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My Minest Mine

“Our will alone is our ownest own, the only dear thing we can and ought really to sacrifice.” P. T. Forsyth

I’d like to think that I have matured past the treasured toddler phrase, “Mine!”  Yet God loves me enough to continually uncover new areas that aren’t fully, wholly surrendered unto Him.

After a doozie of a year, God has exposed hidden “mines” throughout my life.  Nearly a year of Zoom schooling, socially-distancing, and cancelling plans have shown me how much “mine” remains in my life. My alone time. My exercise routine. My pastimes. My idea of college ministry. My imagined vision of my boys’ middle school experience.

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Far beyond my relatively small disappointment, friends are fighting their own far deeper disappointments. Friends have lost loved ones to Covid and cancer. Other friends are facing depleting savings and prolonged unemployment or the mental strain of being single in an isolating world in a terribly isolating time.

Elisabeth Elliot defines suffering in a helpful and broad way as “wanting something you  don’t have or having something you don’t want.” Suffering, big or small, cuts against our will. The deeper the love, the harder it is entrust it to the Father, and the closer we are approaching what P.T. Forsyth calls “our ownest own.”

While we always welcome a new year, I am convinced there has not been such collective longing for a fresh turn of the calendar year in decades. The days leading up to and directly following New Year’s Day are full of good intentions and vows. Normally I, like many of you, like to ask the Lord to give me a word or theme for the upcoming year; however, this past year has me gun-shy regarding plans or intentions of any kind. I know now, more than ever, that my plans are no match for His purposes.

As such, I am making it my goal to keep offering God my mines as often as he exposes them in the upcoming year. When I trust Him with my most tightly-held mines, I honor Him and am conformed to His likeness in new and deeper ways.

My Minest Mine

My minest mine is yours now;
It is bleeding in your hands. 
I was holding onto it, but now
I’ve submitted it to your plans. 

The quivering stuff of my will,
That which feels essential to me,
I was brave enough to open up,
And now ’tis given back to thee.

Another frontier of my heart
Claimed, under your control.
I trust you even when I feel
More naked and less whole. 

By definition a sacrifice costs,
Must cut, must tear, must bleed.
Thus the pain assures my soul
You’ve grabbed a deeper seed. 

For I’ve no right to “Mines,”
Not even the deepest variety;
For you bled to call me Yours,
A title of sacred sobriety.

My ownest own is Yours now,
‘Tis safely in Your possession.
Have all of me over and over
In most glorious succession. 

Christ had the right to call all creation, “Mine.” Yet, he made Himself weak and vulnerable, taking on the form of a fragile human. He made and lost real friends; He laid down real gifts and rights; He risked His tender heart and received blows when He should have received been receiving bows.

He called our Cross His so that He could say of us, “Mine.” Now, we have the honor of sacrificing even our deepest wills to Him. This is the strange, sacred way of the Cross.

Lord, we believe. Help our unbelief.

Winter’s Gift

“All that summer conceals, winter reveals.” Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek

I live in Southern California. To call our winters mild is a wild understatement. But souls have winters, too. And whether you live close to the equator or not, the world has been experiencing a winter of a year. While such winters chill us, they also give offer us the strange gifts of dormancy and exposure.

Though we have fake grass, we do have an enormous tree in our front yard. In the summer and spring, it’s fullness can be seen from around the block. It so abounds in leaves you can barely see its branches. In our San Diego winter which feels more like a pseudo-fall, its leaves drop en masse, exposing its gangly, knotted branches. Our tree looks languid and exposed; however, in the winter, I am able to appreciate its actual frame.

The past nine months have been a weird winter for the world. Things that would normally be covered up by busyness, activity, prosperity, and freedom are being exposed in our societies and our souls. As my husband has said about this season, “We are being told on.” Our idols are being exposed. Without freedom to go about as we please, our frustrations tell reveal fractured souls looking for contentment in circumstances. In isolation, we have to face the emptiness that we find within us.

