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On Protests and Pressure Points

Since moving to California, I have attended more protests than I had in my previous  years. That being said, by disposition I live much more in the contemplative and relational spaces. Over the years, I have been challenged by those whose solitude leads them into solidarity, whose adoration leads to action. Without the help of community, I would be floating in the theological clouds rather than walking with two feet on the actual ground.

This whole world is very new to me, but like the parable of the workers in the field, God welcomes laborers to join him in different fields of kingdom labor in many different shifts. He doesn’t chide or chastise the newer workers, but puts them to work towards His ends: a harvest of righteousness and justice that is from Him and to Him and through Him. That beings said, my heart has been wrestling with a few pressure points that I needed to disentangle through writing.

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Repentance

I wrestle with such massive and sudden “wokeness” in myself and others. In every news feed, I am seeing public apologies. I absolutely agree that sins that affect the public need to be addressed publicly, but I feel a growing pressure point regarding repentance.

Biblical repentance flows from conviction through God’s word, God’s people and the Holy Spirit. Conviction differs from condemnation. While on the surface, both seem to create a change in stance and behavior, only one gets to the heart. Condemnation is broad and fuzzy;  it seeks to change by self-empowerment and is often motivated by shame. Conviction, on the other hand, is God-wrought, specific and pointed.
 (see 2 Corinthians 7:10-13).

David’s private sin of adultery with Bathsheba had most certainly bled into public life through his part in indirectly arranging the killing of her lawful husband;  however, after being loving and creatively confronted by Nathan, he repented towards the Lord first and foremost.

Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love, according to your abundant mercy, blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly of my iniquity  and cleanse me from my sin. For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. Against  you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight. Psalm 51:1-3. 

David was less concerned about his image and the approval of those around him and far more concerned that he had broken God’s heart by his habits. He was undone because of what he had done to the heart of God first and foremost.

I fear that many of us have missed a few steps in our haste to try to catch up and get on board. While I am so thankful for the healthy stirring of the present protest movement and the activism of those who have long labored in this field, I fear that the contagious energy and enthusiasm will be short-lived if we don’t spend some time kneeling before the Lord in repentance to Him first.

Proving Grounds

When John the Baptist had the opportunity of baptizing many curious Pharisees in the Jordan River, he seems to have had some skepticism of his own. Were the religious leaders merely jumping on the popular band wagon of being dunked in the river, or were they truly turning from their self-righteousness and admitting their need of the coming Messiah?

In response to their interest in baptism, John warns them sternly, “Bear fruit in keeping with repentance” (Matthew 3:8).

The manner of their lives would be the proving ground of how deeply the change had rooted in them. I long for my daily life, my conversations, my private chat-threads with friends, and my methods of discipleship to be the proving ground of the Lord’s beginning to open my eyes to the sins of omission that have marked my life regarding understanding racism and fighting against the systems that support it, even those that have profited me.

But, if I am honest, I feel pressure to join the throngs in posting all the books they are reading, the documentaries they are watching, and the places they are protesting. It almost feels like one has to prove where and how one is doing the work. While I do understand that awareness and education are significant aspects of change, I do sense that there is almost a pecking order that is being built that doesn’t smell like the aroma of the gospel.

As he repented, David understood that God was after truth not lacquered on top, but permeating down to the deepest places of his heart.

“Behold, you delight in truth in the inward being, and you teach me wisdom in the secret heart” (Psalm 51:6). 

I am a recovering people-pleaser in addition to being a newbie to the fight against racism. I want the world to know that I am changing. I am so tempted to skip the necessary and foundational steps of truth in the hidden place to get to the public approval platform; however, more than I want man’s approval, I long to swim in the approval that was purchased for me in the proving ground of the cross.

Even in the good, necessary, and God-honoring arenas of reform work, the dangerous quicksand of merit lays and lurks. We must be careful not to create a “hierarchy of wokeness” by which people begin to stand on the sinking sands of self-righteousness.

I want to get there. I want to be woke. But I want to be woke through means of the gospel. I want to repent before God and stand on the proven ground of the gospel as I learn to be anti-racist.

The Unshakeable Will Remain

Shaken. Inadequate. Exposed. Behind.

