Category Archives: scripture

Deconstructing Deconstruction

The Chargers left us for the lure of a new and improved stadium in Los Angeles. To be honest, this means very little to me, except that this leaving left our city with an eyesore of a meaningless football stadium. For a few years now, the ghastly stadium has stood solitary and purposeless. Recently, however, the deconstruction of the stadium has begun.

I don’t know what I expected the deconstruction to look like, but I had vague imaginings of a giant explosion all at once. No such cartoon-ish moment has happened. Rather, piece by piece, bit by bit, the old stadium is being carefully knocked down. Hoses with water pump high pressures of water to keep the dust and rubble contained. At the rate they are moving, this careful process will take many months.

The point of such costly, careful deconstruction is ultimately reconstruction. San Diego State has big plans for the huge lot of land that once housed the Chargers. The detailed, painstaking process of tearing down the old structure is intended to make space for the new structure.

Deconstruction for the sake of destruction is, well, destructive. Tearing down should be antecedent to the careful construction and blueprint of skilled designers. While it seems that would go without saying, we live in a culture that is marked by widespread deconstruction.

The postmodern mindset of cynicism toward establishment, authority, and tradition has created a society full of individual deconstructionists. With its strong penchant toward tearing down systems, structures and world views, postmodernity is left with heaping piles of rubble but no clear plan or direction as to how to rebuild all it has torn down.

While there are most assuredly structures that need refining, injustices to expose and right, and power abuses to address, to do so without a clear standard, blueprint, or world view could be as potentially harmful as the systems being deconstructed.

As believers in Christ living in postmodern and postChristian culture, we are invited to model thoughtful, prayerful repair. We have to learn to face the brute facts of the systems around us, including the Church. However, we have a blueprint, and even better, we know the Architect. We have His revealed word. We are have His Spirit dwelling within us.

It is not surprising that the church is polarized, as we live in one of the most polemical times in modern history. It feels as if believers are being forced to fit into one of two camps: those who completely support establishment and authority and those who seek to tear them down.

Is there a space for careful deconstructionists? Can we make room for those who admit the need for reform but also believe in the need for a building (and even more so, a Builder)? Perhaps before we tear down and explode, we ought to spend more time considering what we are seeking to ultimately build. To tear down human-tainted institutions only to rebuild new human-centered institutions will not fix the root problems.

I am so thankful that we serve an all-wise, always just, never-changing, loving authority. I am thankful that we can look forward to the city whose builder and architect is God (Hebrews 11: 10, 16). In the meanwhile, we are invited to seek to build on a foundation that lasts, to tear down that which stands opposed to His word through prayer, and to point others to the One who will make all things new (1 Corinthians 3:10–15; 1 Corinthians 10: 3–6; Revelation 21:5).

Lasagna and Love

Twice this week I have found myself crying in the grocery store. Earlier in the week, my eyes were leaking while looking for cereal. Then yesterday, tears pooled in my eyes while perusing the pasta aisle. Supposedly when hard or strange things happen, people have a bias toward normalcy. In the midst of situations that are surprising or overwhelming, people tend to find relief in everyday tasks.Maybe that is why I found myself twice crying and processing while grocery shopping.

Dear friends and ministers of the gospel in our city are walking through the depths with Covid. Their son is my son’s age, and we adore him. The reality that a boy my son’s age should have to shoulder the weights he is bearing overwhelms me nearly to the point of paralyzation.

With that as the backdrop, the national events of the week felt like too much. My brain has processed the events that unfolded at the Capitol building, but my heart has not caught up. I saw the fear in my older boy’s eyes as we processed these events as a family.

Overcome by evil and brokenness. Helpless and powerless. Vulnerable.

Those big emotions were roiling in my soul while my cart was rolling through the grocery store. And my eyes were the release valve for the pressure that was building.

Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good (Romans 12:21).

I know this verse well. It comes out of my mouth like muscle memory when my boys are in a squabble, returning tit for tat. But this morning, my soul needs to sit inside this short sentence and nestle down into these truths.

I cannot visit the hospital. Neither can my friends, even though their father and husband has been there for weeks.

Outside of my right to vote and my responsibility to be informed, I feel helpless in the current political situation.

To be honest, I want to numb myself and run away from the uncomfortable. But God has been so clear that he wants me to sit in these feelings, to wade into these puddles of fear and dependency. To wade, but also to wait on Him.

