Category Archives: scripture

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.

Grace at the Edges

I don’t like edges. When we were small, our wild and zany grandmother and her equally brave and brazen sister took all the grandchildren to Niagra Falls. While I loved eating milkshakes for breakfast and being spoiled rotten, I remember cowering in fear at the edges of the falls. My younger sister and cousins were hanging on the railing, in awe, while I sat four feet back shaking with nerves.

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It seems old habits die hard, as I am still not my best at edges. I don’t like change. Where others feel adventure, I feel anxiety. Where others teem with excitement and hope at new wineskins and ventures, I shrink back, clinging to old wineskins. They may be shot, but they are known. They may be haggard, but they are comfortable. I just don’t like the ends and the beginnings; I much prefer the solid middle to the bumpy borders. Given the choice, I would live my life without edges.

Thankfully, I have a Father who pushes me gently out of old wineskins, off the solid ground of the known and into the unknown.  I have known the stubborn love of the Father with His long-view to my sanctification that forces me to overcome short-term discomfort, inviting me to venture out of the stability of the boat and onto the wavy water. Yet, of late, I have seen it anew and afresh through parenting my own children.

For years we have been praying and wrestling about schooling decisions, always approaching education on year-by-year, child-by-child basis. This past year, we sensed the Lord calling us to switch schools from a place that has been a precious haven to our boys for the past 6 years. While we feel convinced that this is His best for our boys, they are terrified to leave the known, a small, intimate Christian school for the unknown, a larger charter school with 4 times the students.

For months, bedtimes have been tearful, honest times of sharing fears, hopes and nerves.  It seems my big boys, like me, have an aversion to edges, especially big ones.  In my flesh, I want to appease them, to let them be comfortable; but my love for the Lord and desire to obey His call, coupled with my desire to see them stretched and grown in grace and maturity, keeps me gently leading them to the edges.

I know that in six months, they will look back and see God’s gracious provision of courage and friendships and will have solid ground to stand on. I know that they will be able to look back on this major transition at the next major life transition and remember the Lord’s faithfulness and steadiness in a sea of change. But they don’t know that yet. All they know is the discomfort of the edges.

I think of God’s people being led out of Egypt, purposely doubled back to stare at imposing sea.  It must have seemed like they had been led to the edge of annihilation rather than to the edge of liberation. Yet, at those edges, God met them mightily. The  parting of the Red Sea would become a memorial to God’s faithfulness, recounted in the Psalms over and over when God’s people found themselves at yet another edge.

When we find ourselves at edges, at the outskirts of various seasons or stages, we would do well to remember another set of edges.

Behold, these are but the outskirts of his ways, and how small a whisper do we hear of him! But the thunder of his power who can understand?” Job 26:14

What we have known and experienced of God up to the present are only the mere edges, the outskirts, the fringes, the beginnings of His power, His presence, His promises. He has so much to reveal, so much more to expose and strengthen in and to us. He will continue to call us to move toward the middle of His power; He loves us too much to let us linger on the outskirts, to let us stay splashing in the surf. He would have us continue to move toward Him.

To get past the edges of His ways, we must cross many edges. To move toward the middle, toward being more and more conformed to His image, we will cross countless borders of change.

Thankfully, our Father holds our hands and leads us across the liminal places. I find great rest in my troubled soul when I think of the Father walking my nervous boys over rough edges and into more experiences of His grace.

May God’s grace meet you at your edges.

 

 

 

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.

Your blocking love can be trusted,
When 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 also shall,
Living within lines You’ve drawn.
Come again You can and will.
Your word 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.

 

The Soul’s Referee

Had I known how much refereeing I would have to practice as a mother of three growing  boys, I would have gotten more training. I might have taken a course to pick up hand signals and deescalation techniques. I might have at least been prepared with a whistle, a rule book, and some penalty flags.  Alas,  I did none of the above and have found myself woefully unprepared.

I love peace. I am a middle child. I detest conflict with every fiber of my being. But conflict, whether it comes on inter-personal or intra-personal playing fields, is a reality that offers both burden and opportunity. Thankfully, my soul has a referee in the Holy Spirit who steps in to order my conflicted heart around the love of Christ.

I am not celebrating conflict for conflict’s sake. There is no need to add to a conflict-consumed world.  However, the more I do life, ministry, and family,  the more I am forced to lean into conflict. What I used to avoid with more precision than our nation is avoiding the coronavirus,  I am learning to endure by God’s grace.  Constructive conflict can be a powerful, albeit painful tool in the hands of the wounded surgeon.

