Although Men Fail

 

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 “You have crushed beneath your heel the vile serpent. You have carried to the grave the black stain. You have torn apart the temple’s holy curtain. You have beaten Death at Death’s own game. Hosanna! O Hosanna! Hail the long awaited king, come to set his people free. We cry O Hosanna! Won’t you tear this temple down, raise it up on holy ground. O Hosanna! I will lift my voice and sing: you have come and washed me clean. Hosanna.”

– Andrew Peterson, from “Hosanna” –


 Anger. Disbelief. Accusations. Defense. Fear.

And rubble.

You’ve perhaps heard about them, how in half a year two “pillars” of Christian conservative teaching have fallen.

Followers of them, now seem a bit lost.

Some fly to defend the teachings–or question them in light of the ruined reputations,

Others are confused.

Still more, incredulous at the vain fruits of faith in men.

My mom has always said it: “Never follow a man.”

Never trust solely in another man than the God-Man.

Do not set all your hopes on one who is but dust.

Though so silver the tongue, so winning the smile, so lofty the aims–

A David, though king, can fall.

A Solomon, wisest of men, can choose a fool’s way.

A Peter, with close-clustered memories of three years hearing the Christ’s own voice, still somehow can deny Him at the last hour.

Hear me, dearly loved sisters.

Only one–One alone–is worthy of your trust.

Yes, hearts will still ache when respected men crash down from their pedestals.

But it should not shake you from the truth.

How can we understand these things?

How can we orient ourselves when the starlight blinks out above us?

All is not lost, my friends.

The Sun still shines, though His little lights flicker (Philippians 2:14-15).

It is good, certainly, to sit beneath a pastor. Wise, yes, to read and listen to men of God.

But never must we see any of these as flawless or above sinning.

News of scandals saddens me, and I’m tempted to cast looks of disdain.

But wait–there is yet a lesson for me.

When the first board of these shipwrecks washed up, at first I was startled.

It was easy to point my finger. But, as a thing etched to my soul, I can again feel the stone I weighed in my palm.

“Are you without sin? Then cast your stone.”

These men–stumbling leaders–are they not yet men? Corrupted, waging war inside themselves between flesh and spirit, light and dark. How am I different from them, when my own heart deceives me every day?

Be humbled, my heart. Pity the men, denounce the sin, and see! See, that for all their pomp and pedestals, all the woven lies and secret lives, those men are much like…me.

So then, how do we yet stand when leaders fall?

How do the sheep find pasture when shepherds stray?

God be praised–our standing before Him does not crumble with an erring man’s reputation.

You know, there’s only one Mediator between me and God.

Only one Intercessor,

Only one Priest, the Highest Priest.

And, all the King Davids fall short of this position; today’s Solomons aren’t wise enough to compare.

When the foundations  shake, only one Rock doesn’t shift in the sand.

“Remember those who rule over you…considering the outcome of their conduct. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever. Do not be carried about with various and strange doctrines. For it is good that the heart be established by grace, not with foods which have not profited those who have been occupied with them.

We have an altar from which those who serve the tabernacle have no right to eat.”

– Hebrews 13:7-10, NKJV, emphasis mine –

An altar that even God’s Levites could not touch? Sisters, fear not, fear not–a table has been laid in the wilderness.

Jesus is the One who stands in the gap for me–Him alone and no other man.

That Calvary day, the veil ripped down.

And now I can enter–a chosen one, a part of his Bride, a member of his holy priesthood (1 Peter 2:9). Boldly, I can step into the holy presence of God Most High, through the veil of Christ, not barred by a heavy cloak of separation (Hebrews 10:19-22)…No need of another Christian to bridge the chasm–God Himself has already brought that job to completion. It is finished.

So, when you hear of apostasies and scandals and unthinkable deeds by those who claim our Master’s name, remember in Whom you trust.

Men, however well known, do not hold this world in orbit. That job is owned by a fully-capable God.

And that, though darkness still thrashes, is the Light that makes me hope.


“For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light (for the fruit of the Spirit is in all goodness, righteousness, and truth), finding out what is acceptable to the Lord. And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather expose them. For it is shameful even to speak of those things which are done by them in secret. But all things that are exposed are made manifest by the light, for whatever makes manifest is light. Therefore He says:

“Awake, you who sleep,
Arise from the dead,
And Christ will give you light.”

– Ephesians 5:8-14, NKJV –

 

 

 

 A big thank you to George Hodan and Public Domain Pictures for today’s photo!

 

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Eden Replanted

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“What the world calls virtue is a name and a dream without Christ. The foundation of all human excellence must be laid deep in the blood of the Redeemer’s cross and in the power of his resurrection.”

