Category Archives: scripture

The Power of a Visit

I thought I knew what a visit was until the Lord allowed me to make some Afghan friends. I visit with friends over coffee and have been to plenty of house-warming parties. Yet, I clearly had no idea of the power of true visiting. My Afghan friends consider anything less than three hours a short visit, and when they are with you, there is nothing else going on in the world but you and the visit. Appointments can be skipped, errands rescheduled, and work left undone when a friend over to visit and drink tea from a clear-glass cup.

My American-ness shows in my typical approach to visits: clear purpose, clear timeline, clear boundaries. But God has been teaching me so much through the Afghan approach to visiting. And, come to find out, this concept of God visiting his people is laced throughout the entirety of the Scriptures.

The God who Visits His people

The Hebrew word paqad, often translated as visit, shows up consistently throughout the Torah, speaking of God and his desire to visit with his people.

In Psalm 8, the writer exclaims, “What is man that you are mindful of him and the son of man that you care for him?” A more literal translation here would be, “What is the son of man that you would visit him?” (Psalm 8:4).

In Genesis 21, when God fulfilled his long-in-coming promise to Sarah for a child, the writer records, “The Lord visited Sarah as he had said, and the Lord did to Sarah as he had promised (Genesis 21:1).

Before Joseph dies, as he looks back over his painful and eventful life, he leaves his brothers with the promise, “I am about to die, but God will visit you and bring you up out of this land to the land that he swore to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob…God will surely visit you” (Genesis 50:24 & 25).

When God comes to Moses to appoint him to lead his people out of slavery (in fulfillment of the aforementioned promise), he uses the same visiting language. God tells him, “Go and gather the elders of Israel together and say to them, ‘The Lord, the God of your fathers…has appeared to me saying, “I have observed you and what has been done to you in Egypt, and I promise I will bring you up out of the affliction of Egypt”.'” (Exodus 3:16-17). The word observed is once again pagad: “to visit.”

Soon after, when Moses had obeyed, the writer of Genesis records, “And the people believed, and when they heard that the Lord had visited the people of Israel and that he had seen their affliction, they bowed their heads and worshipped” (Genesis 4:31).

This seems to be the appropriate response to the realization that the God who made the universe would visit us, seeing us and meeting us where we are: we bow our heads and worship.

Christ’s Visit with Us

All these hints at a God who longs to visit his people come to a culmination in the person of Christ who visited his people quite literally by tabernacling among them as a person. He visited with his creation for 33 years. And while he visited the earth, he made it a habit to visit with people: to meet them where they were and invite them into relationship with him.

One particular instance brings this concept home, and it is only recorded by Luke, who seemed to have a particular heart for the outcast and the sinner. In the story of Zaccheus, we see God’s desire to visit his people showcased in all of its stunning and shocking beauty.

Zaccheus was a Jew who worked on the inside with the Roman powers who were occupying Israel. He lined his pockets while his own people starved, and as such, he was not often welcomed or celebrated. His being rich did not change his diminutive physical stature, so he climbed a tree to see what was going on with this Jesus fella. You likely know the story (Luke 19:1-9).

Jesus sees him, names him, and invites himself over to his house in a gesture that would have shocked both Jew and Roman alike. As if the invitation itself were not enough, the timing of the visit underscores the nature of our God. This encounter took place in the last week of Jesus’s life. He had set his face like flint toward Jerusalem. To say he had a bit on his mind would be the understatement of the century. However, he made time for a visit with a notorious sinner.

An Open Invitation

Visits are costly. They require time which is quite the commodity in our Amazon age. They require proximity and presence in an age where we can far more easily send a package that will arrive in an hour or two. They require flexibility and response. When I think of the reality of God himself wanting to visit with me daily, I am blown away. Yet, God freely and continually offers the gift of his presence (Hebrews 4:14-16). Even though he maintains the universe and upholds matter, he still wants to hear about the details of my day. Such a reality leaves my mouth echoing the psalmist, saying, “What is man that you are mindful of him?”