My initial response to such a winter’s shaking is to grieve all that is falling to the ground. At first, I saw only the scraggy skeleton that once carried such health. It took a few weeks for me to begin to appreciate the chance to better examine what health covers up. I don’t like being exposed in this season. My heart feels as naked as our bare tree. The places I normally run for immediate comfort, significance, and security are blocked off. I don’t like what I see in myself when my plans are thwarted and lesser hopes are deferred.

Our God loves us enough to give us winters, both physical and spiritual. His love is strong enough to expose us in our sin-sickness. Though it is not a typical book to be studied during Advent, Hosea has been instructing and informing my heart this double winter. Using the real story of an adulterous wife and her sacrificially-committed husband, God draws the picture of his pursuing -even-to-the-point of pain love for his whoring people.

“Therefore I will hedge up her way with thorns, and I will build a wall against her, so that she cannot find her paths. She shall pursue her lovers, but not overtake them, and she shall seek them, but shall not find them. Then she will say, ‘I will go and return to my first husband, for it was better for me then than now” (Hosea 2:6-7).

Being hedged by thorny paths is not comfortable. Being called out for our adulterous affections for lesser lovers is embarrassing and humbling. But repentance and returning (again and again) to the One who loved us enough to die for us is the path to life.

As such, I am fighting to receive the gifts of this strange winter-like year. The spring will come again, and trees, once barren will abound with buds. But I want the winter to do its necessary work. I need the forced exposure and dormancy that winter brings to lead me to the One who ushers in all seasons for our good and His glory.

On the Eve of the Election

On this eve of such a significant election, an unlikely name has been on my mind. It’s neither Trump, nor Biden, but rather Herod. Lest we think that we are the first group of people caught in the crosshairs of a highly contended governmental shift, a quick recap of history will serve us well.

Herod’s Rise

After Caesar’s assassination on the Ides of March (Et tu, brute?), a fight for the seat of power ensued. Seats of power were up for grabs, and there were vastly different opinions on who should fill them. The Parthians came into Jerusalem attempting to prop up their desired Senate representative for the region of Jerusalem; however, Octavius and Antony, Caesar’s nephew and adopted heir, succeeded in appointing Herod, their pick for the role of “King of the Jews.”

The selection was deeply contested by the opposing side and resulted in physical fighting and bloody battles in Jerusalem. At the end of a three-month siege, Caesar’s side had their way. Herod remained in his tenuous position of power on the Judean throne for 33 years (see Thomas Cahill’s The Desire of the Everlasting Hills).

Understanding the bloody path to his seat of power sheds light on Herod’s bloody attempts to retain his power. Positions that are gained by blood and human conniving are often protected and held in like manner.

Herod’s Demise

In the beginnings of Matthew’s gospel, the stage is being set for the entrance of the one true King in the most unexpected manner.

Even those not familiar with the Scriptures likely recognize the following verses from the Christmas story.

Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, saying, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him” (Matthew 2:1-2).

Wise men traveling with gifts from far away lands. This is the kind of stuff politicians salivate over; however, these visitors were not coming to see him. They proclaimed the birth of a new king. The potential threat to his power left both him and the people in his jurisdiction worried about more bloody battles for power (Matthew 2:3).

You likely know what happens next from Christmas plays.

Herod has the mysterious seekers vow to tell him when they find their newborn king. He says he wants to worship him, but he really wants to wipe out the threat to his position, power, and prestige. Thankfully, angels intervene to protect the vulnerable baby and his family. They warn the wisemen to head home without visiting the murderous Herod. Angels also warn Joseph in a dream to flee to Egypt as family of three.

“Then Herod, when he saw that he had been tricked by the wisemen, became furious, and he sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had ascertained from the wise men” (Matthew 2:16).

