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Light Pollution & God’s Power in the Darkness

I know. I know. I sound like Scrooge talking about light pollution just as people are going to great lengths to hang little twinkly lights all over their homes and hearths (I see you on your ladders and applaud your efforts!).

At first, Advent may seem a strange season to talk about darkness; however, the deep and persistent darkness set the backdrop on which the brilliant star pointed to the more brilliant Savior.

Four hundred years of prophetic silence. No fresh “Thus says the Lord” upon which to hang their hope. Even a recent correction proves the presence of the loving Father, but there was not even that for four hundred years.

The famous Isaiah 9 passage that we love to hear children quote in their precious voices begins with “The people who have walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness on them light has shone” (Isa. 9:2). It seems a prerequisite to enjoying the light is understanding and experiencing the darkness. As much as I want to rush the process, the Lord has been covering me with his hand and holding me in what feels like darkness.

I’ve been wrestling with God’s goodness even though I know deep-down that He is altogether good. My mind knows it, but my heart often struggles to keep pace. I’ve been doing my part, dragging my doubts and questions and stubborn struggles into his presence. I’ve been digging deeply into the Word, asking for my community to pray for me. I was beginning to get frustrated with the Lord until he gave me an image that has helped me.

He reminded me that we pay great amounts of money and expend great energy as city-dwellers to get away from the distractions, the light pollution, the busy pace. We rent cabins and drive to far-away trail heads. Our family literally did this last week with a few other pastor friends and their families!

Sometimes, in order to show us the brilliance of his light, our gracious God willingly and wisely leads us into dark places and spaces.

Light Pollution

When we are surrounded by scores of other lesser light sources, we don’t appreciate the sun by day and the moon by night. My life is so busy with so many illuminative blessings that, sometimes, they obscure my hunger and need for the Light of the world.

How sweet and intimate of the Lord to lead my soul into dark places and hold me there. My eyes are beginning to adjust to the darkness and are beginning to see the outlines of glories and graces even in a dark cave.

David, who literally dwelt in dark caves for a good season of his life, understood the light of the Lord’s presence even in darkness. Countless psalms he wrote attest to the light of goodness of God seen even in the darkest of circumstances.

“If I say, ‘Surely, the darkness shall cover me, and the light about me night.’ even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is bright as day, for darkness is as light with you” (Ps. 139:11-12).

The minor prophet Micah, who served Israel during one of its distinctly darker seasons, wrote along the same lines:

“Rejoice not over me, O my enemy; when I fall, I shall rise; when I sit in the darkness, the Lord will be a light to me” (Micah 7:8).

The Lord allowed me to stumble upon the following quote from Alexander MacLaren which expresses beautifully what I have been experiencing.

“He who patiently endures without despondency or the desire to ‘recompense evil for evil,’ and to whom by faith even ‘the night is light about him,’ is far on the way to perfection. God is always near us, but never nearer than when our hearts are heavy and our way rough and dark. Our sorrows make rents through which His strength flows. We can see more of heaven when the leaves are off the trees. It is a law of the Divine dealings that His strength is ‘made perfect in weakness.’ God leads us in to a darkened room to show us His wonders.”

When the Lord sees fit to draw my soul out of these caverns, what a gloriously blinding light I will see! If you find yourself in dark circumstances, may you know God’s power even in the darkness!

The Light of the World will return in his glory. Until then, let us hold fast to His promises!

Lighting the Star

Familiarity breeds contempt, which is why a sanctified imagination is an important ingredient in the Christian life. When we get over-used to the stories, the miracles, and the wonders, we miss opportunities to go deeper into the knowledge of God (Col. 1: 10).

Every year for about a decade, I have prayerfully written an Advent poem to help refresh the wonder and glory of the incarnation of Christ. C.S. Lewis, in his book Miracles, calls the incarnation of Christ the central or grand miracle of the Christian life. “We believe that the sun is in the sky at midday in summer not because we can clearly see the sun (in fact, we cannot) but because by it we can see everything else.” While we will never fully understand the miracle of the incarnation, by the Incarnate Christ, we are invited to more fully understand the very nature of our God (Heb. 1:1-3). The reality that God, the creator of time and space, would insert himself humbly into his creation for our salvation deserves a lifetime of wonder and intentional inspection.

