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Politics & the Primary Language of Individualism

‘Tis the season. Political season is upon us (not that it ever took a break). If I am completely honest, I dread election seasons more than I dread just about anything. I think I would rather walk a mile on Lego pieces than dance the delicate dances that will be required in the upcoming months.

Under normal circumstances, election seasons are exposing; however, the stakes and the tensions in our nation are higher than they have been in decades. Our patience is already worn down from the pandemic. Anger and confusion are boiling in our blood as conversations around racism seem to grow more and more polemic. What used to be funny caricatures of both sides are becoming scarily realistic as the ideological delineations become more and more entrenched.

Our political leanings will be questioned, cornered, and cajoled. As much as I want to run away from these conversations, I know I must engage.  I long to be prepared to chime in to the chaos, but to to chime into as a citizen whose primary citizenship and hope is another kingdom led by another king.


In Habits of the Heart, Robert Bellah and his associates use Tocqueville’s seminal study on democracy as a loose guide to studying the the role of individualism in American culture. He rightly claims that the first language of every American is individualism, though that individualism can come out in different forms, namely expressive utilitarianism and utilitarian individualism. Utilitarian individualism most prizes the capital gains, power, and status (all rolled together into the complicated term success), while expressive individualism tends to highly prize feeling, emotion, and freedom of self-expression. While on the surface these two seem to be completely different camps, they share in common a base of individualism: I have the right to go after what I deem to be success and/or freedom in my eyes and government exists to secure that right.

While both sides tend to vilify the other, they share a primary foundation of protecting that individualism which is inherently and intentionally laced into the American spirit. They just define freedom and rights differently and go about seeking them differently.

The upcoming political season will expose more than our political affiliations; it will expose the idols and hopes of our hearts, the longings and rights that wake us up in the morning and keep us up at night. As much as I don’t look forward to this exposure, as a believer in Christ, the discomfort can be more than something to survive. While everyone else might be frantically or fanatically doubling-down on party lines and their respective idols, Christians are invited to double-down in dependence upon Christ.

For the believer in Christ, primary citizenship has been shifted and a new primary  language is learned. Devotion to and dependence upon Christ slowly uproot deeply engrained patterns of individualism (see 2 Corinthians 5:17-21). Short term hopes shift from our own increase to the increase of the kingdom (see John 3:30 and Philippians 3:7-9). Long-term hopes are lengthened to converge on the consummation of the kingdom of God in the New Heavens and the New Earth (see Philippians 3:20, Hebrews 11:10, Hebrews 11:14-16).

This primary citizenship does not extinguish our earthly citizenship, but it does right-size and inform it. It allows us to engage in politics but to do with loosened grips and increasingly humility, knowing that we do not know all things but our Heavenly Father does.

Within the body of Christ, both at large and in our local expressions of the church, there will be those with very different political leanings. We do not need to pretend otherwise. To do so would be naive and dangerous.  We do not need to attempt to manipulate and convince people of our leanings. To do so would be narrow and narcissistic.

We are, however, called to ensure that our primary leaning is into the person of Christ and our primary allegiance is to His Word and His ways. May we guard our hearts which are the wellsprings of our lives (Proverbs 4:23) more than we guard our political stances or positions. May we be more concerned with a humble and obedient posture to Christ than we are with the way parties are positioning themselves for power. May our deepest allegiance be to the One to whom all allegiance will ultimately given (Philippians 2:10-11).

May election season only deepen our dependence upon Christ. See you on the other side of November.



Isolation: the Ultimate End of Cancel Culture

Long before Twitter, YouTube, or Facebook, C.S. Lewis understood where cancel culture led. In The Great Divorce, his fictional depiction of Heaven and Hell, Lewis paints a picture of serial conflict that leads to further and further isolation in the cities of hell. Lewis had no way of knowing how accurate his description would be regarding our current culture.

Moving Away From One Another

While traveling on a bus going from Lewis’s creative depiction of hell for a visit to heaven, the main character gets into the following conversation with a long-time inhabitant of the hellish city:

“The part of it that I saw were so empty. Was there once a much larger population?”

“Not at all,” said my neighbor. “The trouble is that they’re so quarrelsome. As soon as anyone arrives he settles in some street. Before he’s been there twenty-four hours he quarrels with his neighbor. Before the week is over he’s quarrelled so badly that he decides to move. Very likely he finds the next street empty because all the people there have quarrelled with their neighbors – and moved. So he settles in…He’s sure to have another quarrel pretty soon and then he’ll move on again…

“They’ve been moving on and on. Getting further apart….Millions of miles away from us and from one another.”

