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
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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
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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
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Where Jesus Is

In wilderness places when it’s hard to make it through the day, sometimes the biggest battle is in your head. Because in the desert, the Enemy’s voice whispers loud, and there is no rest from the scouring wind and scorching sun. The sand keeps shifting beneath your feet until you begin to forget that there is a rock-solid Truth underneath it all…seems easier to listen to the voice saying that you are not enough, and that you better take what you need any way you can get it because no one else is watching out for you. The way to get lost in the wilderness is to listen to the constant refrain that where you are is all there is ever going to be.

But David the Musician knew the wilderness long before he became King, and he is singing out of the desert , “O God…I thirst for You, my whole being longs for You, in a dry and parched land where there is no water.” (Psalm 63:1) He knew that the only way to survive the harsh barren places was to turn his eyes on the One who gives Living Water…the One who is beautiful beyond measure. “I have seen You in the sanctuary and beheld your power and your glory. Because Your love is better than life, my lips will glorify You. I will be fully satisfied as with the richest of foods; with singing lips my mouth will praise you.” (verses 2-4) You can focus on all that you lack in the seemingly endless days, or you can focus on the Giver of all things, like a compass-point to steer by and know that eventually you will end up safely Home. “I cling to You; Your right hand upholds me.” (v.8) It is the first choice of every day, the last before you lay your head down at night; even when no one else can hear, and you feel like you are all alone. “On my bed I remember You; I think of You through the watches of the night.” (verse 6) This is Wilderness Survival 101.

And yeah, maybe the Enemy knows all the right buttons to push, because I am most assuredly not enough for any of this…but in the middle of all I cannot control and everything I cannot fix, and the obvious shortage of wisdom and patience and strength in me, still the Spirit of the Lord who conquered death and sin is alive in me, and I am not alone. “Because You are my help, I sing in the shadow of Your wings.” (verse 7) 

Just hold on tight and take the next step, one after another, and don’t be afraid to hurl the everlasting Truth defiantly into the face of the storm.

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“Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: 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. I say to myself, ‘The Lord is my portion; therefore I will wait for him.’” (Lamentations 3:21-24)

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“Can’t go back to the beginning,
Can’t control what tomorrow will bring,
But I know here in the middle
Is the place where You promise to be.

I’m not enough unless You come;
Will you meet me here again?
Cause all I want is all You are;
Will You meet me here again?

As I walk now through the valley,
Let Your love rise above every fear;
Like the sun shaping the shadow,
In my weakness Your glory appears…

Not for a minute
Was I forsaken;
The Lord is in this place,
The Lord is in this place.

Come Holy Spirit–
Dry bones awaken;
The Lord is in this place,
The Lord is in this place.”
(Here Again, Elevation Worship)

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Not Wasted At All

Sometimes I think we are looking at all the wrong things when we read the story Jesus told about the two brothers and their father. Even the title is indicative of our slant– the name prodigal son is wasted on the younger brother, because although he certainly was all about wasting his inheritance, that is hardly the point of the story. I mean, as long as we go on seeing him only as disrespectful and irresponsible we can shake our heads and agree that it is hard to forgive people who make a mess of everyone’s lives and come back looking for grace. Call the older brother offended (as we would certainly be at our sibling’s behavior)…even call him unforgiving or jealous; better yet, point out that the father best deserves the name prodigal as he pours out his love and grace– wastes it without regard for justice on the one who has wronged him. But let the boy’s situation hit our hearts squarely in all its raw need: “So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything.” (Luke 15:15-16)

The younger brother is better understood in the context of the other two stories Jesus told to the crowds. His is the third– the lost sheep, the lost coin, the lost son– and in the first two we are hearing it from the perspective of those who have lost something of value, so it is right when we come to the third to see the grief of the Father over everything that has been destroyed by his son’s bad choices. After all, these are parables, simple memorable stories intended to teach a moral lesson to those who listen. But this time we get a window into what it is like to be the one lost. And we see a boy who is desperate, alone, hear how broken is his pride and how ready to admit that he needs his father’s love and forgiveness, even if he doesn’t deserve it. If we are going to understand forgiveness, we need to see things from the younger son’s perspective, and feel his pain when he cries out, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son…” (Luke 15:18-19)