As I have been reading Kierkegaard’s Fear and Trembling, my heart has been pulled toward Abraham and Sarah. I love how God, like any incredible writer (or rather, every incredible writer gets his cues from the ultimate story writer who is our God), ties in the details in a masterful way.

The promise Abram received in Ur was to become the father of many nations (Gen. 12:1–3). Abraham and Sarah’s story, set on the backdrop of a desert and including the profound imagery of numbering stars and sand, focused on the receiving of a promised child (Gen. 13:14–17; Gen. 15: 1–6). The story of Abraham finds its climax when God asks Abraham to sacrifice his beloved, only, miraculous son, Issac. Without a moment to spare, God steps in and stays the trembling father’s hand, providing a ram (Genesis 22).

Lighting the star

I love how God allows a uniquely bright and perfectly-timed star to show off the birth of the better Isaac, the ultimate fulfillment of God’s covenant promise to Abraham. I love how Jesus’s story involved lots of desert and dust. I cannot imagine what those realities must have meant to Abraham as he watched from the presence of God as God’s promise came to full fruition through Christ.

Lighting the Star

Did Abraham watch in wonder as you lit the star?
Did Sarah’s laughter of joy serve as kindling?
Desert sands, promised sons, stars afar!
The chasm between promise and fulfillment dwindling!

The pulsing promise of a miraculous son;
Progeny more numerous than lights in the sky;
In Isaac, immediate fulfillment had begun,
But the ultimate fulfillment now drew nigh.

A strangely bright star, so recently spun,
Indicating the arrival of the Lamb,
The eternally-begotten beloved Son —
This time there would be no ram.

The father of nations sees the Son of Man,
As Sarah erupts again in holy laughter! 
This Son was the zenith of God’s plan!
He is the Savior long sought-after!

Shine brightly, star! Show off his birth!
Weary world, receive Him of infinite worth!

May Christ kindle a fresh curiosity and wonder in our heart as we approach the Advent season. May we hear his voice over the clarion calls of consumerism. As we decorate our homes, may we be reminded that our deepest, truest home is being hidden with Christ in God (Col. 3:3).

Parenting Teens: Growing Together

My middle fella turns fourteen in a few days. My oldest fella recently experienced a big disappointment over which I had zero control. We have come a long way from organized play dates and tightly-swaddled lives. When I was pregnant, I was warned about swollen feet, but no one told me that my heart would swell like this. Maybe they tried; I probably was not ready to hear. After all, I had read all the books and I thought myself to be a capable human. Love hadn’t wrecked me yet.

Everyone did say that your parenting was the age of your oldest with whom you experience everything first. As such, we are experiencing high school together. And, I swear, I think its harder the second time!

God is teaching me so much about his heart for me as I feel all the feels with our teenage sons. My heart feels so deeply entangled with theirs, yet my involvement and vested interest in their lives is a drop in a bucket compared to God’s covenant-involvement in the lives of his children (parents included).

If I being rock-hearted am shattered with sorrow for my children, how much more does God’s heart ache when his children hurt. If He takes no delight in the punishment of the wicked, he certainly does not stand back stoically watching his adopted sons and daughters suffer (Ezek. 18:32; Lam. 3:31-33).

If I, limited in wisdom and power as I am, stand ready in the wings to step towards my children in relief and response, how much more does God Almighty stand ready to rescue his hurting children.

There is none like God, O Jeshurun, who rides through the heavens to your help, through the skies in his majesty. The eternal God is your dwelling place, and underneath are the everlasting arms (Deut. 33. 26–27).

Lately, my mind has been musing on the mysteries of quantum entanglement, but my heart has been experiencing the entanglement of love which is even more profound. God so orders the unseen particles that make up all matter so that two electrons that interact briefly are forever entangled even when they are light years apart. If Einstein didn’t get it, I surely won’t. However, I know what it feels like to have one’s heart willingly entangled by love in the lives of others. If we, being human, feel this reality, how much more does God himself who has graciously tied himself up with his children?

Entangled

If unseen electrons remain entangled
Even as they travel light years apart,
If tiny particles stay tied and coupled,
Then what hope has a mother’s heart? 

