Category Archives: from the heart

Hanging Harps: Hope on Hiatus

How can we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land? 

Though written thousands of years ago in a specific time and place, Psalm 137 resonates strongly with Christians of every age whose hope has been on hiatus, who are in danger of hanging up their harps.

By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept when we remembered Zion. There on the poplars, we hung our harps…How can we sing the Lord’s song while in a foreign land? If I forget you, Jerusalem, may might hand forget its skill. May my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth If I do not remember you, if I do not consider Jerusalem my highest joy. 

God’s people sang this mournful song in their exilic journey from their home to the foreign, strange land of Babylon. They had once been a jubilant, hopeful people, singing spontaneous songs of praise and gratitude on lyres and harps. They had known a home where they belonged, where they were understood, where life was as it was meant to be. However, through the complexities of their own sin and refusal to seek and serve God alone, they were led into a dark exile. Nothing was familiar, everything and everyone seemed harsh and unwelcoming. They were close to giving up, they wanted to hang up their harps.

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While Syrian believers can sing this Psalm with a depth of understanding foreign to most Christians, every Christian at some point or another can and should empathize with our exiled ancestors.

While we have never been to Eden, to the world of shalom for which we were tailor made, our hearts remember and long for the home country we have never seen. Our hearts hum the tune of hope and home, even though we can’t quite remember the words. Our disappointments and sense of foreignness remind us that we are indeed exiles on this earth, those looking for a better country, trying to find the way back to the home they never fully knew.

When a baby dies, when a spouse leaves, when a body betrays us in illness, when a child struggles to find friends, when the best the world has to offer leaves us hollow, we ask with the saints of old, “How can I sing the Lord’s song in this strange land?”

When physical hopes have continually been rearranged and/or ruined, it is natural to want to hang up our harps and to harden our hearts. Hope deferred makes the heart sick. 

But that is only half the story.

Desire coming is a tree of life.

God’s people hung on in exile through the dim and far-off promises of the prophets that God would come and bring them home, that while this foreign sojourn felt endless, God had plans of hope and a future. And when they came home, the harps and the hope that seemed futile were picked up and used to sing songs of joy and relief.

So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded. You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised. For, “In just a little while, he who is coming will come, he will not delay,'”and “But my righteous one will live by faith. And I take no pleasure in the one who shrinks back.” But we do not belong to those who shrink back and are destroyed, but to those who have faith and are saved. Hebrews 10:35-39. 

As tempting as it is to hang up our harps and to leave our hope on hiatus, we must cling to the promises God has given us. Some days we may only be able to barely hum the tune, but we must ask our Father to keep our home song in our hearts as we pass through a hash and strange land.

As impossible as it may seem now, we will one day sing with the returned exiles a very different song.

When the Lord brought back the captive ones of Zion, we were like those who dreamed; Our mouths were filled with laughter, our tongues with songs of joy. Then it was said among the nations, “The Lord has done great things for them.” The Lord has done great things for us, and we are filled with joy. Restore our fortunes, Lord, likes streams in the desert, those who sow with tears will reap with songs of joy. Those who go out weeping,  carrying seeds to sow, will return with songs of joy, carrying sheaves with them.Psalm 126. 

As I Can, Not as I Would

The Enneagram gave words to what I have always known about myself. I am a perfectionist in recovery. My greatest fear is failure. While it sounds dramatic, it feels like knife wounds to my soul when I am earnestly trying my best and pouring myself out towards an end but am still not enough.

I have gone through a few phases regarding my perfectionism. For a long season, I used it to my advantage, riding it as a thoroughbred to the finish-line of everything I attempted. I had to win and win big, or the grounds of my identity would be shaken to the core.

After I came to the end of myself and found God had been beckoning me there all those long, tiring years, I hated my intensity. As a new believer, I wanted it gone. I hated my need to be excellent. I wanted to be more type B, but my perfectionism just found a different lane in which  to perform: I would be the perfect daughter of Christ and the perfect disciple and discipler. New aim, same self as energy source.

Then followed another bottoming out and a deeper understanding of grace. The doctrine of Union with Christ began to transform me on a much deeper level. Hidden in Christ, I could be fully myself with an identity that could not be shaken. Beloved daughter apart from success or failure. Knowing Jesus had secured my standing before the only audience that mattered freed me to try with all my might but still fail and falter. I could pour myself into whatever God called me to, knowing full well it would never be enough.

When I fall short of the measuring line even on my tippy toes,  I am held.  When my very best and earnestly prayed over process turns out a product that, when inspected under heavy scrutiny,  is less than desired, I am secure.

