Category Archives: scripture

The Widest Why

Nietzsche wrote, “He who has a why to live for can bear with almost any how.” Victor Frankl, a survivor of the Nazi concentration camp systems and a doctor of psychology, found his statement to be decidedly true, even among some of the worst circumstances known in modern human history.

While I had set aside Frankl’s book Man’s Search for Meaning, deciding the honest content too intense for me when I began reading it months ago, the recent COVID-19 situation bid me pick it back up. While being confined to our homes is by no means the same as the atrocities of the concentration camps, we can learn from those who have experienced far more isolation and pain than many of us will ever experience, even in the time of COVOD-19.

Humans need a why, especially in the psychological and emotional strain of not knowing how long a certain experience will last. Again, being safe at home to shelter-in-place is lightyears away from the concentration camp experience; however, both fit into the concept of a “provisional existence of unknown limit.”

Frankl and another doctor from the camps both noted that the death rate between Christmas 1944 and New Year’s 1945 was the highest from any of the other previous years, citing the following as an explanation:

“The explanation for this increase did not lie in the harder worker conditions or the deterioration of our food supplies or a change of weather or the new epidemics. It was simply that the majority of prisoners had lived in the naive hope that  they would  be home again by Christmas. As the time drew near and there was no encouraging news,  the prisoners lost courage and disappointment overcame them.”

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Frankl noted that those prisoners who were able to connect their life to a future meaning, varied as that might be for each person, were the most able to survive the camps. For some it was a wife waiting to be reunited with him, for others, it was the finishing of scientific studies or a child whom he had promised to see on the other side.

However, he also reported a deep disappointment, even after liberation, when those future hopes were either thwarted or found and found wanting. Often times, the why that had carried them through near starvation, psychological stripping, and inhuman conditions were not enough to hold up life and hope on the other side of the camps.

All that to say, we need a why. But we need a why that can hold the weight of the varied experiences of our human existence.

While I have many minor and a few major why’s for my existence, my hope can only be wrapped up in the widest why: to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.

On the other side of this pandemic, if our why is anything less than being made into the image of Christ, we may be disappointed.

In the midst of the unimaginable nightmare that had become his existence, Job, who lived before the Cross of Christ invaded human history with lasting hope, had a fuzzy sense of hope.

“Behold, I go forward, but he is not there, and backward, but I do not perceive him; on the left hand, when he is working, I do not behold him; he turns to the right hand, but I  do not see him. But he knows the way I take; when he has tried me, I shall come out as gold” (Job 23:8-10). 

While we can be certain that Job hoped to see a rebuilt home, a healed body,  and a new family on the other side of his tremendous trials, his deeper hope was that he would be changed.

Believers who live on the other side of the Cross have a much clearer hope. While we do not know how long we will be in this strange COVID reality or how our families and friends will be effected, we do know that, if we cooperate with His Spirit, we can look more like Christ on the other side of this “provisional existence of unknown limit.”

We are invited by Paul to make our widest why to gain Christ and be found more deeply in Him.

“Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of  all things that I may gain Christ and be found in him…that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share in his sufferings,  becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead” (Philippians 3:8 & 10).

 

Hope Buys the Field

In what would have looked like one of the worst investment decisions in Israel’s history, the prophet Jeremiah bought a field. His purchase doesn’t sound illogical and unsound until you know the greater context.

Jeremiah’s story started well. After all, as stated clearly by the Lord in the first chapter of the book chronicling His life and prophecy,  he was literally born for the job he grew into.

“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations….Behold, I have put my word in your mouth. See, I have set you this day over nations and over kingdoms to pluck up and break down, to destroy and overthrow, to build and to plant.” Jeremiah 1:5 &9-10. 

Jeremiah then had the oh-so-unpopular job of declaring, in no uncertain terms and images, myriad ways that God’s people had played the whore and the harlot with lovers less worthy and wild than the One True God. Jeremiah was God’s mouthpiece of warning and judgment to wayward Israel. The job often proved too much for Jeremiah himself, as often throughout his heavy ministry, he begged God to take his life, wishing he had never been called to such a task.

“Oh that my head were waters, and my eyes a fountain of tears that I might weep day and night for the slain of the daughter of my people. Oh that I had in the desert a traveler’s lodging place, that I might leave my people and go away from them! For they are all adulterers, a company of treacherous men.”  Jeremiah 9:1-2.

