this land long before us. 

In his essay “A Native Hill,” Wendell Berry juxtaposes paths with roads. Since roads don’t typically hold my interest unless they result in an inconvenient flat tire, I was tempted to skim read over it; however, I am so glad that I stayed the course. The underlying principle he was delineating has been shaping my approach to God, His word, and His world this week. 

“A path is little more than a habit that comes with knowledge of a place. It is a sort of ritual of familiarity. As a form, it is a form of contact with a known landscape. It is not destructive. It is the perfect adaptation, through experience and familiarity, of movement to place; it obeys the natural contours; such obstacles as it meets it goes around. A road, on the other hand, even the most primitive road, embodies a resistance against the landscape. Its reason is not simply the necessity of movement, but haste. Its wish is to avoid contact with the landscape;  it seeks so far as possible to go over the country, rather than through it…It is destructive, seeking to remove or destroy all obstacles in its way.”

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Far from trying to make us feel guilty about roads, Berry seems more to be prodding at our hearts’ need to impose itself on everything and everyone around us. 

I don’t think of myself as an imposing person. I tend to yield adequately to others, and I don’t even like to ask for ketchup at a restaurant, and; however, Berry’s words have had me running a magnifying glass over my motives and methods of being. Unfortunately, there is far more of a tendency to impose in me than I thought. 

This should not surprise me. After all, the first act of human betrayal against God was an imposition of human judgement and desire rather than an adoring accommodation to Divine judgement and desire. At Babel, humans sought to impose their plans on the earth. When God’s people were no longer content with their unseen ruler, they imposed upon God, demanding a king they could see. The Pharisees, the trained professional religious people of Jesus’s day, sought to impose their human traditions not only on the poor and vulnerable, but also on the God-man himself. 

It seems that our fallen human nature tends towards imposition. This bent is only reinforced when set in a culture of imposition. Our culture tells us to dream a big dream and then impose it on our lives, no matter the cost, no matter the resistance. While this might lead to short-term success, it eventually ends in ruin. For, as the Proverbs say, “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death” (Proverbs 14:12). 

Christ offers us another way: the way of accommodation. The one whose words created the world and whose planning parted the earth from the heavens and the sky from the sea, could have imposed himself on humanity. All power was his as rightful Creator and owner of all. Yet, that God chose to accommodate himself to our needs. Seeing that we were doomed to continue to impose our will over his own, He stepped into the world he had created. Though being in very nature God, he did not consider equality with God something to be grasped or utilized, but emptied himself by taking the form of a servant (Philippians 2: 6-7). 

He accommodated his infinite self to the confines of Mary’s wombs. He replaced unlimited power with the limitations of mortal man. He knew hunger and heaviness, thirst and tiredness. When tempted by His longtime enemy to impose his ways and his power immediately, he chose the way of trusting accommodation the Father’s timetable and tactics (see Matthew 4:1-11). In the garden, his desire to live sought to impose itself, but he eventually bent his will to the way of his father which would end at Calvary. 

Looking out upon yet another calendaring, I am tempted to impose my will. To force my desires and to dig up enough grit to make the week do what I want it to do; however, I am praying that I choose the path of accommodation rather than the road of imposition. 

I want to hold the Father’s hand as we walk into a new week. I want to see what the Father has in store for each day and each week rather than start with my own agenda. I want to have my will bent to his rather than seeking to bend his to mine (which never turns out well, by the way). 

May we stay close to our Savior’s side and follow him in the path of accommodation this week. Happy trails to you, my friend!

 

The Seder and The Savior

A few years ago, when my children were three and two years old, I had the brilliant idea of teaching them the deeper significance of the Passover. I studied the Seder meal, went shopping, printed coloring sheets. The whole shebang. My incredulous husband wondered if this was really age-appropriate, but I pressed on.

We sat down and strapped our children into their baby chairs, lit candles and began our walk through the Jewish traditions. It was a total disaster. They spit out the herbs, gagged on the horseradish and chugged the sparking grape juice. I have not yet regained the courage to attempt another Seder in the Joseph household.

Funny story aside, today I imagined what it must have been like for Jesus to sit down with disciples for the Seder meal. I imagined the familiar scents and flavors which Jesus would have known from years of celebrating the Passover with His family, suddenly becoming ominous as He realized they all pointed to His punishment on the Cross as the second and eternal Exodus of both Jew and Gentile alike.

Thinking of the Savior eating the Seder meal that spelled out His certain death moved my soul to a deeper appreciation for his last Passover in that Upper Room.

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The Seder & The Savior

The Upper Room is ready,
The table carefully set,
The disciples eager to celebrate;
They don’t understand as yet.

The Seder plate stares up at me,
Invading all of my senses,
Sights and smells arrest me,
Alluding my human defenses.

The bitter herbs, they bite me.
Meant to point back to captivity,
Yet they press me to tomorrow
When I’ll be nailed to the tree.

The roasted meat, the Zeroa,
Features the bone of a lamb.
They think of sacrifices past,
Yet I know that I am the ram.

The Beitzah points to desire,
The cries of people to be saved.
The path to their deep desire
Through my death is paved.

Karpas, the parsley-reminder
Of slavery’s back-breaking load,
Smells of relief to them, but to me
Does the darkest day bode.

Charoset paste of apples and wine,
Reminds of the mortar and brick,
To release them from their burden,
I the way of the Cross must pick.

Looking up from the plate, my portion,
I see the familiar faces of my friends.
For them, these sin-sick brothers,
I will drink God’s wrath to the end.

Oh, Father, pass over your people,
Let the punishment fall on me.
Through my ultimate slavery,
Finally set your children free.