Because I suspect that you can’t really understand forgiving someone else until you know what it means to long for forgiveness yourself, to hunger and thirst for that righteousness that wipes away shame and guilt…until you can weep with King David: “Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions.” (Psalm 51:1) Any concept you have of forgiveness is likely to be more intellectual (and pretty anemic) until you have seen the blood on your own hands, and faced the dark closets in your own soul, prostrated yourself before God: “Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.” (Psalm 51:7) You can be sure that David was not reciting any formula or just doing what was expected of him when he pleaded “Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones You have crushed rejoice. Hide Your face from my sins and blot out all my iniquity.” (Psalm 51:8-9) on the deathbed of his infant son. Only such a gifted musician could have written melody for the agony of a father bearing the guilt of his son’s death. And only those who have received grace know its life-giving power to people lost in the dark.

The parable of the two brothers and their father is above all a story to teach God’s prodigal grace. And although we might be tempted to look at the two brother’s achievements and name one more deserving than the other, the Father’s love and grace pours out on both extravagantly, unhindered by our measurements and unconcerned by our ideas of fairness. Grace isn’t grace unless it is undeserved, and grace is never wasted– just ask anyone who knows their need. “Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” (Hebrews 4:16)

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“You, God, are my God, earnestly I seek You; I thirst for You, my whole being longs for You, in a dry and parched land where there is no water. I have seen You in the sanctuary and beheld Your power and Your glory. Because Your love is better than life, my lips will glorify You.” (Psalm 63:1-3)

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“There’s a place where sin and shame
Are powerless;
Where my heart has peace with God
And forgiveness;
Where all the love I’ve ever found
Comes like a flood,
Comes flowing down.
At the cross, at the cross,
I surrender my life–
I’m in awe of You…”
(At The Cross, Chris Tomlin)
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Ready for Christmas

There’s nothing that lights up brokenness like the twinkling lights of Christmas. ‘Tis the season to be jolly…with Pinterest-decked-out halls, and the family in matching pajamas on the front of your cards, and your shopping definitely finished by the third week of December. But let’s be honest, some years you just don’t have it in you to watch all the Christmas movies and bubble gaily at parties. It feels a little like maybe you’d be better off on the Island of Misfit Toys, with your chipped paint and limping spirit. And all the traditions and high expectations of the season only serve to underline how you are dragging on behind….might push you to add another present to the pile and turn up the carols, so no one suspects. Doesn’t it make you wonder where we ever got the idea that we need to achieve a certain level of glitter and gaiety before Christmas can come?

But the Prophet Isaiah is lighting up the centuries with his clarion call straight from the mouth of God: “‘Comfort, comfort my people,’ says your God. ‘Speak tenderly to Jerusalem. Tell her that her sad days are gone and her sins are pardoned.'” (Isaiah 40:1) If ever there were a holiday for the hollow and the worn-weary, it is Christmas: “For I hold you by your right hand— I, the Lord your God. And I say to you, ‘Don’t be afraid. I am here to help you.” (Isaiah 41:13) The good news comes ready-or-not to the sheep-herders and the inn-keepers, that the glory of God has come down from heaven to shine in the back alleys and the open fields of everyday life. This is the gift of Christmas, that Christ has come to be with us in whatever we are facing, and bring healing and hope. “When the poor and needy search for water and there is none, and their tongues are parched from thirst, then I, the Lord, will answer them. I…will never abandon them.” (Isaiah 41:17)

Christmas is most of all for the broken and needy, and the Light of the world shines in all His brilliance on everyone who waits patiently for His help. Isaiah records the precious promises of His salvation: “…how can you say the Lord does not see your troubles?…The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of all the earth. He never grows weak or weary. No one can measure the depths of his understanding. He gives power to the weak and strength to the powerless.” (Isaiah 40:27-29) We are held, and we are loved, and we don’t need sparkle and shine to cover us up, because the Almighty covers us. Even the Musician-King David is singing of the Messiah’s coming. “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)