For we serve a God who is well-acquainted with brokenness (Isaiah 53: 3–4). We worship a Savior who willingly let the weight of evil crush him on the cross (Isaiah 53:5). But He rose from the dead, overwhelming the overwhelming evil with a goodness that could only come from Him.

Even if He doesn’t immediately fix them, He meets us in the places that paralyze us. And as we wade and wait, He invites us to do the next right thing.

Which brings me back to the grocery store. I don’t love cooking, and I am not particularly good at it. But I can make a decent veggie lasagna. I can pray while I boil noodles. As I layer pasta and mozzarella, I can consider the layered love that Christ has shown for a mangled humanity.

Rejoice with those who rejoice; weep with those who weep (Romans 12:15).

This feels small, but the One who hung the stars told us this is how we move forward until His return. So lasagna by lasagna, letter by letter, small act by small act, we walk in His great love.

He will return. And all the suffering and confusion and helplessness will overwhelmed and swallowed up by life.

He will swallow up death forever; and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces, and the reproach of his people he will take away from the earth, for the Lord has spoken. It will be said on that day, “Behold, this is our God; we have waited for him, that he might save us. This is the Lord; we have waited for him; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation (Isaiah 25:8-9).

Until then, we make lasagna and we trust in His steadfast love.

21 Things I Know About 2021

There is nothing I absolutely know about the coming year. But, based on reasonable evidence, I can safely predict a few things. I will burn all the cookies (even slice and bake and even when I set a timer). I will vow to try new recipes but will likely revert to the faithful few that have sustained us thus far. I will drink far too much coffee and not nearly enough water. 

Rather than waste my time (and yours) speculating, I have chosen to spend my morning guiding my mind to what is absolutely true rather than guessing about what may or may not come to be. 

  1. We will suffer, but God cares enough about human suffering to share in it and to ultimately undo it (Isaiah 53:3-5).
  2. I will hurt and disappoint those I love the most, but hope in God will not be disappointed (Romans 5:3-5).
  3. We will be shocked and surprised by events outside our control, but said events have passed through the scarred hands of a loving savior before they came to be. 
  4. My boys will continue to grow (spiritually, physically, emotionally, relationally) and experience all the growing pains that come with it. But Jesus himself did the same and faithfully walked through their stages of life. As such, they have a pioneer partner in him. 
  5. Some days I will feel close to god but other days i will feel numb to his nearness. Either way, it is in Him that I live and move and have my being (Acts 17:). He is closer than close in the third person of the trinity. 
  6. Though I intend to do good, I will be bent back toward self (in curvatus en se and Romans 7). Yet my savior straightens me day by day, realigning me to His image. 
  7. During waves of shame from sins and wrongs done by me and to me), I will try to isolate myself. But the lord will draw me with cords of love and through my own desperation to the care of the body of Christ. When we walk in the light as he is in the light we have fellowship with him. 
  8. The brokenness within and without will buffet and blunt me, but Gods word will shape and sharpen me (psalm 19). 
  9. The path to life will sometimes feel like death but I will trust the facts of the creator rather than my own feelings. there is a way that seems right to man but in the end it leads to death. 
  10. Habits will shape me far more than the seemingly huge decisions I will face this year 
  11. Though the church visible will falter, the church invisible will not fail. 
  12. I will slip into seeing the world through lenses of scarcity and skepticism but those lenses do not change the super abundance of his steadfast love. 
  13. Though the church visible will falter, the church invisible will not fail (Matthew 16:18).
  14. As much as I try to maintain the illusion of control, I am not in control. But I serve the God who is the blessed Controller of all things (1Timothy 6:13-16)
  15. I will do ridiculous amounts of laundry, but even those small chores can be done as worship unto the King of Kings (1 Corinthians 10:31).  
  16. In the midst of mundane days, there will be luminous moments when kairos breaks into chronos. I will never know when to expect these moments, but I will treasure them as gifts when they do. 
  17. I will run after lesser lovers. But, like Hosea pursued Gomer, God will pursue me, even using pain to point me back to Him, my true lover (Hosea 2:6–7).
  18. I will jealously look upon your posts and feeds, but God will wrestle me back to my green pastures and hold me at my still waters (Psalm 23: 1–2).
  19. I will exhaustedly collapse into my Sabbath time with Jesus weekly. Yet, somehow, He will revive and refresh me, sending me back out into good works He has prepared for me (Exodus 20: 8–11 and Acts 3:19–21).
  20. People who know and love me will lovingly call me out on my sin. I will initially be defensive, but God will remind me that true love mixes grace with truth (John 1:17 and Galatians 6:1–5).   
  21. Amid all the changes and curves which are heading our way this next trip around the sun, Jesus Christ will be the same yesterday, today, and forever (Hebrews 13:8). 

