In Everything

Originally published May 26, 2013.

“That’s why He tells us to give thanks in everything,” she said. I knew her story, and it was on her face too, just then, as she thought it through. “Because He takes things away and it seems all wrong, but maybe you don’t really know….He gives things too, and you wouldn’t even have the one if it weren’t for the other.” She knew the secret of giving thanks in all things, and she was so right, that it wasn’t about what you could see in front of you, but Who was present with you. Not about what was happening now but what He was planning. Except that it is hard to keep in mind when the earth drops away and we can say with Job “What I always feared has happened to me. What I dreaded has come true.” (Job 3:25)

Maybe that’s why God gave us these promises of His good intentions, His own word to us “For I know the plans I have for you….”They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.” (Jeremiah 29:11) Spell it out for us, so we wouldn’t wonder what He was up to, remind us that “God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to His purpose for them.” (Romans 8:28) Truth to anchor into and hang all our weight on, when we just might fall over the edge completely. He says I can get through whatever comes, just because He is there with me. Paul knew it by firsthand experience in the jail cells and hiding places, the hunger and cold and scars on his back: “For I can do everything through Christ who gives me strength.” (Philippians 4:13)

In all the dark winding paths, as I walk toward the light, this thing I have learned is most necessary, to give thanks. Because when you acknowledge that All is Gift, you acknowledge your surrender to the Giver. And when you give thanks, you acknowledge that He is good and worth trusting. It’s the words themselves that matter, regardless of whether the heart is spilling out joy and the thanks are overflowing– or whether they are sheer act of will through teeth clenched with pain. Pick something and give thanks for it, willfully and intentionally, no matter how small, because everything around you is Gift and Grace. And then find another good gift, and another, as many as you can think of, until your heart lightens and hope sparks again.

The long-ago saints would have called it a discipline of the Christian life, perhaps. I only know it is necessary for survival, to keep heart and mind whole. Constant connection with the Light-giver. Constant dependence on the Maker. Constant recognition that He is good, regardless of the circumstances. He wants us to give thanks in everything because in everything He is there, and in everything He is working for our good, and in everything He is accomplishing His purposes. I can trust this and be thankful.

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“When you are a believer — and you stop counting blessings? It’s like blindfolding yourself and wondering why everything’s black.” (Ann VosKamp)

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“I may be weak
but Your spirit’s strong in me;
My flesh may fail
My God you never will.” (Give Me Faith, Elevation Worship)

We Belong to Each Other

You would think that the easiest place to walk as a child of light is with other light-dwellers. Yes. In a place where minds are encouraged by Christ’s love, and spirits are alive by the same Spirit of God, and hearts are tender and compassionate because of His work within…yes, in this situation the Church-planter Paul affirms that our joyful response should be “…agreeing wholeheartedly with each other, loving one another, and working together with one mind and purpose.” (Philippians 2:2) From his perspective, the Family of God should be an everyday illustration of God’s love and grace, reaching out to the people of the world– a living temple for God’s presence. It sounds like the ideal family, doesn’t it?

And yet Paul takes the time to instruct the early church at length in how to make that happen, over the course of many different letters, and even scolding those who are behaving poorly with one another. Clearly relationships within the Family of God are a good bit more work than we might expect. In Peter’s letter we find him echoing the same thoughts, and this time it is in the middle of all his examples of living an everyday life of excellence: “Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.” (1 Peter 4:7-10) Both Paul and Peter aren’t afraid to get into the practical nuts and bolts of how to live as children of the light, nor do they hide the fact that it is liable to be difficult at times. Whether we are talking about work relationships, marriage, respecting government, or getting along with fellow believers, our behavior should be above reproach so that we will bring glory to the God who called us into His kingdom. At the same time, we will be shining God’s light into the darkness the way Jesus did when He walked here Himself.

