Category Archives: scripture

A Tale of Two Brothers

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

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

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

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Scarcity & Abundance for Them

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Scarcity & Abundance for Us

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wildfires

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wildfires

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

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

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

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

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

 

An Antidote for Control

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Imposition & Accommodation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Reigning in Unruly Thoughts

My mind has been a mob of late with untethered thoughts running amuck. From fears of school scenarios and flagging finances to stubborn lies I thought were long-defeated, my brain has been running internal marathons for weeks. I am old enough to know that I am not alone in this battlefield of the mind. I am familiar enough with the Scriptures to know which verses talk of this very battle (Romans 12:1-2 and 2 Corinthians 10:5 being chief among them). However, these realities alone cannot make my thoughts kneel.

When mobs of unruly thoughts disturb the peace Christ has purchased, we need to look more at him than them. This concept of growing by indirection is nothing new; it has helped believers in Christ since the days of the early church. We cannot directly become more and more like Christ, not can we directly order our thoughts. The more we focus on them, the more unruly they often become. We need God to soften our hearts, order our minds, and sanctify our lives.

However, that does not mean that we sit around and twiddle our thumbs. There is much work we can indirectly. We can choose to focus the beam of our attention outside of ourselves or our circumstances onto him who ordered the galaxies and established gravity.

Paul told the often unruly church at Corinth, “We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge  of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5). The idea here is that our thoughts must kneel before the Lord.

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Many of us know that we are called to take our thoughts captive to the obedience of Christ. I know this verse and have studied many of the Greek words in which it was originally written. I desperately want ordered thoughts that kneel in the presence of the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords; however, in the trenches of my day-to-day life, I wrestle with getting from point A to point B. And rightly I should wrestle, because I cannot get myself there. There is no road that gets me there, no train that runs between those two points.

The only way that I have ever experienced success in seeing stubborn thoughts kneel before my Savior is by being early and often and long in his presence. There I begin to forget those thoughts because I am thinking of him. His softening gaze and His tender tones (tender even when his living and active word cuts me like a knife, as per Hebrews 4:12-13) melt my frozen fears and slowly chip away at chiseled lies.

Last night, my mob of unruly thoughts were keeping me from sleeping. I tried reading to divert them. It didn’t work. I squirmed in bed, attempting to outmaneuver them. As such, I ended up having to quietly sneak out of my room and wrestle with the Lord.

My thoughts still have not fully kneeled, but I am thinking more of the tender one who knelt to bless small children and who rose early to bend his own knees in dependent prayer on his heavenly father.

Kneeling Thoughts

My thoughts like to run,
But they d not like to kneel. 
Catching one that is racing
Is always quite an ordeal. 

Changing shape and speed,
They don’t like to be still. 
If I can barely catch them,
How can they bend to your will? 

I need stronger, smarter help
If your truth is to prevail. 
I’ve tried reasoning with them,
But my efforts are to no avail. 

They run amuck with feelings,
But they must be held liable.
In your warming presence,
Rigid thoughts are pliable.

Help me sit before you
Early and often and long-
Then thoughts will kneel
At the beauty of your song. 

He who knelt with children
Also knelt in lonely agony.
My thoughts will yield to him
Who bore the curse for me. 

 

Preemptive Weariness & a Ready Refuge

Is there such a thing as preemptive weariness? If there wasn’t, I am fairly certain that my thought-patterns of late have created such a thing.

Normally back-to-school season is my solace. I love the ordered anticipation, the list-checking, and the label-making that it affords.  I love outfitting my boys with new  (or new to them) lunch bags, book bags, and first day of school clothes. However, this pandemic has been raining on everyone’s back-to-school parades.

I keep find my masked-self roaming school supply aisles in nostalgia and confusion. Should we buy the pencils and order the new lunch boxes?  Do they even need spiral notebooks? The surface-level supply confusion is nothing compared to the storms that rage deeper in my heart throughout the day. Do I have what it takes to challenge my children? What are they missing developmentally and emotionally right now? If can barely keep myself on task, how will I keep three different children in three different grades on track? 

