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Irrigated Souls

Our satisfaction does not have to depend on our situation or location. Our soul’s refreshment does not follow the rule of real estate, “Location! Location! Location!” The locus of our refreshment does not depend on our proximity to an external water source, but on God’s proximity to us.

If we find ourselves on a dry lot in a draught-ridden desert, our hope need not wither with heat and exposure. Consistently through the mouthpieces of the prophets, God reminds His people that He is a master irrigator. Threaded through Isaiah 42, 43, and 44 are promises of irrigation in the desert.

When the poor and needy seek water, and there is none, and their tongue is parched with thirst, I the Lord will answer them; I the God of Israel will not forsake them. I will open rivers on the bare heights, and fountains in the midst of the valleys. I will make the wilderness a pool of water, and the dry land springs of water…that they may see and know, may consider and understand together, that the hand of the Lord has done this, the Holy One of Israel has created it (Isaiah 42: 17-19 & 20).

Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert. The wild beasts will honor me, the jackals and the ostriches, for I give water in the wilderness, rivers in the desert, to give drink to my chosen people; the people whom I formed for myself that they might declare my praise (Isaiah 43:19-21).

But now hear, O Jacob, my servant; Israel, whom I have chosen! Thus says the Lord who made you, who formed you from the womb and will help you; Fear not, O Jacob, my servant, Jeshurun, whom I have chosen. For I will pour water on the thirsty land, and streams on the dry ground; I will pour my Spirit upon your offspring and my blessing on your descendants (Isaiah 44:1-3).

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To a people whose lips were parched and who trod incredibly parched places, these promises themselves must have been like drips of refreshing water. However, we, on the other side of the cross, are the recipients of such flowing promises.

We have been given the indwelling Holy Spirit, “a spring of water welling up to eternal life” (John 4:14). We have a built-in irrigation system until the day when we finally sit by the river of life in the restored city garden of the New Heavens and the New Earth.

However, I forget. You forget. We live like those deserted in desert places. We pine after different circumstances or seasons. We envy those with water-front or water-filled external lots. We pout as only a parched people can.

But we have springs of living water. We have Him who created the waters and all they contain. We are siblings of the One who said boldly, “If anyone thirst, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water’.” (John 7:37-38).

Our souls are better irrigated than Augusta National golf course. We don’t need a new lot. We need a fresh look at the hidden springs we have been given.

Under the Sun

This morning at church, we read through the entire book of Ecclesiastes. If you are looking for a booster shot to bolster humanity, I would not recommend it. Although, as an antidote for the prosperity gospel, it has great effectiveness.

About midway through the book, I looked over at my teenage son who was taking notes with a look of confusion. He literally wrote, “Solomon keeps saying everything is vanity under the sun.”

I looked over at him and whispered, “Under the sun, yes. But, that’s the whole point. The book is meant to lead us above the sun, beyond the sun, outside of humanity’s constant attempt to create meaning for itself.”

As James so wisely realized in his words to the early church, wisdom had to come down from above (James 3:13-18). When we had thoroughly malled God’s good purposes for humanity, we needed the God-man to step onto the course He created for the earth.

Photo by Andy Holmes on Unsplash

Under the Sun

Under the sun on our collared run,
All’s been tested, tried, and done.
Looking for novelty, finding none.
With each rotation tedium is spun.

Here, both rags and riches ravage,
And evil dwells in sage and savage.
Emptiness follows caviar and cabbage.
Vanity is an often verified addage.

Even the wisest of men is confounded,
Pessimists proven, optimists astounded.
Favor is fleeting while folly is founded.
By meaninglessness we are hounded.

Oh, my friend, but beyond the sun –
Past the path earth was taught to run –
Stands He who its orbit has spun,
Speaks the meaning-dripping One.

Seeing our toiling under the sun,
He to His sin-sick people did run
To be stuck in a web he hadn’t spun
Until the Savior cried, “It is done!

Death itself He did repugn,
For three days later, life won.
Meaning now in us does run
For all our days under the sun.

I am so thankful our self-revealing God did not leave us with our own wisdom-folly to discover meaning under the sun. I am thankful for the lifter of our eyes and the One whose light will outshine our dying sun. In Him we trade vanity for victory and hopelessness for living hope!

