Category Archives: scripture

On Authenticity

Authentic is a buzzword these days. Authentic cultural cuisine, authentic, hand-made goods, authentic connection, authentic ingredients in baby food and make up. Authentic anything really.

The constant cry for authenticity emerged from the backdrop of decades of synthetic, mass-produced, largely-plastic everything. Assembly-line-produced, shrink-wrapped, cookie-cutter capitalism has been coloring society, beginning with the Industrial Revolution and climaxing in the late 20th century, the church and religious experience sadly included.

Photo by Artem Beliaikin on Unsplash

Postmodern people want authenticity in relationships and religion, in jeans and in Jesus. Thankfully, even before the postmodern culture, people longed for truth. The Apostle John was the first of the gospel writers to seek to contextualize the gospel to his particular culture: the Greco-Roman culture. John longed to introduce the culture to the Jesus with whom he had personally walked, talked, laughed, and cried.

What authenticity is to our present culture, truth was to the culture John sought to address. As such, it is not surprising that the Greek word aléthinos which is translated “true, authentic, genuine, or real” appears consistently throughout John’s writings (the Gospel of John, the letters of John, and the book of Revelation). In fact, 23 of the 28 uses of this word meaning true or authentic are Johannine.

John was clearly concerned with presenting the Greco-Roman truth-seekers with the deepest, most authentic truth which was found in the person of Christ. He shows the surrounding culture that God is serious about authenticity as well.

John introduced Jesus as “the true light which gives light to everyone” (John 1:9). He records Jesus having told the woman at the well from Samaria that he was seeking “true worshippers” who would worship in both spirit and truth (John 4:23). Jesus told his disciples that, in him, the Father sent His “true bread from heaven” (John 6:32). Jesus reminded those who followed him that the Father who sent him was true (John 7:28) and that his own judgement was true (John 8:16).

In some of his last discourses with his closest friends and disciples, Jesus called himself “the true vine” (John 15:1). In his prayer to the Father on the eve of his death, he addresses his Father as “the only true God” (John 17:3). Later, when John was speaking about the Cross of Christ as an eye-witness, he reassures his readers that “his testimony is true” and that he is “telling the truth” (John 19:35).

Either John (and the Jesus he records) did not have a thesaurus or an expansive vocabulary or he was being quite intentional with his use of the word true.

In a world of thousands of claims of truth, John wants his readers to know that the deepest, fullest, most veracious truth is found In the Triune God. Our absolute God is absolute in His authenticity. What He says and does and thinks is true, authentic, genuine, and real.

While it is not wrong to want to purchase authentic handmade goods and have authentic conversations and express our authentic feelings, we must understand that underneath these pangs for authenticity lies a soul-deep need for an authentic encounter with the authentic God.

What John’s audience needed to hear back then we need to hear today. There is a God who is authentic in all He is and does. And He knows our hearts in all their awful authenticity (both the positive and negative connotations of the term). He experienced live authentically as the God-man and he bore an awful death on our behalf. He invites us into an authentic relationship with him. It doesn’t get more authentic that that, does it?

Oh, that we would be pressed even deeper into our desire for authenticity.

Be a Bellwether

“Be a bellwether!” You don’t see that on motivational posters hanging in classrooms. You don’t hear it in pep rallies or board meetings. But you should!

In its present day vernacular a bellwether is a trendsetter, an indicator of the future, or a gauge for future trends. (e.g. the Apple corporation is the bellwether for technological advances). By this definition, I am, by no means, a bellwether. I might be one of the latest adapting humans I know. I still own an iphone 4. I like paper calendars. I listen to CDs in my car.

However, the term actually came from a shepherding practice used in the Middle East and Europe.

When leading their flocks full of personality, some shepherds actually learned to lead through a few sheep. They trained a few particular sheep to listen closely to their voices and to be attuned to their location. Eventually, the shepherds placed a bell around the neck of these “wethers” (thus, the term bellwether). The bellwether served as twofold help to the shepherd. First, the shepherd could listen for the sounds of the bell which would indicate the location and his flock. Secondly, other sheep would follow the bellwether as it followed the shepherd.