If I feel this weary, I cannot imagine the potential and/or proven weariness of teachers and administrators, single parent families, and those who are treading water already. I  wake up with a weighted heart every morning, mentally tired from playing out potential scenarios before eating my Cheerios. This morning, after the initial wave of preemptive weariness came over me, the Spirit was so gracious to remind me of an old favorite hymn, “Dear Refuge of My Weary Soul.”

“Dear Refuge of my weary soul,
On Thee when sorrows rise,
On Thee when waves of trouble roll,
My fainting hope relies.
To Thee I tell each rising grief
For Thou alone canst heal
Thy Word can bring a sweet relief
For every pain I feel.” 

Anne Steele, the English hymn writer that penned these words, was no stranger to the storms of life. She lost her mother at age three, and then, at the early age of 19, she became an invalid. Some stories say that she was engaged until she lost her fiancee to a drowning accident; however, historical research seems to say otherwise. With or without the loss of a fiancee, Steele’s life sent her regularly running to the refuge of weary souls.  She remained single all her life, working alongside her father doing ministry. Her regular visits to the safety of the Rock of Ages seemed to prime her heart to write prolifically, as she wrote devotional poetry and hymns that have led other souls to her same refuge.

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It is likely that she had Psalm 46 in mind when she wrote these sweet words about her sovereign refuge.

“God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea,  though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble at its swelling”
(Psalm 46:1-3).

The Hebrew word machaseh, translated refuge above, can also mean a place of safety, hope, and trust. It is derived from the Hebrew verb chasah meaning to run for refuge or  to flee for protection and safety.

However, the word I found most interesting in this verse was matsa which is translated “very present” above. This word literally means to attain or to find. A more literal translation might read, “a much found” refuge or a “well-proven” refuge.

The Psalmists implies that there is a well-worn, often-trod path to this sure refuge in the Lord. It has been sought out, found, and proven countless times. He has been found sufficient, spacious, and steady as a refuge for weary souls.

If preemptive-weariness exists, we can take great solace in the fact that a ready refuge long preexists it.  There was a day when the perfect Son of God wanted to run, as was His custom, into the refuge of the Father. He was not received. He was left refuge-less and ravaged on the cross. He endured this literal mountain-shaking catastrophe so that we would have constant access to the well-proven refuge.

In this season, may our feet better learn the path to the refuge of our weary souls. If this season continues to elongate, may we also elongate the list of God’s proven faithfulness to us and our children.

The Invitation Underneath Unforgiveness

Children of God are fully forgiven the moment they surrender and receive the atoning work of Christ packaged in the gospel; however, it takes a lifetime both to comprehend such fathomless forgiveness and to become those who forgive like the Father.

Jesus fully knew the depths of our sin-sickness when He swallowed to the dregs the punishment we had earned; yet, when we walk through the threshold of forgiveness, our knowledge of our own need for forgiveness barely scratches the surface of the canyon of our need.

Smuggling Unforgiveness
Periodically, usually when I am least expecting it, God reveals knots of unforgiveness that I have unknowingly smuggled into the kingdom of God. I don’t realize that I am still carrying such places of unforgiveness until God empties my emotional pockets, so to speak, revealing hidden remnants of hurt where forgiveness has not yet been fully applied.

Initially these moments of emotional exposure shock me and send me into a desperate clean up effort that still smacks of self. However, given some time and a long walk, God begins to shift my perspective to the invitation underneath the suddenly seen knot of unforgiveness.

When I receive an invitation, whether by snail mail or evite, I am being invited to a process. I open the invitation, process the information it reveals and then prepare and wait for the party. Likewise, when God exposes a knotted, gnarled place of bitterness in my heart, He is gently inviting me to a loving and often long process with Him.

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Underneath Unforgiveness
Underneath the ugliness of my unforgiveness is usually a place of deep woundedness and real pain. Underneath that place of deep pain is usually a hidden door into more gospel depths.