It exposes our idols. It reveals the hidden places of our hearts. It highlights our need to give and receive forgiveness. It trains our souls to depend on the only perfectly dependable one. Healthy conflict can lead to healthy intimacy with the Lord but also with others.

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I am writing these things because I need them tattooed on my heart. I am reminding myself that Jesus is worth awkward conversations about differing personal convictions about face coverings. I am reminding myself that conflict in our home is not something to be shut down or ignored, but shared and investigated.

When an aged Peter was concluding his first letter to his flock towards the end of his watch as a shepherd, he highlighted the need fervent love that fights to forgive.

Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins (1Peter 4:8). 

What I find in my own heart is that my own wrestling to forgive exposes the paucity of my love. On my own, I do not have the capital to float forgiveness to others that cancels their debts. I have precious few pennies. But that bankruptcy of my love forces me to look to the God of Abundance. Conflicts in relationships compel me to remember the One who paid my eternal debt with his ineffable love.

His love must be let loose afresh in my heart like the letting out of a dam.  As it begins to fill the crevices of my heart, the bitterness and shame seeking to grow there can find no footing. I wish this were a one-and-done deal. But this is an ongoing choice, as Peter hinted in using the present progressive in his exhortation above. In order to keep on loving one another with love that covers sin, we must keep our hearts in His love. We must continually let His love cover our own sins so that we have storehouses of love to lavish on others.

That can only happen when I invite Christ to come and act as referee in my rowdy, conflicted soul. In fact, when the Apostle Paul wrote to the Colossians about letting the peace of Christ rule in their hearts, he used a Greek word that meant a referee (Colossians 3:15). As I process conflict without and within me, I desperately need the Lord to referee me.

Referee Me

Settle my unsettled thoughts, 
Rule these unruly desires.
Order my inordinate passions, 
As flesh against Spirit conspires. 

My rowdy heart needs a ruler
If I am to persist in your peace.
Loud lies linger and lance at me, 
To you alone I look for release. 

My hope has hurried away from you
On false deliverers it has dissipated.
Oh, that you’d house my hopes again, 
For in You alone I am truly sated. 

I cannot advance a kingdom
That doesn’t first rule my heart.
Consistently conquer my soul, 
Let me never from you depart.

 

Be Still

Life consists in triads which makes sense being that humans were made in the image of a Trinitarian God, three in one and one in three. We are knit together body, mind, and soul.  We experience time in past, present, and future. We experience life through thinking, being, and doing.

In the lattermost triad, I tend to try to live like a two-legged stool. I am comfortable in the land of thinking as my resting state. In my excited state, I become a dogged doer,  checking things off of my list and getting things done. I wrestle deeply with being. I  usually only get to a place of being by exhausting myself from thinking too much and/or hitting a wall from running myself ragged.

Last week, when I collapsed into my Sabbath time at a shaded picnic table near my home, the Lord gave me a little hummingbird who landed right above my head.

Hummingbirds press the limits of metabolism. They are the smallest of all birds, yet they flap their wings at dizzying speeds between 12 to 80 beats per second. They have been clocked in wind tunnels at flying nearly 35 miles per hour, which may sound slow for a  car, but it fast for something that can weigh less than a nickel.

I have an affinity for hummingbirds. In addition to the fact that they are fascinating to watch and breathtaking to see, my soul is drawn to them because I tend to fly too quickly, forgetting to stop and be.

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Be Still

Even hasty hummingbirds
Who fly at inhuman speed
Must rest their wild wings.
A sacred stillness they need. 

You flit, fleet, and fly about,
From petal to petal you buzz. 
You press metabolism’s limit,
Forgetting what busyness does. 

Come now, my self-serious one,
Slow your pulse to my pace.
In my firm grip, cease a second,
Come now,  look at my face. 

I am He who made the Hibiscus.
I am the winder of these wings.
I am your Creator and Keeper,
I am He who controls all things.

Be still, little one. I will feed you full. 

I pray that this poem helps those who share my affinity and likeness (only in busyness) to the hummingbird find a perch in the presence of the Triune God to rest and be still.

Sarah’s Laughter

Hiding unseen in the tent, Sarah laughed. Angelic visitors would have been cause enough to laugh a cynical, confused, awkward laugh; however, her laugh originated from the eavesdropped announcement that she, an aged, long-disappointed, and empty-wombed woman, would finally bear a son.