Our Hope

The people of Judea had been right to be troubled. They knew too well the civil unrest that resulted from power grabs. They were weary of such things. They longed for a ruler who would rule justly and with equity, who would use his position to advantage his people rather than himself. Little did they know that he had been born. Hiding in Egypt as a political refugee was the One who was the true King of the Jews.

Herod’s murderous rage, while horrific, did not thwart God’s good plans for the better kingdom. In fact, the true King that the angels had protected would stand watching while he was cruelly murdered. Though Christ might have called down legions of angels to protect him, he willingly endured death on a cross (Matthew 26:52-54). He did so to usher in the perfect kingdom.

While it has been initiated, it is not yet consummated. We live in this already/not yet kingdom of God. Just as the people of Jerusalem were troubled with dangerous political unrest, we remain troubled when positions of power are up for grabs. However, as those who stand on the other side of the cross, we know the living one in whom all our hope lies. We know that the one who worked the ultimate evil of the cross for our good can work all things to his glorious ends (Romans 8:28).

Our Hope

That Herod was threatened
By a newborn laid in hay
The vulnerability of power 
And position does betray. 

The most coveted seats 
On this spinning sphere
Are subject to shuffling
And protected by fear. 

Oligarchies may appoint,
Crowds elevate a name. 
A fickle fiefdom offers
A highly unstable fame. 

If on reputation or rank 
One’s security does rest,
Then surely moth and rust 
One’s hope will soon infest.

Murderous ends stem
From misshapen means.
Yet our God works good
Even from earthly schemes. 

Our hope is wrapped in
The Son of His appointing.
Our stability stems from
The king of His anointing.  

On this election eve, I pray that we would have our identities and our hopes hidden in Christ, the Everlasting King.

Redwoods and Righteousness

My neck still hurts from looking up, and my mind is still mulling over the spiritual lessons hidden in Redwood forests. After years of desiring to see these oldest of all living organisms on earth, the Lord was gracious to allow us to finally see them in real time. They did not disappoint nor did they fail to act as the straight and tall pointers their Creator intended them to be.

The Necessity of Fog

Redwood forests exist in only four locations in the world. Oddly enough, heavy fog is their critical success factor. These gentle giants require the dense, daily fog known as the Marine Layer to receive enough water to survive, gathering a shocking 40% of their required hydration from the fog.

As someone who struggles with anxiety and depression, I have acquired a natural distaste for the mental, spiritual, and emotional fogs that accompany them; however, the Redwoods were a sweet reminder that God does not waste pain and appoints each season appropriately for His good purposes. The very fogs of confusion and lack of clarity that I hate can be clouds of necessary provision for my soul. They teach me to depend upon Him and to walk by faith rather than sight.

As the famous hymn writer William Cowper so poetically wrote in God Moves in a Mysterious Way, “Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take; / The clouds ye so much dread / Are big with mercy and shall break / In blessings on your head.”

An Indwelling Protector

Redwood trees have a strange, all-purpose protector, and it is not the Lorax. High concentrations of tannic acid act as anti-fungal pesticides and fire proofing for these tested survivors. While unseen, this internal protector enables Redwoods to survive the would-be catastrophic forest fires that are so common on the West Coast. While we were walking in their sufficient shade, it was not uncommon to see fire damage that ran upwards of twenty to thirty feet up the trunks of some Redwoods. However, the tannic acid concentrations enable them to withstand the incredible heat. As such, the older trees remain standing even after devastating forest fires.

As believers in Christ, we have a powerful, indwelling preserving agent in the Holy Spirit. Unseen, through clearly present, the Third Person of the Trinity provides divine empowerment and strengthening that enables believers to remain standing even through the countless trials that life on this broken globe affords. Christ never promised us lives of ease and comfort, but He did promise that all who rely upon Him will be preserved by the Holy Spirit who is the seal of our inheritance (see Ephesians 1:13 and John 16:33).