Now, I must go burn some cookies and forget to thaw the meat for dinner. Happy New Year to you and yours!

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.

diego-ph-254975-unsplash.jpg

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.

A Declaration of Dependence

I am incredibly grateful for and deeply benefit from the Declaration of Independence penned by Thomas Jefferson; however, my soul needs to be stamped with deeper declaration daily: a declaration of dependence.

My flesh recoils against such a declaration, but my soul was sewn with its principles. I go against the grain of universe when I try to defy it, yet I wonder why I am left splintered and sore.

  • I am a dignified derivative, I was never meant to exist alone (Genesis 1:27-28). As a sentient being made in the image of a Trinitarian God, my soul craves relationship, most notably with the relational God out of whose fullness I was born. 
  • I cannot love myself or accept myself without reference to God. To do so is to love a lesser self and accept that which is unacceptable. When I love sin, I hate and hurt myself (Proverbs 8:36; Psalm 16:4; James 1:14-15). Even though sin overpromises fulfillment, it delivers only death and addiction (John 10:10). Therefore, the only way to truly love myself is to hate my sin. But I cannot do that, try as I may. I am desperately needy and sick, and I cannot earn my way out of this state (Romans 7:21-24). 
  • As prone as I am to performance, I do not trick the one who sees all things. My soul and thoughts are laid bare before him, the one to whom I must give account (Hebrews 4:12-13). Soul audits only confirm and deepen my diagnosis (Isaiah 1:2-6). 
  • I am more entrepeneurial and creative in devising ways to glorify myself and expand my own kingdom than I am in seeking to worship and glorify the only One who is worthy (Hosea 8:11-12). I am more resolute at running after lifeless idols than I am at following the One living God (Hosea 2:5; Hosea 11:2; Hosea 11:7).   
  • Yet, all these hard-to-admit realities are meant to lead me to Life. Only when I see them in all their hideousness can I find the life that is truly life (Galatians 3:24). In coming to the end of myself and my own resources, I stand at the shores of grace and find oceans of undeserved favor. 

For, the only uncreated One became dependent on my behalf (John 1). Though I hated him, he loved me  (Romans 5:6-8). Though I loved the sin that hurt me, he let himself be harmed and hung on a tree to love me (2 Corinthians 5:21;1 Peter 2:24). 

  • Now, I am able to work from my deepest identity rather than work toward it (Philippians 2:12-13). 
  • What I used to think a solid foundation for life (success, significance, comfort, approval, etc…) are exposed for the shifting sands that they are (Matthew 7:24-27). I don’t have to chase after them anymore through everyone around me and the remnant of flesh within me urge me to do so. In a world that says chase your dreams, I am invited to chase after righteousness (Matthew 6:33). 
  • I don’t have to expend myself climbing the ladder of success, because the most successful One climbed down from heaven to bring me up to him (Ephesians 4:10; Philippians 2:5-11). I don’t have to force my way, because I know that He will have his way in me (Job 42:2).
  • My own needs, though real and significant, no longer have to dictate my every action. I can entrust them to Him who delights to give me all good things (Luke 12:32; Romans 8:32). There is now space in my heart to join Christ in his sufferings and apply his sacrifices to the lives of those around me (Colossians 1:24; Philippians 1:29). 
  • In a world obsessed with power and beauty, I am free to be vulnerable and weak (2 Corinthians 12:9). In a world obsessed with prestige and honor, I can sit securely in the low seat because I know my high place in his sight (Luke 14:7-11). In a world obsessed with the big and quick, I can do little things with great love and sow to the Spirit patiently knowing that, in due season, a harvest of righteousness will be reaped (Luke 16:10; Galatians 6: 7-10).
  • I will forget this entire declaration on every day that ends in -Y. But he will not forget me (Isaiah 49:15-16; Hosea 11:8-9). He is patient with me and promises to complete what he has begun (Philippians 1:6). 

It may not be as beautiful as Jefferson’s parchment, but its truths are far more potent. While Jefferson’s declaration initiated a nation, the declarations of dependence found in God’s Word establish an unshakeable kingdom.