– Frederick W. Robertson –


What power does it take, I wonder, for a dead man’s stale-aired lungs to refill with living breath?

For a still, quiet heart to lurch into a victory march,

For decomposing tissue to knit back seamless

And blood to gush and pulse in gloriously awakened veins?

To restore soul and body ripped apart by death takes the same Divine breath that enlivened Adam’s first stirring.

In a garden, God breathed and the first Adam rose,

And, after millennia of death-throes, a maid of Adam’s flesh begets a greater Sequel.

He, too, awakes in a garden, a living, unblemished soul, filled with the breath of God,

Beyond time and years and ages, a Man so far above the first, yet stooping to humanity’s form (Philippians 2:5-11).

So long before, the garden-dweller of the beginning thought to make himself god by following a serpent, as the serpent also had coveted the high throne of God (Isaiah 14:12-15).

The second, the new yet ageless, the Divine, thought to make Himself man, and this second Adam set to crushing the crown of that snake who sought to make an everlasting Waste of Eden (Genesis 3:15).

But now Christ is risen from the dead, and has become the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since by man came death, by Man also came the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive.”

– 1 Corinthians 15:20-22, NKJV –

In the garden of tombs, Mary went to weep over a good man’s body–a good, dead man’s body. But no–he was gone. Perplexed, Mary turned to search, and through tears saw a man.

The gardener? So she thought.

And wasn’t it true, that it was the gardener? It was He, the Gardener of a new, forever Eden, springing up from the earth, where like a dying seed He rose up again to new life, resurrection for more than Himself–food for many hungry and drink for those who thirst (John 12:23-26). Planting Himself as a mighty Vine to flood life into dry branches, this Gardener joined the plants of His own tending as one of them, a plant to bear seed that would make the whole garden sprout new-creation green.

What did Jesus come for? Why did He die? And, once dead, why did He have to rise?

“He came to undo the disaster and tragedy that Adam had effected. Adam had been set in the garden; it was almost as though God did for Adam what a kind father would do….God gave his son Adam a little start. He said to Adam, ‘Here is a garden. Your task is to tend this garden and to expand this garden until it fills the whole earth.’ Strikingly God commanded Adam to do this until, as it were, all the kingdoms of this world were his. If Adam had done that, just like a child who accomplishes something even though his father gave him a significant start, he would have brought it all back to his Father and said, ‘Father, look what I have done! I want you to have it all!’ So Adan’s fall was not just a matter of personal sin; it was a matter of cosmic disaster. He lost the world and Satan gained it….Our story, as human beings, began in a garden. Adam turned the garden into a wilderness, and Jesus went into the wilderness to deal with the enemy, in order that he might turn the world into a garden again. Isn’t that wonderful to think about? To return to Mary in the garden: John, who seems to love double entendres, records that Mary saw Jesus and supposed him to be the gardener (John 20:15). Jesus wanted her to see him like that, but it wasn’t just that little space that he was gardening. By his resurrection, he was ‘gardening’ the whole cosmos.”

– Sinclair Ferguson, These Last Days, from pages 9-10, 12-13, emphasis mine –

 

Suddenly, for me, Eden is a personal possibility. If the victory belongs to our glorious Christ, then why on earth do I need to go on living defeated? Why should I keep living with the shallowest love, the flightiest joy, or the most tenuous peace?

The resurrection means I have everything I need. I am not merely cleansed–I have access to God Himself, and will Him, everything necessary to obey Him.

If Christ is risen, and He, too, is mine, then what can I lack?

At my fingertips is the “exceeding greatness of His power toward us who believe, according to the working of His mighty power which He worked in Christ when He raised Him from the dead” (Ephesians 1:19-20).

Grace, costly grace, asks not a penny from me. But with the outpouring of cross-forgiveness comes its sister, the power of His rising.

Can I be content to go on living in slums when the riches of His abundant grace are mine by inheritance?

Why should I go on in weakness when He is strength at my side, alive and ready to fill me?

So it’s true: Because He lives, I really can face tomorrow. Because Jesus is alive, I can have joy for today. Because He rose, I now can love as I ought, because the power He promises me–that sin-breaking, exceedingly great power–is the very same power that lifts bodies from death.

If God can wake the dead, don’t you think He can fill this new-created child with Himself?

Raising His son, God the Father looked down on His atonement and smiled.

And it was good, very good. Good as earth had not been since the first days,

Full of grace and power and love again,

Eden Replanted.