This original definition of a bellwether has become a beacon for my heart and soul. In a culture full of influencers, this is a kind of influence I can wrap my heart around. David, the Shepherd-turned-king of Ancient Israel, knew a thing or twenty about leading stubborn animals. His expertise leading animals colored the way He saw the Lord as His own Good Shepherd, as seen so obviously in Psalm 23, but also in Psalm 32.

I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my eyes upon you. Be not like a horse or mule, without understanding, which must be curbed with bit and bridle, or it will not stay near you. Many are the sorrows of the wicked, but steadfast love surrounds the one who trusts in the Lord (Psalm 32:9-10).

This entire psalm describes the blessing of being forgiven through honest confession and walking in constant humility and dependence. David knew a thing about being a horse or mule without understanding, as he had stubbornly ignored the Lord and forcefully gone his own way into adultery and murder. He uses his painful experience to call others to stay rather than stray, to invite God’s people to be humbly led by their Good Shepherd.

Stay close to His staff, for He leads to still waters even through valleys shadowed by death. Be attentive to His Spirit’s gentle nudges and slight course corrections. Allow yourself to be led. Make it easy for your Savior-Shepherd to guide you. Be a bellwether whose life helps others find and follow their Good Shepherd.

A Psalm of Life
by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Tell me not, in mournful numbers, 
   Life is but an empty dream! 
For the soul is dead that slumbers, 
   And things are not what they seem. 

Life is real! Life is earnest! 
   And the grave is not its goal; 
Dust thou art, to dust returnest, 
   Was not spoken of the soul. 

Not enjoyment, and not sorrow, 
   Is our destined end or way; 
But to act, that each to-morrow 
   Find us farther than to-day. 

Art is long, and Time is fleeting, 
   And our hearts, though stout and brave, 
Still, like muffled drums, are beating 
   Funeral marches to the grave. 

In the world’s broad field of battle, 
   In the bivouac of Life, 
Be not like dumb, driven cattle! 
   Be a hero in the strife! 

Trust no Future, howe’er pleasant! 
   Let the dead Past bury its dead! 
Act,— act in the living Present! 
   Heart within, and God o’erhead! 

Lives of great men all remind us 
   We can make our lives sublime, 
And, departing, leave behind us 
   Footprints on the sands of time; 

Footprints, that perhaps another, 
   Sailing o’er life’s solemn main, 
A forlorn and shipwrecked brother, 
   Seeing, shall take heart again. 

Let us, then, be up and doing, 
   With a heart for any fate; 
Still achieving, still pursuing, 
   Learn to labor and to wait.

The Need for Frontiers

Since moving out West, I have found myself fascinated by literature about the frontier. What made people leave the comforts of acred land nestled with shade trees and by an abundance of water risk everything to move to a draught-stricken, untamed, and often uncomfortable land? Was it truly just a lust for land and stars and space? At what point does the risk overrun the reward of such wanderlust?

I am not the first to question these things. Much wiser and more eloquent writers have spent their lives dug into these questions which seem to grow in the parched soil of the West, Wallace Stegner, John Steinbeck, and Seamus Heaney being among my favorites.

Raising three boys, I am watching the hunger for frontiers in my own home. Whenever our stringent schedules allow, we find ourselves longing for some new hike to explore or middling mountain to conquer. When we first moved here ten years ago, I remember reading a plaque at one of our favorite regional parks about mountain lions needing thousands of acres to satisfy their innate need to roam. I watched as my then-young pack of boys ran every which way, needing their own vast territories. It seems mountain lions, little men, and their mothers still need such space.

Whenever we steal away from San Diego to find new frontiers, we enjoy ourselves, but we never leave satisfied. Even on the car ride home, fresh off of a hike (smelling less-than-fresh), we are planning our next adventure. We may not be homesteaders in Conestoga wagons, but I think the same spirit drives us both, separated as we are by centuries and technologies.

