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)

~~~~~~~

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

~~~~~~~

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
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Of Snowfall and Forgiveness and All Things New

They keep calling for snow, and it happens this way every year, waiting for the first deep blanket of white to hide the bleakness of Winter. It’s like the world has been reduced to its bare bones, and shivers beneath the gray sky, waiting for a covering. And after the rushing around and the beauty of the holiday decorations sometimes it feels like everything has come to a dead stop. You can catch a glimpse of huddled hearts, just trying to survive in this world…putting on a good face and waiting for something to change…feeling like a failure…wishing for a chance to start fresh.

The tree and the holiday decorations are still here, because now I can actually slow down and soak them in. The lights shine bright in the Winter gloom. Every time I see the field of stars and the soaring angel in the nativity, I remember telling the children about Jesus’ birth, and how creation itself sang out, “Welcome, welcome, we are so happy You are here!” It was the best present ever. I think of how often I have yearned for the happiness of Christmas to cover all the aching broken places– but there is only so much you can fix, and don’t we all wish the Peace on earth, goodwill to men could go on after the calendar page turns? I want to believe that the wounds of this world can heal. It’s seeing hearts change, and souls mended, lives turned around for good that keeps me hanging onto hope. And as I contemplate the rough wood of the stable in this Winter light, I see the cross there, too– it is beautiful awe-full Mystery, how the stuff of creation becomes an altar upon which the Creator offers Himself up.

And January hangs on the wall: an invitation to new beginnings, the anticipation of new possibilities whispering in our hearts because of Emmanuel, God with us forevermore. Listen hard, and you can hear the longing for God to make a way where there seems to be no way, as we search for our One Word, and dive into new projects, and refocus on healthy habits. We are all in the same boat, wanting reassurance for the regrets of the past year, and a hope for the year to come…that somehow these months will be meaningful and count for something of worth in the long run. By now I have learned that filling in those days with my own ideas and efforts is only a recipe for exhaustion; it is His presence that covers each moment with significance. So I wait and listen for His voice. And the song of the Musician-King keeps running through my head: “The Lord is my shepherd; I have all that I need. He lets me rest in green meadows; He leads me beside peaceful streams. He renews my strength. He guides me along right paths, bringing honor to His name….” (Psalm 23:1-3) I couldn’t want anything better for the New Year.

The snow comes in the night, silently overlaying yesterday’s footsteps, and we wake to a world made new. It makes me think of what we have been talking about in our small group, how the original meaning of the word righteousness was more about God making things right than about us doing things right. God is showing His righteousness when He delivers His people from the enemy; when He provides for them; when He brings justice and upholds the needy; when He covers them with His love and says I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. (John 15:15) Blessed are the people who hunger and thirst for righteousness the way a dying man longs for water, because God has given us Himself at Christmas, to make everything right again. The past that you wish you could escape; the loss you are trying to survive; the fear that hangs over your head; the hard angry feelings you just want to let go of…this is why Jesus came, to bring us His righteousness, His making-things-new, and He’s saying Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. (Matthew 11:28)

We walk into the New Year, and there is His covering of grace everywhere I look.

Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.

Isaiah 43:18-19

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?

Here Again, Elevation Worship
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Grace is the One Word You Need Most

I look around this small group as they talk about how life turned out differently than they thought it would, this past year, see the unspoken sorrows and unexpected joy in the paths they have walked. And we try to put into One Word our goal for the New Year, knowing full well that we do not know what lies ahead, only that the One who goes with us has already provided what we need. It is His promise to us, from the pen of the Church-planter Paul: “And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:19)

This we can trust, that no matter what word we choose, our loving Father will be working in it and through it, both for our benefit and for His glory. This is His bountiful Grace, to walk amid our days and soften the sharp edges, lift up the weary head, light up the dark places. Grace is the biggest and best word He will give to meet us when we offer up this year to Him. That One Word became flesh and blood in the person of Christ Jesus, so that we could see for ourselves what Grace looked like in this everyday world. Nothing will take Him by surprise in this year, and nothing will take Him from our sides. So we will be okay, whatever comes. Because the Good Shepherd calls us by name and leads us on.