While I have admittedly eavesdropped on my son’s late night conversations from top to bottom bunk, I know nothing of tents or angelic visitors. I do, however, know about Sarah’s laughter. I know about the triple pits of fear, cynicism, and self-centered self-doubt that give rise to the nervous laughter of disbelief at the Lord’s extravagant promises.

The story captured in Genesis 18 is as old as Sarah’s womb was when she heard the news. But, of late, it has taken on fresh meaning in my heart and life.

We have found ourselves asking questions and peering into the seemingly unbelievable promises of God’s provision and protection for those who step out in faith. And I have found myself joining Sarah in her laughter.

We all have seasons or scenes in our lives where we are with Sarah in her laughter. While our dubious laughter may not be about a promised son, we may repeat Sarah’s response at the thought of God’s provision of a job after a long season of unemployment, God’s promise to restore the ruinous places of generational sins in our lives, God’s ability to change a sin-hardened, addicted loved one, or myriad other scenarios.

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As we scan the horizon of our lives and the topography of our hearts, it seems impossible that God could do what He has so clearly promised. Just as Sarah’s womb showed no physical hope of housing a child, we look at the facts of our lives and the statistics around us which invite us to scoff at the seemingly sensational promises of God.

Poetry is my way of processing through my unbelief and giving the promises of God time to slowly scoot from my head to my heart.

Sarah’s Laughter

I hear your laughter, beloved,
A laughter fraught with fear. 
I’m more real than your concerns,
But come whisper them in my ear.  

I hear your laughter, beloved,
A laughter tinged with tears.
I know it is hard to risk
After the disappointed years. 

I hear your laughter, beloved,
A laughter drawn from doubt.
Looking within you find lack,
But My provision lies without. 

I hear your laughter, beloved,
A laughter broken and cynical.
Age is an assault on naivete,
But hope is never so clinical. 

A different laugh comes, beloved;
It will rise, buoyed by belief.
My sufficiency suffocates fears;
Your laugh will reflect relief.  

You can’t see it yet, beloved,
Hindered by heart’s blindness
Your future is sure as my word,
Soon you’ll recount my kindness. 

Cynicism will be upstaged by wonder.
Trust will silence the cacophony of fear. 
You’ll laugh the laughter of love
Even by this time next year,  

I don’t know where you are laughing with Sarah. I don’t know the particular places of doubt and fear that haunt your heart, but I do know that the God of Sarah sees and hears you fully, just as he did her.

In His perfect timing, your laughter shall be transformed into the laughter of wonder at the God who says to us, as He said to Sarah, “Is anything too hard for the Lord? At the appointed time I will return to you, about this time next year, and Sarah shall have a son” (Genesis 18:14). 

The Pressure on Politics

Politics cannot handle the pressure it is being asked to carry these days.

As Neil Postman spent his life powerfully proclaiming, our nation is in a narrative crisis. We are lacking a unified, agreed-upon over-arching story or aim that orders appetites, brings purpose, and gives significance to our lives.

Hyper-individualism, while it offers incredible freedom, also crushes any chances of a coherent society. With the gradual shift from a modern society where absolutes are assumed even if they are not agreed upon to a postmodern society where self and its subsequent choices reign supreme, society has been atomized into tiny particles of sovereign selves.

With millions of self-appointed sovereigns and a suffocating sense of isolation, it is no wonder that as a society our rates of depression, malaise, anxiety, and suicide were sky-rocketing even before a global pandemic.

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David Brooks describes tribalism as one of the outcomes of such mass existential crisis in his book The Second Mountain.

“People who are experiencing existential dread slip into crisis mode: ‘I’m in danger! I’m threatened! I must strike back!’ Their evolutionary response is self-protection, so they fall back on ancient instincts for how to respond to a threat: us vs. them. Tribalists seek out easy categories in which some people are good and others are bad. They seek out certainty to conquer their feelings of unbearable doubt. They seek out war-  political war or actual war- as a way to give life meaning. They revert to tribe.”

Brooks goes on to give words to what so many of us are getting caught in on our newsfeeds, at our dinner tables, and in our cities and churches.  While disagreement has been part of humanity since Adam and Eve agreed to eat the fruit of the forbidden tree, the entrenched, vitriolic environment of present politics goes far beyond basic disagreement and civil debate. While communities are built on mutual affection (whether that is the love of a hobby, a cause, or a place), tribalism grows community on mutual hatred.