Covid came along and shook up our lives, exposing -isms and idols that had taken deep root in our hearts like individualism, consumerism, and busy-ism. Our routines and our plans were shaken. As a wife, mother, women’s ministry director, I felt (and feel) inadequate and behind.

While we sat as captive audiences, cell phone cameras captured the racism that has been laced throughout our nation from its very inception. For many, long-held perceptions of American history are being shaken. For me, the ability to claim innocence in the matter of racism has been shaken. Again, I find myself inadequate and behind. I am trying to fight the false urgency to read every single excellent resource being suggested to me right away. I want what I learn to take root and grow organically so that my soul and my life can grow along with my head. But I feel so behind.

Twice-shaken, my soul feels like a tree that has been pruned and plucked by great winds.  I am thankful because I know that, biblically-speaking, all great things grow in soils made of humility, conviction, inadequacy, and exposure.

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If we have learned anything in the harrowing year of 2020, we know that routines can be shaken. Laws can be shaken. Identities can be shaken. Cultures can be shaken. History can be shaken.  Thankfully,  prejudices can be shaken. Long-entrenched patterns can be shaken. Churches can be shaken.

But in all the shaking and with all the newsfeed suggestions and statements, my soul needed to be reminded today of what will not be shaken. Having recently studied the book of Hebrews, the Spirit led me to these words written to establish Jewish Christians whose very foundations were likewise shaken.

But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angles in festal gathering, and to the assembly  of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than that blood of Abel…Therefore, let us be grateful for receiving  a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire.
Hebrews 12: 22-25 & 28.

The Jewish believers who were being addressed were living in times of seismic shaking to their Jewish roots. The entire old covenant into which they had been schooled and born was being rocked by the implications of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Their laws were shaken. Their customs were shaken. Their very concept of God and His rescue of His people were shaken. Their history was shaken. But the kingdom of God into which their lives had been woven was unshakeable. Here was an unshakeable community because here was an unshakeable God and judge who is a consuming fire.

In his written sermon, “The Consuming Fire,” George MacDonald has helped me greatly in attempting to understand what it means that our God is a consuming fire.

“For love loves unto purity. Love has ever in view the absolute loveliness of that which it beholds. Where loveliness is incomplete,  and love cannot love its fill of loving, it spends itself to make more lovely, that it may love more…Therefore all that is not beautiful in the beloved, all that comes between and is not of love’s kind, must be destroyed. And our God is a consuming fire.”

Because God loves us deeply and perfectly, He must and will expose and burn off the shakeable things and the imperfect alloys in us and our lives. He shakes the shakeable and burns that which will not last to make space for the unshakeable kingdom.

With all that has been shaken without us and all that is being shaken and burned off within us, may we learn to lean on the Unshakeable King and to labor for His unshakeable kingdom.

 

 

The Deep Desire for Company

Zoom calls simultaneously meet and mock our needs for community. We have a love/hate relationship with Zoom and other technological platforms in our house. As much as we look forward to connecting with friends, we are worn out and teased after having done so virtually.

Lat night, we had a blast last night doing a video scavenger hunt with our community group. We laughed at each other trying to recreate movie scenes and attempting to catch food tossed from six feet away.  If you would have told me how much an hour zoom call doing stupid tasks would mean to our family a few months ago, I might have laughed in your face. After all, I hate the phone, and we are not really scavenger hunt people. Or we weren’t. Before COVID.

We ended the call equal parts satisfied and wanting. I won’t attempt to further explain the strange feelings, because you have likely been feeling them frequently yourselves.

Isolation and the prolonged and unnatural absence of the physical presence of others has been revealing something many of us have taken for granted so much that we became indifferent or even annoyed by it. When life is over-full and our schedules are strained to fit all the events and errands we attempt to shove into them, the constant presence of people can begin to feel like an intrusion or an interruption.

Yet, after months of sheltering in place, even my introverted, quiet loving self has been longing for the presence of people, for friendships not mediated through a screen and passworded call. I cannot even imagine my higher capacity extroverted friends.

