Category Archives: discipleship

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!

 

Bemoaning Boredom

Communication is not what is spoken but what is heard. Throughout the day, there are about a billion things I say to my children. I am not sure what, if anything, gets through. There’s only one sure fire way to know what is actually being communicated to their little hearts and minds. Eavesdropping.

Every once in a while, while I am cleaning the kitchen or folding laundry or hiding in the bathroom, I’ll listen in on the boys conversations (we will talk about invasion of privacy when they can define the word invasion). They have some amazing pillow talk, those two older boys. Their conversations run the gamete: dragons, monsters, plans for inventions, talking about the field trips they will take in 8th grade the way that I talk about retirement.

The other day Eli was complaining of being bored, to which Tyus responded, “Mom wants us to be bored. Because when we are bored, we create new things and come up with new fun.”

In my shock, I may or may not have dropped the laundry I was folding. They are actually listening to me.

Today, while I was resting and reading and praying, the Lord told me that maybe I should listen to me, too.

Internally, I am better than my children at bemoaning boredom. Sure, I rarely walk up to the Lord and tug at His proverbial pant leg to whine, “I’m so bored. There is nothing to do.” But internally, I complain about the monotony of manning the same post day in and day out. I look around at everyone else’s toys and activities and determine that others received the better end of the deal. In my boredom, I mindlessly scroll through the Facebook feed or shop around at thrift stores or fantasize about getaways and vacations that involve quiet and sleep and take place anywhere but here.

Nearly two hundred years ago, Alexis de Tocqueville, a European visitor to America,  made some observations about Americans that still ring true, at least in my own heart and home.

“Born often under another sky, placed in the middle of an always moving scene, himself driven by the irresistible torrent which draws all about him, the American has no time to tie himself to anything, he grows accustomed only to change, and ends by regarding it as the natural state of man. He feels the need of it, more, he loves it; for the instability, instead of meaning disaster to him, seems to give birth only to miracles all about him.”

Guilty as charged.

Teaching Our Children to Embrace Boredom

The greatest temptation of the parent is to give our children what they want rather than what they need. My children, in their flesh want to be constantly busy with fun things, but they need to be busy with boring things like chores or just plain bored.

Boredom exposes their hearts and their idols. it shows gaps. As a momma, my reflexive response is to want to fill all gaps for them. But the gaps are the places where grace and the gospel leak into their lives. When they are not so full of what they want, they may begin to realize what they really need.

It is so challenging for me to let them sit in perceived lack, but such lack points us to our need for the constantly full One. Boredom forces them to look over all that they do have and use it more creatively. It reminds them that this earth is not our home and that we were made for more than personal fulfillment. These lessons are hard to swallow, but the sooner these truths sink in, the better they will be for the future.

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Embracing Boredom as Adults

I see it in my boys who claim boredom in the midst of bins of toys and in between exciting adventures and countless opportunities. I see it in my longing to start something new, do something different, visit someplace exotic. Boredom lies under the temptation to quit my post and find a greener pasture when life gets flat and days get long.

I often tell my boys, “Boredom is a gift. It teaches you to create and to play.”

Today God reminded me that, as His child, He thinks the same for me. He longs for more than my entertainment. He longs for me to be satisfied deeply in Him, not in changing circumstances.

In the monotony I deeply dread,  He gives me opportunity to dig deeper into His well for joy. The pleasures of HIs presence are far more substantial and lasting than the ephemeral pleasures I typically jump to as from rock to rock.

If I am honest, I look forward to bed time, I look forward to a haircut, I look forward to Starbucks coffee splurges. I look forward to the weekend, I look forward to vacation and adventures. I don’t look far enough.

The Lord reminded me ever-so-gently today that I need a longer hope, a longer vision. Psalm 130 is a good place for my soul to sit awhile.

I wait for the Lord, my soul does wait, and in His word do I hope. My soul waits for the Lord more than watchmen for the morning. Indeed, more than watchmen for the morning. O Israel, hope in the Lord; For with the Lord there is lovingkindness and with Him is abundant redemption. 