A Rooted Community

Mature Redwoods can grow upwards of three-hundred feet tall, which is taller than a 30-story building. For something so toweringly tall, these trees have shockingly shallow root systems (between 6 and 12 feet deep, which is proportionately small for such size). In fact, they do not even have a taproot. Rather, they have root networks that reach 100 feet on every side. Their roots intermingle with their neighboring Redwoods, creating an interlocking strength amongst them.

While believers are, indeed, called to be rooted in the Scriptures and the Word of God (see Psalm 1), we are also called to be inter-dependent upon others in the body of Christ. What we usually assume to be you (singular) commands through our individualistic, Western lens of reality are often y’all (plural) commands in the New Testament (see Ephesians 3:17 and James 5:13-16).

Fairy Rings

While we were walking through the forest floor, I kept waiting for a larger-than-life pinecone to fall on my head, causing a concussion (sounds dramatic, but some of us are gifted at catastrophic thinking). Shortly thereafter, we came to learn that the pinecones on these fellas are only olive-sized. They can afford such small pinecones because reproduction rarely happens through pinecones. Rather, mature Redwoods tend to sprout new saplings directly from the root systems. Thus, it is not uncommon to find what they call “Fairy Rings” in which a taller, more mature mother tree is surrounded by adolescent trees in a circle. Even after the mother tree dies, her buried root system can continue to sprout and reproduce.

While I am not saying believers spontaneously generate and propagate new believers in like manner, I do long for God to be able to use the crumbs from my walk with God to feed others. I long to leave a legacy of faith that I pass on to my children who pass it along similarly to their children (see 2 Timothy 1:4 and 3:15).

I am so thankful that creation can preach without a word the glories of its Creator (see Psalm 19). I am thankful that these gentle giants raise their branches pointing to the King of Righteousness. Being in their shadow makes me long to be a similar pointer, crooked though I may be!

The Relief of Resurrection

Relief comes in many shapes and sizes. Tired teachers sign off from Zoom calls with a satisfied fatigue on Fridays. College students nearly skip with levity and relief when they turn in finals and term papers. Families sigh in relief and smile in gratitude when results from biopsies come back negative. The entire Pacific Northwest danced with relief when rain fell to dissipate the heaviness of fire-filled air.

The nature of the burden and the length of time it has been borne appropriately shape the extent of corresponding relief when the burden has been finally lifted.

I am certain Noah waited with bated breath when he sent out the dove, hoping for signs of habitable earth after weeks of unprecedented flooding. When the dove came back bearing a branch, I imagine there were shouts of relief from the remnant of humanity who had been trapped with animals in a floating zoo. Abraham and Sarah laughed in relief when they finally held Isaac, their long-awaited, promised son. God’s people, long-accustomed to silence after the last words from the prophet Malachi, likely ran in relief to the shores of the Jordan to listen to John the Baptizer. Simeon and Anna, whose eyes were long-strained in search of the promised Messiah, looked upon Jesus through tears of relief.

But all of these moments of real relief pale in comparison to the relief of the resurrection. The Marys went to the tomb of their beloved Jesus despairing and helpless, convinced their hopes of Him being the Messiah were dashed. Despite the fact that he had healed and saved others, Jesus of Nazareth had not been healed, but harmed. The body of their beloved who had brought life and light wherever he went was sealed in a dark, dank tomb, along with their hopes.

All the collective moments of relief from all the heavy burdens of humanity ought to be like a feather in the scales compared to the relief of the resurrection. Death does not have the last word. The fear of death that had dogged the steps of humanity since Adam and Eve were ushered out of the garden Eden was lifted with the body of Christ.

As the writer of Hebrews so clearly stated to the Jewish believers, “through the power of death,” Jesus “delivered “all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery” (Hebrews 2:14-15). The fuzzy, far-off promises of the prophet Isaiah, “He will swallow up death forever (Isaiah 25:8) came into clear focus that morning when the grave clothes were folded and vacant.