The hard-to-speak and even-harder-to-hear indictments and prophesies continued, leading up to the promise of coming exile under Nebuchadnezzar. Unhappy false prophets and leaders tried to take the life of our unfortunate prophet, but God sustained him.

I’ll let Jeremiah himself finish setting the stage for the purchase of the aforementioned field.

“At that time the army of the king of Babylon was besieging Jerusalem, and Jeremiah the prophet was shut up in the court of the guard that was in the palace of Judah…Jeremiah said, ‘The word of the Lord came to me. Behold, Hanamel the son of Shallum your uncle will come to you and say, “Buy my field that is at Anathoth, for the right of redemption by purchase is yours.” Then Hanamel my cousin came to me in the court of the guard, in accordance with the word of the Lord, and said to me, ‘Buy my field that is at Anathoth in the land of Benjamin, for the right of possession and redemption is yours; buy it for yourself’.” Jeremiah 32:2 & 6-8.

While Babylon literally had Jerusalem under siege, a siege which would end in the 70 year exile of God’s people, God saw fit to set up a real estate transaction. Seems strange, right? What’s the deal with the field and why did God deem it important enough to be chronicled in the Bible?

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Jeremiah, the weeping prophet, had many reasons to despair. His lifelong career had been the bearer of mostly hard news for people who did not want to hear it. Those people, whom Jeremiah had spent scores of nights weeping over, were literally on the brink of being taken away from their homes and homeland to a foreign land forcefully.

Yet God told him to buy a field in Jerusalem, the land they were about to be removed from for nearly a century.  And, in a bold declaration of hope, Jeremiah bought the field.

God knew the deep despair in the heart of his chosen prophet. He knew that His people would be reeling in conviction that would eventually lead them back to Himself and His ways.  God knew they needed to know that this was not the end.

They would return to their land, they would be changed in their hearts, softened toward the Words of the Lord again.  Thus, He bid Jeremiah buy the field in the tribe of Benjamin.

For in the far future, a greater prophet would rise up from the tribe of Benjamin. He would weep more than Jeremiah. Unlike Jeremiah, God would not spare his life. Rather, He would die a tragic death on behalf of the same sinful people bent on returning to the same harlotry.

And then He would fill His people with hope and laughter.

Although we live on the other side of the life, death and resurrection of Christ, we still struggle to hope.

Like Jeremiah, God bids us to follow him into bold acts of hope in what appears to be a shriveling, grief-stricken world.

Fostering a child who you know will be taken away is buying a field. Praying for a hardened family member even though nothing has happened for decades is buying a field. A widow waking up expectant of God’s purposes in her life is buying a field.

We all have fields to buy, acts of hope in Christ in grim situations. What’s your field?

In his excellent book regarding the life of Jeremiah, To Run With Horses, Eugene Peterson beautifully unpacks the drama of Jeremiah being called to buy a field in the midst of a desperate situation. My thoughts on Jeremiah and hope find their roots in Peterson’s mastery of imagination and words, as well as the Word. If you are looking to find a picture of a life of hope lived in the midst of seemingly hopeless situations, the life of Jeremiah is a good place to begin.

By studying the God of Jeremiah, you may too find the strength to buy your field.

 

 

The Difference Between Submission & Resignation

“There is a significant difference between submission and resignation.”

I don’t remember the full details of the context, but I will never forget the phrase uttered our dear friend and mentor, Judge Bill McCurine. I believe we were having a college gathering in their home, a chance for brand new believers in the beginning of their spiritual journeys to learn from two seasoned veterans of the faith. I believe someone asked about trusting God with singleness. To be honest, I am thankful I don’t remember the immediate context, because the phrase has led to rich application in nearly every arena of my life.

The Difference Defined
According to the Oxford Dictionary,  resignation means, “the acceptance of something undesirable but inevitable.”  In fact, the usage example says “i.e. a shrug of resignation.”

I, along with the rest of the Chick-fil-A loving hordes, sigh in resignation every Sunday when we, like clockwork, have a craving for a sandwich and waffle fries, only  to remember it is closed on Sunday.

On the surface, resignation bends the will, changes the schedule, and faces the reality of something unwanted; however, under the surface, at the soul and heart level, it can leave an insidious residue of bitterness, distrust, and frustration. Much like the teenage, “Fine” that is accompanied by huffing, puffing, and foot-stomping, resignation bows but does not fully trust.

