No Vacancy

Door with Lock - Copy

“I have read in Plato and Cicero sayings that are wise and very beautiful; but I have never read in either of them: Come unto me all ye that labor and are heavy laden.”

– Saint Augustine –

How that husband’s heart must have dropped when he and his wife trudged up to the last inn.

“No room left.”

What blessings did that innkeeper forfeit by relegating his leftovers to the use of God coming to dwell with us?

How far does our no-vacancy sign reach? What do we miss?

Lives crowded with deadlines, appointments, employment, outreach, study.

And what, after all, does it profit?

And slamming the door, saying there’s no room, grudgingly giving in and handing over that least leftover room of ours, even that teeming with life-overflow that rings in our ears like barnyard clatter and fills our nose with the stench of waste.

Wasted time, that’s not His time.

Wasted work, that’s not pledged as worship to the Master.

Wasted words, that carry on until hoarse of works and days and brimming living–all for nothing.

Why do we head-down charge into nothing, waving our no-vacancy sign and pushing away the claims of a Man who is also God, the only One who owns us anyway?

But wait…stop the headlong rush.

What does God mean, when He says, “No room left”?

Does He come to His own door and turn away, shutting the blinds, barring the windows, bolting the door?

What does He mean, “No room left”?

Can it be that our reckless plunging has taken Him past the point of mercy, too far to give us a place of rest?

But there is a promise of mercy that’s everlasting, of One who always answers a heart’s cry.

Sisters, hear!

Because we, in our willful avoidance, were stopped.

Glorious interception! It wasn’t that we felt our need and ran to Him.

No. When we were running away, thrashing and screaming to escape His hand, He chased us down and accomplished His rescue mission.

Won this stone-dead heart in a history-making wrestling match with Sin, Death, and the enemy of my soul.

Won this cold heart and breathed right in.

And this is the part where there’s no room left.

When my Ransom-payer cradles a now-pulsing heart and fills it.

Fills it up to overflowing, until there’s no room because of the fulness.

He takes this dry well and floods it with so much life-water that I cannot contain it all.

“Jesus stood and cried out, saying, ‘If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.'”

– John 7:37b-38 –

Thanks to Public Domain Pictures for Jiri Dokoupil’s photo “Old Door”, visible here.
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Not Even Room

old-fishing-nets

What if we dared enough to take God at His Word?

What if we stopped succumbing to satan’s lies long enough to open our eyes?

If we stepped out in faith

On the Words of One who cannot, ever, fail.

And made our stand there?

It was a number of days after the crucifixion of the God-man and a thousand hopes.

Confused disciples returned to stiff nets and barnacled fishing boats, three years seemingly wasted. They had left all to follow a rabbi who spoke in mind-boggling parables and kingdom-words that turned upside down everything they’d ever known.

But then he was dead…or did he now live? The eleven in a room had seen him, but nothing was happening. If He was alive, and more than a vision of wistful hearts, a dream that made them glad for a moment before it vanished, why wasn’t He driving out Rome? No kingdom was coming. The turning over of all their dreams was for nothing.

So they slogged through silty waters that lapped cool up their calves and pushed out creaking, reeking vessels and went fishing. It was always wait, wait, wait with Him. If it wasn’t a dream, why wasn’t He acting? But if His words were not true, what else was left to them?

And a man, one lone man talking a solitary walk on a bare shoreline, started to kindle a fire.

Perhaps over the salty breeze whipped the scent of fish baking among coals, and the heady, yeasty fullness of bread warming among ashes.

Maybe the fishermen didn’t notice. Or their stomachs rumbled and they grumbled curses because their own efforts to feed themselves were utterly failing.

Perhaps John, that one that lay on the bosom of God in flesh, smelled the drifting scent and remembered the Bread of Life, those words of eating and drinking of flesh and blood.

Impatient Peter, ripping nets up from the water, perhaps now threw them down in disgust. Once he could fish; now, he could neither fish nor follow. Follow what? A vision that bid only to wait, with no victory in sight?

But now—hear—a voice. That man on the shore is waving.

“Throw your nets in on the other side. The right side.”

Maybe Peter laughs, low and bitter. “All night,” he grumbles.