Weighted Love

Love carries weight, both literally and metaphorically. Just ask the momma carrying a toddler who is tired in addition to his or her bike to the car from the park. Or ask the father of a child who is differently abled as he loads a wheelchair into the van.  Ask the parents of a soldier whose child is deployed in Afghanistan the weight of their heart lately. Contrary to the cultural view of love as flitting feeling or whimsy, love is weighty.

But, if love carries weight, it also bestows weight. Love deposits substance and significance. I’ve watched it happen. A student otherwise overlooked and underperforming receives a teacher who sees and speaks potential over her. Daily deposits of love and care slowly compound into a more settled confidence. An adult with autism finds an employer who believes in his abilities and gives him the dignity of significant responsibilities. A counselor gives a client who has a history of abuse the weight of agency.

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The Weight of His Love

In Isaiah 43, God says something astounding about his people:

Because you are precious in my eyes, and honored, and I love you, I give men in return for you, peoples in exchange for your life (Isaiah 43:4).

What an undeserved laundry list of words: precious, honored, loved. At first, these words may sound like the flippant words describing love in our culture. However, the context of these verses within the book of Isaiah help us to understand the weight of God’s love. Repeatedly throughout the book of Isaiah God uses court language regarding his people: he calls them to come before him in an attempt to defend themselves, he indicts them of their crimes, both obvious and hidden, he provides overwhelming evidence of their idolatry. On the backdrop of this grim reality, verses like the aforementioned one shine brightly with the incredible reality of God’s love.

Convicted, defenseless children though we are, God declares us precious in his eyes. The Hebrew word yaqar can mean to be esteemed or appraised highly, but it comes from a Hebrew root which means to be heavy. God, who sees us with eyes of piercing honesty, appraises us as valuable and precious. This value does come from within us; it is placed in us because of his love. His love gives us weight and significance in his eyes.

The Hebrew word kabad translated honor above, literally means to be heavy, weighty, or burdensome. Often it is used to describe the honor and weight due to God himself, but here, God uses to describe us! The word choice here literally stopped me in my tracks. We are honored, not because of our merit, but because He has honed in on us with his love. We have weight with him, not because of any substance of our own, but because he has filled our lives with blessing of knowing him. 

We are precious (weighty) and honored (weighty) because we are loved. The order is significant. If the order were reversed, we might get the false impression that because we are important and carry weight, we are loved by God. However, this verse and the thrust of the entirety of the Scriptures assure us that we are loved, and because we are loved, we are appraised as weighty to the God of all wonders!

The Cost of His Love

Inspired by the Spirit, the prophet Isaiah spoke with the language of redemption and ransom. The weight of God’s love for his people would lead him to redeem and ransom them at great cost.

In Psalm 49, the psalmist writes about the weight of a ransom saying, “Truly no man can ransom another, or give to God the price of his life, for the ransom of their life is costly and can never suffice” (Psalm 49:7-8). No merely human sacrifice would carry enough weight to ransom humanity. God himself would have to do it. Inspired by the Spirit, Isaiah would prophesy about a coming Messiah, a suffering servant, who would redeem his people with a costly love. Now, we, indwelled by the Spirit, carry the weight of such a love.

His sacrificial love has bestowed unthinkable weight upon us. As such, we are invited to love others in a way that bestows honor and dignity upon them. In a world of conditional, flippant love, such costly loves provides gravity and grace.

The Need for Spiritual Specialists

A rock hound who could speak for hours on variations of gems. A car enthusiast who knows the intricate details of a particular make and model. A botanist who knows the subtle differences among species of the same genus. An historian who has spent his or her life in a concentrated study on a condensed time period or people group.

Whenever I speak to a specialists of any kind, I always walk away with wonder: wonder that God wired someone to find such a nuanced, committed interest to one particular cause or subject or trade.

Whether its a particular genus of plants, a condensed part of history, or a car type, I am blown away that someone could expend so much energy and focus so much attention on what seems, in the grand scheme of things, such a narrow subject.