“Community is based on common humanity; tribalism is based on common foe. Tribalism is always erecting boundaries and creating friend/enemy distinctions…Politics is war. Ideas are combat. It’s kill or be killed. Mistrust  is the tribalist worldview. Tribalism is community for lonely narcissists.” 

When vacuums of truth and community press isolated individuals deeper and deeper into different tribes, tribal warfare is the sure outcome. The deeper the trenches are dug and the darker the us vs. them lines are drawn, the chances for transformational, relational discussion around disagreements become more few and far between.

“Once politics becomes your ethnic or moral identity,  it becomes impossible to compromise, because compromise becomes dishonor. Once politics becomes your identity, then every electoral contest is a struggle for existential survival, and everything is permitted.” 

Politics was never intended to give us our life’s purpose; it was intended to be a vehicle towards an end, not the end in and of itself. It cannot carry the weight of human existence and purpose.

Brooks’s explanation of tribalism helped makes sense of the crossfire I feel caught in currently. Two entrenched sides unwilling to even listen to the other side because they so villainize each other.

For the believer in Christ, the lines are drawn up very differently.  As Solzhenitsyn  discovered in prison, “The line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either – but right through every  human heart- and through all human hearts.”

We were enemies of God, and in our fallen nature were children of wrath (Ephesians 2:3); we were without hope and without God in the world (Ephesians 2:12). We were set on our own destruction, deeply entrenched in our patterns of sin.

“But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared,  he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Saviour” (Titus 3:4-5).

We need not be sucked into political tribalism when we are the loved members of the family of God. Politics need not become our ultimate purpose because we know the end of all things and are invited to join God in His kingdom work and purpose. Rather than putting the weight and affirmation of our existence on to a political party or system, we know that such a weight can only be placed on the One who created us, redeemed us, and currently sustains us. As such, we ought to be the most free of all people to engage in politics without crushing it or others with it.

Lord, help us to that end as we approach even more vitriolic days ahead. Be our purpose, be our vindicator, be our identity. Amen. 

Crossing the Line

After having dreamed of freedom for nearly 30 years, Harriet Tubman took victorious steps into the free state of Pennsylvania. I cannot imagine the relief, the joy, the satisfaction that must have flooded her tired body after having conducted through various danger-laden stations of the Underground Railroad. She had left her husband, a free negro who had threatened to tell her Master if she sought to run away. She had left it all for the promise of freedom, staying true to her personal vow liberty or death.

Our boys listened intently (a rare thing for our morning “motions” as Phin calls our devotions) as we read about Harriet Tubman this morning.  To be honest, the story fell upon my ears in a fresh way.

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She had made it to Pennsylvania. She had, by the grace of God and the help of so many now nameless and unknown abolitionists, crossed the line into safety.

What did she do with her freedom? She took her free self back over that line into danger, she crossed the line many times bringing over 300 other passengers to enjoy freedom.

The image of Harriet Tubman’s tired feet stepping from a place of safety and privilege and a hard-fought-for-freedom back into risk and uncertainty has been haunting my soul all day.

It would have been completely understandable for her to have said, “I have had my fair share of suffering; I have been hit on the head with a two-pound weight sacrificing myself so a runaway slave wouldn’t be caught; I have struggled with headaches everyday since; I had to leave my husband and my family. I get to rest now.”

It would have been admirable for her to build a house close to the border and cheer other passengers on as they reached safety, welcoming them to free ground.  Do all you possibly can from a place of safety to further the abolitionist agenda. If I am honest, that would probably be my natural inclination.

But she left a place of privilege, laid down her newly worn right to freedom and personally with great risk to herself, ushered others to freedom.

It makes for an amazing story. It reads well for a morning devotion. But it makes for quite uncomfortable application.

If I read Galatians 5:13 correctly, I am convicted that Harriet’s bold and brazen act of crossing the line is not meant to be the exception, but the rule of Christian living.

For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.

I am reminded of Numbers 32 when the Ruebenites, Gadites and half-tribe of Manasseh receive the land they requested east of the Jordan River with one important provision.

We will build sheepfolds here for our livestock, and cities for our little ones, but we will take up arms, ready to go before the people of Israel, until we have brought them to their place….We will not return to our homes until each of the people of Israel has gained his inheritance.”  Numbers 32:16-18.

