What You Don’t See

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“There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations – these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub and exploit – immortal horrors or everlasting splendors.”

– C.S. Lewis –


A friend and I were talking this week, pondering about how we view others. We decided that, much of the time, we don’t really see them.

Not the biggest piece of them, anyway.

I see only what I want to see, I suppose. The outside words and actions. Motions and syllables. Annoying things. Pleasing things.

Over and over, I condemn someone in my heart. Sometimes I assign a motivation to their bad behaviors. Other times, I keep my distance, because I just don’t want to get involved in their baggage. Judging, I judge myself.

Because, often, I do the exact same things I condemn others for doing.

A while back, I got irritated at someone for trying to tell me how to do something. I can do it myself, I inwardly argued. Don’t you think I’m smart enough to figure this out?

Of course, not long later, I was on the other side of the picture, making sure someone in my family knew exactly the right way to accomplish a task. Because obviously I am the sole Guardian of the Right Way to Do Everything.

What I condemned, I did myself.

“Therefore you are inexcusable, O man, whoever you are who judge, for in whatever you judge another you condemn yourself; for you who judge practice the same things. But we know that the judgment of God is according to truth against those who practice such things. And do you think this, O man, you who judge those practicing such things, and doing the same, that you will escape the judgment of God? Or do you despise the riches of His goodness, forbearance, and longsuffering, not knowing that the goodness of God leads you to repentance?”

– Romans 2:1-4 –

For some reason, I am so much easier on myself when it comes to sin — or even preferences — than I am on others. If I want to be bossy, fine. But far be it from you to try to be bossy. You shall rue the day.

But one day, a person you silently judged will open up to you in spite of your internal condemnation, and they will tell you a bigger story.

Oh, their sin won’t suddenly be okay, but you will see a much larger story than you imagined.

One day you will wake up and see that you didn’t see them before, not at all. You shouldn’t excuse sin, but your heart will be humbled by the knowledge that you probably wouldn’t do any better if you were in their shoes.

Instead of the cardboard cutout you thought they were, your eyes will open to a real, blood-pumping, soul-scarred human being, with all of the dozens of motivations, complexities, moods, circumstances and problems that you face in your own life.

“We must learn to regard people less in the light of what they do or omit to do, and more in the light of what they suffer.”
― Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Letters and Papers from Prison

So, next time you get angry, next time you are wronged for the hundredth time, next time the flaws of another person shine through in all their terrible blatancy, remember.

You were an enemy. Yet still Jesus, very God of very God, died for you.

You were not lovely. But He took you anyway, to make you lovely.

You were not worthy. But He has made you an heir with Him.

The well-known literary classic To Kill a Mockingbird has this to say about our predisposition to judge:

“Are you proud of yourself tonight that you have insulted a total stranger whose circumstances you know nothing about?”
― Harper Lee

Proverbs 8:13 pronounces it shameful to give an answer before the question has even been spoken. How much more foolish is it to pass sentence on the “wrongness” of those around us before we have even understood them?

Sin is not excusable. It never is.

But if God can step out of paradise to touch feeble dust-creatures with His glory, how much more can we extend His love to those around us.

Their worthiness is not the issue.

In truth, we can see ourselves in them, as if we were looking in a mirror. It is not that they are less bad. It is that we, when we truly see them, also see that we’re not as good as we’d like to think.

But our Savior is good.

So today, pray for grace to really see. When people inevitably rub you the wrong way, stop and look beyond your nearsighted perspective. What you find out may surprise you. It will most certainly bring you to your knees in humility and thankfulness for the mercy of our great God.

Oh Father, give us eyes to see those we meet. Our families — those most familiar to us, but so often still unseen. Our neighbors — those whom God has planted us beside. Our fellow church members — co-heirs of the grace in which we live abundantly. The great, unmet horde of unseen — those we never stop to see or hear or know.

Help me see those I meet as you see them. Needy. Flawed. And just as much a candidate for Your unearned love as I am.


“If we are to love our neighbors, before doing anything else we must see our neighbors. With our imagination as well as our eyes, that is to say like artists, we must see not just their faces but the life behind and within their faces. Here it is love that is the frame we see them in.”
― Frederick Buechner, Whistling in the Dark

 

 

 

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Birth of Friendship

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“Friendship is born at that moment when one man says to another: ‘What! You too? I thought that no one but myself…'”

– C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves


We all know why the ugly duckling thought he was ugly.