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Specialists sometimes come across as eccentric, as few can understand such a sustained passion towards such a singular subject. True specialists sometimes struggle to understand how others could live uninterested and unmoved by the subject of study which has so captured their imagination and affection.

As Tom Nichols expertly explains in his book The Death of Expertise: The Campaign Against Established Knowledge and Why It Matters, expertise is a dying art. As I am generally a generalist myself, I will leave the expertise on expertise to him; however, it struck me this morning that all believers are called to at least one object of expertise.

The Call for Spiritual Specialists

Everyone who has been saved by the good news of the gospel and captured by His irresistible grace is invited to become an expert on Christ. The lyrics to the song “One Pure and Holy Passion” perfectly capture this call.

“Give me one pure and holy passion
Give me one magnificent obsession
Give me one glorious ambition for my life
To know and follow hard after You.

To know and follow hard after You
To grow as your disciple in the truth
The world is empty, pale, and poor
Compared to knowing You, my Lord,
Lead me on and I will run after You
Lead me on and I will run after You.”

The Apostle Paul was a renaissance man before the term existed. He seemed to excel in all that he did, as he so clearly shares in his letter to the Philippians (Philippians 3:3-11) and in his defense before Agrippa (Acts 26:1-11). However, after his encounter on the road to Damascus, he became a specialist in Christ. From an outsider’s opinion, Paul’s life suddenly looked obsessive and off-kilter. His focus narrowed dramatically to the One who narrowed Himself from the expanses of eternity to a human body on our account.

Whereas he used to be celebrated in many Jewish circles, he began to be judged as myopic. As he told the church in Corinth, if the resurrection were not true, he would be of all men most to be pitied (1 Corinthians 15:12-19).

The Hazards of Specialization

While we are not uniquely called as an Apostle in the same manner as Paul, all who trust in and believe upon Christ are called to see Him and the gospel as supremely worthy of study, wonder, and worship. As J.I. Packer wrote in Knowing God, “The more complex the object, the more complex is the knowing of it.”

Our Christ is supremely complex and marvelously multi-faceted. For all eternity, we will explore Him and expand in our knowledge and worship of Him. We will never come to the edge of understanding him or the precipice of knowing His purposes.

As with all specialists, we will likely be labeled imbalanced and obsessive. We will be written off as narrow-minded in a culture that prides itself on being broad-minded. People will likely roll their eyes in a there-they-go-again attitude when we speak of our central love for Christ. People may tire of hearing about our love for Christ, but we ought never tire of worshipping and studying Him.

He is worthy of our wonder. He is infinitely complex. To know Him is to have life and life abundant.

“And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (John 17:3).

Career Hazards for Creatives

Some careers come with obvious vocational hazards. Construction workers wear hard hats for a reason. Roofers proceed with great caution. First responders know the life-and-death dangers they brave. The vocational hazards for believers who are creatives are less overt, but very much as real.

Creatives image God the Creator as they seek to make art, music, literature, architecture, or a plethora of other forms of art; however, it is all too easy to make an idol of what they have made. They are prone to self-importance in success and feelings of despair or uselessness in lulls or failure. God delights in his people expressing the creativity he hard-wired into them; however, artists can easily slip into craving validation from others.

Two phrases help me fight the inherent, yet insidious career hazards of creating content for God’s glory. Our work is both significant and insignificant, and our work is both dignified and derivative.

Significant yet Insignificant

The process of creating art, from its imagination stages to its inception, echoes the very nature of God. Whether their art stays at home or hangs on a gallery wall, Christians who practice creative arts honor God. Whether a few or a few thousand read the poem or the prose work, the very act of arranging letters into words into images and stories pleases God because it reflects his very nature. Interior designers who create spaces for beauty and connection are chips off the old block of the Creator who filled this earth with nooks and crannies, gardens and gaping canyons.

As such, creative work in and of itself is significant. Glory and beauty matter to God. If you are not convinced read God’s instructions to Moses for the tabernacle in Exodus chapters 25-30. God even set aside and filled artists with the Spirit of God for this ornate undertaking.