The power for a dead man’s stale-aired lungs to refill with living breath…the power of Christ–Christ in you and Christ in me,

Christ the Living, the Resurrected, the Hope of glory,

The One who will bring us to completion, until all His bought ones shine with His light.


“And He is the head of the body, the church, who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in all things He may have the preeminence. For it pleased the Father that in Him all the fullness should dwell, and by Him to reconcile all things to Himself, by Him, whether things on earth or things in heaven, having made peace through the blood of His cross.”

– Colossians 1:18-20, NKJV –

 

 

 

Thank you to Public Domain Pictures and Larisa Koshkina for today’s lovely photo!

 

 

 

 

The Making of a Lion Heart

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“The wicked flee when no one pursues, but the righteous are bold as a lion.”

– Proverbs 28:1, NKJV –


Perhaps C.S. Lewis’ Aslan is the most beloved lion in all literature, the great king of a mysterious place extending beyond the borders of Narnia.  And, as his subjects declared, he is not a tame lion…but he is good.

Symbolic of power and royalty, the lion is also one of the names of Christ, “Lion of Judah” (Revelation 5:5).

Interesting, then, that this majestic beast would be used to describe the righteous.

Me, a lion?

It sounds so strange and foreign to my ears.

But the idea is compelling and hauntingly reminiscent of childhood longings to be the kind of girl who could set her face to the rising sun and have no fear of the day ahead.  Courage to set out to sea and hear the wind scudding on foamy crests and whipping in the sail, ready for whatever God has in store just over the next wave.

What does it take for me to have this unnatural boldness?

I recently heard the story of John Paton, a man who left his comfortable life to take the gospel to an unreached area of South Pacific islands inhabited by cannibals. Before his departure, people confronted him, trying to persuade him to turn back:

“Amongst many who sought to deter me was one dear old Christian gentleman, whose crowning argument always was, ‘The cannibals! You will be eaten by cannibals!’ At last I replied, ‘Mr. Dickson, you are advanced in years now and your own prospect is soon to be laid in the grave, there to be eaten by worms; I confess to you, that if I can but live and die serving and honoring the Lord Jesus, it will make no difference to me whether I am eaten by cannibals or by worms.’”

Oh, to have that spirit in me! This is the victory-march of the Apostle Paul, when he wrote:

“…according to my earnest expectation and hope that in nothing I shall be ashamed, but with all boldness, as always, so now also Christ will be magnified in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” (Philippians 1:20-21)

This is the face of a lion, the mindset of a ransomed child who walks with upheld head, clear eyes, and a song. This is the face of a woman who has been with Jesus, who “is clothed with strength and dignity;she can laugh at the days to come” (Proverbs 31:25, NIV). This is the face alight with glory and joy, because it has seen the Lord.

Seeing Him, even a tiny shadow of his power and holiness and overwhelming love, I ask you one question:

“What can mere mortals do to me?” (Psalm 56:4b, NIV)

Today, you and I are not physically setting sail, or scaling a mountain, or going to face a host of cannibals.

More likely, we’re headed to work or class, to prepare meals, to deal with conflicts, to make decisions, to play with siblings.

Not cannibals in the least–but fear still penetrates our days, doesn’t it? It seeps like an icy current into every crack of living.

How do we find peace in this Wasteland haunted by terror?

“These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world” (John 16:33, NKJV).

Fear comes from what I expect, what I believe. If I anticipate that each difficulty or tragedy that rolls my way will toss me out of commission, then I will be paralyzed. Although Jesus never promised us that troubles would go away, He did give a solution–peace in the middle of the battle, because the war has already been won.

How can I be Lion-faced today?

My Lion-King has already broken the floodgates and here comes the joy, spiraling in like a golden sea.

John Paton learned this–what can anyone really do to a blood-washed son of God? Worst case scenario, we get to see our Savior’s face. To me–well, to me that sounds awfully like my best case scenario. In a recent sermon I heard, the story was told of a man commanded to renounce the name of Jesus or face death. With a smile, he lifted his head and asked, “Are you going to threaten me with heaven?”

In the Bible, Satan also is described as a prowling lion, a devourer–but this lion has been wounded to the head with the heel of a King and his last desperate staggers proclaim his certain doom. Always aspiring to be as God, he puts on illusions–light, truth, beauty, even the royal nature of a lion, a hollow, fragile imitation of the True Lion. This head-crushed impostor roars against the might of his conqueror (1 Peter 5:8).