This extended exclusion of physical presence is priming and preparing our hearts to better appreciate the intended design of humans. We were created in the image of Triune God, three in one, one in three. As such, we were made to thrive in an ecosystem of relationships. We are wired for proximity, touch, and face-to-face interaction.

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Christ himself, God-made-man, longed for human proximity, as strange as that may seem. While studying Luke 22 today, the awkward, seemingly redundant phrasing of the original Greek stood out to me as it never had before.

At the beginning of the Passover meal with his disciples on the eve of what would be his horrific death, Luke, ever the detailed doctor and writer, remembered Jesus saying the following, intensely human words.

And when the hour came, he reclined at table, and the apostles with him. And he said to them, “I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. For I tell you that I will not eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.” Luke 22:14-16.

While earnestly desired is a strong phrase, that translation does not even come close to capturing the emphasis placed on the strength of Jesus’s desire to be with his friends that night. More literally translated, the sentence reads “with desire I have desired.”

Before COVID, I might have scoffed at such intensity of wording and desire. But I believe we are beginning to understand what it means to desire with great desire the presence of our loved ones.

The elderly husband separated from his lifetime companion who is suffering alone in the hospital desires with great desire to be able to sit by her side and hold her hand. The grandparents who have not been able to hold their newborn grandchild desire with great desire to hold that blessed bundle. The lonely and isolated mother desires with great desire to be able to go to a park and share her mothering burdens with her playgroup friends again. The single girl in the apartment next door desires with great desires to host her supper club again so that she can laugh and remember she is not alone.

Jesus spoke those words at the feast he shared with his friends on the eve of his death. He mentioned that he would not feast like that again until another coming feast.

While physical meals in the presence of unmasked family and friends are coming (sooner for some than others… but coming nonetheless), a better feast is coming. This feast will be the fulfillment of what Jesus mentioned on that night when he desired with great desire to be with closest friends. This feast will be the feast that even the most elaborate weddings weakly foreshadowed. This feast won’t end, and it will feature the physical, tangible, unmediated presence of Jesus.

Oh, that we would desire with great desire that feast and that particular presence. We were wired for it and He has promised it. Lord, haste the day!

Firm Truths for the Frail

Confession. I haven’t really been studying the Word lately. But it has been studying me  and finding me frail.

Since finding mold in our home and facing the facts that insurance won’t cover water damage done by floodwater, our family has been in triage mode. Almost all spare time has been going to remediation and repairs and our home and our hearts feel like construction zones.

When we first found mold, my motto was, “Let’s destroy as little as possible.” But, the extent of the problem must determine the intensity of the solution. Thus, within a few weeks, we had laid the infected rooms’ walls bare down the studs. Every fiber of my order-loving being wanted quick repair and restoration. Especially during the time of COVID when everything else feels utterly out of control, I longed to control the timeline of getting our home back in order. But you can’t rush remediation and restoration.

If we had, all our efforts would be wasted. Putting up brand new dry wall and covering it with a fresh, clean coat of paint would do precious little if we did not deal with underlying issues and get rid of all the mold.

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All the while, the Lord has been working the gospel deeper into my grumpy heart and showing me his character. My sin is far more insidious and infectious than mold. As much as I naturally want to slap a new coat of paint over it and buy some cute accents to spruce up my soul, God loves me far too much to let me do so.

He expertly, methodically, thoroughly exposes my sin and lays me as bare are our walls. He won’t rush me to restoration. He will apply the gospel to my soul and my life, letting it sink in for days, weeks, even years. For he knows his stuff. He wisely detects the deeply hidden, deeply diseased areas of my heart which need exposure to the light of his presence and the fresh wind of the Holy Spirit to be fully restored.  And he takes his time like a master works man who has no other time table than his own. He will not rush the process that is intended to prepare me for an eternity with him; that would be cheating himself and me in the long run.

In the middle of the restoration process for our home (and apparently the matching process that is going on in my heart), I feel frail, exhausted, and exasperated.

Today, through some Scriptures in the Isaiah 40’s, the Spirit reminded me of some firm truths that comfort frail frames. In these caboose chapters of the long prophetic train that is Isaiah, God’s people are in exile. They are frail, to say the least. And yet into their frailty, God speaks firm hope. Isaiah 40 begins with “Comfort, comfort my people, says your God.”