Peter describes a community of genuine friendship, brotherly love for one another. The kind of friends who truly care when you are going through difficulties, and come alongside to help. People of compassion and humility– not looking out for their own interests, but looking to serve others. An adopted family of peacemakers, focusing on the eternal bond we share in Christ instead of on the earthly differences that can pull us apart. He fully expects the early believers to voluntarily hold the same values, not because they are culturally homogeneous, but because they have all turned away from earthly perspectives and are devoted to the same cause of building the Kingdom of Light.

Paul affirms that this is expected and normal for Christ-followers who share life together: “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace.” (Colossians 3:15) After all, in God’s eyes every one of us is a sinner saved by His own gracious consent into the Kingdom of Light, regardless of where we have come from, or our situation in life. All the earthly distinctions that we pride ourselves on are as temporary as this world– the person we are becoming on the inside is what we get to take into eternity. Beloved author Madeleine L’Engle rightly observed that “We draw people to Christ…by showing them a light that is so lovely that they want with all their hearts to know the source of it.

And we can see this theme of beautiful light running through Peter’s letter, and the Christ-followers shining into the darkness to draw others to God. Day by day they look more and more like Jesus.

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In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning…. In Him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

John 1:1-2, 4-5

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What I share with other believers is not just a mutual interest, as if we were all members of a global fan club. We are members of His global family, with the same Father, the same Spirit, the same hope. Blood might be thicker than water, but Jesus’s blood is thicker still.

Bronwyn Lea

When You Need an Eye Exam

Originally published December 8, 2017.

This lined page lays on my desk looking back at me, and I ought to be writing on it every day, enumerating the things I am thankful for. Our small group returns to that discipline of heart and mind periodically, to remind ourselves Whose we are, and where everything comes from. It’s like re-orienting a compass, aligning our hearts to the fixed poles of truth that can guide our steps, our thoughts, our behavior. No question about it– we live better as thankful people.

The list is filling up slowly right now, but not because of fewer gifts. My head knows that All is Gift– that is the very definition of the grace that we wear, like a label on our being, both nametag and crown for someone who walks in the footsteps of Christ. No, the gifts are many.

But seeing people you care about go through impossibly hard situations strains the eyesight…it’s just hard to see the right things, and recognize God’s handiwork. Beautiful strong women battle addiction and disease, and weary young mamas clutch onto the ends of ropes, and marriages fade and wither in the harsh winds of neglect, and families struggle to take care of the sick, and young believers struggle to stay the course….and you can look at enough loneliness and heartache and pain and injustice until it’s all you can see at the end of the day. It’s my eyesight that is weak, focusing on the things closest to me and losing sight of the bigger picture. Apparently it is a common malady, because even Paul wrote to encourage his friends: “…our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” (2 Corinthians 4:18) It’s like God’s truth is corrective lenses for the eyes of the soul. Because life here may be eye-catching and attention-grabbing, but it is also passing away, and focusing on my feet as I walk can make me impossibly myopic, in every sense of the word.

When your eyesight is failing, that’s where giving thanks becomes more an exercise of the will, just because He says so. Paul reminds us, “…give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” (1 Thessalonians 5:18) He balances it carefully on top of that tall stack of high ideals, as if the first two weren’t quite enough: “Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances….” That’s what God wants from us who follow His Son, and I know there are people who scoff at the seeming-impossible, but the Spirit who makes all things possible is alive and well in me, and He says this is what real life looks like. It seems clear that when I fix my eyes on Him and what He is doing, both joy and thankfulness will abound in His company.

So I reach out my mind to choose what He says over what I see; I reach out my words to tell Him what hurts and that I trust Him to take care of it in the best way; I reach out my heart to say Thank You, Thank You for all the undeserved blessings of this day. And this is the slowly unfolding miracle, that gratitude rises anew.

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I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which He has called you, the riches of His glorious inheritance in His holy people, and His incomparably great power for us who believe.