When life punches you, I bruise.
When your dreams break, I shatter.
Our seconds and souls are bound
As mother-son entangled matter.

One look of pain from you slays me;
I read the stories behind your eyes.
When life knocks you down, I fall, too;
But we’ll crawl to the Greater prize. 

The fire that singes you scorches me,
Removing from us doubled dross.
I grieve and grow right alongside you,
As we prayerfully process each loss.

One day, He’ll answer every question,
He’ll wipe every tear from your face.
Then we will be fully, forever, freely,
Entirely entangled with His grace.

May you know that the Maker of quarks and atoms has set his love on his children and involves himself in their cares and causes. May such an unbelievable reality stretch and pull you towards your Savior!

Paparazzi: Posturing Ourselves to Experience God’s Presence

I have limited experience with paparazzi, but the amount of time I spend glancing at the National Inquirer in grocery lines is enough to gather the basics.

There are people who spend a great deal of time studying and stalking the lives of high profile people simply to steal a fleeting glance or an off-center camera shot. They know the rhythms and preferences of the subjects they seek to find – the coffee shops, malls and vacation destinations they frequent, the times they get up and go to sleep and other seemingly extraneous details – in order to get a passing glance at said subject.

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Last night I studied Psalm 119. When I first came to faith, I loved this psalm for its fierce excitement, zeal and resolve. The psalmist makes many bold, sweeping declarations of intent.

How can a young person stay on the path of purity? By living according to your word. I seek you with all my heart; do not let me stray from your commands. I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you. Praise be to the Lord; teach me your decrees. With my lips I recount all the laws that come from your mouth. I rejoice in following your statutes as one rejoices in great riches. Psalm 119:9-14.

As I have grown in the knowledge of my own inability to keep even the most well-intentioned resolutions, I have grown an aversion to Psalm 119. As I reread parts of the psalm, I found myself alternating between waves of confusion and conviction.

Does the gospel fit into and speak into a psalm with so much focus on law and decree and statute? The psalmist saw only parts of redemption, so what applies to us on the other side of the full revelation of God in the gospel? Are we to be as giddy and excited about the law and the commands as the psalmist? If so, why aren’t we? What sentiment, what state of soul and longing caused the psalmist to pen this meticulous psalm?

It seems that the answer to the latter lies in the deep longing of the writer to know and please God, to live every aspect of life under His smile and steady gaze.

In the time he was writing and musing, the law was the clearest manifestation of the character of God; the commands were merely extensions of the character of God. One can learn a significant amount of information about someone by studying their preferences and aversions, their passions and their pet peeves.

It seems to me that the psalmist was obsessing about the law out of an even deeper desire for and obsession with the God who spoke them. A deep desire for God’s pleasure and presence led him to make vows about keeping His word and following his law down to the littlest detail. It is as if the psalmist is saying, “If this is what God loves, then I want to love it; if God detests this, then I will avoid it at all costs. If God says these are the pathways He frequents, then I want to stay on those paths so I can experience His nearness.”

If this is the case, how does Christ inform this psalm? Is it nullified as an antiquated attempt to please God who cannot be pleased apart from the perfect life and undeserved death of Christ?

When the law-loving Jews of his day questioned what Christ’s life and bold declarations of diety would do the law, the answer came straight from the mouth of Christ himself: “I did not come to abolish the law, but the to fulfill it.”

We don’t get to toss Psalm 119 into a trash heap of ill-informed, immature theology, though our flesh, mine included, would love to do so.

If the psalmist, who only knew bits and pieces of the character and will of God, desired him so deeply, how much more should we, who have the fullest revelation of his character on the cross where love and justice kissed?

In the commands, we have glimpses into the preferences and aversions of the king who loved us enough to live and die for us while we still abhorred him. In the gospels we get a crystal clear, color image of what was a fuzzy, black-and-white image to the psalmist.

We do not obey the commands to find acceptance with God; our acceptance with God was secured for us by Christ. That being said, we do not ignore the law or His commands. Rather, we resolve to follow His commands as they are the clear paths God loves to frequent, the places we are most likely to see and experience Him in this life.