The Gospel writers highlight the prophets’ words over and over, just to prove that God’s promises have all come true in Jesus. Matthew says it as plainly as he knows how: “All of this occurred to fulfill the Lord’s message through his prophet: ‘Look! The virgin will conceive a child! She will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel, which means ‘God is with us.’” (Matthew 1:22-23) The events of Christmas were always part of God’s plan, a Light shining down through history from the beginning of time for those who know their need. John bursts into praise at the truth of what he had seen with his own eyes: “The Word gave life to everything that was created, and His life brought light to everyone. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness can never extinguish it.” (John 1:4) This is the miracle of Christmas night, that all God’s promises come true at once, with a woman’s laboring cry and an army of angels singing: “Glory to God in highest heaven, and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased.” (Luke 2:14) To the warring and the broken, the blind and deaf, the bent and the bruised, it is the best news of all. Christ has come, and He will make us whole! The prophet Malachi adds his own joyful note to the ancient songs: “But for you who fear my name, the Sun of Righteousness will rise with healing in his wings.” (Malachi 4:2)

In this most wonderful time of the year, may our longing for goodness to prevail, for beauty, for peace… drive us only to the Light of the World who is given for us.

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“For the Lord your God is living among you. He is a mighty savior. He will take delight in you with gladness. With His love, He will calm all your fears. He will rejoice over you with joyful songs.” (Zephaniah 3:17)

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“More than presents, I long for Your presence to be apparent in all the minutes You give me. I long for Your face to shine upon me. May I define abundance as a manger, strips of cloth, and a place to lay my weary head. ” (Shelly Miller)

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When Blind Men See

We are all just beggars in a way, aren’t we? I mean, on the outside no one would know, because we look pretty much like everyone else. But on the inside, most of us are looking for something, holding up our cupped hands to those who pass by. Asking for love; asking for a listening ear; longing for security, for hope; begging for meaning and worth, for relationship, for belonging. Some days you feel more satisfied, depending on what you receive. Sometimes you just feel wrung out, impoverished, like the thin ribs of your spirit would be poking through your dirty rags if anyone actually had the eyes to see inside. And it shapes you, having to beg for a life. Pushes you into thinking and acting in ways you would rather not… but a woman has to survive in this world somehow.

And we look at the man-born-blind sitting along the road and feel sorry for him: marked by his disease, by his shame, cut off from others by his disability. They don’t even see him as a person any more. He is a fixture in the landscape, growing older and shabbier, and less noticed as the years go by. Maybe a warning to naughty children about the possible consequences of their behavior, and occasionally the subject of theological discussion as to whose guilt put him there– and somehow no one ever questions the assumption that he deserves his situation. But what about us? Were we also born to sit in the dirt and beg for our lives? Is that all we are?…all we deserve? Maybe the only difference between us and him is that the marks of his need were obvious and out in the open.  And maybe right there is the secret fear that fuels our desire to be pretty and polished, to win enough trophies to hide our neediness….we need to prove that we don’t deserve to be cast aside.

But when Jesus looks at the blind beggar, He doesn’t see hopeless or helpless. He doesn’t measure the man’s worth by his condition at all. Jesus tells his followers plainly, “This happened so that  the works of God might be displayed in him.” (John 9:3) Jesus looks at the forgotten man, and He sees past the unseeing eyes, right through to the core of who he is. Jesus sees a man created from the dust of this earth, formed by God’s creative power in his mother’s womb; Jesus sees potential, and opportunity for God to do something wonderful; Jesus touches those disease-damaged eyes with His own flesh, and tells the man simply to wash it all away, leave it behind and become someone new. He doesn’t need to beg any more.

Years later, a man named Paul experienced that power himself, how God can look at a man (who barely even knows he is a beggar on the inside), and open his eyes, give him a new life. Paul declared with confidence that “God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. (1 Corinthians 1:27) Because when Jesus opens your eyes to see His face, that shapes a person too. Turns a murderer into a preacher, and a scholar into a pioneer missionary. Takes a man who thought he was “God’s gift” to the world and renames him “small, humble”— the kind of guy who could say sincerely, “Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me.” (2 Corinthians 12:9) When you have Jesus, you can stop living hungry on scraps, because He calls you friend and brother, calls you to follow Him.