Ephesians 1:18-19

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What you think you can’t handle — might actually be God handing you a gift.  And I think of everything I have chafed against and railed about and howled to the heavens and who am I to know what is best or not — but when you bow and surrender to the sovereignty of God then you are in the posture to receive all as a gift.

Ann VosKamp

When It’s Hard to Give Thanks

Originally published on April 7, 2014.

Joy is the particular province of the broken-hearted. It sounds contradictory, but it is one more paradox of the Kingdom of God, in which He turns everything we are accustomed to upside-down…or maybe it is Right-side-up, after all.

Jesus said it to the crowds gathered on the hillsides: “You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule. You’re blessed when you feel you’ve lost what is most dear to you. Only then can you be embraced by the One most dear to you.” (Matthew 5:3-4, The Message) This is a joy that comes in the face of loss, when you go looking for Something More than this world, and find God’s presence. It is completely counter-intuitive (and utterly true) that those who suffer the most can find the deepest joy, because their very loss is an unexpected opportunity to discover the riches of God’s provision.

Joy shines brightest in people who are struggling to survive in one way or another, who face silence and uncertainty and grief, and realize that there is still Someone close who whispers words of comfort to the soul and does not sleep, and He is Enough, after all. It is the secret the itinerant Church-planter Paul learned, amid the dangers of traveling over ten thousand miles through the ancient civilized world in the course of his adult life — often bone-weary, in constant danger, harried and pursued, driven out of town and stoned and threatened. “I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through Him who gives me strength.” (Philippians 4:12-13) When all my supply runs out and I am entirely dependent on God’s, then I am coming to the heart of what it means to have a relationship with The Almighty. “The eyes of all look to you, and you give them their food at the proper time. You open your hand  and satisfy the desires of every living thing.” (Psalm 145:15-16) 

It is easy to celebrate and give thanks when things are going well for us, and of course God delights in hearing our enjoyment of His blessings. But if we wait until we feel happy to count our blessings then aren’t we only putting a label on our response to the circumstances? Anyone can look at the sun and say it is a good thing it is shining; may as well look at a cloudy day and observe that we don’t like the rain. When the needy and the grieving look at their world and choose hard to praise God, to give thanks for His grace and kindness to them regardless of painful circumstances, they are bowing to His rule, giving a sacrifice that costs something. God holds that gift precious, and joy kindles and endures in the offering. This is beyond response to circumstances; this is the obedience and surrender and trust of a genuine Christ-follower.

In the face of any grief there is always a new morning, and the world all around, shelter and food and friends, and the small kindnesses of others– unaccountable blessings un-looked for, and unceasing. “I lie down and sleep; I wake again, because the LORD sustains me.” (Psalm 3:5) Accepting those small things with the simplicity of a child, choosing to give thanks (because even they are grace undeserved) gives Him our undivided attention– opens the door to God’s loving presence in all the seasons of life. The Giver is always worthy of our praise, and we can keep on counting all the evidence of His love.

God doesn’t avoid or ignore pain. He sings a louder song over it. And He invites His hurting people to sing with Him.

Aubrey Sampson, THe Louder Song

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“Therefore, let us offer through Jesus a continual sacrifice of praise to God, proclaiming our allegiance to His name. And don’t forget to do good and to share with those in need. These are the sacrifices that please God.” (Hebrews 13:15-16)

New Every Day

Somehow, counting out these blessings each day has a vulnerable feel to it. How many good things does the heart need, to be able to call it a happy day? Who am I depending on for my good, really? What do I actually believe about a sovereign God? And how easily a harsh word or a deep hurt or a lingering anxiety overwhelms any number of blessings. Even this sobering freedom that I get to choose how my heart is growing– I can respond to any situation with a thankful heart, or not, and it is sad how often my first instinctive reaction is something other than gratitude. No question about it, when we consciously place ourselves in the radiance of God’s presence, we can see more clearly the gap between what we believe and what we live.