Frustrated Frontiers

If some humans are hard-wired for frontiers, all humans share in the frustration that comes when the sought-out frontier cannot carry the weights we have placed upon them. The disillusionment and insidious distilling of disappointment we feel even when we have seen and experienced natural beauty evidences that we are made for more than this life.

In his short story The Red Pony, John Steinbeck explores the theme of the disappointment that comes when we reach the limits of our frontiers. The grandfather in the story is stuck in his memories of his frontier days, though they have long past. He continues to tell the same stories, much to the chagrin of his family.

“It wasn’t Indians that were important, nor adventures, nor even getting out here…It was westering and westering… When we saw the mountains at last, we cried- all of us. But it wasn’t getting here that mattered- it was movement and westering.”

After years of telling the same stories, Grandfather finally admits the frustration on the end of frontiers, whether physical or metaphysical.

“Then we came down to the sea, and it was done…There’s no place to go. There’s the ocean to stop you. There’s a line of old men along the shore hating the ocean because it stopped them.”

Our boys have wanderlust to visit the national parks. They get it honest from their momma who gets it honest from her parents. But even the most amazing natural wonders will stop them like the ocean stopped grandfather. Even in the modern world where frontiers barely exist, we continue our westering. We simply place the frontier line as a certain level of lifestyle or a far-off benchmark of achievement. If we can’t go west anymore, we instead seek to go up- up the ladder of success, following the way of more. More money, more possessions, more adventure, more travel, more influence, more fame.

Yet, all of those frontiers have oceans that will stop us dead in our tracks.

The Father’s Frontier

The reality is that we were made for the inexhaustible and the eternal. Eternity has been stamped in our feeble hearts (Ecclesiastes 3:11). We were made to live in the context of an unlimited God whose wonders never cease. In the words of C.S. Lewis, we are wired to keep going “further up and in further in!”

Our hunger for beauty will always outpace the beauty of this broken world. Our need for newness will always be frustrated in our sin-aged world. The shiny of a new home or a new season of life or a new toy will always become scratched. This is a severe mercy that pushes us into the Father’s frontier.

The only ocean we will encounter on that frontier is the never-ceasing ocean of His love. If, rather than seeking to move “westward,” whatever that means for you, we commit to moving deeper into His love and the knowledge of Him, we will never be ultimately disappointed (Romans 5:1-5).

Hymn-writer Frederick Faber perfectly captures this reality in “The Eternal Spirit.”

“Ocean, wide-flowing ocean,
Thou, of uncreated love;
I tremble as within my soul,
I feel Thy waters move.
Thou art a sea without a shore;
Awful, immense, Thou art;
A sea which can contract itself
Within my narrow heart.”

If other frontiers are leaving you frustrated, come join the march of the saints towards the Father’s frontier. Such a pilgrimage will last for an eternity!

Sons are Slippery

I cry during commercials and movies, but I weep at weddings. I can usually hold it together when the bride walks toward her groom, but I officially lose it during the mother/son dance.

As a mother of three sons, I cannot help but imagine myself in that position in the future. In a moment, my mind flashes back through a montage of memories with each of my boys: dancing in the kitchen, watching them ride a bike for the first time, remembering the first time they failed at something significant that broke their heart.

What seemed impossibly far off when they were toddlers toting their blankets becomes more realistic every year. One day, I will send these boys off, not merely to kindergarten or the prom, but to their own future. While they will always be my sons, the intervals between check-ins with their mother have been slowly lengthening. I remember being nervous to leave them for a thirty-minute jog when they were infants. I remember mutual tears at preschool drop-offs. As recently as this year, I cried tears dropping them off for middle school.

Sometimes I want to cling to them, to try to clutch them too close, to corral them in realms I can control. But the best way to hold these boys of mine is with one hand tightly holding the Lord and one hand loosely holding them.

Seamus Heaney’s poem Mother of the Groom perfectly captures the slipperiness of sons. While I don’t know if the Lord has marriage in store for my boys, this poem captures a mother’s heart and the slippery nature of sons well.