Our Frailty, His Firmness

In our frailty, his words remain firm. Contrary to popular belief, when we find ourselves exposed to the core, we don’t need to be strengthened with lies about our own strength, invincibility, or permanence. Rather, we need to be reminded that we, by God’s own might and mercy, are intertwined with heart of the One who is.

A voice says, “Cry!” And I said, “What shall I cry? All flesh is grass, and all its beauty is like the flower of the field. The grass withers and the flower fades when the breath of the Lord blows on it; surely the people are grass. The grass withers and the flower fades,  but the word of our God will stand forever” (Isaiah 40:6-8).  

If I were given an assignment to comfort an exhausted, frail people, I don’t think I would naturally start with the aforementioned phrases. At first listen, they certainly don’t sound encouraging or strengthening. But the source of the Christian’s strength is not found in self, but in the strength of the character and nature of our God. Thus, the most strengthening God can do to comfort his people is to expose their frailty that they might more lean into his firmness. Thus, Isaiah is told to proclaim, “Behold your God!” (Isaiah 40:9) pointing them away from their obvious frailty to his firmness and faithfulness.

Our Frailty, His Fragile Care

In our frailty, he won’t fracture us. He treats the frail with the same fragile care one might employ if one found an injured baby bird. Though his power is gigantic, his demeanor is gentle.

Behold, the Lord God comes with might, and his arm rules for him; behold, his reward is with him and his recompense before him. He will tend his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms; he will carry them in his bosom and gently lead those that are with young  (Isaiah 40:10-11).

Later, in Isaiah 42, God promises, “A bruised reed he will not break, and a faintly burning wick he will not quench” (Isaiah 42:3). He loves us with a love fierce enough to expose our frailty but a faithfulness and gentleness ready to support and strengthen us.

Perhaps you find yourself as exposed and bare as our walls. In your frailty, may you find the firmness only to be found in the faithful God!

He Turns Futility Into Fertility

Futile. When my fingers grow weary of tracing the silver lining, this is the word that dances through my heart and mind.

For my boys, classrooms once filled with collaboration and creativity have collapsed into packets of worksheets that often feel futile.

Last night, after putting our youngest to bed, we ripped open a wall that I had carefully painted last week only to find more mold. I went to bed with a few tears hitting the pillow as the word futility seemed to sink into my already-heavy heart.

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Perhaps we are not the only ones who feel like they are facing down futility. When every day feels like more of the same and there is no clear light at the end of the quarantine tunnel, futility feels like it is leaking into the crevices of every part of our lives. Small business owners wonder if their efforts to move online and create a sustainable niche  are futile. Teachers wonder if their efforts to make learning through a screen engaging and interactive are futile.

Today, I am fighting to bring all the seeming futility into his presence and place it all into his hands. I am fighting to trust in my heart what I know in my mind to be true: anything and everything placed into his thoughtful care can become fertile.  If a master gardener can use most anything in his or her compost pile, slowly letting even decaying matter turn into an active fertilizer and growth agent, then we have great hope that the Master and Maker of the universe can turn even futility into fertility.

Mold-infested walls and a disrupted, crowded home can become growth agents in the lives of our family.  I have had tunnel vision for three weeks, working overtime beside my husband to try to bring order into our disordered home. But this morning,  I am having to entrust even those seemingly futile efforts to him. Perhaps living in the midst of a construction zone will be more fruitful in their souls than the ordered safe haven I have been frantically trying to restore for them.

My ways are not his ways. His ways are so much higher and deeper and more mysterious than the plans I draw in pencil and then try to solidify with Sharpie.  I long for smooth sailing, but the Lord has concocted quite the perfect storm for us these past few weeks. I have tried to fight the waves, but now that I am tired,  I am asking him to teach me how to float. Floating requires a calm, trusting  spirit, not a sinewy resolve. The latter comes much more naturally to me than the former.

Often times, God seems to have his people march around the perimeter of the impossible, exposing their apparent futility.  He had Abraham and Sarah sit long in their infertility.  He commanded Moses to camp the escaping Israelites right beside the Red Sea. He had Joshua march his rag tag, exposed troop around the formidable walls of an established and fortified city.  He had the disciples stare at a crowd teeming with growling tummies. He let Lazarus’s corpse sit in a tomb for days. He did not call in legions of angels to get his Son down from an instrument of shame.