May the Lord visit with you today. And may his visit with you change the way you visit with those all around you!

Blade by Blade: Painting the World Blue

Red and blue. Progressive and traditional. These words have become battle lines and rallying cries in our  alarmingly divided nation. Yet, in the midst of this battle, the Church must stay the course by sticking to the mission entrusted to her by her Head (even and especially in the midst of a culture that rushes to drop tradition in lieu of a notion of progress).

The Church should always be traditional, so much as she should be looking back to measure herself against the standard that the Word of God, passed down the ages, has set for her.

Our culture, our hearts always search for the shiny and new. The same seems to be true of the Church. We love conferences on the “new” theology, the “new” strategy, the “new” perspective.

The obsession with the “new” is nothing new. Jeremiah cried out, on behalf of God, to God’s people, “They have healed the brokenness of My people superficially, saying ‘Peace, peace,’ but there is no peace…Thus says the Lord, ‘Stand by the ways and see and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way is, and walk in it; and you will find rest for your souls.’ But they said, ‘We will not walk in it.'” (Jeremiah 6:14 & 16)

I am not saying the Chuch ought to stick with tradition merely for the sake of tradition, as we all know that the Church is a beloved but broken bride and has been since her inception. However, I am crying out, like Jeremiah, that tradition, insofar as it is lined up with the standard of God’s word, deserves a weighted vote. “The democracy of the dead,” as Chesterton calls tradition, merits a sound hearing.

The Church should always be progressive, so much as she should be looking ahead and moving closer to the vision set before her in the Word of God. Here, I am using progressive in the truest sense of the term. Christ’s bride and body here on earth should always be moving closer and closer to the New Jerusalem, to the picture of the New Heavens and the New Earth so artfully captured by the captured John, imprisoned on Patmos and recording Revelation.

G. K. Chesterton addressed the wrong notion of progress present in his England in Orthodoxy. As usual, his assessment applies today.

“We have mixed up two different things, two opposite things. Progress should mean that we are always changing the world to suit the vision. Progress does mean (just now) that we are always changing the vision…We are not altering the real to suit the ideal. We are altering the ideal: it is easier.”

The mark of true brilliance is the ability to bring thoughts from the highest shelves of human thinking down to the lower shelves in such a way that the average man can access and understand them.  G. K. Chesterton shows his brilliance by illustrating this wrong idea of progress in the example below.

“Silly examples are always simpler; let us suppose a man wanted a particular kind of world; say, a blue world. He would have no cause to complain of the slightness or swiftness of his task; he might toil for a long time at the transformation; he could work away (in every sense) until all was blue. He could have heroic adventures; the putting of the last touches to a blue tiger. He could have fairy dreams; the dawn of a blue moon. But if he worked hard, the high-minded reformer would certainly (from his own perspective) leave the world better and bluer than he found it. If he altered a blade of grass to his favorite color every day, he would not get on at all. If, after reading a fresh philosopher, he started to paint everything red or yellow, his work would be thrown away; there would be nothing to show except a few blue tigers walking about, specimens of his early bad manner.”

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If Christ told the Church her purpose was to proclaim the gospel and the Word and the supremacy of Christ in all arenas of life, then we must stay the course. Watching the gospel advance soul to soul is painstaking work. Blade by blade, we are to be painting the world blue.  The work is slow and far from sexy. It seems old-fashioned in such a technicolor world. In light of these realities, one can understand how tempting it would be to alter the vision of the Church to something simpler, quicker, more attainable, to start painting the blades of grass another color.

But we must be the traditional, progressive Church. We need to glance back and glance ahead from time to time, but our gaze must be on our bride-groom, Christ. And blade by blade, we must work to see His will be done on earth as it is in Heaven.

The new thing is the old thing with new people.

Precious & Painful Death

When the Lord speaks, a sentence can feed and fuel a soul. This morning in the corporate reading of Scripture, a seemingly random verse jumped out, arrested my attention, and comforted my soul.