May we only be faithful to follow.

~~~~~~~

“But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.”
(2 Corinthians 12:9)

~~~~~~~

“You don’t need to be perfect; you need to simply feel His perfect love. You don’t need to be in control; you need to simply be in Christ. You don’t need to be more because He is all you need.”
(Ann VosKamp)

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A Starting Place

To all those who are beginning the New Year hesitantly, already feeling a bit like the walking-wounded and wondering if you have the strength or courage for what may come– Jesus speaks blessing over you. “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.” (Matthew 5:3-5) Because you of all people know that this world cannot satisfy your heart. You are already looking for a Light on the horizon, hungry for more than the way things are. And Jesus says you are on the right path, so don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.” (Matthew 5:6) You are learning the secrets of the Kingdom of Heaven, that the real treasures are things you can only see with the eyes of faith.

So bring your tears, and your fears, and all your questions, here at the start of a New Year. Hold them out to Jesus with both hands and let Him take them, so that your hands are empty and outstretched….ready for something new. A friend reminded me the other day that a person isn’t really ready to change unless he is a little bit desperate. It’s true, you know, that until our longing for something better outweighs our fear of letting go, our hands remain clenched on what we treasure– and I know a good many people who are hauling around buckets of dirt as if they were gold. So just give them up, here on the first page of the calendar; empty your hands and join the ranks of the humble, the heart-hungry, the longing…all those who can find true riches. They are singing the song of the Musician-King: “Because Your love is better than life, my lips will glorify You. I will praise you as long as I live, and in Your name I will lift up my hands. My soul will be satisfied as with the richest of foods….On my bed I remember You; I think of You through the watches of the night.” (Psalm 63:3-6)

~~~~~~~

“Whom have I in heaven but You? And earth has nothing I desire besides You. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” (Psalm 73:25-26)

~~~~~~~

“Oh Love that will not let me go,
My soul will rest in You alone.
I give you back this life I owe,
To know you Jesus more and more.”
(I Love You, Lord, Elevation Worship)

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The Method in This Madness

I can’t even count the number of times someone has said to me, “God doesn’t give us more than we can handle,” as if the saying of it would magically cut the situation down to size, or at least bolster their flagging spirits enough to overcome.  And I really hate to burst the bubble, but the fact is that every day Christ-followers face circumstances that are too big, too much, too overwhelming for any sane mind. Chemo that makes you weak and nauseous. Spouses that break faith. Babies that come too early. Pain that wakes you up at night and hounds you during the day. Children with seizures. Raging fires that swallow up whole towns. Three-year-olds with tempers the size of Wyoming, and teenagers that are bent on doing life their own way. Siblings that act like you are the enemy. Parents that cannot live on their own any more. The power of addiction. The dark valley of grief.

If we are honest, there is a whole world of things that we cannot control, and that leave us feeling rather helpless and confused about what to do next. And yeah, telling myself that I can handle this because God gave it to me really doesn’t help. Since when is He in the habit of limiting Himself to my own small resources?

Jesus never spoke as one delivering self-help goals– or even inspiring ideals. In fact, Paul admits freely that the gospel does not make sense to the human mind: “…the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” (1 Corinthians 1:18) Jesus’ teachings were life-changing and difficult, and He understood that He was turning the world upside-down for the sake of Heaven’s reality. And yet Jesus meant for us to take Him at His word, to put into practice what He taught us. 

And I can hear the echoes of all His impossible-seeming standards: “…love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:44)…. “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” (Ephesians 4:32)….”Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!” (Philippians 4:4)….”Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds…”(James 1:2). There’s not a one of them that I can handle, no matter how much I psych myself out about being a new creature. Oh I can fake it for awhile…put my best foot forward and be the saint people expect to see. Or I can rationalize that these are  good things to strive for but maybe not meant for everyday life. Or I can even dodge a sense of failure by comparing myself to those around me, rather than to the standards that measure me short. But when life really gets tough the only way to handle anything is just to come running to Jesus and confess very honestly that this is too much for me. 

That is exactly the point, and the answer is right there after all: “If you remain in Me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from Me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5) A long time ago, someone’s well-meaning emphasis on productivity gave me the idea that Jesus was talking about the work of ministry here…good works and what you can accomplish for eternity. Focusing on what we can do for Jesus is probably a good motivational tool, but I have found that His power, His presence is actually what I need for Life itself.