“What she remembers
Is his glistening back
In the bath, his small boots
In the ring of boots at her feet.

Hands in her voided lap,
She hears a daughter welcomed.
It’s as if he kicked when liften
And slipped her soapy hold.

Once soap would ease off
The wedding ring
That’s bedded forever now
In her clapping hand.”*

Heaney’s mention of a voided lap and her clapping hands reminds me that there is joy in every season. My older boys have long since vacated my lap. Their disproportionately growing feet barely fit in my lap these days. But they will never vacate my heart. And, as one who has hope in the Lord, I can smile and even clap at the future (Proverbs 31: 25).

Photo by Vytis Gruzdys on Unsplash

For this season, God has entrusted these boys to me. These days are slipping by and these boys of mine are growing increasingly slippery. But the Lord who has entrusted them to me has a love that is steady and sure. To teach them to stand firm in him is one of the highest calls on my life.

I don’t want to pitter away these precious days filled with sweaty socks and deepening voices and constant snacking. I don’t want to miss the fleeting moments that happen as we drive to school or on our occasional hikes. I want to bottle them up and treasure them in my heart.

As I raise them, I have to fight the urge to place my deepest identity in mothering. Such an ill-founded identity will fail them as quickly as it will fail me. My deepest identity must be found in being the beloved of the Lord, the daughter of the Perfect Father, the dwelling place of the brooding-like-a-mother Holy Spirit. As I fight for this identity, my prayer is that it would bleed into their own.

Then, when my lap and these bunk beds are voided, I will still have a lifetime of being siblings in Christ with these slippery sons of mine.

*Seamus Heaney. Opened Ground. New York, NY: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1998, 66.

A Word for Weary Warriors

Even warriors grow weary. Exhausted healthcare workers, fighting to not only serve but also truly see their patients, long to be seen. Single mommas working to keep food on the table begin to run on steam. Pastors who speak consistent truth to their congregations need someone to speak the truth to them. Deployed military personnel who leave home to keep our home fronts safe wonder if anyone even notices.

If ever there was a warrior, King David was he. He was a renaissance man long before the renaissance: A shepherd who single-handedly protected his flock from a lion and a bear; an unexpected youth warrior unafraid of a literal giant; a poet who penned songs of longing and love; a furtive fugitive who stayed alive against all odds; a wise king who led a previously marginalized people through their golden era.

In 2 Samuel 23, we hear the last words of King David as he looks back over his storied life. From the vantage point of the end, he looks back and sees a God who has made and kept covenant with him.

“For does not my house stand so with God? For he has made with me an everlasting covenant, ordered in all things and secure?” (2 Samuel 23:5).

However, immediately after his last words, the writer of the book sees fit to include a lengthy section of Scripture dedicated to his mighty men. David had a mighty God, and such a God also provided him with many mighty men.

Initially the list reads as one would expect a list of mighty men to read: A warrior who “wielded the spear against eight hundred men” (verse 8), another warrior who “defied the Philistines” until his hand cramped from so tightly holding his sword (verse 10), and other such feats of strength and bravery. However, the list shifts to those whose bravery showed itself in feats of friendship and lasting encouragement.

At a low point in his roller coaster life, David found himself hiding in the Cave of Adullam with a band of strong and ruthless enemies surrounding the valley. Loneliness and fear were wearing down event this mighty warrior. After all, even those who break through impenetrable cities have penetrable hearts pierced with longings and doubts. Is life worth the pain and weariness? Would there ever be rest? Did anyone even miss him or notice his absence? Was all of this effort amounting to anything? Even worse, had God forgotten him?

Into this literal and emotional dark cave of hiding, thirty friends came bringing life and light and hope. They found their leader weary, weak, and uncharacteristically whiny.

And David said longingly, “Oh, that someone would give me water to drink from the well of Bethlehem that is by the gate!” (2 Samuel 23:15).