Like the man forgiven his massive debt by the king, I tend to find myself stingy in meting our forgiveness to those who have hurt me or triggered me in my most vulnerable places. My stinginess is a quiet invitation to enter another layer of the depths of the forgiveness that has been offered me in Christ. Clearly I must not understand the massive debt that He has completely forgiven me if I cannot forgive someone else his or her smaller, though serious debts.

I wish I could say that this descent deeper into my own sin and His costly love was quick and painless; however, I have found it to be quite the opposite: slow and sore.

To deal with my unforgiveness means to go to my most vulnerable places. My amygdala, that exquisite memory potion of the brain responsible for processing painful memories in an effort to protect us, often works against me at this point. When this complex component to my brain is triggered by a sight, a smell, a sound, a memory, I am tempted to fight or flee. However, I know what my amygdala does not; I am not who I used to be or where I used to be.

Security in the Savior 
My Savior then gets to speak into my deep and human need for security. Rather than go the easy way out of huddling my hurt around me as a protection and insulator from further such pain, He offers me another way. He reminds me that any security built solely or even mainly on circumstances or relationships is a deeply susceptible and inherently unstable security.

He reminds me that I don’t have to shield myself with unforgiveness as a protection or bitterness as a wall of safety.  He offers Himself as my shield and invites me to a safety that cannot be shaken, no matter what shakes all around me.

As the mountains surround Jerusalem, so the Lord surrounds His people from this time forth and forevermore. Psalm 125:2. 

The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer, my God, my rock in whom I take refuge, my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold and my refuge,  my savior; you save me from violence. 2 Samuel 22:2-3. 

After these things the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision: “Fear not, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.” Genesis 15: 1. 

I am safe and shielded in the arms of the One whom I used to raise my arms in rebellion against. He is my safety. Wrapped up more tightly into His strong arms, He will begin to unwrap and unwind the tight knots of unforgiveness that mar my heart in places of deep pain. It will be a process, but in the end, there will be quite the party to celebrate the stunning beauty of forgiveness found in Him and flowing from Him alone.

A Word to Would-Be School Marms

While walking around in my mask on a rare trip to Hobby Lobby for sanity crafts, I saw something that arrested my attention.  A precious little chalkboard plaque that was meant to charm me but paralyzed me, reading, “The future of the world is in my classroom.”

I might have been likely to buy something just like this for a cute beginning of the year present for my children’s new teachers, only this year, for all intents and purposes, I am their teacher.  

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There are moments when I have visions of being the next Mrs. Frizzle who wildly catches the curiosity of my boys and incites them to passion in the lanes of their giftedness. In those moments, the thought of the future of world living in my home/classroom/ restaurant/ spiritual greenhouse fills me with courage and hope. 

But there are many more very different moments when I remember that I often cannot remember why I walked into my kitchen or realize I haven’t fed or walked the dog by dinnertime. In those moments, the cute little plaque paralyzes me. After all, I should not be entrusted with educating the future of the world if I cannot be faithfully entrusted with the future of the week’s meal planning and bill payments. If the fate of our pet turtles and fish from the past are any indication of the future in my hands, things look bleak, friends. Very bleak. 

I don’t think that I am alone in these pendulum mood swings. As such, I feel the need to remind us all that the future is, in fact, fully secured and utterly ordered by the God of the Universe who has proven Himself good, kind, and capable. 

He is at the center, gladly usurping the usurpers of myself and my children who take turns stealing that seat. He who created my boys with full knowledge of their unique foibles and frailties stands outside of time (Psalm 139:13-16). As such, He fully sees and secures their future. He knows the passions that He has planted within them  (Ephesians 2:10). While I am beginning to see tiny threads of their gifts  and driving desires, He sees the finished tapestry (Hebrews 4:13). 

While my year (or dare I say more?) of schooling them will certainly be shaping and significant, it is not central. He is (Colossians 1:17). And His will and ways will no more be thrown off by my mistakes and missteps than a tiny pebble would throw off Mount Everest. 

Neither Saxon nor Singapore Math will secure my children’s future; their Savior has done so. 