So this particular beggar, who has never done a thing with his life except sit useless and beg for scraps of other people’s lives, finds unexpected reserves of confidence to stand up to the public controversy that swirls around his healing– can even shame a court of educated religious men with his eloquence: “Now that is remarkable! You don’t know where he comes from, yet he opened my eyes….If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.” (John 9:30, 33) Ironic, isn’t it, that a man who never saw anything before can look at Jesus and see the Messiah, come to heal us all from our sin, while everyone else is so busy looking at what they can get on their own. Beggars, all of them.

And I wonder if that beggar-born-blind did have one thing going for him: at least he could admit what he did for a living– knew that he was damaged and needed a fix. We should all be so brave. That’s all he needed to have, really. Jesus took care of the rest.

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“Tell everyone who is discouraged, ‘Be strong and don’t be afraid! God is coming to your rescue….’ The blind will be able to see, and the deaf will hear. The lame will leap and dance, and those who cannot speak will shout for joy. Streams of water will flow through the desert; the burning sand will become a lake, and dry land will be filled with springs.” (Isaiah 35:4-7)

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“The walls you’re building to keep the hurt out, are the same walls that keep the healing from getting in.” (Ann VosKamp)

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Simply Trusting

For all those things that are outside our circle of influence, let there be this word of encouragement today, that we can trust the One who holds everything in His hands. “The God Who lives forever is the Lord, the One Who made the ends of the earth. He will not become weak or tired. His understanding is too great for us to begin to know.” (Isaiah 40:28)

 He’s got this. You can rest in His love, “For the Lord your God is living among you. He is a mighty Savior. He will take delight in you with gladness. With His love, He will calm all your fears. He will rejoice over you with joyful songs.” (Zephaniah 3:17) Be still, and listen to Him singing.

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“If I believe in God, in a Being who made me, and fashioned me, and knows my wants and capacities and necessities, because He gave them to me, and who is perfectly good and loving, righteous, and perfectly wise and powerful– whatever my circumstances inward or outward may be, however thick the darkness which encompasses me– I yet can trust, yea, be assured, that all will be well, that He can draw light out of darkness, and make crooked things straight.” (Thomas Erskine)

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“And I will give you treasures hidden in the darkness–secret riches. I will do this so you may know that I am the LORD, the God of Israel, the One who calls you by name.” (Isaiah 45:3)

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What Elephant?

There’s a fundamental truth in the center of everything. It’s amazing how we can build a whole life blatantly ignoring the bulk of it– and yet we will all run up against it like a brick wall, at some point. The simple fact is that there are a great many things on this earth that we cannot control.

And of course we know that in our heads, and right away we think of the things we wish we could fix in our lives, past and present.  We might even list any number of large disastrous events that we would  collectively entitle “acts of God.” Of course, the implication is that these things ought to have been prevented altogether (and we would certainly have done so if we were in charge)…but no one stepped up, and at least we know Who is to blame. So much hurt in this big world.

So we spend enormous amounts of energy on controlling everything we can, and a great many things we can’t, but wish we could. Because maybe it’s just a matter of finding the right cure, or the right balance, or the right person to help. We can call it hope and strength and courage and determination– all the things we admire in a human being– and surely one of these days, if we work hard enough together, we will succeed where others have failed. Being proactive in the Everyday makes me feel stronger, more confident, like I am making a difference in all the chaos; like I  am carving out a safe place for myself and my family;  As long as the people I care about are happy and things are running smoothly at home and work and school, it seems proof positive that what I am doing is working, right?

I wonder more and more if all our trying isn’t just a smokescreen of capability, tangling a nest of self-deception and self-distraction until we can forget about that fundamental monstrosity in our midst. Because controlling the world is a mighty big task, and just because you’ve managed to decorate it nicely, doesn’t mean the elephant in the room has disappeared…. nor does it mean you are free of it.  During the day maybe you can actually come to believe that you are holding it all together, but in the middle of the night, when it’s just you in the dark?….Well, we all know the issues that keep us heart-poundingly awake at night.

Sometimes the terrible things in life turn out to be unexpected gifts; they can become the lenses on that enormous reality of impotence, like opening your eyes to what has been there all along. When the things you dread come crashing in hard and fast, and all you can do is cry out for help, you are finally in a place to learn the most important truth of all.