The Baptism of the Ordinary

His life seemed laced with a golden thread. A commander of the army of the King of Syria. A great man, held in high favor, he had experienced much victory due to his valor. Yet one dark thread threatened his peace and prosperity: he had leprosy.

Naaman likely saw this as the growing black mark on his otherwise glowing life; however, God graciously used what he thought was a harbinger of death as a doorway to life. What he thought was an obtrusive inconvenience was ultimately God’s gracious invitation.

God used his leprosy to heal of him the more dangerous pride that was deadening his soul as leprosy was deadening his nerves.

A servant girl, captured from Israel, a small and unimportant nation, another notch on the belt of the Syrian army, initiated the process that lead to his healing. That he, a captain and a wealthy man of Syria would heed advice from a female servant from Israel would have been a blow to his pride and a lowering of his position. But desperate times call for drastic measures.

With pomp and circumstance, he loads up his impressive caravan and heads to Samaria with a letter of recommendation from the King of Syria himself. How little he understood the God from whom he sought healing! Caravans and crowns, prestige and position: these meant little to him. He required humility and faith, two things that money cannot buy.

He went first to the King of Israel, with money to impress and bribe, only to be redirected to the simple, side-road house of the prophet Elisha. Much to Naaman’s chagrin, the prophet did not even greet him directly, but rather sent a message to him through a servant, “Go and wash in the Jordan seven times, and your flesh shall be restored” (2 Kings 5:10).

His pride injured and insulted, Naaman fumed, “Are not Abana and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? Could I not wash in them and be clean?” (2 Kings 5:12).

Yet again, servants spoke sense to him. They bid him humbly honor the prophet’s request. Naaman laid down his wealth, his pride, and his national sentiments. He washed himself seven times in the muddy waters of the Jordan, and he came up healed, body and soul.

Ordinary Means, Extraordinary Means

While I don’t have leprosy, my soul is sick with pride. A true product of a culture that holds power, privilege, and wealth as the highest ends, I want to be special. I want to stand above as someone set apart.

Yet, the same Lord that bid Naaman wash in a common river, bids me to be washed in the muddy waters of common life. He bids me lay down my pride and position daily as a wife and a mother. He invites me to entrust my worth and identity to him as I follow the ordinary routines of grocery shopping, laundry washing, and carpool driving. Like Naaman, the acts of service the Lord bids me to obey often offend my sensibilities. There is little shininess or flash to such common acts of household and neighborhood service. The only caravan involved here is a caravan to sporting events.

However, these small, seemingly insignificant acts of obedience are killing the pride that is killing me. They are invitations to trust that God does beautiful things through common means. They are opportunities to actively believe that, through the means of small, ordinary, common acts of faithfulness, God is doing an eternal, lasting work. He is sanctifying and shaping me into one who deeply resembles him, even in the innermost parts.

Our salvation was secured by Christ. In baptism, we have been united to him in both his death and life. However, our sanctification involves regular baptism into ordinary, common acts of faithfulness. The Holy Spirit both invites us to lay aside pride and prestige, and enables us to dunk in the dirty waters of everyday obedience. In so doing, we are being transformed from one degree of glory to another (2 Corinthians 3:18).

A Labyrinth of Lies

Being stuck in one’s house and being stuck in one’s head are not one-in-the-same; however, they do seem to travel together. Lately, while continuing to do all the tasks of life on the surface, I have simultaneously been lost in a labyrinth of lies. I realize it’s not just me. I am watching my husband and boys wrestle through their own unique labyrinths even as I do.

I am adding the role of amateur cartographer to my resume. But before I can point them to the freedom of the truth, I have to be rescued from my own labyrinth daily. It is hard to point my children to freedom when I myself am shackled by chains of self-sufficiency. It is nearly impossible to lead my children to the adequacy of Christ when lies of inadequacy paralyze me.

Jesus knew the sinister lies of his long-time enemy. He was unafraid to publicly label him the father of lies.

He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies (John 8:44).

After all, Jesus had seen the angel-turned enemy slink into the garden to spread his half-truths (which are full lies). He saw those lies gather power like sinister snowballs, wreaking havoc in human history.

But just as the Enemy speaks and acts out of his own nature, so, too, does our Christ. He not only spoke the truth, He was the truth. The enfleshed word of God came down to lead us out of our labyrinths.