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Moved by his vulnerability, three men were moved to action. They risked their lives to sneak into Bethlehem, which was then the garrison of the enemies (verses 14 and 16).

When they returned, David’s heart was strengthened, though he refused to drink the water. Realizing the costliness of their sacrifice and the depth of their friendship and devotion to him, David could not drink the water. Rather, he poured it out to the Lord saying, “Far be it from me, O Lord, that I should do this. Shall I drink the blood of the men who went to risk their lives?” (2 Samuel 23:17).

It turns out our hearts need companionship and love more than even our bodies need water. The reminder of those who saw him and loved him did more to strengthen him than the cup of water ever could.

Weary warrior, I don’t know what your heart longs and whines for in your weariness. But I do know this: there is a friend who not only risked his life, but willingly let his blood pour out on the ground for you. He not only broke into the enemy stronghold, but was held captive by death itself for days. He comes to you in your dark caves and moments of weightiest weariness to be with you.

May these realities strengthen and embolden your heart today, friend.

Competing Justices

In the name of seeking justice, injustice is birthed from competing justices. These are no mere philosophical musings, as this statement only describes the bitter battlefields of the past few years.

We are not the first to live in a pluralistic society where different concepts of justice are warring to establish their vision of fairness and rightness in the world. After all, Jesus himself was born into a time rife with pluralism in the Roman Empire. He was born into the Jewish people, who themselves were divided about how to respond to Roman occupation and Roman rule. Some sought to keep the peace and assimilate, others wanted to fight power with power, others sought to focus on living holy lives (and even within this group, various subgroups fought about what constituted living a holy life).

It is what C.S. Lewis called chronological snobbery to think our current battlefield singular and unique in the human experience. I am not belittling the bewilderment and frustration of our particular cultural moment. We are living in mind-boggling, soul-shaking, foundation-exposing times. However, this current ideological battlefield is only a new front of a very ancient war (Ephesians 6:12).

As those made in the image of God, every human has some remnant of a justice sentiment. We want fairness and fight when what we define as fairness is violated. But what happens when we have different concepts of fairness or even those with the same end-goal conceive of vastly different routes to take towards such an ideal?

I need not tell you what happens. You are living in what happens.

One must either hide and hang out only within those who agree with your sense of justice (huddle, hide, and hope for better times) or fight with those who differ, whether with missiles or malicious words (fiercely fight for military or political might).

In his book The Everlasting Man, G.K Chesterton argues that God wisely stepped into time exactly when he did. The wave of the world had crested; humanity and a merely human concept of justice had reached its crest in the Roman Empire. Man had done the best he could. And failed. Miserably. Our best attempts at establishing justice only proved our inability and created more injustice.

Any and every solution build from man for man will fail. Man and man-made systems cannot fix the problem that man created when man rejected God as the center and hub of all things, visible and invisible.

Christ refused to be drawn into the battle lines that had been drawn by men. He continually pointed to the battle lines that we drew when we stepped outside the ancient boundary given by God for our good. But he did far more than point to them. He stepped into the injustice and bore the weight of eternal injustice.

Competing Justices

We clamor for the perfect king:
We campaign only to arraign
We endlessly elect leaders
Who promise but don’t attain.

We demand only to depose,
Measure by a shifting scale.
One group builds a system
That another works to derail.


One of a limited vantage point
Points the finger at another.
Justice competes with justice.
Arming brother against brother.

Man-made justice keeps failing;
Every attempt earns the verdict.
The evidence is irrefutable:
We cry for a rule who is perfect.

Yet we have always had Him.
The King of thorn and scar.
His substantive Word stands.
His justice is better by far.

I don’t have neat answers for how to live in this strange time. I haven’t studied political science. I am wrestling deeply with how to live out God’s commands to do justice and love mercy since they are so close to his heart (James 1:27).But I do know this much. God is the just judge (Psalm 45:6-7). He sets the parameters (Isaiah 44:24-25). He is preeminent (Colossians 1:15-20). He has priority (Matthew 6:33). He himself is our peace (Ephesians 2:14).