Submission, on the other hand, is something altogether different. While they may appear almost identical initially, the degrees of separation between resignation and submission become more evident over time.

Biblical submission is much different than the world’s version which seems often to include force and demonstrations of raw authority and power. The Greek word, hupotasso, translated submit, is a compounding of two words, one meaning “under” and the other meaning “arrangement.” Thus, a biblical definition of submission is to place yourself under God’s arrangement of things, to submit under the Lord’s plan in trusting obedience.

While its outward bowing and releasing of control mirror resignation,  its internal source is quite different. Rather than sighing out of inability to change something, it sighs and submits in a trusting way,  believing that the heart of God knows and does better than we could ever know or do.

The Difference Experienced
If  I am being honest, I my soul has been swinging back and forth between resignation and submission these past few weeks since COVID-19 settled in to stay. If you know me, you know that my Sabbath time on Sundays is my lifeline.  Since my oldest was a  few weeks old,  I have been escaping away to a coffee shop for vital connection with God through His word and prayer and wrestling. As silly as it may seem, the getting away feels like going to a secret place to be alone with the Lord, not as a mother or a women’s ministry director or a wife, just as his desperate daughter.

Another example of my routine being off. I resigned to Sabbath by walking our neighborhood, but I was not happy about it, as evidenced by my pace and posture. A fuming little teapot speed-walking through the neighborhood was I. It was not just the monkey wrench in my treasured Sabbath rhythm, it was all of  it.  Disinfecting groceries, Zoom phone calls instead of face-to-face gatherings, tight spaces and tighter wallets.

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But in that walk, the Lord reminded me that this is not what trusting submission looks like. He began to undo my  grumpy heart and remind me of the absolutely proven nature of his love.

Stay

The too-much-ness out there,
Draws out ineptness in here.
What busyness used to filter,
Now gathers in latent fear.

Your love blocked all my exits,
Enticing my going soul to stay.
Fleeting flings aren’t enough:
You would have me all the day.

It’s scary to sit so still, so long,
Without demand or distraction.
You want uninsulated intimacy,
The whole of me, not a fraction.

This blocking love can be trusted,
Even if the checking seems unchecked,
For You died to unblock life eternal,
Giving abundance for my neglect.

Though chosen,  I feel choice-less,
Yet an important choice remains;
Resign in apathy or submit in love.
Your submission my choice trains.

So, stay I must but I also shall,
Living within lines You’ve drawn.
And come again You can and will.
Your coming is sure as the dawn.

May we learn to submit this season to a trustworthy Father rather than resign in avowed apathy.  This too shall pass.

Blessed be the Lord, for he has wondrously shown his steadfast love to me when I was in a besieged city. Psalm 31: 21.

 

Sons & Strangers

The fish with the shekel in its mouth.

I have taught the story many times before to children of various ages, but the Lord taught it to me this morning in a way that brought tears to my eyes.

Jesus and his disciples are approaching Capernaum, and Peter is pressed by a fellow Jew for a two-drachma tax. This tax was an in-house tax among the Jewish people, not the Roman tax that Jesus will address later in Matthew 22:12. According to custom established at the time of Moses and later adapted to the Temple, Israelite males over the age of twenty were to pay two drachmas as a tribute to help keep up the Temple. This came to be known as the Temple Tax and was collected at the major religious feasts of the Jewish people.

When pressed and pressured by a leader, “Does your teacher not pay the tax?,” Peter quickly responded, “Yes,” perhaps out of a desire for approval or a desire to protect his teacher and friends from religious shame  (Matthew 17:24-25).

Either Jesus knew what had happened or happened to overhear the interaction. Either way, he used this interaction as a personal and intimate teaching moment with his disciple who would eventually be among the most prominent leaders of the early church. Jesus posed his own question to Peter:

“What do you think, Simon? From whom do kings of the earth take toll or tax? From their sons or from others?” (Matthew 17:25). 

The answer was obvious. Why would a king make his own son pay a tax? Taxes are for strangers, not sons. No such formal obligations should be made from a father to his sons. The sons, because of their connection to their father, are exempt. The Greek word used here, eleutheros, can be translated free, liberated, unbound, unshackled.

The audacity of this moment shocked me. After all, here a religious leader was pressing the One who was the living Temple for a temple tax, demanding that the One who was the only rightful son of God pay a tax to his father. The very Temple in question was intended all along to point to the One who would pitch the tent of God’s presence among us (see John 1).