He did these things, not to subject us to futility, but to showcase his fertility. He is the Master of Life. He speaks and things become. Marching around the perimeter of what seems impossible, we are forced to lift our eyes to him for whom nothing is impossible! In God’s time, Abraham’s aged arms cradled Isaac. In a moment, the sea parted and God’s people proceeded through on dry ground. Impenetrable walls fell at the sound of horns as God’s people watched in wonder and amazement. A little boy’s lunch was multiplied in the hands of Christ to feed the crowds. Lazarus stepped out of the tomb pointing to the  day when Christ would walk out of the tomb as the first fruits of Resurrection life!

Oh, that our eyes would be fixed on the fertile one rather than the seeming futility of this season, whatever it looks like for each of us.

The Year the World was Weaned

The world is being weaned right now. Weaned off of consumerism, weaned off of unprecedented liberties and freedoms, weaned off of the addictive illusion of control, weaned off of busyness. That’s an awful lot of weaning, and the weaning process is not always easy.

I remember when we were making our first poor attempts at weaning our firstborn son.  We were on a summer project with college students living in a musty hotel room as a family of three, yet we decided it was the right time to wean our breastfed son. He went on what we infamously call “the milk crawl,” much like Gandhi’s nonviolent salt march. He refused to take formula. We tried to put the formula power into applesauce, yogurt, and even ice cream to get him to get the nutrients he needed.  After a few days of the hunger strike, we landed on a compromise: whole milk. And thus the weaning fiasco concluded.

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Weaned From
We would do well to remember that we are not the first society that needed to be weaned off of worldliness. In fact, hundreds of years ago, William Wordsworth identified such a need in the English society in which he was raised in his poem, “The World is Too Much With Us.”

The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;—
Little we see in Nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!

Busyness, hurried living, consumerism and greed, dissipated passions and lack of wonder. The same insufficient sources of sustenance they sought to feed themselves then, we have been seeking to sustain us in our era.

COVID, with the new order (some might say disorder) it has recently ushered in, has begun a worldwide weaning. To be certain, many of us are refusing to graduate into more mature levels of sustenance, shifting our consumerism from physical shopping carts to online shopping carts and diverting our illusions of control into smaller projects like our homes or hall closets. To be honest, I have done all  of these things in different moments of the past seven weeks; however, I am learning to repent when I find myself craving the milk of the ways of the world. I want to be weaned well so that I might find myself like the Psalmist described himself in Psalm 131.

O Lord, my heart is not lifted up; my eyes are not raised too high; I  do not occupy myself with things too great and too marvelous for me. But I have calmed and quieted my soul,  like a weaned child with its mother; like a weaned child is my soul within me. O Israel, hope in the Lord from this time and forevermore! Psalm 131:1-3. 

Weaned To
Weaning implies a shift from what has been one’s steady source of sustenance and a shift toward a new source of sustenance. While we may not have had a say in the weaning process initiated by an invisible virus, we do have a say in our shift towards a new source.

For the believer in Christ, to be weaned off the world and old habits opens up the invitation to feed on fear and worry or to feed more deeply on the Word of God. In his providence, our good father will use this time of upheaval to mature his children. He can wield a pandemic in his hands as a tool by which to wean us from dependence on earthly and visible things that he might train us into mature, settled dependence upon himself.

This process might be bumpy and we may even revert back to old habits.  No one promised weaning would be wonderful or enjoyable. But the believer has meat to eat that the world does not understand or see. We are invited to feast on the bread of life. We have offered to us the better manna from heaven to which the white, flakey stuff from the wilderness provision pointed (see Exodus 16 & John 6:35-40).

Jesus said to them,  “I  am the bread of life;  whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst” (John 6:35). 

The Greek verb come in v. 35 is present progressive which implies continuing ongoing action. The one comes and keep coming to me will be fed, will be satisfied, will be sustained.

Oh, that we might be weaned well from the world and to the abundant sustenance of Christ.