This Just Judge submitted to unjust authorities to bear injustices we committed. We must learn our justice from the only Just One.

The Lord is Our Lodestar

Supposedly people are leaving California by droves. I saw a Babylon Bee this week to the effect of awarding Governor Newsom the highest salesman for U-Haul trucks. I do not want to get political. I think I am largely allergic to politics. 

That being said, I felt the weight of the world this week. I felt the weight of the reality that God has led us to have our children in public schools in San Diego (if you disagree, please take it up with the Lord himself, as we get our orders for our children each year from him). Even those who are not called to raise their children in an urban, postChristian, postmodern city must grapple with the incredibly strong cultural currents that are ripping through once seemingly (though only seemingly) serene cultural seas. 

This Friday, I spoke to our youth, a motley crew of 12-15 years olds, about identity. I had to contend for things that were once commonly presumed and assumed. But I was glad for the chance to be sharpened and concise enough in my communication of biblical identity to be heard and semi-understood in fifteen minutes before fifteen year olds. 

Our identity is not the same as our identifiers. Our deepest identity is not merely the sum of our surname, our sport, our successes, and our sex. Our deepest identity is who our Creator says we are irregardless of our feelings, failures, or foibles. As his created image-bearers, we are his by birth (Genesis 1:26-27; Psalm 139; Isaiah 43:20). And those who are in Christ are twice-his. His by birth and His by rebirth (Ephesians 2:1-10; John 3: 5-8).

As those purchased at an unthinkable cost, our lives are no longer our own (Galatians 2:20-21; 1 Corinthians 6:19-20).

I wish I could say that I always lived in the peace and with the purpose that comes from these rock-solid realities. But, as I was teaching them, I was reminding myself. 

If I were my own, I could make decisions on my own. I could at least pretend to be in control of the circumstances around me and my children. Alas and alleluia, I am not.  

When I think about what our children are hearing and seeing, I cringe and cower in fear. I want to remove them from any trace of the evil one and lewd lies (John 8:44). But, then the Spirit leads my stirred-up spirit to truth as spoken by our Savior. 

“I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they are not of the world. I do not ask that you take them out  of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you send them me into the world, so I have sent them into the world” (John 17:14-18).

As I was praying this for our children, the Spirit opened my eyes to a new reality. When Jesus was praying this for his disciples (and us, as his future disciples), he knew exactly what this meant. He could not claim ignorance or partial knowledge of evil and its power, as He, being fully God and fully man, knew evil in its full, unalloyed strength. 

Jesus could likely see Peter hanging upside down on a cross when he prayed these words. He prayed this costly prayer knowing full well what Nero would do in the Roman colosseum. His all-knowing, all-seeing, all-pure eyes knew evil in a way that we never will, as we would be crushed and undone. Jesus prayed with one eye wide-open to evil and the other expectant of the keeping protection of His Father. 

Yet, he still prayed, “I do not ask that you  take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one.” These words, spoken on behalf of his disciples, only reiterate what he had spoken directly to them:

“And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both body and soul in hell.  Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But even the hairs are on your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows” (Matthew 10:28-31).

When fear of what my children may be hearing or seeing fills me, a greater fear must do the work of expelling it. My God sees, hears, and knows all. He knows the boundary lines allotted to my children. He knows the days they are living in. He chose their zip code. 

Far more important than these realities, he knows them. He knows their hearts as he knows the hairs on their heads. I am limited. I am fallible. I often don’t know what is best. 

But their ultimate Keeper does not grow weary and does not follow a circadian rhythm. He stands alert even when I sleep. He goes where I cannot go. He guards constantly, keeping watch over their souls (Psalm 121). He alerts me through his Spirit and his Word. He directs us both. He is our lodestar, the fixed point who steers us through cloud-shrouded days and dark nights. 

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Lodestar

God is the lodestar of our lives;
He keeps our course set aright.
Above even the fiercest storm,
He guides us through the night.