While I want to nourish their minds through classic novels, it is far more significant that they  and their mother be nourished by the promises and presence of Christ. Zoom calls may suck the ever-living life out of them, but we are promised the refreshing zephyr of the Holy Spirit who  will refresh and renew us as we go. 

The burden of schooling can feel crushing, especially when everyone is doing at the same time mostly involuntarily. This unique situation leaves ample space for the additional crushing weight of comparison and competition. “She made a cute chart and bought old fashioned desks for her kids, but my kids are sitting upside down on their heads and the dog just ate the chart.” 

Rather than buying an alphabet carpet for the future school room that we don’t have space to make, I need to set myself squarely in the center of the portion that God has allotted for me and for them. 

He who has entrusted me with these particular children in this particular time has already become my portion and my cup. The lines He has drawn up for us are secure (Psalm 16:5-6). 

He knows already the days where they will soar and the days when we will sink. The Lord has made one day as well as the next (Ecclesiastes 7:14).  

While Hobby Lobby’s plaque may not be wrong, it is incomplete. The future of the world is most certainly in my classroom, but their future has been long secured by the One who is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Hebrews 13:8). As such, this future school marm has some planning to do in the presence of Christ. Godspeed, fellow mommas!  

Mercy Prevails

Our culture tells us in a thousand ways that money and might prevail. In an election season, we are being given highly politicized polls from both political sides promising that each will prevail.

While studying Psalm 65 this past week, my soul gravitated toward one word in one particular verse: prevail. Since then, I have been unable to unravel my thoughts from it.

“Praise is due to you, O God in Zion, and to you shall vows be performed. O you who hear prayer, to you all flesh shall come. When iniquities prevail against me, you atone for our transgressions” (Psalm 65:2-3). 

The English word prevail literally means “to prove more powerful than opposing forces.” The Hebrew word gabar, translated prevail in the verse above, literally means to exceed or to put on more strength.

The image that comes to heart and mind is that of a mounting, rising wave of sin and its consequences of guilt and shame. I have never experienced a tsunami, but I have been boogie boarding with my boys and watching what felt like huge waves growing before my eyes, filling me with fear.

In this season of unknowns, many of us feel anxiety, fear, shame, and the sins that they tend to spawn mounting up around us, seemingly ready to prevail against our hope, our perspective, and our faith.

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When Mercy Prevailed over Prevailing Waters

The same word gabar is used repeatedly in Genesis 7 in which the sins of humanity have become so pervasive that God decided to mostly start over by cleansing the earth through a massive flood. As the unprecedented flood is described, the writer the phrase “the waters prevailed” four times. The waters exerted themselves, rose, grew strong, and seemed to prevail. The situation seemed utterly hopeless. Until the beginning of chapter 8 when the writer pivots on two powerful verses.

“But God remembered Noah and all the beasts and all the livestock that were with him in the ark. And God made a wind blow over the earth, and the waters subsided” (Genesis 8:1-2). 

God showed mercy to Noah and his family by warning them, by commanding them to create a floating zoo of sorts. They humbled themselves under the Word of God and believed His promises of restoration despite the odds and all the evidence of their senses. God’s mercy prevailed over the prevailing waters.

In a similar way, in Psalm 65, David senses the mounting power of his sin and its consequences exerting themselves against him, threatening to drown him in guilt and despair. But then David records that God atones for the mounting sins. The Hebrew word   kaphar translated atone here literally means to cover, to pacify, or to make propitiation.

When sin, guilt, and shame seem to be so strong that seem invincible, when they seem to prevail against us, we have the Cross that reminds us that God’s mercy prevails. The wave of the wrath of God against all that is unlovely, unfaithful, and unjust in and around us crested and crashed on the perfect Son of God. It overwhelmed him. As he laid wrapped in death linens, the enemy seemed to have prevailed.

But our Christ rose and walked out of the tomb. He prevailed over the shadow of death that had prevailed over humanity since the tempter prevailed upon our foremother and forefather. He pacified the roar of death. He covered our transgressions.