*Photo by Mehrshad Rajabi on Unsplash

The Sieve of His Sovereignty

Even in all the Coronavirus purging, there are a few children’s book I refuse to let go. Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day is among them. After a day  of childhood catastrophes like the dentist finding a cavity, stepping on a tack, and the toppling of his ice cream cone while dreaming of a better life on another continent, the little boy concludes the book remembering, “Mom says some days are like this, even in Australia.”

We have had our own Alexander-like week around here. On top of quarantine life and its higher stress and anxiety levels, we found mold in two of our rooms, making our living conditions even more tight. I found out that my beloved godmother is all alone fighting cancer in a hospital in New York the same day that my husband’s father fell, breaking his rib. On top of the big things, there were smaller things like washing the key fob to our only keyless start car and increased sibling spats do to the proportion of people in our home and space compounded with weeks of time.

Needless to say, it was not our favorite week. There was both beauty and laughter, even in the midst of the hard. Our friends graciously found a way to bring us meals while keeping social distance. People are checking in on us and praying with and for us. While it is easy to want to prematurely collapse the tangible needs and tensions in our lives, it is our prayer that our children would watch and experience God’s faithfulness in real time through all of it.

In His Nest
As my godmother’s favorite hymn is “On Eagle’s Wings,” I have been studying Psalm 91 this past week, desperately seeking to find refuge from tarp-covered rooms and deep internal heaviness.

He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say to the Lord, “My refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.” For he will deliver you from the snare of the fowler and from the deadly pestilence. He will cover you with his pinions and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness is a shield and buckler. Psalm 91:1-4. 

While many have been repeating this psalm almost as a mantra against the dangers of COVID-19, it is significant to know that the psalmist is not promising a danger-free, trouble-free existence. Rather, the psalmist finds hope in the protection and nurturing care of the father in the midst of pestilence, traps set by a broken world, conflict, and plague.

This psalm shares a similar imagery with a song of God’s faithfulness written by Moses in Deuteronomy 32. In both, the Lord is depicted as a powerful bird protecting and caring for his people.

He found them in a desert land, and in the howling waste of the wilderness; he encircled him, he cared for him, he kept him as the apple of his eye. Like an eagle that stirs up its nest, that flutters over its young, spreading out its wings, catching them, bearing them on his pinions, the Lord alone guided him, no foreign god was with him. Deuteronomy 32:10-12. 

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The Sieve of His Sovereignty
In Deuteronomy 32, God’s people are depicted on his wings for training, whereas in Psalm 91, God’s people are hidden in safety under his nurturing and sheltering wings. If we read his sheltering protection to mean that nothing dangerous or uncomfortable will ever enter our lives, we completely miss the point.

Dangers befall us on every side, but no danger, no perceived evil comes to us without first passing through the sieve of His sovereignty and passing through the feathers of  his faithfulness.

He absorbs it first, taking the bite out of the blow. And if the blows hurt (and they do), we would do well to imagine them without the insulation of His powerful indwelling presence.  Before the news reaches our hearts, it passes through his scarred hands. Just as Christ took the sting out of death, he takes the evil out of the evil, allowing only trouble that he promises to work for our good and his glory.

When there are nettles in the nest (or mold spores in the walls), we know that his all-knowing, all-powerful, all-loving hands have allowed it and have purposes for it beyond what we can see or imagine.  That doesn’t mean we have to pretend that all is fine in the nest or chirp pretending through the pain. It does mean that we take refuge in him, we press further into his breast, and we trust in his proven character.

The writer of Psalm 91 hints at this when he connects a motivational cause to the clause  that begins verse 4, “He will cover you with his pinions, and under his wings you will find refuge.” After the semi-colon, the writer gives us the reason for his confident fleeing to the refuge of God: his faithfulness is proven.

The Hebrew word translated faithfulness, emeth, literally means firmness, faithfulness, truth. God’s character is firm, solid, and sure. When one chooses a shield, one ought to consider the qualities of the material of its makeup. Our shield is stronger than diamond, it is the proven goodness of our God’s nature. And the Hebrew word translated shield here is not a small handheld shield, but more like an encompassing shelter in the middle of the battle, a dugout, or a trench. We don’t and cannot even hold it, it holds us.