John, that loved one, gets a light in his eyes and motions to guileless Nathaniel, who once said he believed. Peter grunts and pulls himself off the floor of the boat to give them a hand. What will it hurt, after all?

I just wonder, how wide their eyes opened then, after a night of sleepless watching for just a scale shining among the tawny fibers of net?

I just wonder, how brilliantly that morning stole up behind them, glittering on the silvered backs of one hundred and fifty-three of the sea’s largest fish?

How that vessel must have at once exploded with shouts and jumping over cast-off clothing and dredged-up piles of sea debris in the rush for the teeming nets. Shoulders muscle-knotted with lives of labor—unable to pull up the catch. Just too many.

And then the silence. “What kind of man is this?” Did the whisper come again, like the refrain of a symphony, through lips that had once spoken it before? (Matthew 8:27)

The nets groaned with flapping, gill-gasping life. The brawny, weather-cut hands are still, open in wonder.

And life fluttered within seven disciple hearts gone limp. Peter looked at John. John’s eyes widened. “It’s the Lord.”

One book I read recounted this:

“But when Jesus came and stood in their midst, they merely had to let down their net once and such an abundance was caught that they didn’t even have room in their boat to contain it all” (Set-Apart Femininity by Leslie Ludy, page 168).

Not even room to hold it.

This abundance that fills over capacity and yet does not break the nets.

This filling that only the universe’s King can bring to a heart—and makes a dry spring overflow with life-water joy.

Maybe they had cursed their inability to feed themselves after a night of toiling, sweat-dripping fishing.

Don’t we do the same? Grind ourselves into the ground just to survive, just to eat and live.

But the man on the shore beckons to the right side.

His side, the side of right, the side of the pierced wounds.

Throw there, just there.

All of you—throw overboard all your labors, your nights of wearying, your own way of doing it.

Throw yourself too, there, at His feet.

And just see if the windows of heaven are not thrown open and your hungry mouth is filled.

“Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace,

that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”

– Hebrews 4:16, NKJV –

Thank you to photographer Karen Arnold in conjunction with Public Domain Pictures.net for the fishing net image.

Stormy Mornings

waves-ocean

Smooth-sailing life doesn’t drift me closer to God, not usually.

It’s those thunderstorms that crackle uncertainty into my plans that set me to clinging.

I once wrote in my journal that it isn’t the dark and stormy nights that bother me so much. That dusk is natural—expected rhythm.

It’s the mornings that dawn dark and stormy that rattle me so badly.

It’s those Galilee storms that swell out of serenity and suddenly flood me.

God sometimes parts my perspective’s thick curtain and allows me to see that another is hurting.

Sometimes another’s vulnerability startles me and I wonder how I can stand when my foundation seems to shift like angry surf. How can I speak when my words have such power of life and death?

In the waves, I can only stand when I see the Master walking beside me, firm though the waters rush about Him.

I can only stand when I believe in His power to hold me up.

While reading through Hosea with my family, a few verses caught my heart:

“I taught Ephraim to walk, taking them by their arms;

But they did not know that I healed them.

I drew them with gentle cords, with bands of love,

And I was to them as those who take the yoke from their neck.

I stooped and fed them.”

 – Hosea 11: 3-4, NKJV –

In this sea-gusting life, my Father holds my hands and teaches me to walk in the storm. “I taught Ephraim to walk, taking them by their arms…”

Even when the day breaks cloudy and thunder complains, yet He draws me with his gentle cords, with His bands of love.

Even when this earth-yoke presses heavy, He is the One who takes the yoke from my neck—and replaces it with one both easy and light.

When my heart is sore and soul-hungry from fighting the current’s deadly pull, He stoops down and holds out His hand, like He did on Galilee to a fisherman floundering in unbelief.

Lyrics of the song “Who Am I” by the group Casting Crowns remind me:

“Who am I, that the eyes that see my sin would look on me with love and watch me rise again? Who am I, that the voice that calmed the sea would call out through the rain and calm the storm in me? Not because of who I am, but because of what You’ve done. Not because of what I’ve done, but because of who You are.”

The wind still whips in my face, but now it feels almost invigorating. The waves foam, cresting and eddying around my feet.