“Truly, truly I say t o you, when you were young, you used to dress yourself and walk wherever you wanted, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go.” (This he said to show by what kind of death he was to glorify God.) And after saying this he said to him, “Follow me.” (John 21:18–19).

“By what kind of death he was to glorify God.” In some ways, it seems like a throwaway phrase. After all, it is a parenthetical statement John added to aide the reader. But every word of God drips with soul-deep meaning.

The same God who had directed his steps all this life would direct his steps in death. The God who had given him a portion in life appointed for him a specific death, tailor-made for the glory of God and Peter’s good.

Peter’s first hints at the death apportioned for him didn’t paint a hopeful picture. Rather, Jesus eased him into the grim reality of an approaching martyr’s death. But Peter is not the same Peter whose flesh raised up against the idea of redemptive suffering in Matthew 16. When Jesus initially shared his own coming suffering that would eventually lead to his death, Peter would have none of it.

And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him saying, “Far be it from you, Lord!” This shall never happen to you.” (Matthew 16:22).

Stubborn though he was, Peter learned his lessons. What he balked at before the cross, he understood afterwards. His self-willed ways were giving way to deep dependence upon and trust in God’s ways.

If God would be glorified in Peter being led to cruel death, Peter would walk with confidence and calling toward that end. For he knew it was not the end, but the beginning of being fully reunited with his resurrected Lord forever. The same call that equipped him for life would equip him for death: “Follow me.”

Precious & Painful

Everything in culture tries to avoid death, yet it comes nonetheless. Sometimes death is sudden and shocking; other times it is a long, drawn out roller coaster of disease after diagnosis. For the past decade, my mother-in-law has done little else than care for my father-in-law who suffers from Parkinson’s Disease. Death is an ever-approaching reality for him and thus for us who love him. The imagery Jesus gave Peter about his death is actually an apt description of what Appa’s last days (or decade) have looked like. A once strong, gregarious man now being dressed and led by many hands from bed to bathroom and back again. God is leading him where he would never have wanted to go.

A friend shared about her dear friend dying from ALS this week. She, too, had been led where no flesh wants to go. Another church member lost his father two weeks ago. A dear friends lost her husband to COVID over a year ago. The list goes on and on. In light of a growing list of deaths, the reality that God knows by what deaths his children will glorify him comforted my aching soul.

When friends lose a loved one, I try to send a beautiful floral handkerchief as a reminder of beauty amidst the brokenness and hope in the midst of hollowing loss. In the notes to these friends, I always share Psalm 116:15, “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints.” While I always include it, it always give me pause when I write it. It feels so off. The death of his children is precious in the sight of the Lord?

But precious does not mean cute like the little porcelain figurines I collected as a child. The Hebrew word yaqar literally means “rare, splendid, costly, or weighty.” God does not take death lightly, but he also knows what (or rather whom) is on the other side. What is painful in our experience is precious in his.

As believers, we can trust that faithful daily dying will lead to faithful final breath. We, like Peter, need only to do one thing: keep following Jesus. For he knows by what deaths we will glorify God and he will enable us to meet death like a friend knowing that God’s presence awaits us on the other side.

When Death Comes for Me

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

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

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

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

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 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. 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!

 

The Seder and The Savior

A few years ago, when my children were three and two years old, I had the brilliant idea of teaching them the deeper significance of the Passover. I studied the Seder meal, went shopping, printed coloring sheets. The whole shebang. My incredulous husband wondered if this was really age-appropriate, but I pressed on.

We sat down and strapped our children into their baby chairs, lit candles and began our walk through the Jewish traditions. It was a total disaster. They spit out the herbs, gagged on the horseradish and chugged the sparking grape juice. I have not yet regained the courage to attempt another Seder in the Joseph household.

Funny story aside, today I imagined what it must have been like for Jesus to sit down with disciples for the Seder meal. I imagined the familiar scents and flavors which Jesus would have known from years of celebrating the Passover with His family, suddenly becoming ominous as He realized they all pointed to His punishment on the Cross as the second and eternal Exodus of both Jew and Gentile alike.