Because knowing the Perfect One and being hidden in Him deeply transforms a perfectionist from one degree of glory to another.

This past week my perfectionism roared onto the scene in my life once again. I was  reminded in myriad ways that my best was mostly laughable. Despite my best efforts to be a present wife, an organized mother, and an excellent leader for our women’s ministry,  it felt like chaos on all fronts. Well-intentioned and honest feedback was pouring in and my soul was struggling to receive it well.

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In God’s sweet mercy, this week He allowed me to read something that pointed to a painter that patched up my sore soul.

Jan van Eyck was a Fifth-century Flemish painter who worked with oils.  Among other things, he worked as the court painter for Philip the Good,  Duke of Burgundy. He is well known for his Portrait of a Man and The Arnolfini Portrait. His Ghent Altarpiece, a work initially begun by his brother who died before it was completed, is one of the most stolen pieces of art in world history.  When its panels are opened, it reveals some of the most beautiful artistic depictions of Adam and Eve and other religious scenes.

While I found all this interesting, what stunned me was the strange way Van Eyck signed most of his pieces. It was then highly unusual for a painter to use a motto, but van Eyck generally inscribed a motto in pseudo-Greek letters onto his works. Translated in the  Dutch, his inscription read, “As I can,” or “As best I can,” or “As best I can, not as I would.”

My eyes literally filled with tears at his motto. I am taking it as my own as a recovering perfectionist who seeks to now point to Christ, the Only Perfect One.

I will do the best I can with whatever task or role He entrusts to me. I will pour all of my flawed and failing self into it. But I will do as one who knows that even my best is not what I would have it be. In my failures and in my many moments of not-enoughness,  I will point to the One who did all He did as the perfect, sinless Son of God.

Oh,  that my life would bear “As best I can” boldly because it is also inscribed as “Purchased by the Perfect One.”

 

Hanging Harps: Hope on Hiatus

How can we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land? 

Though written thousands of years ago in a specific time and place, Psalm 137 resonates strongly with Christians of every age whose hope has been on hiatus, who are in danger of hanging up their harps.

By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept when we remembered Zion. There on the poplars, we hung our harps…How can we sing the Lord’s song while in a foreign land? If I forget you, Jerusalem, may might hand forget its skill. May my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth If I do not remember you, if I do not consider Jerusalem my highest joy. 

God’s people sang this mournful song in their exilic journey from their home to the foreign, strange land of Babylon. They had once been a jubilant, hopeful people, singing spontaneous songs of praise and gratitude on lyres and harps. They had known a home where they belonged, where they were understood, where life was as it was meant to be. However, through the complexities of their own sin and refusal to seek and serve God alone, they were led into a dark exile. Nothing was familiar, everything and everyone seemed harsh and unwelcoming. They were close to giving up, they wanted to hang up their harps.

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While Syrian believers can sing this Psalm with a depth of understanding foreign to most Christians, every Christian at some point or another can and should empathize with our exiled ancestors.

While we have never been to Eden, to the world of shalom for which we were tailor made, our hearts remember and long for the home country we have never seen. Our hearts hum the tune of hope and home, even though we can’t quite remember the words. Our disappointments and sense of foreignness remind us that we are indeed exiles on this earth, those looking for a better country, trying to find the way back to the home they never fully knew.

When a baby dies, when a spouse leaves, when a body betrays us in illness, when a child struggles to find friends, when the best the world has to offer leaves us hollow, we ask with the saints of old, “How can I sing the Lord’s song in this strange land?”

When physical hopes have continually been rearranged and/or ruined, it is natural to want to hang up our harps and to harden our hearts. Hope deferred makes the heart sick. 

But that is only half the story.

Desire coming is a tree of life.

God’s people hung on in exile through the dim and far-off promises of the prophets that God would come and bring them home, that while this foreign sojourn felt endless, God had plans of hope and a future. And when they came home, the harps and the hope that seemed futile were picked up and used to sing songs of joy and relief.

So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded. You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised. For, “In just a little while, he who is coming will come, he will not delay,'”and “But my righteous one will live by faith. And I take no pleasure in the one who shrinks back.” But we do not belong to those who shrink back and are destroyed, but to those who have faith and are saved. Hebrews 10:35-39. 

As tempting as it is to hang up our harps and to leave our hope on hiatus, we must cling to the promises God has given us. Some days we may only be able to barely hum the tune, but we must ask our Father to keep our home song in our hearts as we pass through a hash and strange land.

As impossible as it may seem now, we will one day sing with the returned exiles a very different song.

