Category Archives: scripture

A Different Lever & A Better Place to Stand

Archimedes of Syracuse, a Third Century mathematician, philosopher and scientist, supposedly said during a demonstration of the lever, “Give me a place to stand, and I will move the world.”

Levers, while incredibly simple, are powerful tools. While I have known that for quite some time, recently while building a garage with my husband, I saw the power of a lever first hand. We had ridiculously heavy Hardee Backer walls we had constructed on the ground; however, we had to figure out ways for the two of us to get them off the ground and into place. Using simple leverage techniques and after much experimentation (and a few choice words), we were able to lift the walls into place.

As my boys are science nerds in the making, we spend hours working with Kevu blocks and simple machines; yet, I have not grown tired of watching levers at work.

Archimedes was right to be proud of the lever, such a simple thing that can move great objects. He was also right to know that in order for a lever to work, one needs a proper place to stand.  Lately I have been thinking of the a different lever and a better place to stand.

In Acts, the story of the early Church following Jesus’ Ascension back to the Father, we read the following account.

But the Jews were jealous, and taking some wicked men of the rabble, they formed a mob, set the city in an uproar, and attacked the house of Jason, seeking to bring them out to the crowd. And when they could not find them (Paul and his crew), they dragged Jason and some of the brothers before the city authorities, shouting, “These men who have turned the world upside down have come here also, and Jason has received them, and they are all acting against the decrees of Caesar, saying that there is another king, Jesus.”
Acts 17:5-7. 

This small group of disciples led by a ragtag leadership team of  under-schooled, overlooked fishermen and other misfits, were upsetting the status quo, shaking up the established order of religion and political life. What were they using to change the world?

Their lever: the cross, an instrument of shame and execution.

Their place to stand: not an official position or a country or a theocracy, but a place where, through Christ’s substitutionary atonement, they could confidently stand before the Throne of God.

From the beginning of the Church, the same strange lever and the same shocking place to stand have been slowly moving the world.

Those who have come under the kingship of Jesus, boldly proclaim the cross of shame on which He took our place and invite others to an eternal place to stand confidently before the throne of God.

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This news met with mixed reviews then and will continue to do so until our King finally establishes His forever reign in the New Heavens and the New Earth. Some saw and heard and experienced their own hard hearts melting, others scoffed and tried to stifle the strange news.

Sometimes, we forget the tools by which the Church is intended to move the world. Sometimes, instead of using our God-given lever and place to stand, we try to imitate the world’s tactics. We try to impress or intimidate or create our own little separate worlds. Other times, we forget that the gospel was intended to do work. We make it a trinket or a club membership card and sit in our comfortable rooms, unconcerned with the unmoved world and unclaimed hearts.

May we get busy with the same strange work that has been happening since Christ equipped us with His Spirit upon His leaving.

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!

The Relief of Resurrection

Relief comes in many shapes and sizes. Tired teachers sign off from Zoom calls with a satisfied fatigue on Fridays. College students nearly skip with levity and relief when they turn in finals and term papers. Families sigh in relief and smile in gratitude when results from biopsies come back negative. The entire Pacific Northwest danced with relief when rain fell to dissipate the heaviness of fire-filled air.

The nature of the burden and the length of time it has been borne appropriately shape the extent of corresponding relief when the burden has been finally lifted.

I am certain Noah waited with bated breath when he sent out the dove, hoping for signs of habitable earth after weeks of unprecedented flooding. When the dove came back bearing a branch, I imagine there were shouts of relief from the remnant of humanity who had been trapped with animals in a floating zoo. Abraham and Sarah laughed in relief when they finally held Isaac, their long-awaited, promised son. God’s people, long-accustomed to silence after the last words from the prophet Malachi, likely ran in relief to the shores of the Jordan to listen to John the Baptizer. Simeon and Anna, whose eyes were long-strained in search of the promised Messiah, looked upon Jesus through tears of relief.