Because the truth is, no matter how intensely I feel about things, it doesn’t give me any more actual ability to control them. There are certain things God has given me to do, and a great many He has not put within my circle of influence, and that is okay. Because the opposite of control isn’t chaos. The opposite of control is trust. And just because you feel like circumstances are out of control doesn’t mean they are. I really wish I could hear Jesus’ tone of voice when He says “Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to your life? Since you cannot do this very little thing, why do you worry about the rest?” (Luke 12:25) When I stop trying to fix everything, and start trusting the One whose job it is, it’s amazing how the impossible situations begin shrinking next to the infinite weight of glory that is His presence; how knots in relationships untangle in the light of His truth; how bent bodies and broken hearts find rest and healing in His touch.

It is remarkably freeing to name the elephant in the room…to see it there and admit that there are relatively few things in this world over which I have influence, and that is just fine with me. I have enough to keep me busy just managing my own internal affairs.

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“Why do you say…’My way is hidden from the Lord; my cause is disregarded by my God’? Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and His understanding no one can fathom. (Isaiah 40:27-28)

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“There are always arms under you carrying you, there are always hands carved with your name holding yours, there is always a waiting embrace Who is your safe place. You will never be abandoned — because He will never abandon you, Love will never abandon you, Hope will never abandon you, Grace will never abandon you.” (Ann VosKamp)

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Filling up Our Hungry Hearts

Here in the Autumn weeks when the trees are dropping leaves and the days are growing shorter, we return to old Truths around the table. And we are carrying new stories to tell, as if that changes everything, but isn’t it odd how we need to keep learning the same lessons over and over again? Somehow, we feel the need to keep holding up our changing circumstances for examination. Maybe we need to know for sure that the light of God’s truth is still shining there, no matter how much the jagged pieces of this broken world shift and turn. Maybe these hearts are just wounded enough that we are looking to belong somewhere safe. Whatever the reason, it is clear that we need to keep setting God’s promises in the center of everything, keep our eyes focused on who He is and what He says about life, so that our changing seasons have an anchoring point around which to spin.

It’s not really a matter of testing God’s faithfulness, because we know “His compassions never fail. They are new every morning.” (Lamentations 3:22-23). Every one of us would echo the Musician-King’s song: “Your love, Lord, reaches to the heavens, your faithfulness to the skies.” (Psalm 36:5) No, it’s our own hearts that need tested, need to ask continually, “Can I trust you in this?” like children wanting fresh assurance every night that there are no monsters under the bed and someone bigger will be within earshot.

But children grow up and forget the fear of monsters under the bed eventually, and there comes a time for hearts to grow up too. Worry doesn’t make us human, nor does it make us good. It just makes us tired and unhappy. I remember a song my grandma used to sing: “O soul, are you weary and troubled? No light in the darkness you see? There’s light for a look at the Savior, and life more abundant and free. Turn your eyes upon Jesus. Look full in His wonderful face, and the things of earth will grow strangely dim, in the light of His glory and grace.” (Helen Lemmel) And the more we look at Him with the innocent trust of a child, in every change of life, the more we are convinced of the deep truth that we are loved and we are safe in His care. In the wilderness season we are going through. In the great loss we are feeling. In the inadequacy that gnaws us for the hard things ahead. Jesus is right there, and He is patiently listening to our questions about life, and cries about today’s troubles. He keeps on reassuring us that the things we fear have no power over us any more, and He will remain by our side no matter what. And at some point we need to grasp onto the solid truth of that, leave fear and insecurity behind and grow up into Him who came to rescue us. For “He Himself bore our sins in His body on the tree, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. ‘By His stripes you are healed.'” (1 Peter 2:24)

Lord, let our broken hearts be healed in Your clear unchanging Light, that we may grow up in all things and rest in Your great promises.

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“Yes, my soul, find rest in God; my hope comes from Him. Truly He is my rock and my salvation; He is my fortress, I will not be shaken..”(Psalm 62:5-6)

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“It is possible, I dare to say, for those who will indeed draw on their Lord’s power for deliverance and victory, to live a life in which His promises are taken as they stand, and found to be true. It is possible to cast every care on Him, daily, and to be at peace amidst the pressure. It is possible to see the will of God in everything, and to find it…no longer a sigh, but a song….” (Handley Moule)

 

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