When the Lord brought back the captive ones of Zion, we were like those who dreamed; Our mouths were filled with laughter, our tongues with songs of joy. Then it was said among the nations, “The Lord has done great things for them.” The Lord has done great things for us, and we are filled with joy. Restore our fortunes, Lord, likes streams in the desert, those who sow with tears will reap with songs of joy. Those who go out weeping,  carrying seeds to sow, will return with songs of joy, carrying sheaves with them.Psalm 126. 

To the Utterly Dependent on Independence Day

I love franks and fireworks like the best of them. We took part in our neighborhood bike parade with bikes and bodies decked out in red, white, and blue.  But this Independence Day, my mind and heart have been with those who feel utterly dependent.

You see, a few days ago, I dropped off some Fourth of July goodies to our friends who are in the hospital with their nearly two year old who is battling cancer.  The flags and silly glasses were my sad attempt to show solidarity.

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I cannot imagine what it feels like to be living quarantined in a small hospital room on  any day, not to mention a holiday that celebrates freedom and independence. The suffering feel and understand deeply what is true innately of all of us: life is a gift that we do not control.

And I know that my friends are not alone in their quiet suffering in the midst of the cookouts and kebabs. There are those who cannot get out because they are caring for aged parents. There are single parents who have to work on holidays to make ends meet. There are single people who feel like they are missing out on all the family fun. There are struggling married couples smiling to cover the dissonance in their relationship. There are people imprisoned, whether physically, emotionally or mentally. They have been given the unwanted gift of utter dependence.

From them we can learn to look to a Coming Day of freedom, one that is not bound by national borders or the constraints of time. They remind me that, while freedom on this earth is to be enjoyed and celebrated, we were made for a far more wholistic freedom. We were made to enjoy the presence of our Creator God face to face. We were made to live in perfect unity inter-personally and well as intra-personally.

Everything in us whispers that we were made for more, even on festive days of fireworks and friends.

The prophet Isaiah declared boldly what he saw ever-so-dimly coming one day: the promised One who would inaugurate a better kingdom.

The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the broken-hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening  of the prison to those who are bound (Isaiah  61:1-2). 

Christ, the freest One, was bound to the Cross that we might be free.

Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is there is freedom (2 Corinthians 3:17). 

Whom the Son sets free is free indeed (John 8:36).

Those who know Him now yearn for the day when we will know Him fully. Those who do not yet know Him have the pains of separation meant to point them to the source  of lasting freedom.

While we celebrate the gift of the independence of our nation, may we also celebrate the greater freedom that can never be taken away. May we remember those who feel anything but independent and celebratory today. May we look with expectant eyes and work with ready hands for the Coming Day of lasting freedom.

And, now, back to the brats.

Self: An Insufficient Story

Tabula Rasa. Blank Slate. Carte blanche. You decide you. The future is wide open. Self as the story, the author, the editor, the audience.

Webster’s dictionary defines tabula rasa, a concept popularized by John Locke, as “the mind in its hypothetical primary blank or empty state before receiving outside impressions.”

While the average person is not thinking about Locke’s theory, self as the story which defines all of life has become the air we breathe. While the preeminence of self sounds agreeable and liberating, I believe it is a crushing concept that only paralyzes or perforates the individual and society it seeks to enthrone.

Neil Postman, a social critic with nearly prophetic vision, writes extensively about the modern Western culture. Postman recognizes that every human and culture needs a narrative by which to live.  He wisely notes that we need, “not just any kind of story, but one that tells of origins and envisions a future, a story that constructs ideals, prescribes rules of conduct, provides a source of authority, and, above all, gives a sense of continuity and purpose.”

Self is an insufficient story. Yet, in the lack of a  greater cohesive, accepted narrative, expressive individualism has risen the ranks. As such, self reigns in all her insufficient glory.

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We live in Southern California, a place that we have quickly grown to love. There is much to accept and champion about our quirky state: the early banning of plastic bags, a concern for the environment, and a widespread recognition of the marginalized,  among them. However, our state recently passed a bill regarding sexual education that has me feeling uneasy.  I have been sitting on it for a few days, processing, praying, wrestling.

I do not want this to become a blasting place for the bill itself, as I still have much more research and reading to do concerning what it says and will mean.  Even its title, Carte Blanche, betrays my concerns. You create your own standard of living, you define yourself, even to the point of deciding (or living undecided) in your gender.

While I heartily disagree with bullying and harassment of all kinds for any reason and wish safety for all children in all schools, I fear that promoting such weighty self- expressionism at the earliest ages will do the very opposite of what is intended. Rather than free children, such legalized and championed forms of self expressionism will crush them.