While we do not have a physically expansive and inexhaustible place like the hell-town Lewis described, we do have the internet. This technology, which does have its positive contributions and capacities, provides a seemingly inexhaustible, albeit two-dimensional, way to separate ourselves from others with whom we disagree or whom we greatly dislike.

Algorithms are not ultimately to blame, though they certainly stoke the flames of our sinful desire to separate and isolate. Left to ourselves in our fallen state and captive as humanity is to the prince of this age, we tend toward isolation when hurt, misunderstood, or misaligned with others (2 Corinth. 4:4). When Paul was contrasting the works of the Spirit with the works of the flesh in his letter to the Galatians, he included “enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, and divisions” among sorcery, orgies, and drunkenness as evidence of the flesh (Galatians 4:20-21).

The Enemy loves to divide and separate, while the Spirit seeks to unite and bind. There is, of course, a command to be separate from evil doers and to separate the immoral brother; however, even then, such actions are to stem from a deep desire to see the parties with whom we are in conflict (over clear Scriptural commands) brought to full repentance and restoration (2 Tim. 2:24-26).

The Scriptures have much to say about the dangers of being quarrelsome and quick-to-separate. When people hurt us (which they most certainly will) or when we disagree with a brother or sister on matters of political opinion or conscience (which most assuredly happens on the daily), it is our flesh’s knee-jerk response to want to create distance from them. Distance breeds further distrust and miscommunication. As such, it is easy to recreate, at least in our hearts, Lewis’s description of astronomical distances.

Moving In, Not Away

To live among one another, to hurt and be hurt by one another, to see the world differently even from our own brothers and sisters in the faith, are inevitabilities this side of glory. Apart from the binding, humbling, convicting work of the Holy Spirit, we have no hope.

But with the Third Person of the Trinity, illuminating the Scriptures to us and acting as a search light in the dark recesses of our own hearts, we stand a chance to fight the clarion call of cancel culture. The discomforts of disagreements and disappointments, when we resist the urge to flee from them and the relationships that occasioned them, can serve to press us more deeply into the gospel. Rather than moving out and away, God can use these to press us further down and into Him.

Rather than make the other our enemy, we remember the enemy of our souls (Eph. 6:12). Even more importantly, we remember that we long stood as enemies of the Cross (Rom. 8:7-9), offending and disappointing God. As those who have been forgiven much, we have much forgiveness and grace to mete out to others (Luke 7:47). If God has closed the eternal breach between us and him, he can help us to close much smaller distances between us and those with whom we disagree on secondary or tertiary matters.

Disagreements compel us to move. By the power of the Spirit, we have a choice to move away from one another (following the lead of cancel culture) or to move more deeply into dependence upon God to biblically and sacrificially love those with whom we do not see eye to eye.

Opportunities Found Only This Side of Glory

As Americans, we hear the alluring phrase “Limited-Time Offer” frequently. Often such enticements are attached to special deals on hotel rooms, vacations, flights, or large-ticket products. If you doubt our love for taking advantage of limited-time opportunities as a culture, wake up before the sun on Black Friday and see the throngs drawn to such deals (my husband and high school boys included).

Hidden within the dark clouds of suffering are a few limited-time-only offers that offer perspective to our experiences of suffering on this earth. In the New Heavens and the New Earth, suffering will be no more. When the Apostle John recorded the glorious words he heard and visions he saw during his exile on the island of Patmos, he assured us, “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” (Rev. 21:4). While it is right and good to hang our hope on such potent promises, it is easy to miss some significant implications.

The God of All Comfort

Our time on earth is the only time we will be able to experience the comfort of God and subsequently offer comfort to others. Comfort is necessitated by discomfort, the presence of pain, or a lack of ease. In the presence of the Triune God, we will never lack security. During our time on earth, we are uniquely poised to receive comfort from the Father of mercies and the God of all comfort (2 Cor. 1:3). Having received such comfort in all our afflictions, we are entrusted with another limited-time-opportunity: to comfort one another with the comfort we have received (2 Cor. 1:4-5).

The sigh of relief that comes when we proverbially crawl into the lap of the Father who holds us and quiets us with his love is birthed out of the temporary discomforts of being away from his presence (Heb. 4:14-16; Zeph. 3:17; Ps. 131:2).

Hope has an Expiration Date

The human propensity to hope is astonishing even to those outside the faith. Accounts of survivors from concentration camps repeatedly recognize the power of hope, even amidst atrocious evil and horrendous circumstances. As Emily Dickinson so beautifully writes, “Hope is the thing with feathers -/ that perches in the soul- / and sings the tune without the words- / and never stops – at all.”