Thinking of the Savior eating the Seder meal that spelled out His certain death moved my soul to a deeper appreciation for his last Passover in that Upper Room.

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The Seder & The Savior

The Upper Room is ready,
The table carefully set,
The disciples eager to celebrate;
They don’t understand as yet.

The Seder plate stares up at me,
Invading all of my senses,
Sights and smells arrest me,
Alluding my human defenses.

The bitter herbs, they bite me.
Meant to point back to captivity,
Yet they press me to tomorrow
When I’ll be nailed to the tree.

The roasted meat, the Zeroa,
Features the bone of a lamb.
They think of sacrifices past,
Yet I know that I am the ram.

The Beitzah points to desire,
The cries of people to be saved.
The path to their deep desire
Through my death is paved.

Karpas, the parsley-reminder
Of slavery’s back-breaking load,
Smells of relief to them, but to me
Does the darkest day bode.

Charoset paste of apples and wine,
Reminds of the mortar and brick,
To release them from their burden,
I the way of the Cross must pick.

Looking up from the plate, my portion,
I see the familiar faces of my friends.
For them, these sin-sick brothers,
I will drink God’s wrath to the end.

Oh, Father, pass over your people,
Let the punishment fall on me.
Through my ultimate slavery,
Finally set your children free.

The Resurrection Means Rest

If I am honest, as we are approaching the high point of the liturgical year, I am feeling quite low. Even after a week away with my family surrounded by God’s beauty, my heart feels depleted and cumbersome. A year of church planting, long, slow writing projects with little feedback, and keeping up with three teenaged boys has me running on fumes, physically, spiritually, and emotionally.

Even as we are buying the eggs for the church egg hunt and preparing the liturgy for Good Friday, I feel like a fraud. My heart isn’t skipping, even though I know the resurrection is coming. My soul isn’t soaring even though I know (at least cerebrally) how loved I am by the One who shed his blood for me. Even though we are planning a service to help our people look at and behold their king, I am struggling to look up.

But, as I journaled and wrestled with tears in my eyes this morning, the Lord reminded me that this is why he went to the cross. He went to the Cross so I would know that He looks at me with gentle love even when I struggle to look up to Him. He emptied himself on the Cross so I can rest from the need to perform or fill myself when my soul is spent and empty.

When I can’t make my spirit rise, His Resurrection is still a reality. I don’t have to dig deeper to get it right because nails were dug into his very human hands for me. I don’t have to pluck up and keep carrying my load alone because my yoke-fellow already carried the full weight to Calvary.

None of the callousness of my heart shocks him. In fact, such realities shoved him toward the Cross. The endless chasm of needs, which are still news to me, is not new to him. He suffered so he could greet me with gentleness and understanding right in the middle of my needs.

Today, I am learning that it is okay if celebrating the Resurrection might not look like leaping and rejoicing this year. He is gently showing me that celebrating the Resurrection can also look limping and resting. Christ’s Resurrection assures me that one day, we will leap rather than limp.

For those who have been limping through Lent, may you find rest in the reality of Christ’s resurrection. May you feel the freedom to let Christ nestle you down for a nap in the place where his body once lay.

In returning and rest you will be saved; in quietness and trust is your strength (Isaiah 30:15)

Resting in Resurrection

It’s okay if I collapse;
My Savior – He arose. 
It’s okay if no one sees;
My Savior fully knows. 

I don’t need to prove myself;
His Cross pleads proven love. 
When all within condemns me,
He gently bids me look above. 

When I’m spent with naught to offer,
His spent blood offers peace. 
When I’m trapped by circumstance,
His Resurrection is my release. 

He nestles me down for a nap
Where His body once was laid. 
My Risen Savior pleads for me,
All my debts are fully paid. 

So, then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from his (Hebrews 4:9-10).

Resurrection (The Happiest Handkerchief)

As we approach Easter amidst war in Ukraine, it does not take much imagination for us to join the 11 disciples and the throngs of faithful women in their heaviness, powerlessness, confusion, and fear at the death of Christ.