Bending my will to this spiritual discipline of gratitude keeps peeling away the layers of self-sufficiency and wish-to-control, and as one day’s list gives way to the blank page of the next, it’s remarkable how much giving thanks feels like trust. My heart can still stutter hard, knowing that provision for today does not guarantee the same for tomorrow. The unknown can loom large in the night, and problems take on nightmare quality under the lens of What If. It is here that I have to choose again…. Can I trust the Grace that was enough for today to be big enough for tomorrow’s uncertainties? And it’s like I can hear Jesus saying, “…do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” (Matthew 6:34) I get that there’s an assurance of troubles, and it makes good sense not to spend your worry before it’s due, but this is hardly encouraging news for wannabe-thankfuls. I have to back up and read over and again the most important part of Jesus’ sentence: “…seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow…” (Matthew 6:33) My focus on living as a Christ-follower keeps me living in the present under His care. My thankfulness for the great gift of salvation and trust in the Father’s goodness gives my heart peace.

So it is both what I desire and what God provides that is guarding today and tomorrow. And I can see how when I want His presence more than anything else, these daily blessings are like manna, everyday evidence that He is here with me. I pick up each one and give thanks, believing that it will be enough for whatever I am facing today. And tomorrow will have its own simple graces, along with whatever troubles may come. I can trust Him in this. Each day Jesus promises to me again, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Corinthians 12:9)

The prophet Jeremiah saw it clearly: “Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness.” (Lamentations 3:22-23) God’s gifted goodness is fresh and fully abundant each morning as I rise. And His faithfulness ensures enough for all the days to come. So I choose yet again to trust, and I walk through another day with eyes wide open, looking forall the ways my Father loves me.

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The Lord upholds all who fall and lifts up all who are bowed down. The eyes of all look to You, and you give them their food at the proper time. You open Your hand and satisfy the desires of every living thing. The Lord is righteous in all His ways and faithful in all He does.

Psalm 145:14-17

We have no idea what it is that God is saving us from every single day we wake up with breath.

Shelly Miller

Polite Lepers and the Power of Choosing Happiness

Originally published November 15, 2017.

One of my favorite Bible stories in Sunday School when I was a child was the ten lepers who call out to Jesus to have mercy on them; He tells them to go to the Temple to show the priests they were healed and off they run, eager to make the proper sacrifices so that they could rejoin their families and get their lives back. But one of them turns around and runs back to Jesus to say thank you. I can still remember that line of men strung out across the flannelgraph board, their colorful robes flapping around their legs, and that one figure kneeling at the feet of Jesus, his hands and face turned upwards in worship. The story definitely has a strong visual appeal, and it probably resonates with children everywhere who are being taught polite manners: even Jesus thinks it is important that people say thank you!

Now that I am older, other aspects of the story intrigue me though, like the fact that all were healed, regardless of whether they said thanks or not. God’s mercy was lavish and free…no strings attached. And the fact that the man who came back was a foreigner is striking, because it is probably the real reason for his gratitude. The Jews were used to being God’s special people, and it made sense to them, both that God would heal them and that the Temple priest was the one who would declare them clean. The Samaritan though, was fully aware of his own unworthiness to be touched by God, and knew that he was not welcome to offer his gifts of thankfulness in the Temple. He saw clearly that the healing was at Jesus’ command, and returned to give thanks where it was due; it was his faith that Jesus was commending. All ten were healed of their skin condition, but one came back to kneel at Jesus’ feet, and had his heart healed as well. Obviously, the lesson for us is much larger than having nice manners.