In a culture that is drowning in entertainment, we are a terribly bored and discontented people. Or at least I can speak for myself.

This week, instead of dreading the monotony, I long for the Lord to transform it, to invite me deeper into His ever-available abundance right where I am. I don’t want to quit my post. The Lord put me here, and He plans to show up. I just tend to be too busy chasing cheap satisfaction to notice His coming.

God Is Not (Only) Distant

Growing up, Bette Midler wrote a song called “From a Distance” that I loved to belt out in our wood-paneled van (yes, I had an old lady soul even as a child). It seemed like such an inspiring anthem at the time, but with a war in Europe happening as I write, its well-intended lyrics show themselves as a weak solution.

“From a distance the world looks blue and green and the snow capped mountains white…From a distance there is harmony and it echoes through the land…It’s the voice of hope ,it’s the voice of peace, it’s the voice of every man. From a distance we all have enough and no one is in need and there are no guns, no bombs, and no disease, no hungry mouths to feed.”

Though the words sound lovely and the music melodic and though the sentiment seems sweet, the song has no logic upon which to stand.

To simply step away far enough until you cannot see the problem does nothing to fix the problem. Without a transcendent reality, perspective and distance do nothing to help us with war.

What Christianity offers is the unique reality of the Triune God who is both transcendent (other, far off, holy) and immanent (near, close).

A Powerful Name and A Particular Name

I had the people of Ukraine on my heart and in my prayers this week as I was studying Exodus 3 where God reveals himself to Moses at the burning bush. It struck me that God identified himself with two primary names to the would-be-deliverer-who-points-to-a-better-deliverer.

When Moses asked God what his name was, he was essentially asking for more information about his nature and character, as name represented so much more than a mere series of letters in his culture. God’s response is both telling and two-fold.

“God said to Moses, ‘I AM WHO I AM’ (Exodus 3:14).

He first identifies himself as the transcendent, self-existing, uncreated One in an ontological statement (a statement of being). But God does not stop there.

“God also said to Moses, ‘Say this to the people of Israel, “The Lord, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob has sent me to you.” This is my name forever, and thus I am to be remembered throughout all generations’.” (Exodus 3:15).

In addition to the transcendent name, God offers an immanent name. He is God All-Powerful and Self-sufficient, but he is simultaneously the immanent God who has drawn near to a particular people. In fact, he so closely identifies with these people that he choses to include his relationship to the name by which he wants to be remembered and known.

This dual reality is astounding and should rightly lead us to bow our knees in wonder while we lift our heads in hope.

In fact, prior to the conversation about names, God initiated conversation with Moses with two realities. He shows up with a miraculous sign: a bush burning though not consumed. He commands Moses to take off his sandals in light of God’s holiness (his transcendence). Yet, he tells Moses that his reason for such a miraculous sign is an immanent one.

“I have surely seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt and have heard their cry because of their taskmasters. I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey” (Exodus 3:7-8).

Contrary to Bette Midler, our God offers hope that is solid rather than merely sentimental. Rather than stepping back so far as to blur our broken world, our God stepped into this world in the Second Person of the Trinity.

This is the hope we have to offer a war-torn Ukraine: God sees you, hears you, and leaned into your suffering to the point of becoming the Suffering Servant (Isaiah 53). He took upon himself the sludge of sin so we could have the presence and promises of God in the midst of our very real problems.

The God of the universe is also the God of his Ukrainian children.

Fully Opened

As the Spring breaths its new life over a weary, wintered earth, things begin to open. Buds bravely begin the process of opening themselves from being tightly bound, exposing themselves to the outside air.