But all of these moments of real relief pale in comparison to the relief of the resurrection. The Marys went to the tomb of their beloved Jesus despairing and helpless, convinced their hopes of Him being the Messiah were dashed. Despite the fact that he had healed and saved others, Jesus of Nazareth had not been healed, but harmed. The body of their beloved who had brought life and light wherever he went was sealed in a dark, dank tomb, along with their hopes.

All the collective moments of relief from all the heavy burdens of humanity ought to be like a feather in the scales compared to the relief of the resurrection. Death does not have the last word. The fear of death that had dogged the steps of humanity since Adam and Eve were ushered out of the garden Eden was lifted with the body of Christ.

As the writer of Hebrews so clearly stated to the Jewish believers, “through the power of death,” Jesus “delivered “all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery” (Hebrews 2:14-15). The fuzzy, far-off promises of the prophet Isaiah, “He will swallow up death forever (Isaiah 25:8) came into clear focus that morning when the grave clothes were folded and vacant.

Unfortunately, we tend to forget the relief that comes from the resurrection of Christ. The relief that is meant to enliven our every step toward glory and the levity of hope that is meant to lighten our souls in the most grave situations are lost on most of us. We are so focused on our present circumstances and the problems that weigh on us presently, that we tend to forget that our Christ has conquered death and risen up underneath it, lifting our burdens with himself.

We find ourselves looking forward to smaller sighs of relief like the weekend, the end of the election season, and an upcoming vacation, and it is right to enjoy these moments of rest. However, we don’t have to swim the seas of dread, waiting for tiny islands of relief. The rock solid reality of the resurrection is meant to be a bridge of relief that enables all of our days. The resurrected Christ who stood up from the tomb is meant to help us bear up under our own burdens.

I don’t know the exact burdens you carry today, but I know that they are heavy and hard. I know that we are a weary people in a weary land during a wearisome time. I know that it feels like the weights are crushing the ever-living life out of us. But that is not the end of the story. The resurrected and reigning Christ has given is the downpayment for the the coming day of great relief. With the psalmist we can say with confidence, “Blessed be the Lord who daily bears our burdens” (Psalm 68:19, NASB).

Seeing Through

Soul and sight are inextricably tied together. When my soul is rested and sated with my Savior, my eyes are full of light. They scan the physical topography of my life for the spiritual realities to which they were meant to point. 

On my best days, my eyes join my soul in looking for life from the Life-Giver who stands behind and underneath the realities of my life. Interruptions to my plans for the day can be seen as course corrections from a well-intended heavenly father. My children’s meltdowns can be seen as windows into their needs rather than weights to slow me down. 

Unfortunately, the inverse is also true. When my soul grows weary, my eyes tend to follow suit. They both give up on the hard work of looking through and begin looking at. 

Angry tears were welling in my eyes in carpool line. I felt put-upon and inconvenienced by circumstances that were out of my control. If I am honest, I felt angry with God. Angry that the days had not panned out in the ways I had carefully planned. Angry that choppy relationships seemed to be adding to an already-stormy season. Angry at the failures and foibles of others that reveal my own failures and foibles. After weeks of hard conversations and weighty circumstances, I found myself looking at circumstances and people rather than looking through them.

Seeing Through

My eyes and soul, that tired pair, had lost the ability to have a farther, deeper focus. They had stopped looking underneath and through circumstances and people and had settled for looking at them. Such sight is sure to end in disappointment and frustration, for our souls are made for a focal point far beyond this globe. Souls stilled by the gospel and lives anchored into His sure promises are able to look underneath and through circumstances back to the Savior.

Underneath that moment of disobedience is a boy who desperately needs to hear the gospel is true, not just in general, but specifically for him (see 1 John 1:9)

Underneath what feel like demands are deep needs and deep fears that are begging to be directed to a devoted Savior (Proverbs 20:5)

Underneath that angry social media post is a human heart swollen with a story needing to be heard (see James 1:19)

Underneath secondary causes is a loving Savior who is committed to my wholeness and sanctification as well as theirs (see Romans 8:28). 

Underneath the destruction of my paper-thin plans, there remains the immovable purposes of a good God. 

Seen Through

God, through His Spirt, His Word, and His people, invites me to see through because I have been seen through and yet loved. 