Seen in this light, purity becomes a favorite coffee shop where glimpses of God can be captured; humility becomes a sure fire place where one will find God’s nearness; dying to selfish desires in order to serve others who may not deserve service becomes a regular hangout for the presence of God.

In light of the clarity of God’s character in the cross, we have incredible motivation to want to be the paparazzi of His presence, those who do whatever it takes to be where God frequently shows up.

When Your Prayers Seem to Hit the Ceiling

C.S. Lewis wisely wrote in a letter to a friend, “We must lay before him what is in us; not what ought to be in us.”

It’s hard to be honest when you know all the oughts (and when you are a pastor’s wife by training and calling and a perfectionist by personality). To bring a raw heart being the living God is an act of great faith.

This week, I found myself being gut-level honest with my husband and a few friends. My disposition changed from a forced smile to spontaneous tears when I admitted that if felt like God was not hearing my prayers – such an elementary-sounding, ye-of-little-faith statement. I could list of a thousand ways God has been faithful to me (as I have been and will continue to rehearse as fact no matter what I feel). Even so, Christ feels far off and I feel like one searching desperately for the felt nearness of his face.

I could tell you all the theological answers to this reality: God is not far off; he is the one in whom we live and move and have our being; he doesn’t change; he is closer than the air we breath. Yet the feelings of stuck-ness remain.

I know I am not the only one. I had a tearful conversation with a friend just yesterday who expressed feeling the same thing for years.

A few things have been helping me in this drought-season of my soul: one picture from my everyday life, a pair of verses, a quote, and a poem.

  1. You can’t get much closer to someone than when you are wrestling with them. Wrestling is an intimate, entwining act. As a mother of three boys, I am a self-appointed expert at watching impromptu, unofficial wrestling matches. Arms all braided into backs, legs around necks, the whole deal. Sometimes, in the midst of wrestling, one cannot view, whether partially or fully, the face of your wrestling partner. That does not mean that he or she is not close. In fact, the closeness obscures the view.
  2. Psalm 65:4-5 came as a soothing balm to my stormy soul this morning. “Blessed is the one you choose and bring near to dwell in your courts! We shall be satisfied with the goodness of your house, the holiness of your temple! By awesome deeds you answer us with righteousness, O God of our salvation.” God has met my deepest need for a Savior; everything else is icing on the cake. But catch that tiny word with in verse 5: “you answer us with righteousness.” God answers my every prayer with his righteousness. The answer to my every prayer is that he will make me more like him (which he knows to be my deepest need, despite what I think I want)…this leads me to my third help.
  3. In his classic book The Normal Christian Life, Watchman Nee says the same thing in another way: “God makes it quite clear in his Word that he has only one answer to every human need- his Son, Jesus Christ…It will help us greatly and save us from much confusion, if we keep constantly before us this fact, that God will answer all our questions in one way and one way only, namely, by showing us more of his Son.”
  4. When my soul feels starved even when I am spending hours in the word of God, I often need poetry to tell me the truth slant. For, in the words of Emily Dickinson, “truth must dazzle gradually.” Sometimes the oblique angles of poetry can reach my heart better than the direct angles of prose. A poem from Christina Rossetti, “They toil not, neither do they spin,” gave me an image of the truth mentioned in Psalm 65.

“Clother of the lily, Feeder of the sparrow,
Father of the fatherless, dear Lord,
Tho’ Thou set me as a mark against Thine arrow,
As a prey unto Thy sword,
As a ploughed up field beneath Thy harrow,
As a captive in thy cord,
Let that cord be love; and some day make my narrow
Hallowed bed according to Thy Word. Amen.”

A ploughed-up field under his harrow describes exactly how my soul has felt. Though I have been taking deep dives into Scripture, I feel like I keep coming up empty-souled. I feel stuck and trapped. But I love how Rossetti said, in essence, “Do whatever you please, for I know it is done in love; only, make me more like you in the end.”

He hears our prayers. Even when they seem to bounce back without their desired answer, they come back to us with more of Christ – and Christ is the very best answer God could ever give us. Press on, my prayer-weary friends. You are being shaped into His likeness even in what feels like emptiness.