I would add “In this life.”

In the New Heavens and the New Earth, there will be no need for hope for the flower of faith will comes to full fruition in sight! As Paul said to the Romans, “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” (Rom. 8:24-25).

Our time here on earth is our only chance to practice lifting our eyes to the mountains from whence shall come our help (Ps. 121). When we are like him, seeing him as he is, we will have no need for hope (1 John 3: 2).

A Chance to Show Our Preference for God Over Sin

During our time on earth we are saved from the penalty and power of sin, not from the presence of it. Only in the New Heavens and the New Earth will we finally and fully be saved from even the presence of sin. This means that our days of exile here are our only opportunity to show Christ that we prefer him over sin and the fleeting pleasures of this earth. To be clear, he must be prior in our lives to enable us to prefer him since apart from him, we can do no good (John 15:5). Even so, I long to live a life worthy of the calling I have received. I long to string together days and moments which show Christ his surpassing worth even over the greatest offerings of this world (Phil. 3:8).

Likeness to Our Suffering Savior

Finally, and most importantly, our days on this broken earth are our only chance to share in the suffering nature of our Savior. As paradoxical as it sounds to our flesh, God grants us the gift of being partakers in his suffering (Phil. 1:29). When we suffer for doing what is right, we share in his likeness and show our semblance to our Savior (1 Pet. 4:16-19).

The fullest picture we have of God is Christ on the Cross, the suffering savior whom Isaiah foretold. This means that God’s glory is inextricably bound up with suffering. To be a partaker of his glory is to be a sharer in his suffering.

In a book entitled Suffering is Never for Nothing, published posthumously after her death, Elisabeth Elliot writes in depth about the mysterious gifts of suffering. Speaking of the martyring of her first husband, she says, “Jim’s absence thrust me, forced me, hurried me to God, my hope and my only refuge. And I learned in that experience who God is…. And so I can say to you that suffering is an irreplaceable medium through which I learned an indispensable truth.”

Endless days of wholeness and satisfaction in the presence of our Savior await those who are in Christ. But there are only limited days to know his comfort, to experience hope, to show preference to him over sin, and to meet him in his suffering.

Let’s not miss these limited-time opportunities!

Widowed Yet Still Wed

The word widow comes from the Middle English word which meant to be empty. Even before that, it was derived from the Old English word meaning “to separate or to split.” While it is easy for me to look up the etymology of the word, it is far more difficult to watch those that I love become widowed.

My precious mother-in-law is adjusting to life as a widow. Another dear friend lost her husband this week. Additionally, I have been reading Suffering is Never for Nothing by Elisabeth Elliot who was twice widowed. The compounding of these realities means that my heart and mind have been thinking deeply about those who have experienced widowhood.

To separate or to split: that works well for wood (which shares a root word with widow), but it is not cut so clean when it comes to covenants and vows. Ask Naomi who was so overcome by grief that she changed her name to mara meaning bitter. Ask my sweet mother-in-law whose hands still set out two tea cups from over fifty years of muscle memory.

Expensive, covenantal love leaves expansive gaps when it is severed by death; however, for believers in Christ, there is another covenantal love which will never be severed. Those who lose an earthly spouse need never lose their heavenly one. Even though they are widowed, they are still wed. The following are only a sampling of verses wherein God speaks to his people as their truest mate.

And I will betroth you to me forever. I will betroth you in righteousness and in justice, in steadfast love and in mercy. I will betroth you to me in faithfulness (Hosea 2:19-20).

You shall no more be termed Forsaken, and your land shall no more be termed Desolate, but you shall be called My Delight Is In Her and your land Married, for the Lord delights in you and your land shall be married to him (Isaiah 62:4).

For your Maker is your husband, and the Lord of hosts is his name; and the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer, the God of the whole earth he is called (Isaiah 54:5).

I am learning so much from my widowed friends. I am seeing the inordinate weight I tend to wrongly place on my own marriage. I am reminded how many widows long to be seen and known and engaged. I am reminded that there will be no marriage in heaven since our souls will be wed fully and finally to the One with whom they were always intended to be eternally wed. I am reminded that gospel hope is resilient and buoyant even in the deep, deep waters of loss.

Widowed yet Wed

I find it hard to breathe without you.
In oneness you became my other lung.
And although you’re no longer here, 
Your name is always on my tongue.

As certainly as love’s first drops 
Leave both its drinkers drunk,
It’s sobering last sweet sips 
Leave each survivor sunk.

I didn’t see how high we’d climbed, 
Or the height our love had grown.
But now I marvel at the elevation 
As I slowly climb down all alone. 