God has seen through my sad attempts at self-sufficiency, loving me enough to expose my utter insufficiency (see John 15:4). 

God has seen through my thick, complex walls of protection and has initiated to love the little girl who hides behind them (see Isaiah 25:12). 

God has seen through my attempts to boast in human knowledge and is slowly training me to let my only boast be understanding and knowing him (see Jeremiah 9:23-24). 

God has seen through my frantic need to have illusion of control and continually beckons me to trust Him as the blessed controller of all things (see 1 Timothy 6:15).

The reality is that I need to continually be seen through so that I might see through. I wish it were a one-and-done reality; however, God has seems to prefer an ongoing, relational dynamic with His children. 

When my eyes begin to look at rather than seeing through, my soul needs a fresh check-in with the Gentle Physician. When my focus becomes shortened, I need time to refocus on the One who sees me completely yet loves me fully. This will be my reality until that glorious day when my eyes can fully see the One whom fully sees me (see 1 John 3:2 & 1 Corinthians 13:12). 

On Secret Places

When the volume and pace of life get too loud for me, my soul starts to ache for my secret place. Almost subconsciously I find myself driving to Mission Trails, a vast regional park that provides wilderness in the midst of our city.

Even simply pulling in the parking lot, my heart begins to beat in excitement. Don’t be deceived: there is not much going on there. The landscape is mostly dry chaparral, cacti and dirt. The excitement comes from the promised lack of contrived excitement that my secret place promises.

When I go there, I know what to expect. The trees and trails don’t move. The water, which sometimes trickles and sometimes gushes with life, knows where to go. The rabbits, unconcerned with my concerns, go about their merry way.

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In The Winter of Our Discontent, John Steinbeck perfectly captures my sentiments about my secret place (not so secret now that you know; notice that I didn’t give you details).

“It is odd how a man believes he can think better in a special place. I have such a place, have always had it, but I know it isn’t thinking I do there, but feeling and experiencing and remembering. It’s a safety place -everyone must have one…”

I find it interesting that the Psalmists often talk about God being their secret place. Inwardly I know that Mission Trails is only the outer shell of my secret place, the container. The substance of my secret place is My Savior, the self-existent one who made every seen and secret place in the universe.

He who dwells in the shelter of the Most high will abide in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say to the Lord, “My refuge and my fortress, my God in whom I trust. Psalm 91:1-2

The Hebrew word translated shelter above comes from the root word sathar which means hidden, concealed, secret, hidden parts.

Let me dwell in your tent forever! Let me take refuge under the shelter of your wings! Psalm 61:4.

You are a hiding place for me; you preserve me from trouble, you surround me with shouts of deliverance. Psalm 32:7. 

Oh, how abundant is your goodness, which you have stored up for those who fear you and worked for those who take refuge in you in the sight of the children of mankind. In the cover of your presence you hide them from the plots of men; you store them in your shelter from the strife of tongues. Psalm 31:19-20.

These Psalms are merely a sampling of the cries of the soul for God to be the secret place, yet they remind us that we are not alone in our longings for the shelter, security, sameness of hidden places. We were made for them, just as surely as He knit us together in the secret places of our mother’s wombs.

I see this innate longing in my children as they seek secret nooks in our small home, create forts of blankets and pillows almost daily and request to be tucked in tightly into bed each night.

No matter what is happening in the circumstances of  life, the children of God have access to the secret place of the presence of the Lord through faith in Christ. The amazing thing about the secret shadow of His presence is that one need not drive to it or book a hotel or exotic vacation to find it. Through the indwelling Holy Spirit, we have access to the secret place in the throes of life, in line at the grocery store, in carline and in the chaos.

My favorite part of my physical secret places is that they set me for the stillness that strengthens my spiritual secret places. Literally. There is a huge boulder that I sit under when the scorching San Diego sun and lack of shade trees has me sun-burnt and sighing.

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As I sit under my huge boulder, I cannot help but think of the renewing shade of Jesus, our Eternal Rock.