As we read John’s account of the Resurrection this morning, the grave clothes stood out to me. The joy of Jesus unfurling the linens that had been wrapped about his mangled body by the hands of weeping loved ones captured my imagination. He knew they would never weep the same kind of hopeless tears again. While they would weep and grieve, as he had promised they would, they would do so under the light of the living hope that rose with him.

Because His body which was literally crushed on the cross for our sin took conquering steps out of the tomb, death cannot crush us, not even in a pandemic. We dry our tears in  the linens he left in the tomb!

Now we can say in our grief and confusion with the Apostle Paul, “We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed” (2 Corinthians 4:8-9).

We are not destroyed by death because Jesus destroyed death in His rising, infusing grief with a surpassing glory.

This morning I discovered a short poem by George Herbert which I have somehow missed in my reading before. What a timely gift from God to me! A special little Easter surprise that lifted my soul, as I hope it does yours.

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From The Dawning, by George Herbert

Awake sad heart, whom sorrow ever drowns;
    Take up thine eyes, which feed on earth; 
Unfold thy forehead gather’d into frowns;
    Thy Savior comes, and with him mirth:
                  Awake, awake;….

                 Arise, arise; 
And with his burial linen dry thine eyes:
     Christ left his graveclothes, that we might, when grief
     Draws tears, or blood, not want an handkerchief.

That we can now dry our tears with God’s loosed grave clothes is such good news. It is the news that every human heart hungers to hear always, but especially in a season when death is dealing heavy blows globally.

In the Resurrection of Christ we have been given gospel hope and the happiest handkerchief. He is risen, indeed! Dry your eyes with his linens this morning! Death has not won; life in God has the last word!

Though we still live in the already / not yet of the kingdom of God, though we still live in the valley of tears, Christ’s resurrection provides the hope and the handkerchief we need to live until the days when tears will be no more.

Charcoal Fires and Forgiveness

The Apostle John was a master storyteller. As with any excellent fiction writer, he painted such detailed pictures of the disciples’ interactions with Jesus that we can almost step into the scenes of his gospels. John’s gospel, likely the last gospel written and the first gospel to attempt contextualization to another culture, approaches Jesus’s life differently than the synoptic gospels.

While John moves swiftly through the first half of the his gospel, often called the book of signs, he slows down in the last half of his gospel account. Suddenly, we move from high-flying overviews with an occasional drop down into detail into a more detailed account of the last week of Jesus’s life.

After the long discourse recorded in John 14-16 and the long prayer recorded in John 17, John leads us back into action in John 18.

Jesus, crossing the brook Kidron, moves into action, having set his face toward the coming Cross. He is in full command throughout the entire chapter, showing the other-worldly nature of his kingdom, which he declares to Pilate in verse 36: “My kingdom is not of this world.”

One seemingly small detail jumps out to the observant reader: a charcoal fire.

Photo by CHUTTERSNAP on Unsplash

As Jesus is brought before the High Priest, having boldly, calmly giving himself up to those who sought him in the dark with torches and weapons (v.4-5), the Apostle John gives us a vivid picture of Peter warming himself around a charcoal fire (v. 18, 25).

John juxtaposes Jesus’s care and concern for everyone else in the moment of his greatest need with Peter’s selfishly warming himself at the fire. John has set the stage for Peter’s three-fold denial around a charcoal fire. The reader can almost imagine the light and dark shadows, the watery eyes from the smoke, the smell lingering on the clothes long after the fire is out.

Later, after Peter’s persistent failure given three chances to identify himself with Jesus, we find another poignant scene taking place around a charcoal fire.

Jesus, having risen from the dead and appeared first to Mary Magdalene and then to the disciples who were hiding in a locked upper room, surprises his disciples who were fishing just as the day was breaking (John 21:1-4).

