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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.

Harboring the Mob: A Lenten Devotional

“Evil is unspectacular and always human,
And shares our bed and eats our own table…”

-W. H. Auden from “Herman Melville”

This Lent, I am fighting my innate tendency to identify myself with the “good guys” of Holy Week while vilifying the obvious “bad guys.” It is all-too-easy to read the gospels through a moralistic lens; however, if I understand the gospel correctly, every believer has a bit of the “bad guys” in them in some seed-like form. I want and need to do the hard work of searching my own heart for latent kernels of hidden and habitual sin. To have a truly biblical view of self is to admit that, given the right soils and circumstances, such kernels could grow into full-grown sin if not seen and laid before the light.

The gospel tells me that my heart harbors both hatred and hope. My hope, therefore, is not what is true about me, but what is true about the life, death, and resurrection of Christ. As such, I am free to admit the ugly and to run to the Beautiful One.

Crowds. Some people love them. Other people hate them. But all of us are affected by them. We are influenced and shaped by the opinions of those around us. Whether adapting or pushing back upon the opinions of the crowds around us, we react to the opinions of others.

I did not realize how contagious crowd-think could be until the pandemic hit. While I am typically a fairly steady person, I felt like a chameleon when the coronavirus hit. My opinions shifted daily, sometimes hourly, depending on what articles I had recently read and who I was around. I found myself wanting to fit in and be accepted into whatever circles of strong opinions surrounded me at the moment.

Crowds play a significant part in the events of Holy Week. The week begins with Palm Sunday, where we remember the crowds who enthusiastically cheered Jesus’s approach to Jerusalem. These crowds gladly laid their cloaks down in homage to Jesus, the Messiah, the Sent One, who came into town riding on a donkey (the well-known symbol of a peaceful king). They chanted and cheered “Hosanna!” (which means God save us!) and rode high on the hopes that Jesus would fulfill their expectations (Matt. 21:6–11).

Thankfully, Christ was familiar with crowds. From very early on his public ministry, crowds gathered as news of his healing and miracles spread. Rather than inflate with the approval of gathering crowds, Jesus showed a healthy disinterest in them. His identity and confidence did not fluctuate with the fickle waxing and waning of crowd approval.

Now when he was in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast, many believed in his name when they saw the signs that he was doing. But Jesus on his part did not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people and needed no one to bear witness about man, for he himself knew what was in man (John 2:23–25).

He knew what was in the heart of man. He knew man’s fair-weather friendship and faithfulness. He did not live for the approval or in fear of the censure of crowds, for he lived under gaze of his Good Father.

Such knowledge and practice served him well, as the same crowds that cheered him, in the span of a few short days, would jeer him. They would soon gather before the Roman governor demanding the release of Barabbas, a dangerous criminal, rather than the Messiah they’d championed days earlier. Stirred up by their leaders and caught up in fear, disappointment, and the mob mentality, they would chant, “Let him be crucified!” (Matt. 27:15–23).

It is easy to shake our heads and point our fingers in judgement at such a fickle crowd. It is much harder to see ourselves in that same mocking mob. Yet, when I dig into the subsoil of my heart, I find a similar desire to fit in with the crowd and uncover fickle faithfulness with an uncanny resemblance to theirs.

In a time where public pressure and the mob mentality rule the roost, whose voices are we listening to and whose approval are we seeking? Do we hear our own voices shifting from praises to punishment when God does not do what we expected on the timeline we anticipated? Are we willing to lay our cloaks before him one minute but watch his cloak be stripped from him the next?

We can fight against crowd-think with a better version of it. For, as we seek to listen to God through His Word and to speak forth the truth even when it is wildly unpopular (or even, for some, illegal), we are cheered on by the great cloud of witnesses who have gone before us and finished their race.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him, endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God (Heb.12:1–2).

Harboring Hatred and Hope: A Lenten Journey

We are officially in the Lenten season, a forty-day period in the liturgical calendar that is intended for reflection and preparation for the celebration of Easter. Some people seek to give things up for Lent as a way to wean themselves from sins of commission (the wrong things we do or the lesser things we make ultimate). In past years, I have given up lesser comforts (like sugar or Starbucks runs) to make space for Christ who is our eternal comfort. Some people take things up like various forms of service or sacrifice to lean into the sins of omission (the good things we leave undone). Having done both, and finding Lent here before I really had time to prepare for the season of preparation, the Lord laid something different on my heart this year.

Lent will lead our hearts to the familiar events of Holy Week. Palm Sunday: when God’s people welcomed their peaceful king who rode on the back of a colt with shouts of “Hosanna.” The Last Supper: when Jesus ate one last deeply significant and deeply symbolic meal with his disciples before his impending death. The Passion: when the Light of the World allowed himself to be extinguished as the sun hid its lesser light in grief. The burial in a borrowed tomb: when the One who owned all things was buried in a borrowed tomb; when the Rock of Ages had a large rock covering his death place. The Resurrection: when death was silenced by a life that could not be held.