If you are having your own Alexander week, rest in the refuge that holds up under the heaviest burdens.

 

 

 

Common Ground & Uncommon Hope

In a matter of weeks, the world, once divided on a thousand fronts (party lines, economic lines, national borders, and imaginary borders), has found a great amount of common ground. I revel in the fact that we recognize that we are all in this together. I teared up reading stories of Chinese doctors flying to Italy with supplies and experience after having pushed backed this disease in their nation. I love that our neighborhood email thread has stopped being about which way to vote on propositions and become a bartering station instead. I wonder at the fact that people seem to be seeing each other as fellow people rather than economic units or potential sales.

Yet I fear that we will forget that in the midst of common ground, we also have an uncommon hope.

I keep forgetting that while we are in this together, my neighbors most likely do not have a lasting and living hope that can weather this storm and bring them to safe harbor eternally. While we can and should laugh together about silly songs and toilet paper memes, we cannot stay there. We must point them from our common ground to our uncommon hope.

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Remember Your Uncommon Hope

In Romans 8, in the context of the children of God groaning inwardly as they wait eagerly full adoption, Paul reminds the believers in Rome that hope, by nature, is unseen.

For in his hope we are saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience (Romans 8:24-25). 

Now, more than ever before, as our culture bends to an unseen virus, we have grounds  to talk about unseen, but powerfully shaping realities. But before we can offer our unseen hope, we must be shaped by it ourselves. We must remember our living hope.

The apostle Peter who had known Christ as a living man was devastated to watch him die (even if it was likely from afar). He was astonished to see him alive once again, never more to die again. It seems he had this Resurrected Jesus in mind when he wrote to a flagging church that was weighed down by suffering and trials. After his brief introduction to the elect exiles of the dispersion, he immediately reminds them of their living hope.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living  hope through the resurrection of Jesus from the dead  (1Peter 1:3). 

Hope in a vaccine, while a good hope, is a not a living hope. Hope in global humanitarian efforts, while appropriate in their right place, is not a living hope. While these will do good work to rescue bodies, they have no power to save souls. None of these hopes can deliver us from the penalty of death, none of them can walk us through the passageway of death to an eternal hope.

The living hope of the Resurrected Christ should be the anthem of the church. As Pope John Paul II so powerfully said,  “We are an Easter people and hallelujah is our song.”

Recommend Your Uncommon Hope

I have been convicted about the short sentences that I have been exchanging with our walking neighbors (at an appropriate social distance, of course). I have done an excellent job recognizing common ground by saying things like “This is crazy, isn’t it? Let me know if you guys need anything!” or asking “Are y’all staying sane over there?” However, I want to think proactively about questions or prompts that could lead to deeper conversations or further follow up.

While this may sound formulaic and unnatural to some, intentionality and preparation are tools we use in nearly every other area of life. After all, we are not opposed to thinking intentionally about Instagram posts or tweets. A similar preparation for business meetings or sales pitches is celebrated, not ridiculed. How much more thoughtful should we be when dealing with far more lasting matters: human souls that will live eternally.

If we are dealing with living hope rather than social influencing or sales numbers,  it seems we would do well to be prepared. These are my best attempts at hinge sentences that might lead to a dialogue about hope.

  • “My family and I are using some of this extra time to pray more often. How can we pray for you?”
  • “How are you processing all of this right now? What is helping you cope with all this upheaval?”
  • “I did not grow up in a religious household, but God intervened in my life in college and brought me into a relationship with him. That relationship shapes all of my life and gives me a lasting hope. I would love to share more of my story with you if you ever want to hear it. I would also love to hear more of your spiritual journey.”

Whatever your style, it is the privilege and calling of all believers to move into common ground offering an uncommon hope.

Poetry Offers Space for those Sheltering in Place

In a time when possibilities, once seemingly limitless in our nation, have suddenly become far more limited, poetry offers perspective and possibility while refreshing place.

I have long believed that poetry would make an eventual come-back in our culture, but now I see a window of actual opportunity for such a thing to happen. In a culture awash with words, often empty words from the unrealistic promises of advertisements, the economy of words in poetry forces meditation and musing. Each word packed with levels of meaning, each phrase stretchy enough to become a space and place all its own.