Jesus first recreates the scene of his original calling of the first disciples, helping them recognize him as the Risen Lord (Luke 5; John 21). In line with his impetuous nature, Peter jumps into the water to swim toward Jesus, forgetting for a moment the wall of awkwardness that still stood between them.

He walks up the beach to a charcoal fire where Jesus is cooking a meal for Peter and the disciples. Peter gave away his chances to align himself with the Lord, but the Lord continues to give himself to Peter in sacrificial, costly love.

Jesus, in line with his nature, does not shy away from the hard subject. Rather, he gently leads Peter there in healing conversation, forcing him to relive his failures by asking him three questions around a charcoal fire. Eyes filled with tears, the smell of charcoal smoke, the interplay of light and darkness. Same scene. Different ending.

Peter is graciously reinstated around the same kind of fire where he radically failed. What a merciful and masterful Jesus we serve.

Charcoal Fires 

Charcoal fires would never be the same,
Their smell would invoke his shame:

Threefold denial of Jesus’s perfect name. 

Days later, at another fire he was fed
Fish with Christ fresh from the dead.
By coals’ warmth to forgiveness he was led. 

Around charcoal fires, Peter spoke of grace,
Sharing good news with God’s chosen race,
Showing them in Jesus God’s own face. 

Now in glory, warmed by Christ alone,
Peter both fully loved and fully known
Sees the Lamb of God upon the throne. 

What are the charcoal fires of your life? What scenes of failure might Jesus be inviting you to revisit with his grace?

“If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand? But with you there is forgiveness, that you might be feared…O Israel, hope in the Lord! For with the Lord there is steadfast love, and with him is plentiful redemption. And he will redeem Israel from all his iniquities.” (Psalm 130:3, 7-8).

On Pin Cushions and Preoccuption

Preoccupied: to be so engrossed with thoughts of something or someone that you are unable to engage in other things. Our word comes from from the Latin praeoccupare which literally means to “seize beforehand.”

When my heart and mind are already occupied with other things, there is no space to being present to others, primarily God Himself.

Sure, I may be bodily present; however, in a state of preoccupation my soul is not spacious enough for the people that God places in front of me, be they my children, neighbors, or strangers.  In a worried, frenetic, preoccupied state, souls have all the welcome of a pin cushion, according to Henri Nouwen.

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When God occupies my thoughts, however, He tunes me to the times set directly in front of me. Among the great privileges of the children of God is the ability to leave the things that used to preoccupy our time and energy to the God of abundance.  Our Father will look after our needs, so we need not obsess about them and the details; rather, we are invited to make space in our hearts for the needs, concerns, and delights of others.

After all, is not that what Jesus so poetically tried to show in his lilies and sparrows speech in the Sermon on the Mount? You need not be preoccupied with all those things, even the important and necessary things. Those who do not know Yahweh must chase after those things, but those who are adopted into God’s family are invited to a whole different way of living in light of the Fatherhood of God (Matthew 6).

I cannot be a place of safety and hospitality to others if my own heart has not been stilled and filled with God’s presence and peace.

I know this. I write about this. Yet, I forget about this all the time. Before I know it, my heart has returned to its pin-cushion place, all crowded and cramped with concerns  which were meant to be recycled into prayer.

I don’t realize that my heart and soul are preoccupied most of the time. But my children and husband do. They see the blank stare and hear the “uh-huhs” that are dead giveaways that my heart and mind are elsewhere. They are the compassionate cues from my Heavenly Father that I have been living like an orphan again: worrying and fretting when I could be praying and trusting.

In stillness before God, I am able to invite Him to walk with me into my pin-cushion heart. Embarrassed by the accumulated clutter, yet safe enough in His secure strength, I am able and ask Him to help me remove all the pins gathering there. One by one, the Lord pulls out burdens that were not mine to carry, pins of past failure that needed forgiveness, and an unnecessary pricks for all kinds of possible future scenarios.

Suddenly, my soul becomes spacious again. Yes, there are still needs and errands and responsibilities; however, there is also the fresh reminder that I have One indwelling me who provides and guides and gives wisdom and energy.