In all those years of side by side, 
Hardships worked on us like glue.
I long for even one more such day,
As I make one and one from two.

Though I’m widowed still I’m wed
To a Savior who dwells on high.
As our love led me more to Him,
Your absence now draws me nigh! 

Yes, He will make a new song 
From my barely humming heart.
My Maker is not through with me; 
From a stop, He’ll make a start.

A Very Different David

In our culture and in our flesh, we love flashy beginnings. As of this year, the wedding industry brought in a staggering $57.9 billion dollars. We love a good grand opening or ribbon cutting. But biblically-speaking, how people end their lives is far more significant than how they begin.

Often, when we think of King David, we imagine him standing with his sling before a toppled Goliath. Or we think of him being set apart as the future king and selected from among his older brothers by Samuel. Perhaps we think of his massive failures which included adultery, murder, and cover-up. Maybe we remember him fleeing from his life from his best friend’s maniacal father, hiding in caves.

While David’s entire life is both fascinating and instructing, I find the David at the end of his life most compelling and comforting. Don’t get me wrong. It’s not all sunshine and rainbows at the end of David’s life. In fact, the aged, well-seasoned David continued to struggle with sin.

David’s Latter Days

In 1 Chronicles 21, Satan incited David, through his pride, to instigate a census of Israel. While that does not sound like the stuff of scandal or sin to us, the scheme was a prideful attempt to show his power and prowess as a leader. Joab, the leader of Israel’s army, sought to warn him against this selfish scheme, saying, “May the Lord add to his people a hundred times as many as they are! Are they not, my lord the king, all of them my lord’s servants? Why then should my lord require this? Why should it be a cause of guilt for Israel?” (1 Chron. 21: 3).

Even Joab’s cunning appeal which sought to steer David’s decision through his idolatry of pride and power failed; for “the king’s word prevailed against Joab” (1 Chron. 21:4). David would have his way, would force his will, and his people would experience the consequences. At this point in his life, we wonder if David will ever learn his lessons.

Thankfully, the Scriptures don’t leave us with this David. The same David whose heart was pricked by the skillful prodding of Nathan and whose repentance penned Psalm 51 received the Lord’s correction. He recognized the staggering effects his selfishness had on the people whom he was supposed to be serving.

“And David said to God, ‘Was it not I who gave command to number the people? It is I who have sinned and done great evil. But these sheep, what have they done? Please, let your hand, O Lord, my God, be against me and against my father’s house. But do not let the plague be on your people.’ (1 Chron. 21:17).

In fact, in the very place where the angel of the Lord graciously relented of the plague (the threshing field of Ornan), David devised an elaborate plan to build a temple to the Lord’s name and for the Lord’s glory.

Do you see what I see? Do you see a very different David?

A Very Different David

Yes, he still messed up royally (pun intended) even when he was well-advanced in the process of maturing in the Lord. But I find his repentance and recognition of sin to be a powerful encouragement.

He went from being the kind of man who, though owning flocks of sheep, would steal the one beloved sheep of another man (Nathan’s story which convicted David of his sin with Bathsheba) to the kind of shepherd who says, “Punish me, not the sheep.”

He went from slyly stealing that which was not his (an abuse of his power and position as king) to paying full price to Ornan for the land which would be reserved for God’s temple (1 Chron. 21:22–24).

He went from wanting to count heads to ensure his own enduring legacy to spending the rest of his life making elaborate plans to ensure the legacy of God’s great name. He went from forcing his own will and plans and desires to accepting the Lord’s will, plans, and desires, even when those shattered his own. Multiple times at the end of his life, and once in front of the gathered people of Israel, David showed that God’s will carried far more weight than his own (1 Chron. 22:6–10; 1 Chron. 28:2–8).

He admitted the depth of his own desire to build the Temple for God himself, but he also submitted to God who said his son would be the one to build the Temple. Rather than push though, chasing his own desire, or sit and pout, David poured himself into preparations for the Temple. He had blueprints drawn up, he gathered all the building materials, he coached up his son, Solomon.

David learned his lessons. It took an entire lifetime, but he learned. This gives me great comfort. For the same master who trained David trains us. This reality left me in tears as I studied the end of 1 Chronicles this week.

Glory to the Master, Not the Pupil

God’s disciples will learn their lessons (Luke 6:40). God will finish the work he began in us (Phil. 1:6).

As a woman who sees the scary strength of her own will and longs to place more weight on God’s better will than my own, the mastery of the Master gives me hope.

As a mother of teenagers who is constantly wondering when my children will learn, the mastery of the Master settles my worried heart.