Unfortunately, we tend to forget the relief that comes from the resurrection of Christ. The relief that is meant to enliven our every step toward glory and the levity of hope that is meant to lighten our souls in the most grave situations are lost on most of us. We are so focused on our present circumstances and the problems that weigh on us presently, that we tend to forget that our Christ has conquered death and risen up underneath it, lifting our burdens with himself.

We find ourselves looking forward to smaller sighs of relief like the weekend, the end of the election season, and an upcoming vacation, and it is right to enjoy these moments of rest. However, we don’t have to swim the seas of dread, waiting for tiny islands of relief. The rock solid reality of the resurrection is meant to be a bridge of relief that enables all of our days. The resurrected Christ who stood up from the tomb is meant to help us bear up under our own burdens.

I don’t know the exact burdens you carry today, but I know that they are heavy and hard. I know that we are a weary people in a weary land during a wearisome time. I know that it feels like the weights are crushing the ever-living life out of us. But that is not the end of the story. The resurrected and reigning Christ has given is the downpayment for the the coming day of great relief. With the psalmist we can say with confidence, “Blessed be the Lord who daily bears our burdens” (Psalm 68:19, NASB).

To Find a Fire Poppy

As the West Coast deals with an unthinkable amount of devastating fires, my heart has been praying for fire poppies, both literal and figurative.

The California Poppy, our state flower, is rightly nicknamed the fire poppy because these brave little flowers are the first to push through charred ground after a wildfire. They are the first fruits of new life, floral harbingers of hope after the devastation of wildfires.

As you well know from the news, California experiences more than its fair share of wildfires. Hiking yesterday through the drought-ridden, crunchy chaparral of our regional park, there was ample evidence of burning. Charred branches, black ground, devastated landscapes. Bleak and black, the earth seemed so tired and barren.

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The trials of our lives, like raging wildfires, leave evidence long after the flames are snuffed out. Prolonged sickness, the death of a loved one, unemployment, stubborn seasons of depression, infertility or the myriad of other wildfires in our lives this side of Fall scar what used to be green places of life and vitality, leaving them much like the earth here in California.

Walking along what remains after trials in our hearts and lives, it is natural to feel hopeless, to remember with sadness the lush life that once was there. But, as is often true in the natural and spiritual realms, things are not as they seem. Much more is happening than the naked eye can gather. Fires, although devastating and dreary, leave nutrient rich soil and clear out space for life that would otherwise never thrive.

Life will emerge from the charred remains. The courageous little fire poppies, all naked and stalky will push their way through the crunchy crust. And when they come, the barren landscape will be the perfect backdrop in which to enjoy the welcomed pop of color, ironically the same color as the flames we once feared. Fire red.

IMG_6693After a prolonged season of trial and testing, the landscape of my life feels tired and sensitive. My heart’s habitat leaves much to be desired these days. Much of the green beauty that I love has been cleared out and it feels like only charcoal and soot remain. I truly am thankful, as I know that God clears away to recreate. I know the nutrients are there. I know that soon enough, when bounty returns, I will barely remember the burned earth.

But right now I am eagerly waiting and actively looking for the fire poppies. Every time a  strange stem of new life emerges, I celebrate. Little signs of life that I would normally never notice have become sources of profound peace in this post-burning season.

To my friends who feel like their souls are sensitive habitats of late, today is a good day to find a fire poppy. Happy hunting.

Inheriting the Wind (An American Empire)

When I hear the word empire, my mind immediately runs to historical Rome or China; however, something I read this week has had my mind and heart considering adding our nation to the mix.

While our nation began as a democratic republic with a shared, though often fought over, vision of the common good, some historians argue that sometime in the past fifty or so years, America made the shift from a republic to an empire.

In her address to a symposium of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate, Catholic worker and scholar Mary Jo Leddy said the following about a subtle shift that has taken place in our nation.