Mercy Still Prevails

The once-barren Hannah who felt that infertility would always prevail against her knew something of the prevailing mercy of our God. After years of pouring her heart out and feeling hopeless, God provided her a son. In her song of thanksgiving that mirrors Mary’s Magnificat about another promised child, she penned the following verse.

“He will guard the feet of his faithful ones, but the wicked shall be cut off in darkness, for not by might shall a man prevail” (1 Samuel 2:9). 

Because the One who was fully faithful had his feet bound to the cross, our feet our now guarded. We prevail, but not in the ways world prevails. We prevail through the presence and power of our merciful God.

 

Holding Two Stories at Once

Desperately broken. Deeply loved. Capable of creating hurt. Capable of creating beauty.

The gospel has us hold two stories that seem conflicting at once. Just like babies who developmentally can only hold one item at a time, we tend to want to hold one or the other, making an either/or out of God’s greatest both/and.

Maturity in the gospel, it seems, can be measured by our ability to increasingly hold both of these realities at once, both for ourselves and for others.

Just as in the garden, God left space in the newly minted (from his mouth) earthly paradise for Adam and Eve to choose to love him and trust him, the gospel leaves space for us to trust him by holding the two tensions of the gospel.

When we bifurcate these two realities, we are endangering ourselves and others.

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If, when people fail us or hurt us, we immediately and forever label them as only desperately broken, we are truncating the gospel which hurts the heart of the God who gave it to us. We throw them in a pit that God climbed in to rescue them (and us) from. Similarly, if when we ourselves fail or fall into sin, we remember only the brokenness that remains in ourselves, we throw ourselves into the same pit.

If, on the other hand, we expect brothers and sisters in Christ (and ourselves) to perform perfectly. we place them on a pedestal on which only Christ belongs. Likewise, if we expect ourselves to perfectly perform in all our relationships and endeavors, we will be crippled and eventually paralyzed. If we think we are performing well, we will wreak of self-righteousness which wreaks to God. If and when we fail, we find ourselves drowning in the shame that Christ bore once and for all in His body on the cross.

I know this. I know you know this. But, at heart, I don’t know this, nor do we.

Every time I hurt someone or am hurt by someone in the body, which happens more often than I care to imagine, I am tempted to fall from the glorious both/and of the gospel into the bifurcated, binary system of either/or. Through my broken lenses, either they are bad or they are good, for me or against me (or my cause). They belong either in a pit or on a pedestal. When I get to these places, the Holy Spirit sends up a flair to the Father and puts me in gospel triage.

I cannot see the world and the height of his creation (humanity) through a lens that my Father does not. It goes against Christ-in-me and the gospel on which I depend and which I am to declare.

The only way I know how to get from the broken lenses of my flesh and my frailty to the glorious lenses of the gospel is to follow Christ’s journey from the heights of heaven to the pits of sin and shame and back up to the righthand of the Father from whence he came.

I belong in the pit. The person who wronged me belongs in the pit. The person who wronged and hurt the person who wronged and hurt me belongs in the pit. The pit is wide enough to hold all humanity.

But compassion for us in the pit and obedience to the Father compelled our Christ down.  He left the heights to join us on the globe he created, orbiting around the sun whom he sourced. He walked with broken and beautiful people who were desperately broken and deeply loved. In fact, he walked himself up the Hill of the Skull carrying a splintered beam on his beloved back to rescue us from our sin and shame. He sat in that pit for three days. And creation wept at the thought that the light of the world had been extinguished.

But then he rose. And in so doing, he created space for us to be both desperately broken and deeply loved. He climbed the pedestal that belongs only to Him, but he invites us to be wrapped in him and enjoy his privileged place.

I cannot hold someone, be it another or myself, in the pit when Christ raised us up with him. I cannot expect someone,  be it myself or another, to live up to the perfect standard that Christ came to fulfill.

This is the gospel. To believe this both/and for myself and others is the great fight of faith that the Apostle Paul wrote about. The more I believe it and receive it for myself, the more I will be freed to invite others out of pits or off pedestals. It will be a fight, and it won’t be easy, but it is worth it because Christ is worthy.