But buds are not the only tightly bound things. Hearts, hands, and souls are also bound and closed. Exposure to the brokenness of the world constricts the soul. Fears tend to tighten hearts in reflexive self-protection; however, exposure to Christ opens the soul in hope, eager expectation, and even a vulnerable love. Continue reading

Ashen yet Adored

Having grown up in the Catholic Church, I grew accustomed to getting ashes smudged on my forehead to signify the beginning of Lent (which is to the Passion Week what Advent is to Christmas). In those early years, Lent meant a chance to get out of classes more so we can attend more masses. It also meant that as we walked in our matching plaid skirts to mass, we all talked about what we were going to “give up” for Lent. There were always the humorous “I’m going to give up homework” and “I’m giving up chores;” however, the more sincere vowed to give up sugar, soda, or television shows.

Catholic writer Flannery O’Connor perfectly captures how I feel about my Lenten experiences in a letter of reflection to a friend.

“What one has a born catholic is something given and accepted before it is experienced. I am only slowly coming to experience things that I have all along accepted.”

For me, Lent was given and accepted long before it was understood or truly experienced. While I am no longer attending the Catholic Church, I am thankful for the liturgical foundation it laid in my life.

Photo by Ahna Ziegler on Unsplash

Ashen

Historically, Lent is celebrated during the 40 days before Easter, mirroring Jesus’s 40-day temptation in the wilderness (Luke 4). Celebration is a strong word, as the purpose of the feast is to prepare our hearts for the coming Passion Week of Christ. Lent is about remembering God’s holiness and our sinfulness; it is about seeing our weakness and needing God’s strength. It is about making space to see to our need for God – the very need for which Christ set his face to Jerusalem.

Lent is typically kicked off by Ash Wednesday. As I have been reflecting on why Ash Wednesday, the Lord has had me thinking about the purpose of ashes in the Old Testament. Throughout the Old Testament, sack clothes, shaved heads, and/ or donning ashes were to be outward signs of an inward repentance or grief (Genesis 37:34; Job 16:15; Lamentations 2:10; Nehemiah 9:1).

While our church won’t be smudging actual ashes on foreheads tomorrow evening, we will be sharing about our need to see our sin and to repent.

Throughout the Scriptures, those who see or encounter God automatically both see and despise their sin.

In Isaiah 6, we see the prophet encounter the living God and reflexively say, “Woe ie me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!” (Isaiah 6:5).

In a similar moment in the New Testament, when Peter begins to realize who Christ may be, he responds in a similarly reflexive way.

But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord” (Luke 5:8).

After God gave Job the “Come to Jesus” conversation of a lifetime filled with powerful rhetorical questions, Job responds much like Isaiah and Peter.

I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted…I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eyes see you; therefore, I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes (Job 42:2, 5-6).

In some ways Lent is an attempt to reverse engineer this reflexive response to seeing Jesus. We create time and space to see and identify our sin, donning proverbial ashes and sack cloth. We do so, not to be ascetic, but to help us see our need for the Savior whose death and resurrection we are preparing to celebrate.

Adored

What Isaiah, Job, and Peter did not know in the instances above is that we are ashen, yet we are adored.

Because Christ climbed the hill of Calvary, we are lifted up from our hill of ashes. Because Christ was stripped of his clothes, we are clothed in his robes of perfect righteousness.

In Lent, we make space for the ashes and the sack cloth so we can more fully recognize and rejoice in the salvation that Jesus secured for us through his life, death, and resurrection.

Isaiah prophesied of this reality when he proclaimed, “For the Lord comforts Zion; he comforts all her waste places and makes her wilderness like Eden, her desert like the garden of the Lord; joy and gladness will be found in her, thanksgiving and the voice of song” (Isaiah 51:3).

Friends, whether or not you don ashes on your forehead, may you be freshly reminded that you are ashen, yet adored.

Distinguished by Delight

We long to be distinguished, to stand apart, to feel above from the crowds. As such, it is not surprising that an honorable way to introduce a famous or elite person is to say, “Please welcome the distinguished….”