The Lord said to Moses, “See, I have called by name Bezalel the son or Uri, son of Hur, of the trible of Judah, and I have filled him with the Spirit of God, with ability and intelligence, with knowledge and all craftsmanship, to devise artistic designs, to work in gold, silver, and bronze, in cutting stones for setting, and in carving wood, to work in every craft” (Exodus 31:1-5).

Similarly, God’s Spirit inspired the poetry and music that know as the psalms. His son was a craftsman who delighted to make beautiful things out of wood. God cares not just about artists, but also about art, because he himself is the artist par excellence. He made living mobiles out of stars that we know as constellations. He created such biodiversity that there are over 350,000 known species of beetles. That is a lot of creativity in one species of beetle, y’all.

Doing creative work is obviously significant. However, sometimes artists can take their work too seriously. I know I can. Every poem I write is significant to me, because of the intimacy through imaging I experience. But it is wrong to expect every poem I write to be significant to everyone who reads it. Self-importance is a ditch artists and creatives frequent.

This can be seen in a phrase from Isaiah 41, where God is juxtaposing God the Creator with those who create idols (and I mean the actual, physical ones).,

The craftsman strengthens the goldsmith, and he who smooths with the hammer him who strikes the anvil, saying of the soldering, “It is good”; and they strengthen it with nails so that it cannot be moved (Isaiah 41:7).

Here we see God calling out the artists who stood in collusion with one another, propping up each other’s self-importance. The “it is good” has echoes of Genesis 1 where God said over his nascent creation, “It is good” daily.

When we do creative work as Christians, we are often tempted to have people stand back and say, “It is good” in a way that puffs us up. However, true art should cause people to step back and say of God, “He is good.”

If we are falling into the ditch of self-importance, Acts 17:24-25 can instruct our hearts.

The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all men life and breath and everything (Acts 17:24-25).

Our work is significant, yet insignificant. This reality frees us to work heartily for the Lord’s glory without the weights of self-aggrandizement and self-significance.

Dignified yet Derivative

Similarly, our work is dignified yet derivative. Artists tend to pride themselves on individuality and uniqueness. But none of us have every truly had an original thought. Only God, in the deepest sense of the term, makes things that are original. All thought, all beauty, all order, and all color literally originate from him who made everything out of nothing.

Creating art, whether photographic, digital, word-centric or image-centric, is a dignified work. Yet all art, even the most amazing art in the world, is derivative. For God alone gives life and breath and skilled hands and creative minds who make masterpieces.

These two realities free me from the career hazards of creative work. They free me to work under the smile of the Father, whether in feast or famine. There is much significant, yet insignificant work to be done by artists who know that both themselves and their work are dignified derivatives.

My Best Adventure: A Note to My Husband on our Fifteenth Year

I’ve always thought of myself as adventurous, and I pride myself on a nearly insatiable desire to learn. While those things are still true, they have taken on different forms than I thought they would. I haven’t traveled to see the Seven Wonders of the World. I have not earned a master’s degree, let alone a PhD.

However, as I sat down this morning to reflect on my fifteenth wedding anniversary, the Lord reminded me that life with you is my best adventure and you are one of the most fascinating subjects for me to learn. I decided this morning that watching a soul be stretched and shaped and sculpted in marriage might just be the Eighth Wonder of the World.

When we got married, I thought I knew you. While I did know enough to know I was not making a poor decision, I did not know what I did not know. You did not know that much of yourself yet. A decade behind you in life experience, I most definitely did not know myself. But I am so glad for that. By God’s sweet providential grace, we have been instruments to shape each other and uncover the glory selves He has been slowly revealing.

We have had ample time to learn each other’s shadow selves. And there is plenty more of those dark places to plumb. However, the light and the freedom of the gospel makes such spelunking less scary. We are growing to be more gentle and patient with what we find there. We are growing to be less surprised because we are loved by One who not only excavated those depths but was executed to free us from them.

On special occasions, when you ask me what I would like to do, I struggle to answer. In those moments, I realize that what I really want is what I already have daily. A cup of coffee and a walk with you. A chance to process the lives of our children, be they spiritual or physical. A house project that keeps us side by side and attached to Home Depot like a ball and chain. These are some of my favorite adventures.