The Lord, our designated Captain,
With great cost has gone ahead.
He charted a course through Hades
As the firstborn from the dead.

The Spirit, our steadying compass,
Cabins ever-so-closely within.
With Christ-exalting accuracy,
He points both to comfort and sin.

With such Triune involvement,
Even broken vessels have hope.
We’ll be guided safe to harbor
Bound by love’s threefold rope.

Irrigated Souls

Our satisfaction does not have to depend on our situation or location. Our soul’s refreshment does not follow the rule of real estate, “Location! Location! Location!” The locus of our refreshment does not depend on our proximity to an external water source, but on God’s proximity to us.

If we find ourselves on a dry lot in a draught-ridden desert, our hope need not wither with heat and exposure. Consistently through the mouthpieces of the prophets, God reminds His people that He is a master irrigator. Threaded through Isaiah 42, 43, and 44 are promises of irrigation in the desert.

When the poor and needy seek water, and there is none, and their tongue is parched with thirst, I the Lord will answer them; I the God of Israel will not forsake them. I will open rivers on the bare heights, and fountains in the midst of the valleys. I will make the wilderness a pool of water, and the dry land springs of water…that they may see and know, may consider and understand together, that the hand of the Lord has done this, the Holy One of Israel has created it (Isaiah 42: 17-19 & 20).

Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert. The wild beasts will honor me, the jackals and the ostriches, for I give water in the wilderness, rivers in the desert, to give drink to my chosen people; the people whom I formed for myself that they might declare my praise (Isaiah 43:19-21).

But now hear, O Jacob, my servant; Israel, whom I have chosen! Thus says the Lord who made you, who formed you from the womb and will help you; Fear not, O Jacob, my servant, Jeshurun, whom I have chosen. For I will pour water on the thirsty land, and streams on the dry ground; I will pour my Spirit upon your offspring and my blessing on your descendants (Isaiah 44:1-3).

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To a people whose lips were parched and who trod incredibly parched places, these promises themselves must have been like drips of refreshing water. However, we, on the other side of the cross, are the recipients of such flowing promises.

We have been given the indwelling Holy Spirit, “a spring of water welling up to eternal life” (John 4:14). We have a built-in irrigation system until the day when we finally sit by the river of life in the restored city garden of the New Heavens and the New Earth.

However, I forget. You forget. We live like those deserted in desert places. We pine after different circumstances or seasons. We envy those with water-front or water-filled external lots. We pout as only a parched people can.

But we have springs of living water. We have Him who created the waters and all they contain. We are siblings of the One who said boldly, “If anyone thirst, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water’.” (John 7:37-38).

Our souls are better irrigated than Augusta National golf course. We don’t need a new lot. We need a fresh look at the hidden springs we have been given.

Under the Sun

This morning at church, we read through the entire book of Ecclesiastes. If you are looking for a booster shot to bolster humanity, I would not recommend it. Although, as an antidote for the prosperity gospel, it has great effectiveness.

About midway through the book, I looked over at my teenage son who was taking notes with a look of confusion. He literally wrote, “Solomon keeps saying everything is vanity under the sun.”

I looked over at him and whispered, “Under the sun, yes. But, that’s the whole point. The book is meant to lead us above the sun, beyond the sun, outside of humanity’s constant attempt to create meaning for itself.”

As James so wisely realized in his words to the early church, wisdom had to come down from above (James 3:13-18). When we had thoroughly malled God’s good purposes for humanity, we needed the God-man to step onto the course He created for the earth.

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Under the Sun

Under the sun on our collared run,
All’s been tested, tried, and done.
Looking for novelty, finding none.
With each rotation tedium is spun.

Here, both rags and riches ravage,
And evil dwells in sage and savage.
Emptiness follows caviar and cabbage.
Vanity is an often verified addage.

Even the wisest of men is confounded,
Pessimists proven, optimists astounded.
Favor is fleeting while folly is founded.
By meaninglessness we are hounded.