Photo by israel palacio on Unsplash

Our culture loves a stand out, whether on the basketball court or the courtroom, the classroom or the boardroom. This desire to be distinguished is not simply out there; though I am loathe to admit it, I find it still hiding in my own heart.

I have always longed to be distinguished. For the first half of my life, I wanted to be the best, to stand out head and shoulders above the rest. And for a long time, I was pretty good at it (which is not all that hard to do in elementary school through high school). I dreamed of having lots of letters after my name which implied a long list of accomplishments and accolades. When I came to know Christ (or rather came to realize how deeply he knew and loved me), he got right to work exposing this pattern for seeking praise.

God has been chipping away at this monolithic idol in my heart for nearly two decades now. As promised, he is making me new; but sometimes it sure does feel like a slow work.

Whenever I speak at a retreat, inevitably someone asks me about my seminary degree (or lack thereof). And for a moment, I feel a wave of fear, insecurity, and shame at having no letters to hang on my name and no extra degrees to dangle in conversations. In those moments I feel like a sailor-gone-overboard, frantically looking around for something to hold my weight and keep me afloat. And then I remember that I can stand on an unseen sandbar.

As a daughter of the King, I am distinguished by his delight in me. My confidence comes from a source far more steady than my own performance or gifts. The Spirit brings to mind verses I put to memory when I first began fighting my false confidence in the flesh. I remember that an implication of the gospel is that I put no confidence in the flesh (Philippians 3:1-4).

“Thus says the Lord, ‘Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight,’ declares the Lord” (Jeremiah 9:23-24).

The Spirit reminds me gently that I do not need to ride the roller coaster of man’s approval with its tummy-dropping heights and its sudden, sharp lows (John 2:24-25; Galatians 1:10).

Distinguished by Delight

This morning in my study of Psalm 17, the Hebrew word palah (translated distinguished or distinction in the Old Testament) jumped off the page at me.

Wondrously show your steadfast love, O Savior of those who seek refuge from their adversities at your right hand (Psalm 17:7).

In other words, the psalmist is saying, “Set me apart by your steadfast love; let your faithful love and delight be my greatest distinction.”

The Psalm, which began with the imagery of a trial scene ends with a scene of the psalmist treasuring the face of Christ.

“As for me, I shall behold your face in righteousness; when I awake, I shall be satisfied with your likeness” (Psalm 17:15).

What a sweet and timely reminder from the Lord. I long for my greatest distinction to stem from God’s delight in me: an undeserved, unearned, dearly purchased but freely bestowed delight. I long for the day when, like the Apostle John, I will most deeply identify myself as “the one whom Jesus loved.”

The more my heart can be stilled from strivings to begin to believe and receive God’s delight of me through the work of Christ, the less I will crave human distinguishment. Like the writer of Psalm 17 who began in a courtroom, trying to prove his worth and righteousness (or distinction), I long to end my struggle in the bright light of God’s delight.

I want to be like Uncle Seamus, an eighty-year-old man described by Brennan Manning in his excellent book The Relentless Tenderness of Jesus.

“Ed glanced at his uncle and saw that his face had broken into a broad smile. Ed said, ‘Uncle Seamus, you look very happy.’ ‘I am.’ Ed asked, ‘How come?’ And his uncle replied, ‘The Father of Jesus is very fond of me’.”

May we need no more distinction than the delight of the Father. May his delight in us and our subsequent delight in him be our single beaming distinguishment.

New Month, New Mercies (Quieting the Calendar)

Most of us love opening new things. A fresh box of Crayola crayons still brings me joy. Something as simple as starting a fresh journal makes my heart stir with fresh hope and possibilities. And there is little to compare with opening a fresh box of athletic shoes or the new car smell. However, turning a new page on the calendar tends to bring a fresh opportunity for anxiety.

As a family we are committed to living intentionally with God and for others. This often looks like having couples or students over for meals in the evening, getting coffee with hurting friends, mentoring younger believers and being mentored ourselves. So many places to be, meals to host, children to nurture and develop. Syncing sports schedules and planning church events awaits me at the threshold of each new month.