Behold, a king will reign in righteousness, and princes will rule in justice. Each will be like a hiding place from the wind, a shelter from the storm, like streams of water in a dry place, like the shade of a great rock in a weary land. Isaiah 32:2

Oh, how I hope you have a secret place; even more so, I pray you know the secret place of His presence.

 

Overtaken

Deuteronomy reads like a father sharing his last bits of wisdom with his child before dropping them off at college. Moses, the faithful leader of God’s people, has led his wandering, often whining nation to the brink of the Promised Land. Knowing he won’t be entering with them, he prepares speeches laced with blessings and curses, reminding his beloved people to obey the Lord who had rescued them from Egypt and made them His chosen possession.

It is all too easy to read Deuteronomy through a moralistic lens. In fact, I found myself doing just that this week my studies led me to Deuteronomy 28 in which Moses begins another speech about the blessings of obedience.

“And if you faithfully obey the voice of the Lord your God, being careful to do all his commandments that I command you today, the Lord your God will set you high above all the nations of the earth. And all these blessings shall come upon you and overtake you, if you obey the voice of the Lord your God. Blessed shall you be in the city, and blessed shall you be in the field. Blessed shall be the fruit of your womb, and the fruit of your ground and the fruit of your cattle, and the increase of your herds and the young of your flock. Blessed shall be your basket and your kneading bowl. Blessed shall you be when you come in, blessed shall you be when you go out” (Deuteronomy 28:1-6).

That is quite a laundry list of all-encompassing blessings. Moses uses powerful the powerful imagery of a wave of blessings overtaking, overcoming, and surrounding God’s people if they would only obey. The Hebrew word nasag literally means to reach, to overtake, or to catch. And this word is more than a mere word for Moses’ original audience. Remember, these are the children of the refugees who were almost utterly overtaken by the ensuing chariots of the strongest military in the then-known world. In fact, the exact same word is used to describe Pharaoh’s army catching up to God’s people as they were encamped by the Red Sea.

If only imaging a wave of blessings overtaking us were motivation enough to enable our obedience. However, both history and the human heart show ample evidence that Moses’ impassioned pleas were not enough to secure the obedience of God’s people.

The Christian worldview offers so much more than a list of blessings for those who obey and curses for those who don’t. Every other religion offers those. Karma promises that good will catch up to those doing good, while evil will catch up to those doing evil. Christianity alone offers a Savior who was overtaken with curses that we might be overtaken and surrounded by such abundant, undeserved blessing. Curses encompassed him so that blessing could encompass us.

Overtaken

A wave of curses,
Gathering strength
By human weakness,
Overtook the One
Who always obeyed
In total meekness.

The consequences and
Curses we earned
By hearts bent on self
Caught up to Him
Who ought inherit
All eternal wealth.

Evil overtook Him
Who hung cursed
Upon the tree;
Blessing overtakes
All who to Him
For hope flee.

Today I’m overtaken
By blessings from
The overtaken one.
Goodness catches
My sin-caught heart,
In love I am undone.

A Tale of Two Brothers

Jacob and Esau entered the world engaged in conflict with one another. Their conflict escalated to involve their favoring parents and came to a climax in a cockamamie plot in which the younger swindled the blessing from the other. These brothers were dysfunctional long before modern psychology popularized that term.

At heart, their battle was birthed in a fear of scarcity and a desperate need to secure the blessing. While that might seem strange to us, we must understand that in their culture, the blessing meant everything: promise, security, approval, significance, land, and authority. Primogeniture secured these to the oldest child, but Jacob and Rachel, informed by a promise of God, but mislead by their own impatience and imperfections, would have it be otherwise.

When we think of these brothers, the scenes that rush to mind are a hand grabbing a  heal, a hairy mantle, a blind and befuddled father whose stomach took over, and someone pouting over soup; however, their tale did not end there. Genesis 33 gives us a snapshot of a powerful reconciliation and reunion between these two long-estranged brothers. We would do well to let their end overshadow their shady beginning.