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Take it from American poet Emily Dickinson who spent the majority of her life in a chosen quarantine without COVID-19. While she was particularly quirky, she knew a thing or two about limits and possibilities. In her poem I Dwell in Possibility, she expresses the freedom that the poetic form offers as compared to prose.

I Dwell in Possibility  (466) by Emily Dickinson

I dwell in Possibility –
A fairer House than Prose –
More numerous of Windows –
Superior – for Doors –

Of Chambers as the Cedars –
Impregnable of eye –
And for an everlasting Roof
The Gambrels of the Sky –

Of Visitors – the fairest –
For Occupation – This –
The spreading wide my narrow Hands
To gather Paradise –

While we are cramped in similar places and limited in our movement, poetry offers movement and imaginative space. It frees us from a merely pragmatic existence and imbues meaning into the seemingly monotonous. 

Scottish writer and poet George MacDonald had the gift of expressing himself through a world of words. In the following excerpt from his book of poetry entitled The Diary of An Old Soul, he puts into words what so many of us have experienced in the recent weeks.

“Therefore, O Lord, when all things common seem,
When all is dust, and self the centre clod,
When grandeur is a hopeless, foolish dream,
And anxious care more reasonable than God,-
Out of the ashes I will call to thee-
In spite of dead distrust call earnestly; –
Oh thou who livest, call, then answer dying me.

We are a shadow and a shining, we!
One moment nothing seems but we see,
Nor aught to rule but common  circumstance-
Nought is to seek but praise, to shun but chance;
A moment more, and God is all in all,
And a sparrow from its nest can fall
But from the ground its chirp goes up into his hall.”

As I have processed with family, college friends, and women from our church, the shared sentiment is a sudden swinging between the poles of levity and gravity, fear and distrust, belief and unbelief, peace and anxiety. One minute we are trusting the Lord and enjoying his purchased peace in the midst of the storm, but then the next, for no apparent reason, we are cowering in fear, hoarding toilet paper, and doubting God’s wisdom and goodness.

I love the phrase, “We are a shadow and a shining, we!”  as it poetically captures the distinctly Christian paradox of humanity which holds both brokenness and beauty, sin and sonship.

Two weeks ago, all seemed normal as circumstances and schedules ruled our lives. We had baseball and soccer practices that called us, coffee dates that consoled us, and work and home to divide our time. Then, as if out of nowhere, COVID-19 changed the filter. Suddenly, the things we took for granted became great gifts: hugs, toilet paper, work and paychecks. Suddenly, the God who had all but fallen into the background came again to the forefront, and the sovereignty of God that our self-assured and self-reliant culture tried to shrug off became a prized reality. The Heidelberg catechism went from a dusty old creed to an anchor line of hope nearly overnight.

MacDonald’s twin phrases, “When grandeur is a hopeless, foolish dream/
And anxious care more reasonable than God,” perfectly captures the feelings many of us have right now. Anxiety seems more reasonable than faith right now, but, as believers, we cry out to the living God to save us.

More poetry which creates space and perspective to come in the coming days of quarantine. Until then, rest in the reality that while we are both shadow and shining, our God is sovereign and good.

Exposed & Covered

Naked and exposed. Not literally, thankfully, although there have definitely been some shirtless homeschool days for one of my boys who is not afraid to enjoy the few perks of sudden homeschooling.

Stripped of busyness and the false sense of significance and insulation it provides, my soul has felt more exposed and vulnerable this past few weeks (which have felt much longer than a few weeks).  I cannot run to the coffee shop or walk around my favorite thrift stores. I cannot plan my weeks with face-to-face meetings with women at church for my job. I detest the phone and am a late adapter with technology, which means that I feel a bit like a fish out of water in our new virtual world.

In this sudden (and much-needed) soul exposure, I have found myself tempted to quickly find new cloaks to throw over myself. The perfect homeschool schedule: that fell apart ten minutes into Quarantine Academy. Household productivity: another quick failed attempt, as our mountain of unfolded laundry will attest. Continue reading