It’s more than knowing what resources to turn to, when I run out. It’s letting God make me new on the inside, choosing to rely on Him instead of myself, trusting that He knows what is best in all those impossible things. It’s living out the truth that the Church-planter Paul talked about: “Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.” (Colossians 3:2-3) 

Maybe all those situations I can’t handle and all those big commands are supposed to be just that impossible, because God isn’t looking to hand out super-charged batteries to help me accomplish what I want to do. He wants to live in me with His resurrection power, to accomplish what He wants to do. So when I can’t figure it out myself, or make things happen with my own strength and determination, then there’s nothing left to do but draw on God’s strength and seek His face, and I am right where I should be. His promise still stands: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Corinthians 12:9) 

He knows that the best way to live is in utter dependence on the Christ who has already overcome– the One who made you and loves you with an everlasting love– and in Him you can do all these impossible things.

~~~~~~~

“I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me. (Galatians 2:20)

~~~~~~~

“Give me faith to trust what You say,
That You’re good and Your love is great;
I’m broken inside, I give You my life,
‘Cause 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)
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Of Forgiveness and Faith

We have been talking about forgiveness from the perspective of obedience, as the right choice of any serious Christ-follower. As the natural outflow of the Grace that forgives us. And it is, unquestionably. But from another angle, you could just as easily call it an act of faith.

It takes faith to look beyond the hurtful situation to see all the ways it might change if we can be brave and work through this together. We need faith to remind us that we are not stuck in our weaknesses– we are all growing up under the Spirit’s care, and it is never too late to change. Faith has the eyes to see that God is at work, even here, and hope for what good things He will accomplish. It hangs onto the promise, “And we know in all things, God is working for the good of those who are called according to His purpose.” (Romans 8:28) Faith is the missing piece that transforms forgiveness from spiritual discipline into a fresh start.

So here I stand before You, God, and say “I do believe; help me to overcome my unbelief.” (Mark 9:24) I can trust You to be strength for me in the relationships that are hard for me, and to carry the feelings that are too much for me. Give me enough faith to keep praying for the person who wounds, to keep throwing resentment away and embracing the Cross of Jesus, and He is saying“The old has gone, the new is here!” (2 Corinthians 5:17b)  Help me to believe everything You say about me.

~~~~~~~

All this is from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to Himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And He has committed to us the message of reconciliation.
2 Corinthians 5:18-19

~~~~~~~

“You say I am loved,
When I can’t feel a thing.
You say I am strong;
When I think I am weak;
You say I am held,
When I am falling short;
When I don’t belong,
You say I am Yours.
And I believe…
I believe,
What You say of me.”

(You Say, Lauren Daigle)

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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.

~~~~~~~

“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)

~~~~~~~

“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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A Debtor to Grace

It means a great deal to us that God’s love comes no strings attached– matters greatly that the love of the Father is unconditional, if only because love like that is so hard to find. The people we care about have immense power to harm us, precisely because they can pull their love out from under us in the turn of a word, smash our hearts into a billion little pieces. Relationships are terrifyingly fragile, for all that we treat them like fortresses. The worst of it is, we know we aren’t perfect, can’t always measure up to people’s expectations and wishes, and it is only a matter of time before they see who we really are and turn away. I wonder how much of life for most of us is trying to be enough to deserve the affection we desire. But God is different than that. “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8) It is the very picture of love undeserved.

And yet, our understanding of what that means gets a little fuzzy in everyday use. Somehow no strings attached translates as no demands in our thinking, until we get to feeling like we are pretty lucky to have this great gift and still be able to pursue a good life by making people happy….like maybe this is the one relationship we will not have to put effort into. But while unconditional love may mean that there’s nothing I can do to gain more or less of it, it does not necessarily follow that unconditional love will not require something of me. Love doesn’t have strings that manipulate, but it very definitely has ties that bind; and although God doesn’t require me to do anything to earn His love, still I will be working gladly to honor that great gift for the rest of my life. Anything less would disrespect the Giver.