They had found a land suitable to their way of living, a perfect place for raising livestock, but the rest of the tribes of Israel were still a long way from their places of peace. They vowed that they would not enjoy their own land or settle down fully until their brothers had received their respective lots.  For many years they did so, as seen in Joshua 22: 3-4.

You have not forsaken your brothers these many days, down to this day, but have been careful to keep the charge of the Lord your God. And now the Lord your God has given rest to your brothers, as he promised to them. Therefore, turn and go to your  tents in the land where your possession lies. 

Harriet and the half-tribe of Manasseh challenge me. They remind me that even though I have been graciously transferred from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of light and freedom, ther is work to be done.

It is not enough that I sit in church pews and pray for people to come to the Church’s doors. The example of Jesus who left Heaven to come and seek and save the lost bids me follow him out of my comfort zone. He calls me to cross the line back into enemy territory to go find would-be brothers and sisters. He bids me personally point them, spot-by-spot, danger-by-danger, step-by-step toward the One who offers a much deeper freedom than Pennsylvania offered Harriet Tubman.

Oh, that we would be a generation of Harriets, crossing back over many times to lead others to the true freedom found in Christ alone.

 

Right-sizing Summer

Expectations on summer somehow grew to exponential proportions in my momma heart. I did not realize the pressure I felt until tears were welling up in my eyes today.

When I look back on the summers of my childhood, I can taste ice cream cones, smell the chlorine of the pool, and feel the thick layers of neon zinc oxide gathering on my freckled nose. I am sure my mother remembered soggy wet towels and being our sherpa as we lugged supplies to the beach at Avon-by-the-Sea. But I don’t remember those.

The happy memories of summer, along with those memes that circulate to remind us that we only have eighteen juicy summers with our children, are not intended to heap pressure on already haggard momma souls. Nevertheless, they do.

I have the same internal wrestling match seasonally; however, this year the expectations feel more heightened because of the preceding months of a pandemic.  We have already been living the summer life of staying up later, lazy mornings, and dinners outside on the porch for a few months. While we have loved this slower pace, the end of school did not usher in a new season. It led us into more of the same without an idea of what the fall might hold.

We are not summer-camp-every-week people, but we do usually have a few exciting events that punctuate and give shape to our summer season. Those are not happening, which heaps more pressure on me to give shape to our days. Our growing boys are so hungry for friendships, but zoom calls are no longer packing the same punch. We are committed to fighting the good fight against the encroachment of screens, but such a fight is exhausting.

All these realities compounded with the complexity of social distancing and walking in wisdom leave me feeling frail, fragile, and faulty as a momma. I assume I am not alone. When I hit this wall, I need my perspective adjusted and put back into its proper place. I need the Scriptures, not nostalgia, the consumer market, or the newsfeeds of friends, to inform my summer.

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Repentance > Resorts
I need repentance, not a resort. I find myself daydreaming of a vacation on the Mexican peninsula and imagining that having a pool would cure my discontentment and restlessness.  But my issue is not our location, it is my idolatry of rest and comfort and quiet. I have bought the lie that summer exists to make me and my children happy and shiny (both literally and figuratively). I have forgotten that the chief end of man is to enjoy God and glorify him forever.

I have been daydreaming about escaping on the highway and missing opportunities right here at my house to travel the byways into my children’s hearts that are set before me. The little squabbles are opportunities to train my children. The windows of boredom can also be doors into creativity and a cultivated contentment that takes practice. It seems that as much as they need to be trained, my own heart needs to be retrained and refined.

Sanctification does not take a summer break. Motherhood does not offer a sabbatical. But God knows these realities and has promised His steady provision and sustenance even in the summer when our budgets and our patience are simultaneously stretched.

For thus said the Lord  God, the Holy One of Israel, “In repentance and rest you will be saved; in quietness and trust is your strength.” Isaiah 30:15. 

Vivification > Vacation
I need vivification, not vacation. As much as we want a change of location and a change of the monotony of the past few months, my soul needs to re-home itself in the Lord and His ways. While I want to float in a lazy river and read in a hammock, what I need is for my soul to be refreshed by the Word of God.

Reviving the soul. Rejoicing the heart. Enlightening the eyes. While these may sound like an add for a vacation rental, they are promises that come from God Himself.

The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul;
The testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple;
The precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart;
The commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes. Psalm 19:7-8.  

Rest in the midst of the ordinary; peace in the midst of the pressure; purpose even when a pandemic has life and summer plans on halt. These provisions of the Holy Spirit are helping to right-size our summer.