I used to have this crazy poster on my fridge that I printed out, mostly because I needed to think about the words every day, in order to wrap my brain around them: “Everyone gets to decide how happy they want to be…because everyone gets to decide how grateful they are willing to be.” (Ann VosKamp)”

Everyone gets to decide how happy they want to be? Even the lepers and the lonely?…. all the ones that get stuck in situations beyond their control? And what if there is no family to run home to, and the healing doesn’t come? That’s the hard ceiling on free will, finding out that in so many ways you are not actually free, and have no choices in the matter. And who in this life gets to decide on a quantity of happiness, as if they were window shopping in a mall? Isn’t everyone allotted some random measure of happiness in this life, and some people are just more blessed than others? There is an inequity of circumstances that we all have learned to put up with, ever since we were toddlers and discovered the painful truth that we can’t always have what someone else has. And right about that same time we laid the responsibility of our happiness on the shoulders of circumstance, let it roll on the unpredictable winds of fortune. I see how we often live on that thin knife-edge, balanced between hope that things will go our way, and fear that everything will crash down around our ears– can see how we lean toward worry or toward control, trying to manage it all. And some of us just give up on the trying, and do whatever we can to pretend everything is going to work out fine. The world we live in makes no sense of the first part of that sentence.

But the truth of the second part skewers through the uncertainty of that first bit, anchoring it firmly. “Everyone gets to decide how happy they want to be… because everyone gets to decide how grateful they are willing to be.” (Ann VosKamp) And I know this spiritual sister is speaking truth, even though my heart still struggles at times to put it into practice. Because gratitude is precisely what we are free to choose– or not– in response to the circumstances we are given, and the way we respond shows what is in our hearts toward the Giver.

In his letters to the early churches, Paul writes it over and over again, rings out the insistent call: “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice.” (Philippians 4:4) He hands out this command boldly, as the standard for believers, regardless of their circumstances. And given the circumstances of his own life, we can surmise that Paul was no rosy idealist about life; he had no illusions about how hard it could be to hold onto hope or contentment or joy. His answer to the hurting, to the lonely, to the failing and the fallen is the same: Rejoice in the One who loves you and will never leave you.

Just before the story of the lepers, Jesus’ followers ask Him how to increase their faith. I wonder if the story of the thankful man surprised them at all. The connection between faith and thanksgiving is probably not one that we would make on our own, yet it runs over and over through the Scriptures: thankfulness is an act of obedience and faith, the humble offering of a heart that recognizes its Maker and Healer. And it is thankfulness that enables us to persevere in faith through whatever comes. This Savior who answers our cries for mercy is the answer to all the hurts of this world, and because of His presence we can always rejoice, can always give thanks, no matter how hard our faith is tested.

But it’s a choice and we have to be willing to submit to what He has given this day, open our hands for what He supplies and be content there. Paul’s words stand firm: “We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.” (2 Corinthians 4:8-9) The only certainty in this world is suffering; all else is Grace, and undeserved.

So maybe happiness is really up to me and I do get to decide, because while the circumstances are not in my control, my response to them is, and gratitude is always the best option. Choose to see Grace? Be willing to acknowledge the Giver’s goodness and provision in the midst of circumstances, and find happiness in His presence? I get to decide.

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Whatever happens to me each day is my daily bread, provided I do not refuse to take it from Thy hand and to feed upon it.

Francois de la Mothe Fenelon

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Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is….be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Ephesians 5:15-17, 19-20

Miracles Await

I keep hearing people say how having the ordinary stripped away has made them realize what is truly important in life– cleared their vision, so to speak, and given them a new appreciation for the relationships that connect them. Having the world turned upside-down has also called many of us out of our comfort zones. No more daily commute, familiar office space, stores and gyms and running kids around– the routines that alternately bore or frustrate us, and provide the structure in our lives. It’s funny how the very things that can drive us crazy can be the security we cling to. Laying down our day planners, and trusting God to supply our needs, and spending evenings at home with our families may be a whole new adventure for many of us, and I wonder if it might not be just what we need right now.

Because there’s nothing like losing what you take for granted to make you appreciate it. It’s something our mothers knew very well, and used to their advantage when we were young. I guess somewhere in the growing up we forgot how easily things can be taken from us, and how useful are those lessons. So we live here in this strange season of change learning to be thankful all over again, remembering that Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. (James 1:17) We have fresh eyes to see all the little things that matter, and maybe even have the time to enjoy them. And this week dozens of homes are focusing on the good things, writing them down on refrigerator lists and journals and scraps of paper– reminding ourselves that all is grace, and there is a Father who loves us. Regardless of our circumstances or our feelings, we can give thanks because of Who He Is and what He has done for us. This is the miracle of Grace, that gratitude can flourish under any conditions. It is our offering of worship… our declaration of belonging to Him… our defense against the darkness.