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Scarcity & Abundance for Them

Their estrangement began with Jacob wisely fleeing for his life; after all, his brother was a great hunter and an incredible shot. I cannot imagine all the imaginary dialogues that happened in Jacob and Esau’s heads over the decades that followed. The regret, the anger,  the longing, and the questions posed.

Genesis 33 picks up with an aged and changed Jacob who has just had his epic and limp-inducing wrestle with the angel of the Lord. He is understandably anxious about meeting his brother for the first time since he fled as a young man many years before. He sends gifts and an entourage to prepare Esau for his coming and humbly prepares for the worst.

“He himself went on before them [his wives and children], bowing himself to the ground seven times, until he came near to his brother. But Esau ran to meet him and embraced him and fell on his neck and kissed him, and they wept” (Genesis 33:3-4). 

Two time- and experience-changed brothers weep and hug as they are reunited. They begin tear-filled introductions to previously unknown and unmet sisters-in-law and nieces and nephews.  Then conversation picks back up with Esau asking why all the pomp and circumstance.

“Esau said, ‘What do you mean by  all this company that I met?’  Jacob answered,  ‘To find favor in the sight of my lord.’ But Esau answered, ‘I have enough, my brother.’ (Genesis 33:9). 

Then the sweetest sibling squabble of seeking to outdo one another in honor ensues. What a juxtaposition from their early squabbles over what they perceived to be a scarcity of blessing.

“Jacob said…’Please accept my blessing that is brought to you, because God has dealt graciously with me, and because I have enough’.” (Genesis 33:11). 

The brothers who had grown to hate one another out of fear of scarcity embrace, having finally recognized the abundance of their God.

That repeated phrase, “I have enough” stood out to me, especially considering the pair from which it was coming. As young brothers, they had fiercely fought over the blessing, thinking God was a God of scarcity. Yet,  here, as older men, they are fighting to confer the blessing on one another, having seen and experienced the abundance of their God.

Scarcity & Abundance for Us

While we may consider ourselves and our society far advanced from fights over stealing birthrights, the same battle out of scarcity ravages our society and our souls.

Parents paying to secure a spot for their children in prestigious universities. Companies, politicians, and news stations fighting for airspace in which to continue their colonization of the minds of the public. Political parties grasping at each other’s heels,  fighting for the seats of power.

The message is clear, sometimes even in the Church. There is not enough to go around. It is every man, woman, and child for him or herself. Grab and seize.

We have much to learn from the aged and experienced Jacob and Esau. After having spent their lives conniving and grasping, hoarding power and position, they realize they have enough.  If they began to recognize the abundant, superfluous nature of the love of God then, how much more might we recognize it, standing on the other side of the life, death, and resurrection of Christ.

In Christ we have far more than enough. We have all the spiritual blessings in the heavenly realms (see Ephesians 1). We have been conferred with blessing upon blessing (see Psalm 103).

As we trudge forward in the political power war of scarcity in which we find ourselves, may we spend more time swimming in the abundance of Christ.

Wildfires

Our state is on fire in more ways than one. As multiple wildfires rage across California, my heart is heavy on multiple levels. Heavy for those evacuating homes once again. Heavy for the families of firefighters who leave everything, drive to the epicenter of flames, and risk their lives to protect both the land and the people of our state.

But the actual wildfires serve as a visual picture of the political and spiritual reality of our state. Hardship heaps on top of hardship, question upon question, crisis upon crisis, leaving a confounded people.

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Thankfully, the Scriptures serve to remind us that we are not unique in our plight. The Bible is set in the context of broken, desperate circumstances and includes a cast  of broken, desperate people.

The poet who penned Psalm 104 prays that God would come to renew the face of the the earth. He recognized the helpless, hopeless state of God’s people and God’s place without the help and hope of God’s presence and power. Having painted a beautiful picture of the dependence of various created things upon their Creator, he writes the following.

These all look to you to give them their food in due season. When you give to them, they gather it up; when you open your hand, they are filled with good things. When you hide your face, they are dismayed; when you take away their breath,  they  die and return to their dust. When you send forth your Spirit, they are created, and you renew the face of the ground  (Psalm 104:27-30). 