We call it comparing apples and oranges, that way he measured himself by what he was not.  His fuzzy gray wings–turning white, made for soaring–would never resemble the gleaming, multi-colored plumage of the adult ducks. His ugly feathers made him fear that he would always be an outcast, fitting with neither the adults nor the adolescents. None of the other ducklings were gray. None of the others were turning, slowly, white. But his gloomy contrast to his fluffy yellow siblings was not a true comparison at all, was it? He was a swan, not a duck. When he saw swans skimming across the sky, he felt the connection–the call of the sleek birds that resonated within him.

That’s the grace of sameness, the gift of friendship. When God made us, He formed each of us into a distinct personality, complete with skills, expressions, desires, and a future than no other person shares in the exact way.

But, in the middle of this distinctiveness, He placed a capacity to belong. He sets the lonely in families (Psalm 68:6). Not just biological families, but in groups of acceptance.

What if God had made us all to be loners, incapable of finding a true place to simply be?

Instead, He created a niche, a place where we could say “What? You too?” There’s another person who “gets me,” more of the same kind as me, people who accept that I am one of them. This sharing goes beyond external preferences to the inner person–there are people that, however different, still embrace and understand.

Of course, we’re all at different places. Just because God created us to be relational creatures doesn’t mean that relationships are pain-free, does it? I remember lying on my bed as a little girl, crying, because I just wanted a friend–a real friend. Some days even now, I ache for the far-away people I love, wishing I could just give them a hug or hear them laugh. In a curse-laden world, loneliness still happens. Estrangement still happens. Sin still separates.

And yet…

Yet, there is light in the dark, however fragile it may seem. With gospel-grace, some families cling together in redeemed relationships. Some friends still live out fifty years of fellowship, growing closer as the decades roll. Some marriages, bound together by the love of Christ, still endure till death truly parts. In a world where it is easy to get lost, we still have the hope of finding a home.

Some of you read this with sadness-you haven’t yet found a home as secure as that. Has God made you relational in vain? Has He given you a capacity that He will not satisfy?

For you there is a home–and a home for every one of us, whatever the state of our families or friendships!

Ultimately, your craving for a place was created to be filled by the Only True, Living God.

HE is your hiding place, the secure home where you can rest and be known fully. HE is the One who will take you in and be Father and Friend, the One who understands you because He made you like Himself.

We sons of earth all share an image, like a wax seal imprinted on our foreheads–a seal that proclaims “You are in the image of God.”

There is no surprise that we feel an affinity for one another–a bond unites us, the Signature of the same Artist.

And yet the greatest tie is between each of us and this Artist–and we discover that we were formed to be like Him. Like Him–not as omnipotent deities, but as living, feeling, eternal spirits with knowledge and capacity and ability to love. We were formed to be glorious replicas of Christ, on a smaller scale. But, oh, what we have done to mar the resemblance!

Still, do not fear. All is not lost. You and I are not doomed to search forever for belonging, only to find that no other says, “You too?”

Jesus stepped into a planet He made, walked on dirt that a breath of His could have turned into more men, touched plants that a single word of His could have cause to shoot up to the heavens or wither to the dust. He was not so “Other” that He was untouchable–He made himself touchable. And, in being touchable, He gave Himself over to still more vulnerable things: to the anguish of one friend turning another over to death, to the ridicule of such an unimpressive physical figure claiming equality with the High God, to betrayal from all, to being scarred.

How, how, how could a hunger-less God be faint with famishing pains in a desert? How could a God sweat anguish, first in the wilderness with the brine of humanity and then in a garden with His very blood? How can God have blood, have dependency on the rushing liquid trapped in narrow veins? How could God be Immanuel, with us? He came. Felt, hurt, bore–all this. For us.

Now, when we meet Him on the road, we look around in surprise and say, “What, you too?”

And He shows us the deep scars that can erase ours, and smiles. “I too.”

And then, as He sets His love on you, something changes. The sin of your heart breaks you and you run to Him. Something happens.

Whatever may come of human affairs–all the intricate, endless relational tangles–something truly remarkable has happened.

“Friendship is born at that moment.”