As the wife of a pastor who seeks to shepherd a young flock in an arid spiritual terrain in the midst of massive cultural and spiritual warfare, the mastery of the Master emboldens me to stay the course.

Stay the course, my sin-weary and world-weary friends. Trust your Master and teacher. Receive his discipline as true sons and daughters (Hebrews 12: 5–11). Don’t begin to believe the lie that he is a hard master. Trust his heart for you is for your good and his glory.

A Conversation about Confidence

Faith, trust, and confidence. In both the Old and New Testament, these words share common root words (in Hebrew, batach and in Greek, pistis). While I am admittedly a word-nerd, these root words are truly at the root of the Christian life. Hebrews 11:6 reminds us that “Without faith, it is impossible to please God, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.”

Life with God hinges on our faith. Thus, trust is paramount. The direction of our trust determines our confidence. The vulnerability of the object of our trust will determine the vulnerability of our confidence.

A Conversation Then

Though this reality is laced through the entirety of Scripture, God has a concise conversation about confidence with his struggling prophet Jeremiah. Jeremiah is often nick-named the weeping prophet, as he penned both Jeremiah and Lamentations, which are books woven with great woe. But he had every reason to weep as a prophet raised up in a particularly dark season in the history of God’s people. As such and understandably so, Jeremiah often found himself lamenting and complaining before God. After one such session, God responds to Jeremiah with a powerful word picture about confidence and trust.

“Thus says the Lord: ‘Cursed is the man who trusts in man and makes flesh his strength, whose heart turns away from the Lord. He is like a shrub in the desert, and shall not see any good come. He shall dwell in the parched places of the wilderness, in an uninhabited salt land. Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, whose trust is the Lord. He is like a tree planted by water, that sends out its roots by the steam and does not fear when heat comes, for its leaves remain green, and is not anxious in the year of drought, for it does not cease to bear fruit.’ (Jeremiah 17:5-8).

The communicator par excellence, God knew that a picture is worth a thousand words. As such, he draws a verbal juxtaposition for Jeremiah between trusting in God or trusting in man and made things.

As someone who lives in an arid climate during a time of drought near an actual salt sea, I can tell you I don’t want to be the first shrub. But so often I find myself trending in that direction. I so easily let me trust leak all over to lesser things. I trust in my schedule. I trust in my performance. I trust in my effort and grit. I trust in my husband. I trust in my children. I trust in our government system. The list goes on and on.

But we are invited to trust in an unshakeable God. We are made for trust in the Trustworthy One. When our soul seeks satisfaction and security in Him (rather than self or circumstances), we have access to the river whose steams make glad the city of God (Psalm 46:4). As those made right with God, we are invited to abide in Christ which means that we have a settled security in Him (John 15).

The word picture is compelling. But you and I both know that living such confidence in God is complicated, isn’t it?

A Conversation Now

God gave me a little picture of confidence this week in a few strange crevices of my home. You see, I do not like spiders. But Annie Dillard did a number on me in her book Pilgrim at Tinker Creek:

“I allow spiders the run of the house. I figure that any predator that hopes to make a living on whatever smaller creatures might blunder into a four-inch square bit of space in the corner of the bathroom where the tub meets the floor, needs every bit of my support.”

Ever since reading her, I have mixed emotions when I see a spider. My instincts say, “Squash the sucker!” but my heart says, “Live like Annie.” Thus, I have grown to be a close watcher of two particular spiders in my home: one on a planter in the front yard and the other in the back. When I water my plants, I watch in wonder as they go about their web-making work.

If I wanted to, I could blow hard enough and break their lives’ work. I could put the hose on the jet setting and destroy their entire world. As strong as their webs may be, they are but threads compared to human strength. And the distance and difference between me and the spider is nothing compared to the distance and difference between my Maker and me.

All the places I place my confidence are but fragile filaments compared to trust in God. My spider friend and I have similar trust problems.

To a Spider

Though you long have startled me,
We share more than I once thought.
We both trust in silky threads-
A practice with danger fraught.

Don’t get me wrong, my friend –
Your woven web is a wonder!
But all your exquisite work – 
It’s so easily torn asunder.

You teach me not to trust 
Webs of my own weaving;
They appear so intricate,
But looks can be deceiving.

Belayed to the Blessed One,
Tho’ every strand be swept,
Though all shake around me,
Yet by my Maker I am kept.

I’m sorry, many-legged friend;
You’ve not such a strong hope.
You have left me with a lesson;
I’ll gladly leave you to your rope! 

Spiders and trees are training me to trust in the Strong and Unshakeable One!