“Many historians will argue that the transformation of the republic to an empire has happened over the last fifty years. It has not been merely a transformation in size but in orientation as well. The republic was held together by an overarching common vision of a good and just society. It was an incredible political vision, which sought to balance the sometimes conflicting values of freedom and justice with a truly original political system.”

According to Leddy, after the Cold War, America no longer had a common, clear enemy which had been so clearly delineated through Communism. With the Fall of the Iron Curtain and the tearing down of the Berlin Wall, our nation has desperately fought to define its new enemy. Leddy astutely claims, “Unless we reclaim some positive vision as a nation, we will be engaged in war upon war. A perpetual state of fear and conflict.”

She couples this fading of a common shared vision with a gradual decline in our nation, one that is not immediately obvious. She likens the slow disintegrating of our national empire to the gradual fall of another empire, Rome, after the attack of the Vandals in AD 410. While the Vandals did not succeed in destroying Rome, their attack altered the empire, which for the first time seemed mortal rather than eternal. Some historians say that 9/11 provided a similar moment for America. With the collapse of two iconic buildings and the unexpected attack which killed so many before the watching world, suddenly, the American empire seemed mortal.

While Rome left an indelible mark on modern history through its law, politics, architecture, and concept of citizenship, it is no longer the center of the known world. America seems to find herself in a similar place, fighting to hold on to her former central place .

Certainly, America still stands and has an incredible amount of influence and power; however, we find ourselves in tenuous times as a nation.

In-fighting and political partisanship have reached dangerous levels of vitriol and toxicity; it seems the only enemy we can identify are those other Americans who think differently, vote differently, or worship differently than we do.

While Leddy wisely pointed out the problem, her solution seemed lacking. According to her, Americans must reclaim a shared vision for the common good. While that sounds easy enough, without a clear standard of good and evil and right and wrong, both parties put themselves on the good side and their counterpart on the evil side.

This is exactly what is happening right now, as I write and as you read. Liberals are propagating their own version of good and evil through CNN while conservatives claim the exact opposite on Fox News. Without a straight edge by which to rule itself and others, our nation will remain in such a plight.

To our credit, this generation inherited a system that moved away from absolute truth hundreds of years ago. We followed the ways of Hume rather than the Rock from which we were hewn; we left the Scriptures as the standard of good and evil and opted for right and wrong which were intuited by feelings and common sense. However, we did not recognize that we had borrowed our ideals of justice and goodness from the foundations laid by biblical truths. Now we find ourselves experiencing the logical end of wrong presuppositions.

When feelings, experience, intuitions, and preferences guide our morality, we end up at loggerheads. After all, what happens when one person or party’s intuitions are at odds with another? We need not answer that question, we are living in it. Division. Strife. Hatred. A nation tearing itself down.

Our nation is at a crossroads. Our generation and our children’s generation are reaping what was sown hundreds of years ago. Now that we see the infected crop it has produced, we have the opportunity to plant something different for the coming generations.

“Whoever troubles his own household will inherit the wind, and the fool will be the servant to the wise of heart.” Proverbs 11:29.

As a nation, we have many great questions to tackle. And many wiser than I are attempting to tackle many of them. However, my concern is that we are not starting asking the questions far enough back.

Will we trust in the wisdom of man and philosophies which start with man at the center, attempting to make sense of the world? Or will we trust in the wisdom of the God who stands outside of time as its caring Creator?

Wildfires

Our state is on fire in more ways than one. As multiple wildfires rage across California, my heart is heavy on multiple levels. Heavy for those evacuating homes once again. Heavy for the families of firefighters who leave everything, drive to the epicenter of flames, and risk their lives to protect both the land and the people of our state.

But the actual wildfires serve as a visual picture of the political and spiritual reality of our state. Hardship heaps on top of hardship, question upon question, crisis upon crisis, leaving a confounded people.