The humble, yet powerful response of Jesus at this moment astounded me in a new way  this morning.

He sent Peter, the fisherman, with a hook to the shore of the Sea of Galilee, telling him to grab the first fish he could,  and promising him that he would find twice the Temple Tax in its mouth (a shekel was equal to four drachma). For Peter, who likely had seen just about everything one might normally find in the mouthes of fish, this would be a new fishing story he would never forget. But, more than the story, the powerful lesson it would write on his heart regarding his master would never be forgotten.

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Sons &  Strangers

The Living Temple approaching the Temple,
Pressed by men to pay their fee. 
The One True Son treated as a stranger,
The Same Son who would mount the tree.

Would they charge Him to enter
The Presence of His Own Father?
The One who would become tribute
For two drachmas did they bother?

What they demanded from Him
He provided with great precision,
A shekel from a fish was nothing
To the price of His coming decision.

All treasures of all time were His
Yet with His blood, He’d pay the cost.
That strangers might become sons,
That His siblings might not be lost. 

This morning, in the midst of COVID-19, let us rest in the reminder of the One who paid the greatest cost for our freedom. God has provided more powerfully for us in his life, death, and resurrection than He did for Peter with the shekel from the sea.

Common Ground & Uncommon Hope

In a matter of weeks, the world, once divided on a thousand fronts (party lines, economic lines, national borders, and imaginary borders), has found a great amount of common ground. I revel in the fact that we recognize that we are all in this together. I teared up reading stories of Chinese doctors flying to Italy with supplies and experience after having pushed backed this disease in their nation. I love that our neighborhood email thread has stopped being about which way to vote on propositions and become a bartering station instead. I wonder at the fact that people seem to be seeing each other as fellow people rather than economic units or potential sales.

Yet I fear that we will forget that in the midst of common ground, we also have an uncommon hope.

I keep forgetting that while we are in this together, my neighbors most likely do not have a lasting and living hope that can weather this storm and bring them to safe harbor eternally. While we can and should laugh together about silly songs and toilet paper memes, we cannot stay there. We must point them from our common ground to our uncommon hope.

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Remember Your Uncommon Hope

In Romans 8, in the context of the children of God groaning inwardly as they wait eagerly full adoption, Paul reminds the believers in Rome that hope, by nature, is unseen.

For in his hope we are saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience (Romans 8:24-25). 

Now, more than ever before, as our culture bends to an unseen virus, we have grounds  to talk about unseen, but powerfully shaping realities. But before we can offer our unseen hope, we must be shaped by it ourselves. We must remember our living hope.

The apostle Peter who had known Christ as a living man was devastated to watch him die (even if it was likely from afar). He was astonished to see him alive once again, never more to die again. It seems he had this Resurrected Jesus in mind when he wrote to a flagging church that was weighed down by suffering and trials. After his brief introduction to the elect exiles of the dispersion, he immediately reminds them of their living hope.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living  hope through the resurrection of Jesus from the dead  (1Peter 1:3). 

Hope in a vaccine, while a good hope, is a not a living hope. Hope in global humanitarian efforts, while appropriate in their right place, is not a living hope. While these will do good work to rescue bodies, they have no power to save souls. None of these hopes can deliver us from the penalty of death, none of them can walk us through the passageway of death to an eternal hope.

The living hope of the Resurrected Christ should be the anthem of the church. As Pope John Paul II so powerfully said,  “We are an Easter people and hallelujah is our song.”

Recommend Your Uncommon Hope

I have been convicted about the short sentences that I have been exchanging with our walking neighbors (at an appropriate social distance, of course). I have done an excellent job recognizing common ground by saying things like “This is crazy, isn’t it? Let me know if you guys need anything!” or asking “Are y’all staying sane over there?” However, I want to think proactively about questions or prompts that could lead to deeper conversations or further follow up.

While this may sound formulaic and unnatural to some, intentionality and preparation are tools we use in nearly every other area of life. After all, we are not opposed to thinking intentionally about Instagram posts or tweets. A similar preparation for business meetings or sales pitches is celebrated, not ridiculed. How much more thoughtful should we be when dealing with far more lasting matters: human souls that will live eternally.

If we are dealing with living hope rather than social influencing or sales numbers,  it seems we would do well to be prepared. These are my best attempts at hinge sentences that might lead to a dialogue about hope.