What Death Put On Display

We had “said goodbye” at least five other times, but we knew this time was different. Parkinson’s Disease is a marathon, not a sprint; however, the finish line was finally in sight. My husband hopped on a plane while I busied myself at home, doing chores, running errands, holding down the home front in the frenetic busyness that is usually my first line of response to grief.

It only took one picture to shatter my busyness and bring me back to gospel reality. My husband snapped a picture of Appa’s closest friend whom we call Jose Uncle, sitting by the bedside reading Scripture to his friend in his last days. I lost it.

Neither of those men who met at engineering school in India could have engineered the stories they would walk each other through. Yet here they were loving one another to the end. Impending death was putting on display a few things that we all too easily overlook as we go about life.

The Extraordinary Blessing of Ordinary Friendship

In a story only the Lord could orchestrate Jose Uncle and Appa ended up in the same place in the massive United States. Having been through their college years marked by dreaming and a seemingly endless horizon of possibilities, they lived the reality of their adult years together in Houston, Texas. There were parties, but there was also pain. Jose Uncle’s wife experienced two strokes that left him as caregiver, while Appa was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease that left Amma as primary caregiver. A world away from India and worlds away from the futures they imagined, their friendship has continued.

When we buried Appa, sweet Jose Uncle came up to give one last tap to the coffin before his body was laid beneath the ground. Another gesture of enduring friendship that both choked me up and sobered me up to the reality of our fleeting days on this earth.

In a world obsessed with following the extravagant and dramatic lives of the rich and famous, ordinary friendship seems underwhelming. In a day and age that has flattened friendship to a screen and trivialized it to a few emojis, the depth of the real friendship they put on display refreshed and challenged me. It reminded me of King David’s grief at learning about the death of his friend Jonathan and his father Saul (despite all the tumultuous waters that had passed under that bridge).

Saul and Jonathan, beloved and lovely! In life and death, they were not divided; they were swifter than eagles; they were stronger than lions. You daughters of Jerusalem, weep over Saul…How the mighty have fallen in the midst of battle!” (2 Samuel 1:23-25; 25).

In a world of flash, friendship is an often-overlooked gift given from God Almighty for our days as elect exiles on this earth. Death became the dark backdrop that put such ordinary beauty back on display for me. It made me want to savor times walking with those who have walked through so much life with me. It made me want to call loved ones and catch up with them. It made me want to not forsake meeting together as some are in the habit of doing, but rather to continue to stir one another up as we see the day approaching (Hebrews 10:24–25).

The Power of Covenant Love

I have written extensively about the lessons I have learned watching Amma care for Appa. 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.

They married only have met one another a few times, but Amma fulfilled her covenant vows to the end. She put skin on the skeletal promise, “In sickness and in health.” They don’t make many movies about caregivers because care-giving is a messy sludge in a culture that loves sterilized ease. But I am thankful for the front row seat I inherited to watch the power of covenant love on display even and especially on the dark backdrop of death.

The Universality of Gospel Hope

We had the privilege of sitting through Appa’s funeral service in the Mar Thoma church. While Paul was pioneering the gospel to Asia minor, as is recorded in Acts, Thomas was bringing the gospel the southern tip of India; thus, the Mar Thoma or St. Thomas church. Outside of showing me how accustomed I have become to hour-long services (man, do they have some worship endurance!), the service was a beautiful reminder of the universality of the gospel.

As an American and as a sinner, I have this strong tendency to put myself and my culture in the center of all things. Listening to (and attempting to sing) hymns in Malayalamwas a refreshing reminder that the gospel belongs to every tribe, nation, tongue, and dialect (Rev. 7:9). While death is a universal reality for every human, the gospel is a universal invitation to a pathway through death and into everlasting life. Listening to priests from both the Indian Church and the Syriac Church as they declared the same gospel truths we declare in our little church plant every Sunday fortified my soul. They wore different robes and chanted in different ways, but they held to the same gospel hope through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Such realities put me rightly in my place and postured my heart for the worship that will exist in the New Heavens and the New Earth.

For the believer, death doesn’t win. Resurrection life through Jesus does. What is mortal will be swallowed up by an even fuller and more lasting life (2 Corinthians 5:4). Death becomes the sobering backdrop that puts on display not only God’s dazzling offer of life but also his gracious provision of all we need to pursue him in this life (2 Peter 1:3).

Before we lowered Appa into the ground, we left roses on his grave. It felt right to bury him under the weight of so much love. It will feel even more right to see him resurrected with no trace of Parkinson’s Disease. We have a lot of living left to do, so let us seek to number our days that we might gain hearts of wisdom in a death-weary world (Psalm 90:12).