Any dreams of grandiosity are happily settling into a deep love for the simple life we have. I love our quirky house. I love listening to your sermon prep (most of the time). I love watching your heart grow and change as God simultaneously softens and steels you.

I love that I know the face you make before you tear up talking to the people you are shepherding. I love that you are okay with me burning every dessert I attempt to make. I love that you free me to not have to be an excellent baker or hostess. I love that you know my special kind of holiday anxiety and know when perfectionism is controlling me rather than the love of Christ.

I love seeing your heart soften for people. You have always been a strong leader, but I am watching him make you a soft leader, and it leads me to worship God. It leads me to hope that He can transform my own adamantine heart into one that looks like him.

I always knew I wanted to follow you. But now, fifteen years into following you, I realize that I have been following Christ-in-you. I see you struggle to keep pace with Him. I see you letting Him define and redefine success. I see you fail and fall into Him, running home to the Father’s arms more and more quickly.

I’ve always loved your voice, except when you are singing Prince songs in a high key. But I have grown to deeply appreciate your silence when wronged or misunderstood or written off.

And all of this, as sappy as it sounds, is true. It is only true because the One who embodies Truth enables it to be so.

W.H. Auden wrote a poem about Herman Melville in his old age. While I am not saying you are old, the tenor of the poem reminds me of the adventure that it is aging with you. The young Herman Melville wrote Moby Dick, a tale of revenge and effort and straining and striving. But the old Herman Melville sounds like the masterpiece to me.

“Herman Melville” by W. H. Auden

Towards the end he sailed into an extraordinary mildness,
And anchored in his home and reached his wife
And rode within the harbour of her hand,
And went across each morning to an office
As though his occupation were another island.

Goodness existed: this was the new knowledge.
His terror had to blow itself quite out
To let him see it; but the gale had blown him
Past the Cape Horn of sensible success
Which cries: “This rock is Eden. Shipwreck here…”

I like this little rock we are settling into. I like it because the Rock of Ages drew it up as our portion and our lot to tend.

I love you.

Don’t Confuse Influence and Obedience

God is for influence. He gives it. He allows it. Think of Esther and her influence which was leveraged to save God’s people from imminent genocide. Think of Nebuchadnezzar and the way God humbled him and how God transformed his influence for the kingdom. Think of William Wilberforce and Mother Teresa. 

In the Sermon on The Mount, Jesus himself used the image of the idiocy of lighting a lantern and putting a bushel over it. He told his people to let their light so shine before men that they would see their good works and glorify their father in heaven (Matt. 5:15-16). 

Yet, Christ also knew the insidious danger of influence. He spoke harsh words to the religious leaders who were far more concerned with their influence than their obedience.  I have far more Pharisee in me than I care to admit.

The Pharisee in me loves to sit in a high seat and longs for the places of honor and titles of importance (Matthew 23:2 and 6–7). Yet the Spirit is slowly, steadily shaping me into one who clings to the feet of Jesus, washing his feet with my tears of repentance and dependence (see Luke 7:36–50).

The Pharisee in me wants to be seen and celebrated by human eyes as I do good works or walk in obedience (Matthew 23:5). However, the Spirit is slowly, steadily shaping me into one who is more comfortable with the prayer closet more than the crowds (see Matthew 6:16–18). The Pharisee in me wants to be called teacher, instructor, or mother (Matthew 23:7–12). Nonetheless, the Spirit continually puts in the place of a pupil and child. Jesus called the Pharisees blind guides, but the Spirit would make us seeing servants (Matthew 23:16).

Jesus repeatedly reminded his disciples of the One who searched hearts and prodded them toward purity of heart and motivation. When they were floored and ecstatic about the influence and power they had over demons, he ushered them towards greater joy that their names were written in the book of life (Luke 10:20). 

Obviously influence itself is not a bad thing. But in a culture obsessed with the star-studded and celebrity, we are liable to conflate influence and obedience.

Large-scale influence, for most people, doesn’t last very long. Thus, the coining of the term “five minutes of fame.” Even famous professional athletes have their prime. Eventually, they must learn to adjust to being a role player or someone coming off the bench. I always respect players and pastors who can make this transition with humility and grace. It exposes what has motivated their playing all along. Do they love and respect the game or the fame?