And yet I stand, because of who You are.

“Those who go down to the sea in ships, who do business on great waters, they see the works of the Lord, and His wonders in the deep. For He commands and raises the stormy wind, which lifts up the waves of the sea. They mount up to the heavens, they go down again to the depths; their soul melts because of trouble. They reel to and fro, and stagger like a drunken man, and are at their wits’ end. Then they cry out to the Lord in their trouble, and He brings them out of their distresses. He calms the storm, so that its waves are still. Then they are glad because they are quiet; so He guides them to their desired haven. Oh, that men would give thanks to the Lord for His goodness, and for His wonderful works to the children of men!”

– Psalm 107:23-31, NKJV –

How Long Will You Love Worthlessness?

worthless 3

Just days ago, I had to wonder…

If when my life takes no faith, am I truly living?

When it all comes down to the bare basics, the end of the matter, shouldn’t faith reside there?

Maybe it’s all resting on one question:

Do I believe God or not?

Do I believe Him when He promises abundant life?

Do I honestly think I can take Him at face value–that His face alone will satisfy me?

Do I believe He can fill my soul, delight me more than anything?

As much as I tell myself that I want Christ, how much do I really?

Sure, maybe I don’t desire some things that are bad–worldly and out-there–but do I really believe He totally satisfies?

Do I really believe?

Do I?

Sitting in repentant silence, I knew, of course, that I believed God deep down. But how small that seed of faith was–how much it needed to grow. What kind of faith was this, that produced so little fruit? And the apostle James warned that faith without works is dead (James 2:14).

Mine was just barely holding on.

Holding on by a thread of devotion–a very real place in my heart that knew Jesus was more to me than the whole world.

But what did my living say? It said that after I “pay my time” reading Scripture, saying a prayer, that I was done. I could go look for satisfaction in other things now–in movies, books, friends, television, internet. Not bad things–not at all. But what was I trusting for happiness? And why in the world shouldn’t praying bring me more pleasure than a chat with a friend? Why didn’t reading my Bible satisfy me as much as getting that next novel in the series…

I sat cross-legged beneath a stairwell, asking hard questions in my journal. Close beside me, my computer began to play the Psalms on audio, Chapter 1, 2, 3.

Then, Chapter 4. The narrator spoke right to me:

 “How long will you love worthlessness?” (Psalm 4:2b, NKJV)

Oh, for grace to believe that He will give me every good thing! For faith to treasure Him and cast away worthless things.

But I was afraid, terribly afraid.

Afraid that by seeking Him above all, I’d miss out.

Afraid to be stodgy, miserable, depressed. Afraid, so afraid, to give up my way.

Afraid to obey without feelings–yet being a slave to obey my feelings.

But, see, Psalm 4 was still playing.

Soft words, pinning like barbs to my soul.

“But know that the Lord has set apart for Himself him who is godly….Offer the sacrifices of righteousness, and put your trust in the Lord.” (Psalm 4:3,5, NKJV)

So while I was wondering if it was worth it to sacrifice, God sent His words out with so much power that my soul stood still. My heart filled with wonder at the next words:

“You have put gladness in my heart, more than in the season that their grain and wine increased.” (Psalm 4:7, NKJV, emphasis mine)

He will fill me up, more than anything in this world ever could.

He has a better Story than any other novel.

He has a greater Love for me than any romantic writer could dream up.

He has more abundance, pleasure, joy in His presence, than a host of friends could supply.

So I open self-stuffed fists.

I surrender.

I believe.

“Why do you spend money for what is not bread,
And your wages for what does not satisfy?
Listen carefully to Me, and eat what is good,
And let your soul delight itself in abundance.
Incline your ear, and come to Me.
Hear, and your soul shall live;
And I will make an everlasting covenant with you—
The sure mercies of David.”

– Isaiah 55:2-3, NKJV –

Everlasting Dwelling

orange-sunsetThere are those mornings that crown and when I open my eyes, the remembering comes.

Remembering of all of yesterday’s weariness and the remembering of today’s already-piled work, up clear to the ceiling.

There are some mornings that crack open with the stress already clawing within my chest.