When Death Comes for Me

When Death comes for me, 
Let there be little to take. 
Let all be given, entrusted
Into hands nothing can shake. 

When Death comes for me, 
Let me see him only as friend,
The mean doorway leading
To His presence without end. 

When Death comes for me, 
Let him find me already spent,
Poured out as living sacrifice
Laid down in delighted consent.

When Death comes for me, 
Let me remember whom I serve,
The One who conquered death
To give me love I don’t deserve. 

Being Chased by a Lion

Throughout this entire year, a short phrase from a worship song 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.

People are Not Puzzles

As luck (or more accurately the Lord) would have it, I have been alternating reading two books which seem to have little, if anything, in common. The first is a modern work written by Ian Leslie called Curious: The Desire to Know and Why Your Future Depends on It. The second is Norman’s MacLean’s short story “A River Runs Through It” in which he beautifully and honestly explores the relationships between the men in his family and the Montana past time of fly fishing which they all share.

I told you they didn’t seem very connected; however, the Lord used the strange pairing of these two books to push more deeply into my heart a truth which I already know but for which I am in need of constant reminders: people, though often puzzling, are not puzzles. They are mysterious image-bearers of God we are invited to love, not solve.

The Difference between Puzzles & Mysteries

In Curious, Leslie draws a distinction between puzzles and mysteries.

“Puzzles have definite answers… Puzzles are orderly; they have a beginning and an end. Once the missing information is found, it is not a puzzle anymore. The frustration you felt when you were searching for the answer is replaced by satisfaction.

Mysteries are murkier, less neat… Progress can be made toward solving them…but they don’t offer the satisfaction of definite solutions…Puzzles tend to be how many or where questions; mysteries are more likely to be why and how…We have a tendency to prioritize puzzles over mysteries, because we know they can’t be solved.”

This distinction helps explain why people (myself included) can get sucked into a vortex solving crossword, Wordle, or Sudoku puzzles. It we stick with them long enough (or glance to the answer key often enough), we will experience the satisfaction of completion.

According to Leslie, mysteries, which require more of us, “have a longer half-life than puzzles,” as they are “more challenging, but more sustaining.”

Puzzling People

It is far easier to stereotype people than to actually know them. In fact, sometimes the people who are the hardest for us to wrap our minds and hearts around are those with whom we spend the most time and whom we love the most.

The tension of “A River Runs Through It” depends on the complexity of relationships between two sons and their loving father. While the three have nearly mastered the art of fly fishing over decades of sharing it as a hobby, they are far from mastering or even beginning to truly understand one another.

At the end of the story, reflecting on the death of his brother, the narrator makes two stunning statements of truth that must be paired together. The first: “You can love completely without complete understanding.” The second: “It is those we live with and love and should know who elude us.”

When I am lazy or grasping after a false sense of control, I tend to turn the people I love the most into puzzles, looking for a solution that will lead to a sense of completion and satisfaction. I do this in marriage, motherhood, and even in the ways I think about myself. I have found myself often lately looking quizzically at my teenage sons, trying to find the missing bits of information that might “solve them.” I don’t say this aloud, but thoughts like, “Once they ____” or “If they only could ___.” betray that I am making them into puzzles.

However, God doesn’t invite me to solve them. He invites me to love them in all their mystery.

Inviting Mystery

As image-bearers of an infinitely mysterious God, people are complex and deep, changing and growing constantly. Proverbs 20:5 tells us, “The purpose in a man’s heart is like deep water, but a man of understanding will draw it out.”

I long to be and to become a woman of understanding who is patient and humble enough to draw people out. However, weekly, I feel as if I am operating above my pay grade in seeking to love people who puzzle me. God has been slowly teaching me to leave space for mystery, both in my relationship with him and my relationship with others, especially those closest to me.

We will spend eternity unpacking and exploring the glorious depths of our mysterious Triune God. So it seems that our time on earth is well spent when we practice appreciating the mystery within his individual image-bearers. I am fighting to learn to leave space for the depths in those I love most deeply to cry out to the depths in our God (Psalm 42:7).

When I lack wisdom in how to approach them or love them or serve them, I am slowly, fitfully learning to ask him for the perfect wisdom that he gives freely without any reproach (James 1:5). While they remain mysteries to me, their hearts are uncovered and laid bare before his eyes (Hebrews 4:13). He knows who they are, how they operate, where they are headed, and what they need far more than I ever could. For now we see in part, as in a mirror dimly, but one day we will know fully when we are fully known (1 Corinthians 13:12).