The Church-planter Paul assures us that this one awakening to gratitude can lead us into many good places. He writes joyfully, If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but gave Him up for us all—how will He not also, along with Him, graciously give us all things? (Romans 8:31-32) Opening our eyes to be amazed at God’s overflowing provision opens our hearts to trust Him. Practicing gratitude as a spiritual discipline leads us to depend on Him instead of ourselves. Saying thanks invites the Giver into the situation. And when we acknowledge His right to be there, in the middle of whatever is happening, it allows Him to work with His great power to accomplish His plans there, as well. This is how we welcome the Almighty into our Everyday, by seeing His ever-presence and saying thank you.

And who knows where these small steps of obedience will lead us?

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I have wondered how often my refusal to obey, my hesitancy to go, or my action altered by my fear has kept the impossible impossible. How many opportunities have I missed to witness the miraculous because I didn’t listen or wouldn’t obey?

Kristen Welch

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And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with Him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages He might show the incomparable riches of His grace, expressed in His kindness to us in Christ Jesus.

Ephesians 2:6-7

Prying My Fingers Loose

Originally published June 25, 2018.

It seems instinctive, this fear of loss, this near-stranglehold on what matters to us. Of course we’ve learned to cover it up well, to give it acceptable labels: we are concerned about the people we love; we value our friendships; we want to be good providers for our families; we want to take care of our health; we work hard and just want to unwind. We’ve learned to live with fear and to work it into our cultural norms quite well. But no one wants to dig below the surface and face the howling insecurities that drive us all.

So it goes against all sensibility, the way Abraham turned to Lot and said “Choose which land you think best for your flocks” as they looked out over the hills stretching away into the horizon– the land God had already given him.  And Lot chose and Abraham just nodded and let him go his way–Lot taking the best of land that wasn’t his to take and Abe giving what had been given, holding his Promised Land with open hands.

Makes me think about the things I hold onto, and why it is so hard to let go.

Maybe it’s the illusion of control when I hold onto things, the deception that still whispers that if I try hard enough I can shape my own destiny and keep my own heart safe, and the ones I love.  Because if I lose that security blanket (however flimsy) what is left is just me and my small concerns in a huge universe, at the mercy of the Creator, and is that really enough?  It is the same whisper of doubt that has echoed in the hearts of men since we first heard that lie in the Garden…. seems like we would have realized by now just Who is in charge, and how much better things were before we fell for that line.

But mostly it’s the fear of losing, when I hold onto things– fear that what is precious can be ruined and my heart can break at the loss.  Fear of not having enough that drives me to hoard and grab and fight for what is mine, like any starving child. Only it has far wider application than physical food; it’s about all the things I think I need: security, love, respect, significance, some meaning in this world. Life feels like a battle, most days, and we have all suffered casualties. We came right out of the Garden knowing how fragile life truly is, and how you can lose it all in a few warped moments. Ever since, we have been clutching onto everything good with both hands as it runs through our fingers, trying to hold on and never lose it again.

But Abraham didn’t, even though he had left home behind and come so far to get what had been promised him.  He knew that it was all gift anyway, so he let his nephew take what he wanted, and kept on trusting the Giver to be faithful to His promises. Traveling through the harsh desert should have made him more wary, more mindful of loss, but somehow blessings overflowed into thankfulness enough to fill up his heart and open his hands. It strikes me as the best way to live, out of wholeness and contentment instead of fear….the only way to live, if we truly believe that when we have God we have everything good that is needful, and all things are working together for good, according to His promise.