Each new month (and, if I am completely honest, each new week), the Lord and I have a little process we do together called quieting the calendar.

It’s as if Jesus has to grab me by the hand and walk with me over the cacophonous calendar through each day of the upcoming month. One by one, He quiets each screaming demand or fear, rational or irrational, telling them to lay back down quietly. We continue in this vein until we walk through the whole month. Only after this process am I am able to look with hope at a new month marked by new mercies.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a man well-acquainted with the demands and needs of a large community, wrote the following.

“For Christians the beginning of the day should not be burdened and oppressed with besetting concerns for the day’s work. At the threshold of the new day stands the Lord who made it. All the darkness and distraction of the dreams of night retreat before the clear light of Jesus Christ and his wakening Word. All unrest, all impurity, all care and anxiety flee before him.”

Bonhoeffer’s sweet image of the Lord standing at the doorway of each new day, each new month, each new and daunting life season comes to me often when the calendar and commitments, most of them right and good, start stealing my peace and focus.

I live in a hurried society and a heart that hurries to busyness lives within me. I am such a Martha, buzzing with frenetic energy like a neon light, I am quick to run to everything but the One thing needful. Yet, there is only one thing needful, and it is not a thing. It is not an urgent demand, but a patient person. The One thing I need is to come to Him. I need him to teach my heart to keep pace with His, rather than straining to keep up with the pace of the world all around or the lies deep within me.

Now as they were traveling along, He entered a village; and a woman named Martha welcomed Him into her home.

She had a sister called Mary, who was seated at the Lord’s feet, listening to His word. 

But Martha was distracted with all her preparations; and she came up to Him and said, “Lord, do You  not care that my sister has left me to do all the serving alone? Then tell her to help me.” 

But the Lord answered and said to her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and bothered about so many things: but only One thing is necessary, for Mary has chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from her.” Luke 10:38-42

When I have sat with the Best, the good won’t have to be coaxed or conjured up; it will flow out of my union with Him. And union with Him is incredibly portable. He goes with me into PTA meetings and retreats. He goes with us to soccer practice. He is the main attraction of our hospitality, not my mediocre meals.

At the threshold of a new month, these truths help me quiet the calendar:

  1. All my plans are mere proposals to be shaped by God’s better plans.
    “I know, O Lord, that the way of man is not in himself, that it is not in man who walks to direct his steps” (Jeremiah 10:23).
  2. My minutes are not mine but yours, and they are meant to be invested, not squandered.
    “But I trust in you, O Lord. I say, ‘My times are in your hand'” (Psalm 31:14) and “Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time because the days are evil (Ephesians 5:15-16).
  3. There is a provision of energy and joy in obedience that the world can neither conjure nor comprehend.
    “I delight to do y our will, O my God; your law is within my heart” (Psalm 40:8).
  4. If he commands it, he will give all he commands.
    “O Lord, you will ordain peace for us, for you have indeed done for us all our works” (Isaiah 26:12).

May we walk into a new month with new mercies. May His truth quiet our calendars, for His glory and our great joy!

Eucatastrophe: A Different Vision of Apocalypse

Usually when we hear the term “apocalypse” we imagine scenes of great catastrophe: burning cities, abandoned, shell-shocked villages, and other dystopian visual scenes. We automatically think of apocalypse through Hollywood’s lenses but the Greek word apokalupsis actually means “an unveiling, an uncovering, a revelation, or a revealing.”

The day of the Lord’s return will be a great revealing. All that is hidden will come to light. Again, when we initially hear this we began to rightly quake thinking of hidden sins and thoughts being brought to light. Yet, this great unveiling will also reveal great glory where we have missed it. For the believer in Christ, apocalypse does not have to mean catastrophe, it can mean eucatastrophe.

Eucatastrophe is a term created by J.R.R. Tolkien who added the prefix eu- to the common term. It is meant to signify that feeling or moment in an epic story when everything is made right and finally comes together. For Tolkien, Christ’s incarnation and resurrection are eucatastrophes.