Entangled

Every once in a while, I delve into reading about something that is far beyond my mental scope. It’s almost like forcing my brain to run a mental marathon (and remember that people who live in these lanes are way out of my intellectual league). Just as it is healthy to push our bodies to their limits, it is healthy to stretch our minds.

In such an ambitious state, I picked up Louisa Gilder’s fascinating book The Age of Entanglement: When Quantum Physics was Reborn. Unlike most physics-related books, she sought to tell the stories of the conversations and interactions between the key players in the quantum era (names you probably recognize if you took chemistry or physics courses in college: Einstein, Bohr, Schrodinger, et al).

While I cannot say that I fully understand (or even remotely understand) the complex atomic realities into which these men were delving their entire lives, I can say that I am more in awe of the God who created such an intricate, seemingly inexplicable world. The more the most brilliant minds sought to understand the world, the more they realized that human language, even numbers, simply cannot capture the nuanced and quirky (or should I say quarky) realities sewn into the very fabric of the universe.

The entire book revolves around the debate over quantum entanglement, a strange phenomenon that cannot be explained by the classical model of quantum physics (supported by Bohr and an entire cast of his cronies). Einstein, Schrodinger, and a few brave others continued to insist that the long-range entanglement of particles long after a brief interaction, proved that our traditional understanding is gapped, at best. In fact, Einstein died trying to figure out a unifying theory that would teach us the relationship between the traditional model and the quantum model.

Entangled with God, Either in Enmity or Intimacy

The concept of the unseen, but very real entanglement of the smallest units of matter shouldn’t surprise believers (even those, like me, who don’t claim to fully understand it). After all, our God exists outside of time, yet he chose to step into time to interact with those whom he created with a mere word. He is not the disinterested clockmaker deists would have us believe. He is actively, eternally-engaged in his creation, even down to the level of electrons and quarks.

As I read Gilder’s book, I was simultaneously reading a very different book which talks about a very different form of entanglement: The Doctrine of the Knowledge of God by John Frame. While the physicists are trying to describe the strange entanglement of particles, Frame is speaking of the entanglement of people to their Creator. God is Creator and therefore authority over all created matter (his transcendence) yet he is involved in his creation in intimate ways (his immanence). God draws near in space, but he also draws near in time. In the words of Frame, “God is unavoidably close to His creation. We are involved with Him all the time.”

In Acts 17, the Apostle Paul says something similar to the truth-seeking pagans gathered in the Areopagus. “Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious. For as I passed along and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar to ‘the unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made my man…” (Acts 17:22-24).

The writer of Hebrews also acknowledges the omnipresent, omniscient God “with whom we have to do” (Heb. 4:13).

The lives of believers and non-believers alike are tangled up with God. Denying him (atheism) or claiming a hung-jury (agnosticism) does not change the reality that our lives are entangled with the God of the universe. There are two ways to experience this entanglement: enmity or intimacy.

When we refuse to accept the reality of the Lordship of God, we are locked into enmity with him. Even if our words don’t say that verbally, our lives are entrenched in enmity. We are going against the grain of the universe and fighting a losing battle. According to Frame, unbelief is eventually found to be exhausting and infuriating, “a self-frustrating task,” because in unbelief of God we are trying to do that which is impossible: set up another not-god (even if it is self) as God.

The life of a believer, however, is intended to be a life of intimacy with God. Going with the grain of the universe and acknowledging reality as it truly is, believers are invited into a relational knowledge of and interaction with our Creator. In bending the knee (and more importantly the heart) before him, we acknowledge him for who He is and experience the entanglement of a loving Father.

These thoughts, far from being purely theoretical, have wide-ranging implications in our daily lives. When I think of those whom I love who deny or seek to ignore God whether actively or passively, I long for them to know the glorious reality of the entanglement of intimacy with God. In my own life, I want to enjoy his active-involvement in my life rather than chafe against it in stubbornness.

This God with whom we have to do is the Lord of heaven and earth, but he is also the suffering servant who died on our behalf. That he would entangle himself with our affairs, even when we stood in enmity against him, this is a wonder beyond all wonders!