As we read the familiar events and stories, it is easy to read the stories with a moralistic lens, dividing the characters into good guys and bad guys, our team and their team. We quickly, almost innately vilify Pilate, the High Priests, Peter, the crowds, and Judas. Their erring judgement and ugliness of heart seem so obvious to us as we look back.

This year, rather than vilifying those who played such sinister parts in the events of the Passion week, I am asking them to guide me more deeply into my own sin. Surely their actions and attitudes were wrong, but I want to ask the hard questions about the seeds of similar sin habits in my own heart. While their sins and failures are obvious when full grown, their deeds were nurtured by the soils of their souls.

When I look more deeply at them, they compel me to ask uncomfortable questions. What nascent tendencies are lying hidden and latent in my own heart? Am I harboring seed-sized versions of their obvious sins in my own heart? If so, what am I doing about them? Am I in denial of the potential of sin’s destructiveness in my own heart and life? Am I hiding them from the light, thinking I can manage and control them? Am I willing to take the militant actions of repentance and mortification that continually uproot their insidious spread in my heart?

In the coming weeks, I want to explore what I am harboring in my own heart. I want to invite you to join me. To be a believer is to harbor both hatred and hope in one’s heart, to be simultaneously sinner and saint. We will only treasure our Savior to the degree that we understand the sin-sickness from which He saved us and continues to sanctify us.

We each harbor a fickle, fair-weather mob within us. We each harbor a people-pleasing Pilate within us. We each harbor a headstrong, self-assured Peter within us. We each harbor a power-protecting, image-controlling high priest within us. We each harbor a disappointed and despairing Judas within us.

Only to the degree that admit the hatred we harbor in our hearts will we begin to value the hope that we have in Christ. Thanks to the life, death, and resurrection of Christ, those who trust in Him also harbor hope, righteousness, and holiness.

I pray this journey into the hated and hope we harbor will lead to a deeper worship of our Christ!


Fiction in a Fractured World

When life feels out of control and the news too heavy, I find myself drawn to one of two places: the library or the woods (or the San Diego version of the woods which is chaparral). All that to say, you better believe that your girl has been devouring books of late. In a world that is fractured, in a church that is increasingly fragmented, and in a culture that is fragile, fiction has proven a sweet place of solace for my soul.

When I say solace, I do not mean escape. Good fiction might pull us away from our lives for a few hours into a literary world, but it is intended to plant us back in our places changed with new perspective. Don’t get me wrong, there have been plenty of times when I have sought to escape from heaviness or problematic realities into a good book, but the best books don’t let me run away from reality. They patch me back up, pack my proverbial bag with perspectives, and send me back into my real world either slightly or significantly different.

Story can be salve. Story can provide a common table at which people who would otherwise have no shared experience can sit down and chat. Story allows us to travel to other times and cultures even when a travel ban keeps our feet grounded and quarantine orders keep us homebound. Story reminds us that we are not the only ones to experience chaos, confusion, and confounding times. Story provides an objective, yet subjective fodder for discussion in a polemical, divisive times where shouting matches and online punching matches have stolen the stage.

Story cannot and should not ever replace the Scriptures for centrality in the life of a believer. For the Scriptures offer the Story from which all our other stories derive their power. We crave story because we were made in the image of the Grand Storyteller. At their best, stories on earth are distant echoes of the story written into our souls and into which our souls are written. Good fiction is not to be feared.

Fiction as Fodder

I hesitate to join into the conversation around Critical Race Theory in the church, as I am sure many of you do. I am not an expert at sociology. While I dabble in theology, I am no C.S. Lewis or G.K Chesterton or Malcolm Muggeridge. The debate is overwhelming and loud from where I sit. However, I can pick up a good book and enter into a story about race and racial divisions. Through story, I can experience empathy and outrage, even if I have not experienced the same thing as another. Through story, I can feel the weight of complex problems even if I do not know what the exact solution may be.

Two particular stories have been shaping and helping me in regards to race in the past few weeks: Esi Edugyan’s Washington Black and Alan Paton’s Cry, the Beloved Country.

Both allowed me to experience through story tiny slivers of slavery in the Caribbean and pre-apartheid life in South Africa. Neither book coached me in how to approach CRT or how to move forward in healing amidst the fresh racial fractures in the American church, as neither directed addressed it. However, each author invited me on a journey into experiences I have never had and taught me to see the world a little differently. They indirectly helped me learn to ask better questions about race and experience.