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Thankfully, the Scriptures serve to remind us that we are not unique in our plight. The Bible is set in the context of broken, desperate circumstances and includes a cast  of broken, desperate people.

The poet who penned Psalm 104 prays that God would come to renew the face of the the earth. He recognized the helpless, hopeless state of God’s people and God’s place without the help and hope of God’s presence and power. Having painted a beautiful picture of the dependence of various created things upon their Creator, he writes the following.

These all look to you to give them their food in due season. When you give to them, they gather it up; when you open your hand, they are filled with good things. When you hide your face, they are dismayed; when you take away their breath,  they  die and return to their dust. When you send forth your Spirit, they are created, and you renew the face of the ground  (Psalm 104:27-30). 

Creation mirrors recreation. Just as the breath of the Spirit creates organic life in the first two chapters of Genesis, the Spirit’s breath renews and recreates spiritual life, as Jesus stated in his conversation with Nicodemus about spiritual birth in John 3:1-8. Both our physical and spiritual states show our deep dependence upon our Creator and Sustainer.

California needs renewal both spiritually and physically, as do I.

Wildfires

Our state is on fire
In more ways than one.
Hearts and homes burning,
The season only begun.

Our need for water
Is similarly stratified.
Internal and external ground,
Neglected, withered, dried.

Fight flame with flame.
Meet fire with fire.
Pour out your Spirit.
Point to our true desire.

Disruption, while discomforting,
Reveals our deepest needs,
Shows us the deep beauty
Of One who for us pleads. 

Breath once again, Lord.
Renew the face of the ground.
For where your Spirit blows,
Life begins to abound. 

 

An Antidote for Control

Three trips to Home Depot. Two trips to Ikea. One trip to Big Lots. Over the past few days, my handy husband and I have been in all-out task mode attempting to speedily make desk spaces for our children. The obvious felt need to make conducive learning spaces for each of our boys covered a less overt deeper need in my soul: something I could control.

My desire to order and shape what feels chaotic is not in and of itself a bad thing. On the contrary, such desires to order the private and public places in which God has placed us stem from the desired end for which we were created: to image and glorify God. After all, God spoke order and structure into the unordered world created by His words. He set boundaries for the seas, telling them where to stop. He separated the light from the dark, creating the earth’s sun to rule the day and the moon the night (along with the countless other suns and moons of our galaxy and those in the countless other galaxies beyond our own).

In the Garden of Eden, the Father gave his first human creations the compliment of joining him in his ordering work. He invited them to tend to the garden and name the plants and animals of the freshly-minted world. In the gospel of Christ, our Triune God gave us the means to begin to live ordered spiritual lives that begin with right-standing with God. The Holy Spirit continues His ongoing work of integration (making whole) in a world deeply influenced by an enemy who is constantly disintegrating (pulling apart). Much to our surprise, He does this primarily through indwelling and reshaping the hearts and minds of believers in Christ. 

The desire to order our private worlds is not wrong; however, sometimes this desire becomes inordinate and idolatrous. While the desks turned out beautifully, they were not able to deliver the peace and reassurance that I was subconsciously demanding of them. Lest you think me alone in being crazy enough to think that inanimate objects of my own making could satisfy soul needs within me, the prophet Isaiah repeatedly spoke of similar trends.

The desks were more an attempt to control a world that feels increasingly out of control. On top of the pressure cooker that is pandemic living, we have friends who are losing loved ones and relational and financial stressors of our own. There are far more questions whirling around in my head and heart than there are anchored answers. With mounting fears, comes the growing need for control, as fear and control create quite a feedback loop. When we are afraid, we grasp for control. In our grasping for control, we stir up more fear.

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What the desks could not deliver, the Word of God did, offering an antidote for my need to control. While reading one of my favorite Psalms, the Spirit opened my eyes to fresh insights.

“Into your hand I commit my spirit; you have redeemed me, O Lord, faithful God” (Psalm 31:5). 