God has given us each a sphere of influence, but that sphere will shrink and enlarge in turns throughout the course of a lifetime. As such, it seems that we would do well to focus on obedience to God and let him determine the size of our spheres. 

Obedience is for a lifetime. Influence is for a season. 

I fear in myself and around me an insatiable hunger for a widening sphere of influence, not for the sake of obedience and the lords glory, but for self-aggrandizement and a feast for the flesh. 

For every widely-scene Christian writer, artist, or teacher, there are scores of people living out extraordinarily ordinary faithfulness in their largely-unseen spheres. I fear that many of them feel less-than in the kingdom. I long that they would know and believe that their long obedience in the same direction deeply honors the Father. 

As always, the Father is far more concerned with the internals than the externals. He is the searcher of hearts and the knower of hearts (Acts 15). This means that He is most concerned with our prayerful obedience. Sometimes that will look like a lull on social media to have our motivations refined. Sometimes that will look like bravely and vulnerably sharing something on a larger platform. He seems to be more concerned that whatever we do, we do it in a manner that exudes humble, faithful obedience. 

Searching Questions:

  1. Do people whom I see regularly know about what I am about to post? Have I shared it with a neighbor, a friend, a disciple?
  2. Is there someone in my non-media life with whom the Lord might have me share these thoughts?
  3. Am I content to obey the Lord doing this, even if no one else ever knows? 
  4. Are there small acts of faithfulness I am neglecting in my hungering after a larger sphere? 
  5. Am I pointing those in my sphere of influence to myself or to the Savior?
  6. Will I gracefully receive the shrinking of my sphere if and when that happens? 
  7. How can I use the platform of influence I have been given in this season to champion the faithfulness of others? To show multiple paths of faithfulness rather than merely the large and loud? 

Whether your platform is the size of a pallet or Radio City Music Hall, the Lord intends you to walk in a faithful obedience that points to the Father in Heaven. 

May the words of our mouths and the mediations of our hearts (and the stewarding of our spheres of influence) be acceptable in your sight, oh Lord, our Rock and our Redeemer (Psalm 19:14). 

Being Chased by a Lion

Throughout this entire year, a short phrase from a worship has been running long loops in my heart, mind, and soul.

“Your goodness is running after, it’s running after me.”

Typically, I don’t like being chased in any form or fashion; however, a happy exception can be made for the idea of being chased by the goodness of God.

“Your goodness is running after, it’s running after me.”

It’s a catchy phrase to a melodic tune. As such, it doesn’t surprise me that I find myself humming it as I vacuum the hallway or singing it as I sit waiting in the carpool line. Yet, I find myself wrestling with what it implies for our lives.

After all, when we think about being chased by the goodness of God, we tend to think of dreams fulfilled, longings met, and successes secured. When we think of goodness chasing us down, we tend to bring our own picture of goodness to bear.

However, the longer I have sat with this phrase and sung this song, the more I realize that God’s goodness running after me tends to look and feel wildly and widely different than I imagine it might.

His goodness does not take the tame, worldly molds I wish it might. Rather, His goodness more often takes the form of a scouring brush or a sharp goad pressing me in ways that I do not initially wish to trod. Sometimes, his goodness running after me seems to take the form of suffering and hardship nipping at my heels as I am seeking to arrive in a place of long-desired comfort and rest.

In C.S. Lewis’s book The Horse and His Boy, the main character Shasta experiences goodness running after him in sharp and even frightening forms.

Throughout his horse back journey, a young boy Shasta has multiple experiences of a lion pursuing him. The lion chases him, forcing them to swim for his life. Then later, the lion chased and even wounded his traveling companion just when they thought they were finally about to reach their destination.

Exhausted, confused, and feeling sorry for himself, Shasta begins to open up to a mysterious companion about all the interruptions and troubles that had seemed to follow him all of his life.