I love this term because it captures what the end of this world will mean for those whose trust is hidden in the person of Christ. We need not live in fear of coming catastrophe, for we have inherited a living hope and have an eternal eucatastrophe waiting upon us by grace through faith.

In his first letter to the churches, Peter talks about the glory to be revealed for those who share in Christ’s suffering.

But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you (1 Peter 4:13-14).

Similarly, the Apostle Paul speaks of the glory to be revealed (apokalupsis) upon the Lord’s second coming.

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God (Romans 8: 18-19).

As believers, we need not fear the day when the invisible will be made visible. In fact, the Scriptures seem to urge us to long for this day as those wrapped up in the righteousness of Christ. The Scriptures also invite us to use this coming day of revealing as motivation to walk in a manner worthy of the calling we have received (Ephesians 4:1). We are compelled to remember that one day all that is hidden will be brought to light. We are urged to be those who will be exposed in having inconspicuous good works brought to light rather than hidden sins (1 Timothy 5:24-25).

Photo by Craig Cooper on Unsplash

In light of the coming eucatastrophe, we are reminded to not grow weary in well-doing. Though the world may not see and appreciate our fight to be faithful to God and his word, our God sees it all. Our God will not be mocked. One day, all that is sown to the Spirit will be revealed in a glorious harvest (Galatians 6:7-9).

Eucatastrophe

You who sow in unseen fields,
Raising rows that raise no eye,
Keep cultivating your corner.
The All-Seeing One passes by. 

The flesh-fields seem to flourish,
But your Maker won’t be mocked. 
The harvest fields He hastens
Will leave the mockers shocked

He sees every seed sown in faith,
Prayed over, and watered by tears. 
Work-wearied laborers, press on:
The surplus will exceed your years.

Those who go forth weeping
Will return skipping with glee;
Toil and tread without dread;
Your God works besides thee. 

Wipe your tears, lift your eyes,
Tarry longer, take up your hoe. 
Planted promises will fully fruit;
Fallow fields will golden glow.  

All The Things Love Can’t Do

In a season that seems to be drippy with sappy love, my mind has been thinking of all the things love cannot do. Less you think me a misanthrope, allow me to explain myself.

In his short story, “Sonny’s Blues,” James Baldwin writes about the limits of human love. In one poignant scene, a dying mother gives advice to her oldest son in response to his vow regarding his younger brother, Sonny. With the best of intentions, the dutiful older brother seeks to reassure his mother, “Don’t you worry, I won’t forget. I won’t let nothing happen to Sonny.”

His mother responds, “You may not be able to stop nothing from happening. But you got to let him know you’s there.”

In a different short story entitled, “This Morning, This Evening, So Soon” Baldwin addresses a similar theme. The story describes the fatherly fears of African-American father for his mixed son, Paul. The father, a famous actor, shares some of his fears with a friend and director who responds with a hauntong statement,

“You believe in love. You do not know all the things love cannot do, but” – he smiles – “love will teach you that.”

Both of these scenes, read a few days apart, left me with lingering thoughts about the limits of human love.

Photo by Utsman Media on Unsplash

You see, I am parenting teenagers. I am also called to the ministry of sentient souls. Both of these callings have me regularly running into the limits of human love.

No matter how much I love the refugee family we have had the privilege of befriending, I cannot erase their traumatic memories. I cannot protect their children who were thrown into school to learn an entirely new culture and language from funny looks or hurtful comments. I can only entrust them to One who goes with them on school grounds where I cannot go (1 Corinthians 2:11).

No matter how much I shield my children, I cannot protect them suffering, though I can do my best to prepare them for it and give them a biblical framework upon which to hang all the hardness of life (John 16:33;
2 Corinthians 4:16-18; 1 Peter 4:12-19).

