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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.

My Minest Mine

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My Minest Mine

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lord, we believe. Help our unbelief.

Winter’s Gift

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

On the Eve of the Election

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

Herod’s Rise

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

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

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

Herod’s Demise

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

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

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

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

You likely know what happens next from Christmas plays.

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

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

Our Hope

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

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

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

Our Hope

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Redwoods and Righteousness

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

The Necessity of Fog

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

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

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

An Indwelling Protector

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

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

A Rooted Community

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

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

Fairy Rings

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

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

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