When the liar attempted a desert-version of the temptation in Eden, Christ stood in the truth. Fully human, he was tempted in every way as we are, but the lies did not entangle him (Hebrews 4:15-16). Even until the night before His death, He watched the twelve struggle to understand and believe the truths he declared to them constantly. He knew that apart from divine empowerment, they would not stand in the truth. As such, he promised them a divine helper and live-in truth-teller in the Holy Spirit (John 14:25-16).

Our Jesus stood in the truth even when his feet were lifted off the ground and nailed unto the Cross. He alone can lead us from the custom-made labyrinths of lies that have us cornered and cowering. He speaks the truth to us through His Word enlivened by His Spirit. He levels labyrinth lies with His love.

Send out your light and your truth; let them lead me; let them bring me to your holy hill and to your dwelling! (Psalm 43:3).

We are not enough; He is. We are not strong; He is. We are not wise; He is. We are not adequate; He is. We are not able; He is.

Your labyrinth is not mine. Nor is mine my husband’s or children’s. Even our own labyrinths shift with the cunning of their custom-builder. But the same loving leader rescues us all. He finds us, paralyzed and powerless. He lifts our eyes to him and leads us into the wide places of His freedom (2 Corinthians 3:17).

He brought me out into a broad place; he rescued me because he delighted in me (Psalm 18:19).

I don’t know what crafty lies of the coward have you and yours cowering today. Most of the time, I have a hard time identifying and naming the walls of my own entrapment. But I do know the One that does. He still levels lies with His love. He still speaks the truth that leads His people into the fullness of freedom.

When the Lighting Changes: An Advent Devotion

Lighting makes a difference, as anyone who has braved trying on clothes under fluorescent fitting room lights can tell you. An interrogation light shining upon one’s face sets an incredibly different stage than does the gentle flicker of candle light. Wise producers and authors match mood and lighting.

diego-ph-254975-unsplash

This morning, my heart was captured by what I imagine must have been a drastic light and scene change in the life of Mary.

One moment she was in the presence of the archangel, Gabriel. Shimmering, shining, emmanating light. Floodlights to match a sudden breakthrough annoucement of an impossible and unexpected birth. Bells and whistles, commanding angelic proclamation and promises. Mary was confused, to be sure, but she could not help but see that God was up to something. She must have been caught up in the moment, talking there face to face with angel of light. With the sure words of an archangel to shore up her wavering courage, Mary bravely submitted to this divine interruption and invitation.

Luke’s account of this momentous occasion ends with the following verses.

And the angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you…For nothing is impossible with God. 

And Mary said, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” 

And the angel departed from her (Luke 1:35 & 37-38). 

End stage lights. Depart emmanating presence of angelic messenger. Cue the silence.

Talk about a light change. While I have never been in the presence of an angel, I have been on a soccer field when the blinding, field-illuminating floodlights are suddenly turned off. An angel leaving a room, I imagine, leaves a much more drastic impression than that.

I wonder what it was like when the angel departed, leaving Mary alone with her thoughts. Was she like little children who tend to be brave in the clarity and comfort of strong lighting but fall apart when the lights go dim and the darkness creeps in?

As I imagined the lighting and scene change from such a moment of divine clarity to entering back into real life with a completely altered life plan, I found myself writing this poem.

Upon the Angel’s Departure

All was well and good
With Gabriel at hand;
His presence silenced
All she didn’t understand. 

His emmanating glow
Lit a spark of confidence;
His powerful promises
Covered the dissonance. 

The angel departed,
Leaving her alone.
The room grew dark,
The air colder than stone. 

Doubts began to scream,
“You’re a fool to enlist.
Who are you to fulfill
An errand such as this?”

Then a still, soft voice
Whispered into the fear,
“Oh, sweet favored one,
I’ll be so very near.”

“Each task entrusted to you,
My power will fulfill.
I will come upon you,
Willing in you my will.”

The doubts didn’t disappear;
They stayed her life through.
But in her heart she heard,
“God will strengthen you.”

When confidence departs,
As swift as Gabriel left,
Hear the whisper of God,
“Hide here in my cleft.”

Favored does not mean
The absence of all fear.
Favored simply means
By grace, our God is near. 

When the lighting changes drastically in our lives, may we know the deeply planted truth that God remains with us. In flickering candle light, in floodlights and even in moments of deep darkness and doubt, the promise of Christmas remains: Emmanuel, God with us.

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.