So pry these fingers loose from the things I can see and touch. Deliver me from the instinct of Self-preservation, and the fear of losing that springs from mortality.  Let me live in full thankfulness, because all is gift, and there is a Giver who does not grow weary; I do not need to hold on tight, because You hold me and all the things I love in Your own love-scarred hands.

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He who did not spare His own Son, but gave Him up for us all—how will He not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?

Romans 8:32

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The more I submit my desires to Jesus while letting go of outcomes, the more He seems to answer the deepest longings of my soul. His abundance always surpasses my imagination and fulfills the prayers I didn’t even know I needed to pray. 

Shelly Miller

But Still, Easter

There is a pile of Easter candy here on the table that was meant to go out to children this happy Sunday. And a flowery Spring dress hanging in the closet. And I hardly know what to do with myself this weekend without a pile of music to learn, and cinnamon rolls to bake, and meals with family and friends. I keep going back to the strange thought that It doesn’t feel like Easter… and yet that isn’t right either, because Easter never was about all those extra things. Makes me realize how intertwined our own traditions have become with the ancient story. Maybe Easter is more real than ever, this year, with these trappings stripped away, so that only iron and splintered wood, blood, and old rough rock remain. At the center of it all there is truth, and I know the Resurrection story is more ruggedly real than any of the pastel Springtime fairy-tales we have woven.

Maybe that’s what these times of upheaval do best: they peel away the trappings of a busy life, to find what is real and true beneath it. We would probably never choose to step back for this long and examine ourselves and the choices we are making. But when the noise stills and the merry-go-round slows its whirl, there is no other option but to step off and look around at what you have built. It can be slightly terrifying, and an odd relief, all at once. I feel a little like the woman near a well in ancient Samaria, asking, “Sir, give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water.” (John 4:15) There is no more distraction for the things that are broken, no more ignoring the disappointments we’ve been covering up, no more substitutes for the restless longing for something More. Just the need for real life-change. Somehow the Resurrection feels so much more ruggedly real when we are facing our own mortality– when I am vulnerable and small before the things I cannot control, cannot avoid. And the Church-planter writes with assurance that “The Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you.” (Romans 8:11) and I am trying to figure out what that means in the everyday mess and upheaval of this particular Easter.

That same Holy Spirit with the power to kill Death lives in my failing body. The same Holy Spirit who the Father sent to guide us into all truth lives with me here today. The Holy Spirit who Jesus sent to His disciples calls me a child of God and banishes fear. It is the same Holy Spirit who was in Christ Jesus, and the Church-planter Paul writes again that “…we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into His image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” (2 Corinthians 3:18) This is earthy, real, everyday miraculous stuff, and maybe it is good for us to peel away all the brightly colored shell of it and remember what is actually true. On that first Easter Sunday a body impossibly stepped out of its grave and suddenly new Life became a powerful reality.

If we step away from the busy-ness and the little pleasures and the many hats we wear, what is left is just the rough reality of who we are on this earth before our Maker. In these stripped-bare places we get to choose what we believe as real and powerful– whether to trust that the same Spirit who raised the Son of God can also resurrect our relationships…turn sorrow into joy… redeem our wasted time and give us second chances. And one young mom says how they have found healthy rhythms with a houseful of children by the grace of God, and it seems so right to have everyone together at home. And a friend writes that he has spent time alone with God this week dealing with hard things from the past, finding forgiveness and healing in the cross of Christ. And all around, people make the effort to reach out to the hurting with encouragement and hope. This is the power of the Resurrection at work in us.

It’s Easter weekend and the azalea bush out front has suddenly burst into wild purple glory fit for a king.

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So let the ruins come to life
In the beauty of Your Name,
Rising up from the ashes–
God forever You reign!
And my soul will find refuge
In the shadow of Your wings;
I will love You forever,
And forever I’ll sing.
When the world caves in
Still my hope will cling to Your promise;
Where my courage ends
Let my heart find strength in Your presence…

Glorious Ruins, Hillsong Worship

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I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in Me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in Me will never die. Do you believe this?”