Creation mirrors recreation. Just as the breath of the Spirit creates organic life in the first two chapters of Genesis, the Spirit’s breath renews and recreates spiritual life, as Jesus stated in his conversation with Nicodemus about spiritual birth in John 3:1-8. Both our physical and spiritual states show our deep dependence upon our Creator and Sustainer.

California needs renewal both spiritually and physically, as do I.

Wildfires

Our state is on fire
In more ways than one.
Hearts and homes burning,
The season only begun.

Our need for water
Is similarly stratified.
Internal and external ground,
Neglected, withered, dried.

Fight flame with flame.
Meet fire with fire.
Pour out your Spirit.
Point to our true desire.

Disruption, while discomforting,
Reveals our deepest needs,
Shows us the deep beauty
Of One who for us pleads. 

Breath once again, Lord.
Renew the face of the ground.
For where your Spirit blows,
Life begins to abound. 

 

An Antidote for Control

Three trips to Home Depot. Two trips to Ikea. One trip to Big Lots. Over the past few days, my handy husband and I have been in all-out task mode attempting to speedily make desk spaces for our children. The obvious felt need to make conducive learning spaces for each of our boys covered a less overt deeper need in my soul: something I could control.

My desire to order and shape what feels chaotic is not in and of itself a bad thing. On the contrary, such desires to order the private and public places in which God has placed us stem from the desired end for which we were created: to image and glorify God. After all, God spoke order and structure into the unordered world created by His words. He set boundaries for the seas, telling them where to stop. He separated the light from the dark, creating the earth’s sun to rule the day and the moon the night (along with the countless other suns and moons of our galaxy and those in the countless other galaxies beyond our own).

In the Garden of Eden, the Father gave his first human creations the compliment of joining him in his ordering work. He invited them to tend to the garden and name the plants and animals of the freshly-minted world. In the gospel of Christ, our Triune God gave us the means to begin to live ordered spiritual lives that begin with right-standing with God. The Holy Spirit continues His ongoing work of integration (making whole) in a world deeply influenced by an enemy who is constantly disintegrating (pulling apart). Much to our surprise, He does this primarily through indwelling and reshaping the hearts and minds of believers in Christ. 

The desire to order our private worlds is not wrong; however, sometimes this desire becomes inordinate and idolatrous. While the desks turned out beautifully, they were not able to deliver the peace and reassurance that I was subconsciously demanding of them. Lest you think me alone in being crazy enough to think that inanimate objects of my own making could satisfy soul needs within me, the prophet Isaiah repeatedly spoke of similar trends.

The desks were more an attempt to control a world that feels increasingly out of control. On top of the pressure cooker that is pandemic living, we have friends who are losing loved ones and relational and financial stressors of our own. There are far more questions whirling around in my head and heart than there are anchored answers. With mounting fears, comes the growing need for control, as fear and control create quite a feedback loop. When we are afraid, we grasp for control. In our grasping for control, we stir up more fear.

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What the desks could not deliver, the Word of God did, offering an antidote for my need to control. While reading one of my favorite Psalms, the Spirit opened my eyes to fresh insights.

“Into your hand I commit my spirit; you have redeemed me, O Lord, faithful God” (Psalm 31:5). 

David, who penned this psalm, often had very little control over his circumstances. Though he had been anointed to be the future king of Israel, he spent many years being hounded and harmed by the presiding and precarious King Saul. In the midst of circumstances he could not control, he committed his circumstances and his very life to the blessed controller of all things. The Hebrew word pagad, translated commit above, can also be translated to appoint, to point in charge, and to give oversight. Thus, David appointed God to be in charge of the things that he knew he could not control. Rather than grasping for control, he gave it over to the One who could far better create, sustain, and restore all things.

When we face fearful circumstances without and conundrums within, we have a similar choice: to commit or to control.

Thankfully, we have one who did this fully and completely even in the gravest circumstances that led from a cross to a grave. The One who perfectly ordered and arranged all things took on himself all that was dis-ordered about ourselves and our world. And while he suffered in doing so, he actually quotes from this Hebrew Psalm, crying out, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit” (Luke 23:46).