Or began in the night before, in the turning-over moments of semi-consciousness. Then, a nervous ache greets every stirring.

Like this morning…well, night. A time supposed to be full of sleeping. It was full of a unhinged mix of sleep and wake—a mesh of mess and forgetfulness. Gnawing in my stomach, there always just below the surface of sleep, was the remembrance of the pressures coming up this next week.

A three hour test. Two courses, with each a wheelbarrow-full of their own unknowns. Articles, deadlines, conferences, small groups, book editing, piles of notes, call back to memorizing Matthew 6, cards and emails to write up, real whole meals to cook, textbooks thick enough to use as lethal weapons…does it have an end, after all?

And then the farm. Will the milk hold out? Why don’t the chickens grow feathers back and why doesn’t the goat stop bleating when there’s nothing in the world wrong with her? When will the goat kids sell? Will we get the cabbage or will the snails prevail? So much to wonder, so little it seems I can fix…

I long to run from the pressure and the anxiety. Run lest the mountain of worries come toppling down.

Though in one sense, I am to run this race.

Yet, in another sense far flung, I am to be still. Be still and know.

Because that mercy and goodness Ann Voskamp speaks of is chasing me down.

She tells the story of the never-failing Pursuer:

The pastor had preached it….He said that you can think goodness and mercy just follow you, but the Hebrew word for ‘follow’ is radaph’ and it means to “to pursue, to run after, to chase” or, quite literally, “to hunt you down”.

Who is this God, to not just send us a nice note and leave it to us to muster up a response?

What a God, who wraps up in the flesh like yours and mine and steps through heaven’s gates into earth’s cesspool, just to snatch us out of our sin-death. And wrap you and me in whitest radiance.

What a God, who would be Immanuel, with us for now and ever.

Who chases me down in my head-down rush into destruction.

So the result of mercy’s hunting, of goodness’ pursuit?

I will dwell in the house of the Lord.

Forever.

Sisters, hear. Forever.

“Lord, You have been our dwelling place in all generations.
Before the mountains were brought forth,
Or ever You had formed the earth and the world,
Even from everlasting to everlasting, You are God.”

– Psalm 90:1-2 –

“One thing I have desired of the Lord,
That will I seek:
That I may dwell in the house of the Lord
All the days of my life,
To behold the beauty of the Lord,
And to inquire in His temple.
5 For in the time of trouble
He shall hide me in His pavilion;
In the secret place of His tabernacle
He shall hide me;
He shall set me high upon a rock.”

– Psalm 27: 4-5 –

Mrs. Voskamp declares:

“And nothing can overwhelm me — like grace can overtake me.

No matter when you look over your shoulder, that’s what you find: God’s blessings overtaking you. No matter what a day, a life, looks like, this is what it all stacks up to for every person on the planet: We are all chased by grace.”

And, sisters, grace is not just a word that sounds Christian or a song that’s sung until it’s lost its sparkle.

Gospel-rich, grace words like charis and radaph and adovah and apostoleo aren’t just a scrawl of ink on paper, or a blip of pixels on screen, or a contortion of sounds on a tongue. There is a Word that lives, and each of His words reach into me like living things–active, sharp, sweet.

And when I abide in Him, and the Word abides in me…

And when I stop and see the mercy and goodness chasing on…

And when I am content with nothing in the world but that One Thing–to behold Him forever…

And when I am still and know…

Then, the stomach-tightness fades. Grace is a Savior catching me in arms Everlasting.

Those arms, that encircling dwelling in a God of widest mercy, that house of refuge–the doors, the dwelling-gates, the arms, are never flung wider than in this moment when God reaches down to a troubled sea of a heart and speaks only three words.

“Peace, be still.”

And the calm seeps in like a foamy tide.

The grace-song of eternity is nearly audible.

And I am still.

“In the midst of the awesomeness, a touch comes, and you know it is the right hand of Jesus Christ. You know it is not the hand of restraint, correction, nor chastisement, but the right hand of the Everlasting Father. Whenever His hand is laid upon you, it gives inexpressible peace and comfort, and the sense that “underneath are the everlasting arms,” (Deuteronomy 33:27) full of support, provision, comfort and strength.”

— Oswald Chambers —