What Scares Me Most this Halloween

San Diego takes Halloween deathly seriously. One of our neighbors starts decorating his home over two months before Halloween, slowly transforming his yard with massive, homemade themed decorations. Grim reapers abound, as do every size and texture of spider. But they are not what scare me most this year.

This year, my heart is most scared about the ho hum attitude we have towards mass shootings and physical violence done to political adversaries, as if these were par for the course.

This year, my heart is most scared about what we will do to other image-bearers in a week’s time when elections stir up all our inner crazy. I fear that, even as believers in Christ, we will forget to heed the Apostle Paul’s warning, “But if you bit and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another” (Gal. 5:11).

This year, my heart is most scared for the twenty-something generation so desperately screaming, “More life!” that they flock towards crowded streets for experiences that lead only to more death. Emptied and disillusioned as many of them are by the vacuum of truth in which they were raised, their extreme need to chase life and experience to keep up with Insta-images scares me and brings tears to my eyes. I want to shout to them the timeless truths of the Scriptures: “The sorrows of those who run after another god shall multiply” (Ps. 16:4) and “Those who pay regard to vain idols forsake their hope of steadfast love: (Jonah 2:8).

This year, my heart fears our collective ability to see and magnify (in order to cancel) the mistakes and failures of others while being comfortably complacent with our own. We have become experts as assessing splinters and ignoring logs (Matt. 7:3).

This year, my heart is most scared by my own sin. I see my own fear over situations I cannot control (especially as my children become teenagers) and it fills me with more fear. I see my own hunger for man’s approval and it deeply frightens me. I see the amount of selfishness even in my obedience to God, and it causes me to shudder.

What Strengthens Me This Halloween

If I were to leave myself in this massive pool of fears I would be no different than our present news outlets. But, thanks be to God, fears press the believer more deeply into an anchored hope. When fears loom large, our hope can loom larger.

My mind has been meditating upon the Heidelberg Catechism, Question One.

“What is your only comfort in life and in death?”

“That I am not my own, but belong with body and soul, both in life and in death, to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ. He has fully paid for all my sins with his precious blood and has set me free from all the power of the devil. He also preserves me in such a way that without the will of my heavenly Father not a hair can fall from my head; indeed, all things must work together for my salvation. Therefore, by his Holy Spirit, he also assures me of eternal life and makes me heartily willing and ready from now on to live for him.

When the news leaves me dizzy, this comfort holds true. When circumstances seem to spin out of control, this comfort holds true. When political enmity boils over and spills into our streets, this comfort holds true.

I can think of nothing better to offer my soul, the souls of my children, and the souls of the younger generations than the good news of the gospel.

The Love that Fights Against Me

We love the biblical idea of God fighting for us. We love quoting Moses standing with his back to the Red Sea and his face towards the approaching Egyptian army: “The Lord will fight for you, you have only to be silent” (Ex. 14:14). We rightly love to reference another set of words by Moses to the people of God:

“And when you draw near to the battle, the priest shall come forward and speak to the people and shall say to them, ‘Hear, O Israel, today you are drawing near for battle against your enemies: let not your heart faint. Do not fear or panic or be in dread of them, for the Lord your God is he who goes with you to fight for you against your enemies, to give you the victory’.” (Deut. 20:2–4).

Yet, we struggle to receive and cling to the reality that the same love that fights for us is also deeply committed to fighting against us.

Love that Stands Against My Sin

I’ll never forget something my husband said to me during our first year of marriage. We had come to an impasse (which is a euphemistic way of saying that we were in a bit of a disagreement). I think I said something alongside the lines of “I need to know that you are for me” to which he wisely replied, “I am for the Spirit in you, but I am against your sin and your flesh.” In the moment, I don’t think I liked his response very much; however, the reality of a love that would stand against me and my sin has deeply shaped me and helped me understand God’s fiercely faithful and faithfully fierce love for his children.

Now that I have children, I can better understand the ferocious side of love. While I am not generally a yeller, I have yelled loudly at my children to protect them danger. I remember crying as we disciplined our very young children for touching the stove. And now, as my children are becoming adolescents, my husband and I have had to keep them from things they have deeply desired to protect them from harm. I will never forget the story of a father friend of ours. His daughter was in the depths of depression which was leading her to seek escape in rebellion and substances. In love, he would sleep in front of the front door to offer himself as a physical barrier to that which would cause her lasting harm.