Again, the Apostle Paul testifies:

“At my first defense no one stood with me, but all forsook me. May it not be charged against them. But the Lord stood with me and strengthened me, so that the message might be preached fully through me, and that all the Gentiles might hear. Also I was delivered out of the mouth of the lion. And the Lord will deliver me from every evil work and preserve me for His heavenly kingdom. To Him be glory forever and ever. Amen!” (2 Timothy 4:16-18, NKJV, emphasis mine).

And so, this is my prayer:

God, give me the heart of a lion, the passion and love to serve fearlessly, with all that is in me.

Give me the face of a lion, to turn like flint toward trouble and plant my feet in Your strength, trusting You that I will not be moved.

Give me the confidence of a lion, that boldness will flow from my absolute belief in Your love.

Give me the song of a lion, that I may roar with undefeatable joy and toss my mane in the golden glow of Your glory.

Great God of the heavens–and Lord of my soul–make me bold as a lion in Your righteousness.


What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things? Who shall bring a charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is he who condemns? It is Christ who died, and furthermore is also risen, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written:

“For Your sake we are killed all day long;
We are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.”

Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

– Romans 8:31-39, NKJV, emphasis mine –


 

Thank you, Petr Kratochvil and Public Domain pictures, for our lion photo today.

Radical Grace

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“I don’t know what your destiny will be, but one thing I know: the only ones among you who will be really happy are those who have sought and found how to serve.”
― Albert Schweitzer ―


 

I’ve tried to run on ephemeral moments.

The grace of quickenings, that warms like a sunshine river when I finally see another piece of who Jesus is, a surge of feeling.

Elusive, yet they come often enough to make me hungry for more, this grace that whets but doesn’t fill.

Glimpsing Jesus in snatches and shadows, instead of full on and on and always.

But I’m thirsty for living grace, the light that stays instead of merely flashing from time to time.

Grace that comes flooding and pouring until I’m drenched in it.

Grace blue as ocean, that will soak me to my skin.

Grace green as jade mountains, that will pick me up like eagle wings tracing the backs of verdant ranges.

Grace red as blood and fire, as potent as hot white light.

Silly me, I think it will come on the brink of a rescue mission. If I cradle enough ragged orphans, wipe enough tears from eyes of girls who’ve been sold like bread, ladle enough bowls of chowder at a soup kitchen, then. Then, maybe, the real grace for living will set in. There, perhaps, I can find Jesus at last.

Isn’t He there? Isn’t He walking in the streets and going where hunger is a plague and filling souls in far-off alleys?

For being the God who never leaves, why is it that He’s there instead of here?

Give me a moment to pack my bag. Ministry I can do. I can put a Bible and a journal and maybe a change a clothes in a suitcase and I’ll bet set, Lord. Then can I have You for real? For keeps?

Because this rising and eating and working and sleeping is wearing thin. This shoulder-brushing with a family of very different souls and jogging this normal hamster-wheel life is hiding Your face.

Isn’t it?

Ah, silly girl that I am.

You’ve been telling me the truth all this time. My life’s been singing the lyrics, but I haven’t dared to sing along. I’ve been blind and deaf and dumb.

She told me first, leaning on a rake, teaching me You just like she’s taught me phonics and egg-scrambling and how blush is best applied. With ears covered and hands gloved, we both dumped leaves into a roaring mulcher, and this mother of mine reminded me that home is my first ministry.

The hearing of it bit me enough that I knew I needed to ponder on it a little more. When what used to be obvious comes as a heavy hand on the shoulder, that merits some thought.

You sent your message again, wireless, in the life of a friend. Artist of words, she didn’t need any to paint this canvas. Her life breathed the watercolors and her obedience drew the lines dark and mystical. Her laughter with her younger siblings, all their tea parties and book readings and lovely, childish, joy-breathed fingerpainting and shades of adventure–these brushed me a tale that goes on speaking to my heart. I told her she’s the best sister ever. I don’t think she believed me.

But, here’s the truth I’ve wandered into:

The real grace, the real Christ, the real living is not Out There.

Jesus is Right Here, now.

And His call is to things I never dreamed.

I made Him bacon and eggs and toast and a tropical monsoon smoothie this morning. I wish I could remember every morning to make Him breakfast. Usually I just make food for me, or for my family. But making it for Him was all the difference. For a moment, it was a love-gift for my Jesus, not a platter of brunch for a farm hand.

You think I’m going to tell you that you can do dishes to the glory of God, don’t you? You’re bracing for it.

Well, I’m not, not exactly.

I’m going to tell you that if you can’t do dishes to the glory of God, what on earth can you do for Him?

Wash leper feet? Learn Tamil? Why don’t you go to Africa and evangelize the pygmies. Maybe they won’t have dishes.

Friend, friend, do you see our loveless power? Do you see the light on our bright, clanging symbols, hear its painful clamor against your eardrums?