I don’t know if their authors are believers in Christ. But Christ used them to remind me of the brokenness and beauty of His church. He used them to remind of me the nuanced complexity and the depth of the results of the Fall of mankind. They may not lead me all the way to Christ, but they grow my love for Him as the incarnate solution to the problem of sin in all its grotesque and embodied forms.

What are you reading these days? How does the Word of God help you sift through the stories you read?

End nerdy “Fiction has a place in the life of faith” plug.

Summing Up a Life

For many of us, the past year has moved death from a distant idea to a dreary reality. Our American culture and our own denial do their darnedest to keep us from the fact of death. Ironically, an invisible virus has made death far more visible to many.

A few weekends ago, we attended a graveside service. As we walked up a hill holding the remains of hundreds, we sought to walk carefully around gravestones marking lives. I was struck by the reality that a thin dash represents is meant to represent someone’s life. Two dates glued together by a meager mark are somehow supposed to capture the entirety of a human life.

I feel the same way when the Scriptures sum up the life of a saint in a sentence like, “Enoch walked with God, and he was not, for God took him” (Gen. 5:24). Some people get a paragraph or two, others get a few chapters to contain a life. Obituaries conure a similar dissatisfaction in me. An entire life summed up in a short clipping? It doesn’t sit well with my soul.

And yet, for the believer in Christ, all that is lacking in those dashes and laconic lines is known, seen, and treasured by God Himself. For we know every day is designated, every hair numbered, and every tear collected. Not only are we known, we have eternal days of life ahead of us.

For the Divine came and made a dash that our dashes might be only prelude to the life that is truly life. In the midst of the heavy reality of death, may our souls be buoyed to hope.

A Dash

To sum up a life with a dash
Seems minimalistic and rash.

As doorways, life and death
Bookend the days of breath.

All that unfolds in-betwixt
A thin little line depicts?

The laughter and the tears,
The compounding of years? 

The profound and alluring,
The mundane and boring?

You linger over every line
With full knowledge divine;

All lives are seen in your light;
Nothing is hid from your sight.

Yet You came to our earth
By way of a human birth.

Dying, they gave you a dash,
Rising, death you did slash.

Our dashes are merely prelude
For a life of eternal magnitude.

Even the Ravens Do His Bidding

The corvids are coming! The corvids are coming!

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?

Not Contained

Contained. Containment. This word family is getting more airtime these days as we seek to contain an invisible virus. To contain is to hold within, to control, or to restrain. As many of us continue to be held within our homes, this word has taken on new meaning. In addition to trying to contain a virus, we are learning to contain our fears and our disappointments.

As I was studying the book of Acts today, the Lord reminded me that death could not contain our Christ. Directly after the promised Holy Spirit was poured out upon the disciples and gathered believers at Pentecost, Peter stood in the Spirit’s empowerment, to preach a stirring sermon.

“Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know – this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it.” (Acts 2:22–24)

In a few short verses, the mystery of the gospel is on display. The Cross of Christ was always God’s foreordained, pre-ordered, well-thought-out plan for his errant people. His love ordered these horrific events. This same love could not be contained by death.

A few Greek words added depth to these already dense verses: prospegnumi (v 23), anaireo (v 23), and odin (v 24).

Prospegnumi, meaning to fashion or fasten to a cross, is used only here. Human hands, fashioned by God, fastened him to a cross. They sought to contain the uncontainable by nailing Him to a tree. And God allowed this, nay, he designed and allotted this according to his perfect foreordained plans.

Anaiero means to make an end to, to murder, or to execute. In God’s definite plan and foreknowledge, men made an end to the One whose love was endless. It’s unthinkable and seemingly unutterable.

Odin, meaning acute pain, severe agony, or birth pangs, is used here by Peter to describe God ending the birth pangs of death through the Resurrection of Christ. Odin implies the pain that is necessary to begin a new thing, as birth pains are necessary to bring new life into this world. Christ’s being raised from the dead ended the pangs of death. He absorbed the pain to usher in a new way for us to be alive with God.

If love designated a cross for Christ and worked it for His glory and our good, we have every reason to trust what His love for us orders and allows. We may be contained and constrained. This virus and the pain it is causing may not yet be contained. Yet, even in the midst of those realities, His love will not be contained.

If perfect Love divine
Designated a cross,
The same love allots
Each and every loss. 

Jesus, the Son of God,
Accredited and adored,
Wasn’t immune to pain. 
Death through life bored. 

Fastened to a cross by men
Whom He had fashioned,
Hung Him who was our hope
By suffering impassioned. 

Men made an end to him
Whose love for them is endless.
He who befriended sinners
Died terrified and friendless. 

But Death could not contain
The life that in Him pulsed.
When He was resurrected,
Death itself convulsed.

His love cannot be contained. His life cannot be contained. It may not always makes sense to us, but He is working out His perfect plans. May these eternal realities lift your souls today.