“I do not call you unfortunate,” said the Large Voice.
“Don’t you think it was bad luck to meet so many lions?” said Shasta.
“There was only one lion,” said the Voice.
“What on earth do you mean? I’ve just told you there were at least two the first night, and –”
“There was only one: but he was swift of foot.”
“How do you know?”
“I was the Lion….I was the lion who forced you to join with Aravis. I was the cat who comforted you among the houses of the dead. I was the lion who drove the jackals from you while you slept. I was the lion who gave the horses the new strength of fear for the last mile so you could reach King Lune in time. And I was the lion you do not remember who pushed the boat in which you lay, a child near death, so that it came to shore where a man sat, wakeful at midnight, to receive you.” …

Shasta was no longer afraid that the Voice belonged to something that would eat him, nor that it was the voice of a ghost. But a new and different sort of trembling came over him. Yet he felt glad too” (pages 175-176).

All along he thought danger and harm were pursuing him. Yet, the One who was chasing him had been guiding him and pushing him towards his desired end. It did not make sense until much later that the Lion was protecting and providing for his perilous journey.

Just as Aslan pursued Shasta, our God pursues us. Only He does not always chase us with a lottery check or a basket of obvious blessings. His goodness is so much deeper and wider and longer than our small and earthly images of goodness. He chases us with His goodness in varied forms that often do not feel like blessing or prosperity. But his chasing and provision always press us towards the ultimate Good. He keeps us moving toward His glory which is our ultimate good, even when we would prefer an easier, less arduous way.

He stands as a rear guard behind us (Isaiah 52:12 and Isaiah 58:8). He hems us in behind and before (Psalm 139:5). He follows us as a watchful parent trails a child just learning to ride a bike, ready to catch or steer or redirect.

His goodness is indeed running after us, but it is a goodness that barely fits into the tiny boxes of what we typically define as good. His goodness always runs after us, chasing us deeper into the everlasting arms of the only One who is truly good (see Mark 10:18 and Luke 18:19).

This Good One runs after us today. May we not miss His goodness and all its sometimes surprising forms.

A Legacy of Covenant Love

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Covenants and Coals

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

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

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

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

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

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

Laboring for New Life

An entire tribe of my friends are having their first children, which means that I am a pseudo-grandmother. Nearly every month, a new little soul has been joining our growing tribe. As such, I find myself lingering in the baby section at Target and my soul remembering the pangs of labor. As my friends’ bodies repair and as they share their stories of labor and delivery, I am brought back into the agony of the delivery room. The screaming, the writhing, the soreness, the tearing. These all feel fresh and real to me again through their stories.

I am struck this morning by the reality that Jesus saw fit to use the analogy of birth pains when talking about the new creation (Matthew 24:8; . Paul, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, used a similar analogy when speaking of the futility of the old creation as it awaits new birth (Romans 8:20-23) and also when he spoke of the process of spiritual formation and discipleship (Galatians 4:19).

The creator of the human body, the One who enabled humanity to take part in physical birth, came to the world by way of a birth canal. He who was present with the Father when He pronounced the curse of increased pain in childbirth became present on the earth through the labor pains of a young girl. It is no wonder, then, that He would delicately draw an analogy between the labor that enables physical birth and the similar labor that enables spiritual birth. He wasn’t merely recognizing the wearying, yet wonderful birthing work of women. Soon, he would be joining them in the greatest labor pains in the history of the world.

“When a woman is giving birth, she has sorrow because her hour has come, but when she has delivered the baby, she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a human being has been born into the world” (John 16:21).

Jesus spoke with such authority on these things because He experienced them to the uttermost. On the Cross, He labored to bring the birth of the New Creation. In a sense, He died in childbirth, bearing the unbearable weight of our sin that He might usher in a new creation. Our spiritual birth was not painless, it was purchased.

As we approach Easter, the image of Jesus undergoing the agonizing labor that would produce the new creation in His blood has me in awe.

The Labor of Love

In labor for the new creation
He was broken on the beams.
The pressure of coming promise
Ripped the Promiser at the seams.

The inexhaustible one, exhausted,
Cried out under waves of pain.
The heart of the God-Man heaved
Under wearying waves of strain.

The Son gave up His Spirit,
To usher in many more.
His broken body birthed us,
His death became our door.

The Son, risen and repaired,
Sovereignly swaddles His own.
He smiles on the new creation
For which He once did groan.