Not you. Not just you. Me too.

I’ve risen mornings and lusted for calendar pages full of crisis pregnancy center counseling and prison ministry and tract evangelism. You might frown at the word lust. But trust me. Some are called to serve in all those ways. Right now, I’m not, but wanted to be.

That word-art friend? She sent me an e-mail, linking to an article called “How Ephesians Killed My ‘Radical’ Christianity.” Oh my. That was a concerning title. At that point, my heresy buzzer would have been in full blare except that I have a large amount of respect for this friend’s taste in articles. And, having also a mischievous streak that likes to be startling when at all appropriate, I delved right in.

And, lo and behold, God had done it again, turned me around another corner into stark truth.

The author’s point?

We don’t really want to live the kind of radical that God requires. We think extraordinary grace comes by doing the extraordinary, adventurous, Everest-height jobs.

Extraordinary grace, though, actually flows in the unworthy and baptizes the commonplace. Extraordinary grace is magnified by and in the ordinary.

Because what we call Ordinary is not easy. Ordinary is not–at least, at a glimpse– fun. Ordinary is no challenge to live, but to live it well?

That takes power indeed.

You and I face our greatest tests–not in the mission field or during our volunteering, but here, in the Ordinary.

In the unmasked mess of living, when clutter and no makeup and cranky sewer lines and crying kids can’t be locked out or left at an office, that’s where grace lives.

The Real Radical, the Real Grace, is not in embracing the things you want to run toward, but in learning to love the things you want to run away from.

Christianity is not being a re-packaged superhero.

Christianity is being a reborn Christ-imitator.

Your call is probably not to be the next Mother Teresa.

But your call might be to sister a handful of God-made souls.

You asked to go serve in a soup kitchen?

Serve some soup in your kitchen, to those people you see every day and don’t love desperately enough.

Smiles to strangers are great. But how much does it cost?

Smiles cost when you’re tired and that baby’s still screaming murder….or the rice cascades from the pantry into a nice thick layer on the linoleum….or when you are sure that there is not another question in the whole wide world left for that younger brother to ask.

I’m so hungry for Jesus. I’m so desperate for grace to swoop in and love to come cascading like a unleashed river.

Let’s do something Radical.

Let’s love the people God gave us more than we’ve ever loved them before.

Ordinary, isn’t it? Only in the most extraordinary way.


“So when He had washed their feet, taken His garments, and sat down again, He said to them, “Do you know what I have done to you? You call Me Teacher and Lord, and you say well, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you. Most assuredly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master; nor is he who is sent greater than he who sent him. If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.”

– John 13:12-17 NKJV, emphasis mine –

Thank you, George Hodan and Public Domain Pictures, for this photo.

 

 

 

Of His Weaving

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“The fear is suffocating, terrorizing, and I want the remedy, and it is trust. Trust is everything.”

― Ann Voskamp ―

Life.

Such a terribly sweet, sharp, messy thing.

A web,

Spangled through with silver-light threads

So easy, easy, easy

To snap with a searching hand.

So I walk on,

On, in this maze of misty strands

That pop and strain with tottery steps.

Tempted I am to

Shrink still, frozen,

Fearing with another footfall to

Break a fractaled weaving

From this shroud.

Or yet, fearing that with spinning fingers I might spout lines

Wisping, shooting into new-tangled lace not meant to be.

Shall I, oh shall I, crumple years’ weavings

Into a snarl beyond patching?

But calm, calm, blessed calm,

For the Weaver pushes His shuttle yet

To make taut the sure-silvered strand,

Send it flying, ducking here, leaping there,

O’erleaping scarlet, blue, and gold.

In all the right places, a web forms

Unbreakable, that spans out from

My trembling, time-bound hands.

And, I, still unseeing, do not see the forming mosaic, but

Fear yet that crucial bindings will be undone

By my own fingers.

But no,

No, the feeble glistening spinnings hold,

Though soft as silver breath, yet when I fall

Against them, are steel woven, thin-drawn but strong

As the immutable Hands that strung them.

Sweet, solid lines, may I not fear

To grasp you on the way,

For you, webbed art, are sure art,

And His hands are steady

In my faltering.

So will I hold tight to Divine weavings

As the taut sail lines cling to the Mast in the wind,

For in this way will I sail

And step on secure through the geometric filaments of His life-weaving

Not shrinking from a chance stumbling,

For nothing, nothing

Can unknot the threads of His tying.


Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.”

– John 14:27, NKJV –

Thank you, Petr Kratochvil at Public Domain Pictures for today’s photo!