Grace means that God accepts me right where I am, knowing full well that I am not enough and can never measure up. But He is not about to leave me in that sorry state. As Paul explained it to the first believers, “God knew what He was doing from the very beginning. He decided from the outset to shape the lives of those who love him along the same lines as the life of his Son. The Son stands first in the line of humanity He restored. We see the original and intended shape of our lives there in Him. After God made that decision of what His children should be like, He followed it up by calling people by name. After He called them by name, He set them on a solid basis with Himself. And then, after getting them established, He stayed with them to the end, gloriously completing what He had begun.” (Romans 8:29, The Message) That is a pretty big agenda, and not optional, much to my frequent surprise.

So from the moment of my adoption He was already working to change my life. Grace is a relieved freedom from trying to get somewhere on my own, but it is hardly freedom to do what I like. God’s love allows me to become who I was always meant to be, and that person was designed and created by Him to be whole and healed and beautiful in Jesus’ light: alive with His love, His joy, His peace, His patience, His kindness, His goodness, His faithfulness, His gentleness, His self-control. It costs me nothing to receive, but it will cost everything to live it out.

And we will not regret it even a little.

~~~~~~~

God gives you grace and acceptance before you overcome your sin.
Because it’s His grace and acceptance that let you overcome your sin.

You don’t overcome your brokenness to have God’s love.
It’s God’s love that has you overcoming your brokenness. (Ann VosKamp)

~~~~~~~

“Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law.” (Romans 13:8)

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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)

~~~~~~~

“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)

~~~~~~~

“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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A Beautiful and Dangerous Good

This week I heard a worship leader tell his story, how Jesus came and found him when he was wandering lost, and picked him up and carried him safe Home, because He is good like that. And some stranger walked up to us out of the blue yesterday and shared how he thought he was doing okay in life until God knocked it all down around his ears, and in the rubble he found faith that could carry him. He told us his thanks to a good God for the ruin that brought about his restoration.

And I see how the same Goodness that gathers up the broken and the desperate also roars in the storm, and still we are loved and we are held. The prophet Isaiah wrote down God’s promise to us: “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze. For I am the Lord your God…” (Isaiah 43:2-3a) And there is this wild, fierce Love that pursues, that goes to any lengths to obtain our hearts; an inexorable Goodness that will not be satisfied with our comfort or our sincerity, but is willing to see everything on earth shaken for the sake of what will last.

It underscores to me that we don’t always know whether something is good or bad for us until we’ve lived through it and gained the wisdom that comes from time and perspective. It makes me pause on that reaction to call things good or bad because of how I feel about them. I want the Good Shepherd to come find me when I am lost– I am quick to justify the effort spent, the blood spilled– because the result is my rescue. But shouldn’t I also be willing to celebrate when the Good Gardener cuts back the branches– smashes all these pretty golden idols– so that I can become who He wants me to be? I find my faith is still so small and selfish; it wants what is good for me and only if it is not too difficult.

Jesus said you can recognize Goodness when you see it, because it spends itself for the sake of others: “The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” (John 10:11) This is the axis of our faith, that Love and Goodness has been poured out for us in such unthinkable abundance that there is truly nothing that we need to fear or grasp for, beyond Himself….nothing that can stand against us in all heaven and earth. Or as Paul told the early Believers, “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) All our faith revolves around the Cross and the earth-shattering event of what Jesus accomplished for us there. So maybe it shouldn’t surprise us that the good and the hard of life look different now.

If it is true that “in all things God works for the good of those who love him,” (Romans 8:28) then why should I lose my wits when the things of earth are shaken? Let me rather hold onto Truth and open eyes of faith to see His hand at work everywhere, and no end to His Goodness. If “I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord,”  then let me stand here in this Love that defies reason, and wait to see what He will do for me in whatever comes. If “Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us” (Romans 8:34), then I can trust that I have all I need to live well on this earth.

I feel like a child holding a kaleidoscope up to the Light, and I could spend my whole life gazing at the way He moves. The Musician-King said it best: “One thing I ask from the Lord, this only do I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze on the beauty of the Lord and to seek Him in his temple.” (Psalm 27:4)

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 “Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity..” (1 Corinthians 13:12)

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“He is jealous for me,
Loves like a hurricane–
I am a tree,
Bending beneath
The weight of His wind and mercy.
When all of a sudden
I am unaware of these
Afflictions eclipsed by glory,
And I realize how beautiful You are,
And how great Your affections are for me.
Oh how he loves us so…”
(How He Loves, John Mark McMillan)

 

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