As I watch multiple sets of dear friends walk their children through horrible sicknesses, I am reminded that we cannot heal our children. We can only point them to One who will one day (hopefully soon) make an end of sickness and sin, tears and trouble forever (Revelation 21:1-5; Isaiah 25:6-8).

No matter how many skill sets and opportunities we offer our children, we cannot plan their lives. We can only point to the One who already knows each of their days (Psalm 139:16).

No matter how type-A we try to be, we will never be able to know the number of days our loved ones have on this earth. We can only learn to count and treasure each one as it passes (Psalm 90:12; Luke 2:19)..

No matter how many books we offer those who come to our church, no matter how clearly the Word of God is articulated, we cannot make them see Christ. Only the Holy Spirit can do that (John 3:5-8; 2 Corinthians 4:4).

James Baldwin was correct. All forms of human love (sterge, parental love; eros, romantic love, and phileo, brotherly love and affection) are limited. There are so many things that these loves cannot do.

However, Baldwin did not address agape love, the love to which all the others point and from which all the others stem. Where these loves fail and falter, agape love abounds.

We can claim these truths and depend on such agape love only because the unlimited One whose very habitat was Triune love became limited (Philippians 2:5-8). He was failed and flogged by flawed human love so that He might freely offer us agape love.

Only his limitless love enables me to submit to the limits of human love. Only the reality of his abundance allows me to admit the poverty of my love. While these realities aren’t the sappy sentimental realities we want to hear, they are the truths that we need to hear.

When We Confuse Lamps and Light

Even the most brilliant and brightly burning lamps go dim. When we confuse lamps and light, we place ourselves (not to mention the lamps) in a precarious position.

My boys are in the phase of the teenage years when music standings matter. They can tell you who released a new song and how well it is doing. The constant shifts in ratings make my head spin. One week, an artist is the brightest shining lamp, the next week he or she is a discarded piece of history.

Sadly, what is true of popular culture is often equally true within Christian circles. People flock to sit under the teaching of the brightest, lightest lamp. They hang their hope on a borrowed light and often miss the chance to more deeply connect with and worship the source of all light.

Both John the Baptist and his cousin Jesus knew the important distinction between lamps and light.

In the prologue to his gospel account, the Apostle John wrote the following of John the Baptist:

“There as a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him. He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light” (John 1:6-8).

Later, when speaking to the Pharisees about his cousin John the Baptist, Jesus said, “He was a burning and shining lamp…But the testimony that I have is greater than that of John” (John 5:35 & 36).

Coming from Jesus, this appellation is an incredible compliment. We know from Matthew’s gospel account that Jesus thought highly of his cousin, saying in his eulogy, “Among those born of women there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist” (Matthew 11:11). Yet, Jesus loves John and his followers enough to keep the distinction between light-bearer (lamp) and source (light).

Photo by Etienne Girardet on Unsplash

When reading about Jesus and his cousin, I was freshly convicted of two sins. First, I had to admit my sinful tendency to rejoice and glory in bright and shining lamps (the gifted communicators and insightful leaders God has risen up) but to miss the the light both sent and ignited them. Second, I had to admit that, in my flesh, I want people to make much of this lamp. When I slip into this, I have bought the deeper lie that any light I have in some albeit tiny way originates from me or my own merit.

Paul’s word to the prideful Corinthian believers challenges my flesh when it wants to confuse lamp and light:

“What do you have that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it?” (2 Corinthians 4:7).

Yes, Jesus has called us the light of the world (Matthew 5:14). Yes, he doesn’t light a lamp to hide it under a bushel (Matthew 5:15). But every lamp gives off a borrowed light. When people see our lamps and “see our good works” it is that they might give glory to our Father in heaven (Matthew 5:16). He alone is the Light of the World, the One who lit the stars like we light backyard tiki torches.

We are lit, and we are sent. But we are contingent and dependent on the source of all light. In days marked by cults of personality and throngs of people deeply identifying with charismatic leaders, let us not be among those who confuse lamps and light, for our good and God’s glory.