An Unsettling Promise

I was stopped dead in my tracks yesterday when I was reading the book of Jeremiah. At this particular part in the book of the weeping prophet, Jeremiah has recently been imprisoned and tortured by the priest in the house of the Lord for speaking truthful (but very hard-to-swallow) words from the Lord. God’s people simply wanted nothing to do with the truth that would check, challenge, and convict them in their sin. Their spirit is summarized in one verse:

Then they said, “Come, let us makes plots against Jeremiah, for the law shall not perish from the priest, not counsel from the wise, nor the word from the prophet. Come, let us strike him with the tongue and let us not pay attention to any of his words” (Jeremiah 18:18).

Later, when Babylon began to attack them, they conveniently decided they would like to hear the word of the Lord again (as if God and his prophets were lucky rabbit’s feet to be rubbed when desired). God sent Jeremiah back to the same priest who had tortured him with these startling words, “I myself will fight against you with outstretched hand and strong arm, in anger and in fury and in great wrath” (Jer. 21:5).

God refused to relent and yield to his people’s desire for prosperity and security apart from him. He loved them too much.

A Deeply Settled Love

For those who are in Christ, God’s wrath has been poured out upon Jesus. He drank the cup of wrath down to its dregs. Thus, God does not punish his children. The Holy Spirit, does, however, stand against them in their sin, waging war against the remnant of flesh that lives within us in the already/not yet of the kingdom of God (Gal. 5: 16–26). Just as Jesus loved Peter and therefore rebuked him when he had his mind set on the things of the earth rather than the things of God, God will lovingly rebuke us through his discipline (Matt. 16:23; Heb.12: 3–11).

If God allows us to be wounded or corrected, it always comes from his scarred hands and issues from his deeply settled (and publicly-shown) love for us.

Martin Luther wrote the following about the loving correction of God:

“When God sends us tribulation, it is not as reason and Satan argue: ‘See there God flings you into prison, endangers your life. Surely He hates you. He is angry with you; for if He did not hate you, He would not allow this thing to happen.’ In this way Satan turns the rod of a Father into the rope of a hangman and the most salutary remedy into the deadliest poison. He is an incredible master at devising thoughts of this nature. Therefore, it is very difficult to differentiate in tribulations between him who kills and Him who chastises in a friendly way.”

If we are buffeted and checked by the Spirit of God who wars against our indwelling sin, this is ongoing proof of our place as true daughters and sons. Receive his fierce love as marks of ownership from the Father.

Even the Ravens Do His Bidding

Our dogs have a strong distaste for crows and ravens (which is a nice way to say they lose their ever-living minds when we see one). Halloween is not a good season for walking these fools, since everyone loves to decorate with creepy crows in our neighborhood!

Corvids are a family of birds that include ravens, crows, and their kin. They appear creepy and have been associated as harbingers of bad news (thanks to Edgar Allen Poe for ruining them for us all). They have a highly developed avian society and are known nest-robbers and scavengers. Essentially, crows are like the mafia of birds.

I used to be creeped out when they landed in our tree like foreign spies gathering intel; however, lately, they have been reminders of the goodness of God.

For months, the story of Elijah and the ravens from 1 Kings 17 has been continually brought to my heart and mind by the Spirit. It’s a short tale, and a favorite for Sunday School classes for its unique and memorable nature. But as an adult, it is been shaping and strengthening me.

That our God would command his prophet Elijah to hide in a harsh place from an angry ruler does not surprise me. That He would create a draught yet provide for His servant from His own provisions is not shocking to me, though maybe it should be. But the ravens? They have my jaw-dropping.

Ravens are notorious for stealthiness and selfishness. They are cunning and have long been associated with bad news, harbingers for evil and ill. Yet, in a singular display of His gracious sovereignty and care, He commanded such birds to provide for God’s vulnerable servant. His powerful provision made them harbingers of hope.

Birds known to steal shared. And not just once, but twice daily for countless days.