As a biology major, I do recognize that there are cases where generalized cells don’t completely specialize, leaving a small percentage of children in a biologically-induced gender confusion. I believe that this, like all other cells dysfunctions and sicknesses, results from living in a broken world.

Albert Einstein wisely warned that “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used to create them.”

From the Christian narrative (which I believe to be the only narrative that can properly diagnose and treat the condition of  the human heart which creates broken cultures), self created the problems which plague us.

We were created with intent and design by an all-loving, all-wise Creator. Discontent with His designs and living under His Deity, self threw off design, usurping the Creator. Every problem that exists on this globe stems from self grabbing the throne. Thus, tasking self with the task of fixing such problems only exacerbates them.

We must do the hard work (and the heart work) of swimming upstream from downstream problems. While I champion efforts to protect children and stop bullying,  I  fear that our lawmakers don’t have a narrative that allows them to navigate any waters past the enthroned self.

Self-expressionism will not protect our children, it will crush them, as it has every human and culture since the fateful fall in the Garden of Eden.

What our children, what we need, is to be part of a much larger story, one that places self in its proper place, as lovingly created by the all-powerful, all-loving Author.

May we as believers stick to The Story, the only one with any power to free and form. May we compellingly tell of the Author who stepped into His story to die for His children who had become self-sick, that they might be saved and whole, brought back to their original purpose.

Sobs for the Synagogue

Real time news headlines take real time to sink into my soul. As the shock at the Poway Synagogue shooting has receded, my soul is finally catching up. One human heart cannot hold every tragedy, every shooting, every diagnosis. It is entirely too much. Yet,  the heart of God is more spacious than we dare dream.

After a busy week of treading water, I finally had a little corner in my heart clear enough to hold a drop of the heaviness of what occurred this past week in an incredibly  peaceful portion of San Diego.

The tragedy is made more atrocious by the fact that the shooter claimed some religious motivation in carrying out this terrible and chaotic deed. Anti-semitism breaks the heart of God. After all, God chose the Jewish people and set them apart as His own people. Jesus Himself was a Jew who wept over the nation of Israel.

In her book, Christianity is Jewish, Edith Schaeffer beautifully explains a right view of Judaism from within Christianity.

“People act as if Christianity  is a new religion, which just sprang up two thousand years ago, but it is not new, it is simply a continuation. It is a fulfillment. It is a next step. It is the proof that the covenant with Abraham was true. It is Jewish. It goes back to the promise given after Adam and Eve fell – the seed of the woman will bruise the head of the serpent – and it turned out to be Mary’s seed.”

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The Apostle Paul, though he spent the majority of his adult life on mission to spread the Good News to the Gentiles, wept for his own Jewish family, saying, “Brothers, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for them is that they may be saved” (Romans 10:1).  He speaks extensively about his heart for Jews in Romans 11, calling them the natural branches of God’s family.

“But if some of the branches were broken off, and you, although  a wild olive shoot, were grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing root of the olive tree, do not be arrogant toward the branches. If you are, remember it is not you support the root, but the root that supports you. Then you will say, ‘Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in’.” Romans 11:17-19. 

Paul even goes further than simply honoring and admiring the Jewish roots of Christianity. Divinely inspired by the Holy Spirit, he writes a promise concerning the Jewish people.

And even they, if they do not continue in their unbelief, will be grafted in, for God has the power to graft them in again. For if you were cut from is by nature a wild olive tree, and grafted, contrary to nature, into a cultivated olive tree, how much more will these, the natural branches, be grafted back into their own olive tree? Romans 11:24.

There is no place for anti-Semitism within the Christian church. Rather, there is a place for pleading, with great respect and admiration, that the natural branches might believe in Christ and become completed Jews.

Paul, a Jew opened the way for Gentile believers. And now, we, as Gentile believers, are called to pray for a way to be opened for the remnant of the Jews. Edith Schaeffer writes the following of this privileged role we have as a kingdom of priests.

“So now all who believe and have therefore been born again, are in the place of ‘priests,’ and have a responsibility to pray for the rest of the people. It is a terrible thing to run  away from this responsibility – it is a cruelty to those for whom we are the only priests.”

May we sob over the synagogue shooting. May we refute anti-Semitism in all its forms, be they subtle or overt.  May we cry over the pride in our hearts that have forgotten that Christianity is Jewish.

The Unsung Heroes of Summer

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

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

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

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

 A Massive Planting Effort

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

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

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

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

An Intergenerational Family

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

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

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

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

Large-scale Hospitality

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

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

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

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