David, who penned this psalm, often had very little control over his circumstances. Though he had been anointed to be the future king of Israel, he spent many years being hounded and harmed by the presiding and precarious King Saul. In the midst of circumstances he could not control, he committed his circumstances and his very life to the blessed controller of all things. The Hebrew word pagad, translated commit above, can also be translated to appoint, to point in charge, and to give oversight. Thus, David appointed God to be in charge of the things that he knew he could not control. Rather than grasping for control, he gave it over to the One who could far better create, sustain, and restore all things.

When we face fearful circumstances without and conundrums within, we have a similar choice: to commit or to control.

Thankfully, we have one who did this fully and completely even in the gravest circumstances that led from a cross to a grave. The One who perfectly ordered and arranged all things took on himself all that was dis-ordered about ourselves and our world. And while he suffered in doing so, he actually quotes from this Hebrew Psalm, crying out, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit” (Luke 23:46).

May this week finding you seeking to commit more and control less.

Reigning in Unruly Thoughts

My mind has been a mob of late with untethered thoughts running amuck. From fears of school scenarios and flagging finances to stubborn lies I thought were long-defeated, my brain has been running internal marathons for weeks. I am old enough to know that I am not alone in this battlefield of the mind. I am familiar enough with the Scriptures to know which verses talk of this very battle (Romans 12:1-2 and 2 Corinthians 10:5 being chief among them). However, these realities alone cannot make my thoughts kneel.

When mobs of unruly thoughts disturb the peace Christ has purchased, we need to look more at him than them. This concept of growing by indirection is nothing new; it has helped believers in Christ since the days of the early church. We cannot directly become more and more like Christ, not can we directly order our thoughts. The more we focus on them, the more unruly they often become. We need God to soften our hearts, order our minds, and sanctify our lives.

However, that does not mean that we sit around and twiddle our thumbs. There is much work we can indirectly. We can choose to focus the beam of our attention outside of ourselves or our circumstances onto him who ordered the galaxies and established gravity.

Paul told the often unruly church at Corinth, “We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge  of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5). The idea here is that our thoughts must kneel before the Lord.

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Many of us know that we are called to take our thoughts captive to the obedience of Christ. I know this verse and have studied many of the Greek words in which it was originally written. I desperately want ordered thoughts that kneel in the presence of the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords; however, in the trenches of my day-to-day life, I wrestle with getting from point A to point B. And rightly I should wrestle, because I cannot get myself there. There is no road that gets me there, no train that runs between those two points.

The only way that I have ever experienced success in seeing stubborn thoughts kneel before my Savior is by being early and often and long in his presence. There I begin to forget those thoughts because I am thinking of him. His softening gaze and His tender tones (tender even when his living and active word cuts me like a knife, as per Hebrews 4:12-13) melt my frozen fears and slowly chip away at chiseled lies.

Last night, my mob of unruly thoughts were keeping me from sleeping. I tried reading to divert them. It didn’t work. I squirmed in bed, attempting to outmaneuver them. As such, I ended up having to quietly sneak out of my room and wrestle with the Lord.

My thoughts still have not fully kneeled, but I am thinking more of the tender one who knelt to bless small children and who rose early to bend his own knees in dependent prayer on his heavenly father.

Kneeling Thoughts

My thoughts like to run,
But they d not like to kneel. 
Catching one that is racing
Is always quite an ordeal. 

Changing shape and speed,
They don’t like to be still. 
If I can barely catch them,
How can they bend to your will? 

I need stronger, smarter help
If your truth is to prevail. 
I’ve tried reasoning with them,
But my efforts are to no avail. 

They run amuck with feelings,
But they must be held liable.
In your warming presence,
Rigid thoughts are pliable.

Help me sit before you
Early and often and long-
Then thoughts will kneel
At the beauty of your song. 

He who knelt with children
Also knelt in lonely agony.
My thoughts will yield to him
Who bore the curse for me.