When God call His people to extremity, He provides richly and uniquely. While most of us won’t know what it is like to hide in a deserted place in the middle of a drought in the kingdom of an irate ruler, we all have our own seasons of extremity. Extreme financial distress. Extreme loneliness. Droughts of hope. Deep hunger pangs for direction or company.

In these places, we must sit with Elijah in expectance of the Lord’s gracious provision. He knows our haunts. He knows our hunger. He knows our frames (Psalm 103:14). And He who apportioned such lots also commands the necessary provisions. While He could have easily commanded angels, he chose ravens to do His bidding.

The earth is the Lord’s and all the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein, for he has established it upon the seas and established it upon the rivers (Psalm 24:1-2).

Why should the nations say, “Where is their God?” Our God is in the heavens, he does all that he pleases (Psalm 115:2-3).

These all look to you to give them their food in due season. When you give it to them, they gather it up; when you open your hand, they are filled with good things (Psalm 104:27-28).

He may not send you ravens. But He will provide for His children. Our extremity is His opportunity. Not only that, but He commands us to be ravens to one another, to be the unlikely harbingers of hope.

Even the Ravens

The ravens which circle
I’ve sent to do my will.
Even in fierce famine
Mine will eat their full.

Even evil omens become
Servants at my command.
Even ravens can deliver
Provisions from my hand.

When silos seem empty
My storehouses, unseen,
Supply son and daughters;
My love is never lean.

To whom is He calling you to be a raven this week (a messenger sent with timely provision from a loving Father, be it physically, emotionally, or spiritually)?

What ravens has he sent your way of late?

The Friendships of Women

Every year the stores put out their Christmas decorations early. Y’all, I have no candy for Halloween and no concepts for costumes. In fact, I think I just filled out the last of a legion of “Back to School” forms. Such preemptive action in the commercial world is encouraging me to prepare liturgically.

I woke up this morning thinking about Mary and Elizabeth’s friendship, specifically, and the friendships of women, generally.

You know the urge to call or text your sister or your tribe when you have news, whether weighty or wonderful. You have heard the laughter of two women sitting at a coffee shop reconnecting and remembering. You have seen women hugging, attempting to hold each other up under unthinkable loss. God made many mighty and beautiful things, but few can compete with the transformative power of human friendship.

As astounding as Mary’s visit with the angelic herald must have been, I found myself more moved today imagining her subsequent visits with Elizabeth.

As soon as she could, Mary ran for the hills, quite literally the hills of Hebron, to tell Elizabeth the news. She knew to whom she could safely carry the news that she was carrying a child! I am certain that as she traveled, both anticipation and nervousness grew. She had plenty of time to think about Elizabeth’s potential responses. How would she receive such strange news? Would the fullness of Mary’s cheeks and chest serve only as a reminder of Elizabeth’s long-empty womb?

Imagine their shock upon greeting one another, each brimming with life and an unlikely story to share, each eager to find a resting place for their fears, hopes, and insecurities. It was probably a good thing that Zachariah couldn’t speak, because he probably wouldn’t have gotten a word in anyway!

But as I imagined the joy, I also could not help but imagine their shared sorrow. While we don’t know how long Elizabeth lived, it is possible that both women bore and buried promised sons who died painful deaths.

Imagining these two women sharing their burdens together, laughing and wondering at the interwoven stories God was writing left me thankful for God’s gracious gift of ordinary friendships. It is no small thing to have a safe place to know and be known in a largely anonymous world.

Two Women, Four Hearts

Two women, four hearts.
A pair of promised sons.
Crying in fits and starts.
Laughter-laden lungs. 

“Mary, A miraculous child so young?”
“And you, a miraculous child so late?”
Immanuel from Heaven flung?
A son after so long a wait? 

Interwoven stories, intermingled tears. 
Kinship coupled with kindred souls. 
Angelic messengers, human fears. 
Different women, similar roles. 

Poised to magnify the other’s joy, 
Both destined for terrible pain;
Each would be bereft of a boy;
Their losses spent for our gain.

Two women walking side by side, 
Multiplying joy, dividing sorrow.
Comforting places to confide,
As we move toward the morrow.

I bet Mary and Elizabeth smile from heaven every time they see women walking alongside one another, pointing one another back to the hope their sons gave their lives towards.