  • “My family and I are using some of this extra time to pray more often. How can we pray for you?”
  • “How are you processing all of this right now? What is helping you cope with all this upheaval?”
  • “I did not grow up in a religious household, but God intervened in my life in college and brought me into a relationship with him. That relationship shapes all of my life and gives me a lasting hope. I would love to share more of my story with you if you ever want to hear it. I would also love to hear more of your spiritual journey.”

Whatever your style, it is the privilege and calling of all believers to move into common ground offering an uncommon hope.

He Giveth More Grace

TP is not the only thing on short supply in our house. We are running low on books, despite my hoarding of library books before the lock down. We are nearly out of sidewalk chalk and snacks. But those are not the lags that leave me worried.

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At times throughout the day, patience is on short supply. While our creativity levels have been steady, I fear for the moment when what feels like an adventure to our boys starts to get old. Left to myself, my hope, willpower, and perspective have expiration dates.

While I don’t have much to offer on the former set of lists, I have good news for those who are running low on the latter set.  I’ll let Annie Johnson Flint say it, since she captures it best in a poem she penned which became a hymn.

“He giveth more grace when the burdens grow greater,
He sendeth more strength when the labors increase;
To added afflictions He addeth His mercy,
To multiplied trials, His multiplied peace.

When we have exhausted our store of endurance,
When our strength has failed ere the day is half done,
When we reach the end of our hoarded resources
Our Father’s full giving is only begun.

Fear not that thy need shall exceed His provision,
Our God ever yearns His resources to share;
Lean hard on the arm everlasting, availing;
The Father both thee and thy load will upbear.

His love has no limits, His grace has no measure,
His power no boundary known unto men;
For out of His infinite riches in Jesus
He giveth, and giveth, and giveth again.”

Lest you think this is mere poetry, you must know that Annie was twice orphaned and was crippled from arthritis that made her an invalid. She knew limitations and lack in every possible way; but those limitations led her to an all-sufficient, ever-present, always-abundant Savior.

Maybe you haven’t the end of your rice or frozen bread or canned goods yet; maybe you  never will.  Maybe you were among the early adapters who took multiple Costco runs for hand sanitizers and TP. Maybe your hospital won’t run out of protective masks.

But your heart will run out of drive and hope and energy and perspective if left to itself. While funny memes keep us laughing (keep them coming, they are like cinnamon sugar on milk toast days), a steady diet of happy thoughts are not enough to keep us hopeful in the midst of a sustained two front war against an invisible virus and a wave of mental health battles.

If you find your heart empty, don’t rush to fill it quickly with a short hope or a sudden surge in self-will.  Please listen to your empty heart and know that it is meant to correspond to and live in conjunction with an ever-full God.

The emptiness in us corresponds to his fullness.

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of  the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth….For from his fullness we have all received grace upon grace. John 1:14 & 16. 

All people are invited to face an invisible virus with the companionship of the God who made himself visible.

And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross…Colossians 1:17-20.

If you are too quick to fill your emptiness (or your children’s emptiness or boredom) with new lists of fun indoor activities (again, keep them coming…just don’t rely on them or your ability to implement them to sustain you), you might miss out on being refilled by  the living water from the fountain of life.

Only empty things can be filled. We have an upper hand in these COVID-19 days.  As those who will know emptiness like we have not known before in a land that has smacked of abundance for most of our lives, we have a front row seat to the glory of God as seen through his sustaining grace.

As we get deeper into hard days, and closer to empty pantries and toilet paper rolls, may we know that, spiritually speaking, our Father’s full giving has only begun.

Exposed & Covered

Naked and exposed. Not literally, thankfully, although there have definitely been some shirtless homeschool days for one of my boys who is not afraid to enjoy the few perks of sudden homeschooling.

Stripped of busyness and the false sense of significance and insulation it provides, my soul has felt more exposed and vulnerable this past few weeks (which have felt much longer than a few weeks).  I cannot run to the coffee shop or walk around my favorite thrift stores. I cannot plan my weeks with face-to-face meetings with women at church for my job. I detest the phone and am a late adapter with technology, which means that I feel a bit like a fish out of water in our new virtual world.

In this sudden (and much-needed) soul exposure, I have found myself tempted to quickly find new cloaks to throw over myself. The perfect homeschool schedule: that fell apart ten minutes into Quarantine Academy. Household productivity: another quick failed attempt, as our mountain of unfolded laundry will attest. Continue reading