Sweet & Sore: Thoughts on Kingdom Goodbyes

Our Christmas cards still hang on an often-seen door in our home. And it is not because I am that tardy on putting decorations away. It is because those Christmas cards are worth so much more than the cardstock on which they are printed; they represent a web of kingdom relationships that stretch all over the world.

Kingdom living assumes that life will be a series of sweet and sore goodbyes. I don’t know how I missed it for so many years of reading the Scriptures. Perhaps I just scanned through the beginnings and ends of most of the epistles, assuming they were merely introductions and conclusions. Perhaps I was naive enough to think that relationships remained relatively stable for adults and churches. Either way, it has taken me a few decades of ministry and kingdom partnerships to realize that great love opens us up to (temporary) great loss.

Sweet & Sore

Underneath and preceding the epistles were webs of human relationships held together by the person and work of Christ. These significant gospel relationships in the early church compelled the Spirit-inspired writing of much of the New Testament . Apostles wrote to congregations peopled with those whom they either knew dearly or longed to know dearly. When Paul wrote the letter to the Philippians, he had in mind Lydia whom he had met by the river, the jailer whose hide he saved in such a way that he was truly saved, and the formerly demon-possessed girl whom he had helped free (see Acts 16).

When Paul wrote to the Ephesian church, his heart swelled with sentiments and prayers for the congregation with whom he had spent the longest time on his many missionary journeys. It is clear through the tears recorded in Acts 20 that the parting of Paul and the elders of the Ephesian church was a painful yet purposed parting. When John wrote letters from the island of Patmos, he likely had specific faces and families, conversations and converts, relationships and real-life memories in mind.

Kingdom living is an invitation to love people deeply and hold them loosely. My military friends have taught me so much about kingdom living because, more than most civilians, they understand concepts that are necessary to living as elect exiles on this earth. Like the Roman centurion who approached Jesus about the healing of his beloved servant, military families understand what it means to live life under a greater authority (Matthew 8:5-13). When the powers that be say move, they move, whether it feels natural or not. Due to their constantly receiving new orders, those in the military learn to love deeply, growing deep roots, even when they know they will be repotted. I am fighting to learn from them, but my heart shrinks back from relationships when I know that deep love can and often will lead to what feels like great loss.

This summer we have sent out multiple sets of friends who are far more than friends. These are the kind of people who can read your soul with one quick glance. Having done so much life and ministry together, we finish each other’s stories and sentences. There is no need to back-fill stories since we have spent decades in the trenches of life and ministry together. Goodbyes like these tempt me to harden my heart, but they also remind me that a Good God prepares and empowers us for this kind of kingdom living.

The Pierced Hand that Parts Our Ways

The hopeful hellos and the gripping goodbyes we experience as believers on this side of the New Heavens and the New Earth are not haphazard. Behind the coming and going and the pairing and parting is our Triune God. God, the Father, providentially postures and positions his people for his glory and our good (Romans 8:28-32). Jesus, the Son, parts us with pierced hands and a burning heart, knowing full well the weight of human goodbyes. He who knew the joy and awkwardness of introductions (read the calling of the disciples) also knew the tearful, tearing pain of parting (read the parting words of Jesus to his cronies in the Upper Room). The Jesus who bids us part ways with people and places we have grown to love knew the searing pain of leaving his mother in the care of his best friend from the Cross (John 19:26-27). God, the Holy Spirit, translates our unintelligible sighs at parting into prayers of purpose (Romans 8:26-27). He reminds us of what is true and buttresses our faith for the future with recollections of God’s past faithfulness.

While the world frowns upon the ordering of authority, we know that God’s thoughtful and perfect ordering of His people is a gift and a mark of ownership. In a letter to a friend, Amy Carmichael wrote, “It gives a peculiar sort of confidence that even we – we who are nothings – are being ‘ordered’ in our goings. It is very good to be ‘ordered’ by our beloved Lord.”

The Ultimate Reunion

Kingdom goodbyes lift our eyes from our temporal habitats to our ultimate home. Like a river whose streams unite and split, unite and split, unite and split until they reach their final destination, kingdom relationships move with purpose to a clear and everlasting end. From this perspective, the goodbyes we say to those whom we love and with whom we have worked as gospel partners are necessary steps toward a deeply desired end. Our goodbyes enable God’s glory to spread further and deeper to new people and places. Though the spaces between the streams may have spread, the ultimate destination is the same.

And what a destination it is! We get to work towards and wait upon the day we will dine at the marriage supper of the Lamb together. And, oh, the stories we will share and the remarkable faithfulness we will remember from our different stations and seasons. Until that day, let us continue to love deeply and hold loosely as those lovingly ordered by our agape authority!