John 11:25-26

Time Well-Spent

In this season when familiar everyday life has put on a new unfriendly face, I think we all are trying to figure out how to live here. How to do our jobs when work has invaded our personal space. How to fill up our time when we’ve just crossed off entire weeks of appointments on our calendars. How to sleep at night and fend off stress and creeping fears. How to find enough patience and kindness for the people we live with. It can feel like only so much trouble and wasted time. But this question of how to live well– right here, right now– follows me around these days, and I’m looking for answers.

I often think that the writer James sounds like a practical big brother, who doesn’t have any trouble telling you how you ought to live and what you should be doing. And there he is, starting his letter right off with “Dear brothers and sisters,when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow.(James 1:2-3) Honestly, where we are right now I’d probably be satisfied with just staying calm, keeping everyone entertained, mopping the kitchen floor, and finding something for dinner from what’s in my pantry…maybe a phone chat with a friend along the way to maintain sanity. But clearly God has bigger ideas of what should be happening in times of trouble. Maybe this isn’t just a matter of waiting and surviving. Maybe this blatant interruption to life could be an opportunity for growth, a pressing on into new life. I can almost feel the Spirit knocking on my heart, pushing down walls, shaking what is to make way for what could be. And I can hear His still small voice: “For I am about to do something new. See, I have already begun! Do you not see it?” (Isaiah 43:19)

This week I picked up a magazine that has been lying on the end table for a month, waiting for a spare free moment, and there’s this unexpected word from a well-known house and home writer about her life’s journey. We have to believe that where we were yesterday and where we find ourselves today matter for who we become tomorrow….What is there to learn here and now? How can I make this time significant? If we can lean into that perspective, it can make all the difference between whether it feels like a season wasted or a season well spent. (Joanna Gaines) She may have been talking about her career choices, but I know perfectly well the message is for me right here, right now, as clearly as if it had been written in the margins. And I know it feels easier to settle into survival mode and wait this out, but what if the way we figure out these new paths is to realize they are not unexpected in any way that matters, and we are here for a reason?

The same God who created us rules all things. The same God who “…reduces the rulers of this world to nothing…. gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak.”(Isaiah 40:23, 29) The Musician-King reminds us of His attention to detail with his song: “You saw me before I was born. Every day of my life was recorded in your book.” (Psalm 139:16) He knew that we would be exactly here at this time and place at this point in our faith-journey…knew how the shifting of our lives would call out the best and worst in us, and how facing this difficulty would shape our perspectives and choices. And now it’s a little easier to see the joy that James was talking about, in knowing we are entirely secure in His hands. The song lifts again, “He will cover you with his feathers. He will shelter you with his wings. His faithful promises are your armor and protection.” (Psalm 91:4)

This week I am hearing women say that they appreciate the time to step back from busyness and think; they are spending time in prayer, reading more. Families are playing games and baking, working on house projects together. Friends are sending cards to those who are isolated, making phone calls. People are taking the time to sit on the porch with a cup of coffee and admire the world coming back to life after the Winter. They are living intentionally in the here and now, choosing to make this time matter. It will make all the difference. James says it is shaping who we become. I can choose whether I spend today on myself or others, the words I speak, where I set my heart…. I can look around to see what God is doing in this time, and cooperate with Him to make this season well-spent. The best way to live well no matter how life looks is to stay close to Jesus.

The Musician-King’s songs are lifting high: “You make known to me the path of life; You will fill me with joy in Your presence, with eternal pleasures at Your right hand.” (Psalm 16:11)

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In these days and weeks of quarantine, each of us will be tempted to seek our own pleasure in isolation rather than seek our own good or the good of those around us. We will be changed by what we choose. The patterns of life we adopt while our regular responsibilities are on hold will shape who we will be when this is all over.

Philip Johnston

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For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.

2 Peter 1:5-8