Oh, my friend, but beyond the sun –
Past the path earth was taught to run –
Stands He who its orbit has spun,
Speaks the meaning-dripping One.

Seeing our toiling under the sun,
He to His sin-sick people did run
To be stuck in a web he hadn’t spun
Until the Savior cried, “It is done!

Death itself He did repugn,
For three days later, life won.
Meaning now in us does run
For all our days under the sun.

I am so thankful our self-revealing God did not leave us with our own wisdom-folly to discover meaning under the sun. I am thankful for the lifter of our eyes and the One whose light will outshine our dying sun. In Him we trade vanity for victory and hopelessness for living hope!

Weighted Love

Love carries weight, both literally and metaphorically. Just ask the momma carrying a toddler who is tired in addition to his or her bike to the car from the park. Or ask the father of a child who is differently abled as he loads a wheelchair into the van.  Ask the parents of a soldier whose child is deployed in Afghanistan the weight of their heart lately. Contrary to the cultural view of love as flitting feeling or whimsy, love is weighty.

But, if love carries weight, it also bestows weight. Love deposits substance and significance. I’ve watched it happen. A student otherwise overlooked and underperforming receives a teacher who sees and speaks potential over her. Daily deposits of love and care slowly compound into a more settled confidence. An adult with autism finds an employer who believes in his abilities and gives him the dignity of significant responsibilities. A counselor gives a client who has a history of abuse the weight of agency.

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The Weight of His Love

In Isaiah 43, God says something astounding about his people:

Because you are precious in my eyes, and honored, and I love you, I give men in return for you, peoples in exchange for your life (Isaiah 43:4).

What an undeserved laundry list of words: precious, honored, loved. At first, these words may sound like the flippant words describing love in our culture. However, the context of these verses within the book of Isaiah help us to understand the weight of God’s love. Repeatedly throughout the book of Isaiah God uses court language regarding his people: he calls them to come before him in an attempt to defend themselves, he indicts them of their crimes, both obvious and hidden, he provides overwhelming evidence of their idolatry. On the backdrop of this grim reality, verses like the aforementioned one shine brightly with the incredible reality of God’s love.

Convicted, defenseless children though we are, God declares us precious in his eyes. The Hebrew word yaqar can mean to be esteemed or appraised highly, but it comes from a Hebrew root which means to be heavy. God, who sees us with eyes of piercing honesty, appraises us as valuable and precious. This value does come from within us; it is placed in us because of his love. His love gives us weight and significance in his eyes.

The Hebrew word kabad translated honor above, literally means to be heavy, weighty, or burdensome. Often it is used to describe the honor and weight due to God himself, but here, God uses to describe us! The word choice here literally stopped me in my tracks. We are honored, not because of our merit, but because He has honed in on us with his love. We have weight with him, not because of any substance of our own, but because he has filled our lives with blessing of knowing him. 

We are precious (weighty) and honored (weighty) because we are loved. The order is significant. If the order were reversed, we might get the false impression that because we are important and carry weight, we are loved by God. However, this verse and the thrust of the entirety of the Scriptures assure us that we are loved, and because we are loved, we are appraised as weighty to the God of all wonders!

The Cost of His Love

Inspired by the Spirit, the prophet Isaiah spoke with the language of redemption and ransom. The weight of God’s love for his people would lead him to redeem and ransom them at great cost.

In Psalm 49, the psalmist writes about the weight of a ransom saying, “Truly no man can ransom another, or give to God the price of his life, for the ransom of their life is costly and can never suffice” (Psalm 49:7-8). No merely human sacrifice would carry enough weight to ransom humanity. God himself would have to do it. Inspired by the Spirit, Isaiah would prophesy about a coming Messiah, a suffering servant, who would redeem his people with a costly love. Now, we, indwelled by the Spirit, carry the weight of such a love.

His sacrificial love has bestowed unthinkable weight upon us. As such, we are invited to love others in a way that bestows honor and dignity upon them. In a world of conditional, flippant love, such costly loves provides gravity and grace.