I’ve no need to be preoccupied with my next hour or my next week or my next month. My Father, who both created time and stands outside of it, is already there. But more importantly, He is here.

And He has people who need a spacious place to process their own pins, some of whom do not even know yet that there is a loving Father who dwells in abundance who wants to know them.

By God’s grace, may we become those whose hearts have space for others. May daily time with our Heavenly Father provide the removal of pins that prohibit us and others from experiencing His doting care until the day when we shall bodily dwell with Him without the presence of pins. Amen. 

 

 

The Dispersed Lady

Have you ever been reading fiction and felt like a line was reading you? That happened to me last night as I fell asleep reading Wallace Stegner’s Crossing to Safety. In this particular scene, a couple was discussing one of their dear friends as they lay in bed one evening.

At least they’ve got money.”

“That does help,” I said, “It even helps her hire a nanny to look after the children she’s already got, so she can be out promoting culture and singing in the chorus and cleaning up Wisconsin politics and being kind to the wives and the children of starving instructors. That’s a pretty dispersed lady.”

The last sentence of five words slew me. That’s a pretty dispersed lady.

While they were speaking of Charity, one of the main characters in this particular story, they could have well been speaking of me.

Dispersed

Dispersed. Spread out. Shed abroad. Scattered. A tendency to be all over the place and in everything.

Maybe you are not as prone to dispersion as I am, but even the most gathered and collected of us live in a dispersed and scattered culture. Even before the internet and its eery invitation to peer into the lives of others all around the world and to disperse our opinions and energies towards every possible cause, we were a dispersed culture. Sometime in the American experiment, better came to mean more and best came to mean most. Wider now seems synonymous with more accomplished. Our culture constantly leaks this truth into our lives, “The wider your sphere of influence, the wider the reach of your followers, the wider you have traveled, the more significant you must be.”

If people were speaking of me, as Sally and her husband were of their mutual friend, I pray that they would say of me, “That’s a pretty dependent and deep lady.”

Apart from the grace of God, this will be never be true of me. I tend to be more of a whirling dervish of energy and excitement and interest. Due to the fact that I am a mother of three busy boys, my schedule has me dispersed in twelve places at once. Add on top of that the reality that are planting a church and you have the recipe for a dispersed lady.

Dependent, Deep, and Focused

Yet, the gospel invites me to be both dependent, deep, and focused. In a culture permeated by self-will and self-talk, God asks his children to be God-reliant and God-directed. He invites us to draw from a well of strength that the world cannot see and guides us by priorities that world doesn’t always share.

In a culture spread thin running in every direction, our God invites us to be people of depth, a people deeply rooted. Rooted in his word, rooted in his promises, rooted in the messy community called the church, rooted to the people and purposes he has allotted for us (Ephesians 3:14-19; Hebrews 10:22-25; Psalm 16:5-8).

When offering us images of what it looks like to walk with God, the Spirit inspired the psalmist to give us the picture of a tree firmly planted by the water (Psalm 1). When Jesus sought to paint a picture of the kingdom of God for his disciples, he used similar imagery of a small seed which grew into an expansive tree offering shade and nesting branches to all in its surroundings (Matthew 13:31-32). Both of these word pictures share not only depth and rootedness but also dependence.

In a scattered, distracted culture, we are pulled in a thousand directions towards a thousand causes. It doesn’t help that our sin predisposes us to chase after everything but God. Yet, God commands his people to live with a clear focal point: Himself.

With our eyes fixed on the pioneer and perfecter of our faith and our gaze directed to Christ who is our life, we can do diverse things with a united heart (Hebrews 12:1-3; Colossians 3:1-4; Psalm 86:11).

The only reason we are able to become this kind of people is that Christ was the seed that died so that many might live (John 12:24). He was dispersed so we could be focused on him and rooted in him in deep dependence. Oh, that we would be deep, dependent, and focused people. When we are such, we will be free to disperse the seeds of the gospel to a world that desperately needs truth.