May this week finding you seeking to commit more and control less.

Imposition & Accommodation

We are an imposing people. When stepping into a culture, we tend to impose ourselves and our ways onto it. We impose our own agendas. We impose our own plans. We impose our blueprints. 

Some of this knack for imposition is commendable. After all, it allowed our forefathers to create a nation in a hostile landscape against all odds. It was the stuff that shaped the American Dream. However, this same tendency that raised our nation, also caused us to raze the culture of the native people who lived in this land long before us. 

In his essay “A Native Hill,” Wendell Berry juxtaposes paths with roads. Since roads don’t typically hold my interest unless they result in an inconvenient flat tire, I was tempted to skim read over it; however, I am so glad that I stayed the course. The underlying principle he was delineating has been shaping my approach to God, His word, and His world this week. 

“A path is little more than a habit that comes with knowledge of a place. It is a sort of ritual of familiarity. As a form, it is a form of contact with a known landscape. It is not destructive. It is the perfect adaptation, through experience and familiarity, of movement to place; it obeys the natural contours; such obstacles as it meets it goes around. A road, on the other hand, even the most primitive road, embodies a resistance against the landscape. Its reason is not simply the necessity of movement, but haste. Its wish is to avoid contact with the landscape;  it seeks so far as possible to go over the country, rather than through it…It is destructive, seeking to remove or destroy all obstacles in its way.”

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Far from trying to make us feel guilty about roads, Berry seems more to be prodding at our hearts’ need to impose itself on everything and everyone around us. 

I don’t think of myself as an imposing person. I tend to yield adequately to others, and I don’t even like to ask for ketchup at a restaurant, and; however, Berry’s words have had me running a magnifying glass over my motives and methods of being. Unfortunately, there is far more of a tendency to impose in me than I thought. 

This should not surprise me. After all, the first act of human betrayal against God was an imposition of human judgement and desire rather than an adoring accommodation to Divine judgement and desire. At Babel, humans sought to impose their plans on the earth. When God’s people were no longer content with their unseen ruler, they imposed upon God, demanding a king they could see. The Pharisees, the trained professional religious people of Jesus’s day, sought to impose their human traditions not only on the poor and vulnerable, but also on the God-man himself. 

It seems that our fallen human nature tends towards imposition. This bent is only reinforced when set in a culture of imposition. Our culture tells us to dream a big dream and then impose it on our lives, no matter the cost, no matter the resistance. While this might lead to short-term success, it eventually ends in ruin. For, as the Proverbs say, “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death” (Proverbs 14:12). 

Christ offers us another way: the way of accommodation. The one whose words created the world and whose planning parted the earth from the heavens and the sky from the sea, could have imposed himself on humanity. All power was his as rightful Creator and owner of all. Yet, that God chose to accommodate himself to our needs. Seeing that we were doomed to continue to impose our will over his own, He stepped into the world he had created. Though being in very nature God, he did not consider equality with God something to be grasped or utilized, but emptied himself by taking the form of a servant (Philippians 2: 6-7). 

He accommodated his infinite self to the confines of Mary’s wombs. He replaced unlimited power with the limitations of mortal man. He knew hunger and heaviness, thirst and tiredness. When tempted by His longtime enemy to impose his ways and his power immediately, he chose the way of trusting accommodation the Father’s timetable and tactics (see Matthew 4:1-11). In the garden, his desire to live sought to impose itself, but he eventually bent his will to the way of his father which would end at Calvary. 

Looking out upon yet another week of Covid calendaring, I am tempted to impose my will. To force my desires and to dig up enough grit to make the week do what I want it to do; however, I am praying that I choose the path of accommodation rather than the road of imposition. 

I want to hold the Father’s hand as we walk into a new week and try to plan for online schooling. I want to see what the Father has in store for each day and each week rather than start with my own agenda. I want to have my will bent to his rather than seeking to bend his to mine (which never turns out well, by the way). 

May we stay close to our Savior’s side and follow him in the path of accommodation this week. Happy trails to you, my friend!