You’re not an ugly duckling anymore. You’ve found a place to belong. Free in all your God-planted individuality and gifting and unique opportunities, you don’t have to search for a nest. And with His two words “I too,” the bond of love pulls your heart into a family of God’s bought ones, siblings also adopted, twice-born, accepted.

You are home.


“You are not alone
I will always be with you
Even to the end



You don’t have to work so hard
You can rest easy
You don’t have to prove yourself
You’re already mine
You don’t have to hide your heart
I already love you
I hold it in mine
So you can rest easy



Do not be afraid
Nothing, nothing in the world
Can come between us now



You work so hard to wear yourself down
And you’re running like a rodeo clown
You’re smiling like you’re scared to death
You’re out of faith and all out of breath
You’re so afraid you’ve got nowhere left to go

Well, you are not alone….”

– Andrew Peterson, lyrics from “Rest Easy” –

The Grand Experiment

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“For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

– Matthew 6:21, NKJV –


Last week, I announced that today’s post just might be revolutionary.

My head feels full of a Living God of Love that I can worship, but cannot grasp.

Yet, I still must DO something. Somehow, I have to make the leap from theory to practice. From describing Love to actually living it.

As we have learned in the past weeks in the Practical Love Series, Love can be compared to many things.. We have discovered that even our selves must die in order for Love to be formed in us. All must be given over to Christ. All these lessons are still in place–and vital–as I approach today’s post.


Jesus’ famous words about our treasure were not merely a tool to urge disciples to be more generous in their tithing. Giving away money is only one facet of Love. His statement is much bigger than that.

Have you ever had to work on a project that you really hated? A prospect that dismayed, appalled, and exhausted you? Did you feel the same way about it when you finished? If you managed to do it well, did you find that the despised task gave you just a shred of pleasure when you stood back and saw the results? I have.

Just to let you know, I’m not a fan of concrete.

But a few years ago, when my family decided to expand our garden, we researched and found out that concrete block raised beds were the perfect kind of addition for us. This decision catapulted our family into a three-year building project full of cement crusted gloves, sunburns, aching backs, and a LOT of work.

As I slathered mortar in between block seams, I didn’t particularly care for concrete. When my fingers were trapped under the falling edge of a 30 pound cement block, I certainly did not enjoy the process.

But now….now, it is all different.

I look back and see the labor and the sweat and even the pain, but twelve raised beds stand inside  the garden fence now. They overflow with tomatoes and cabbages and strawberries. Green beans arch over the pathways.

I look out over the fruitful project and say, “It was worth it.”

Mind you, I still don’t enjoy smashing my appendages with oversized bricks. But my persistent labor–and that of my family–turned the difficult task into an abundant harvest.

The process: HARD. The result: WORTH IT.

The practical part of Love is not easy either. Once we understand that our only hope of Loving is if God Himself fills us with His strength, we still have to roll out of bed every day and get to work. How do we do it? From the perspective of giving, Randy Alcorn explains Practical Love in this way:

“God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Corinthians 9:7). This doesn’t mean we should give only when we’re feeling cheerful. The cheerfulness often comes during and after the act of obedience, not before it. So don’t wait until you feel like giving—it could be a long wait! Just give and watch the joy follow.” ―Randy Alcorn, The Treasure Principle

In the same way, you and I can’t wait until we feel Loving in order to start Loving. This kind of Love–the choice–is not hypocrisy. I have heard well-meaning girls say, “I can’t pretend to like that person. That would be hypocritical.”

Dear ones, this is not the case. Yes, you would be a faker if inside you had no desire to show Jesus’ Love to that person. However, if you truly desire to Love and merely do not feel the emotion at the moment (or ever!), do the Loving thing.

That is not hypocrisy. That is the imitation of Christ.

In Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis discussed this idea. He pointed out that, as we imitate a person’s actions, we eventually learn to do better and better at the task. A baby is not very agile, after all. He is not born with a vocabulary already downloaded into his little head. Instead, he must learn by echoing his parents’ words or copying his parents’ movements. This is how we learn to Love like Christ Loves. This is how the new life is strengthened in us.

So…are you ready for the Grand Experiment? This week, I am picking a family member whom I especially want to learn to Love better. Every day this week,  I plan to do three things:

1. Pray for this person every morning before I get out of bed. I want to ask God, “How do you want me to show Your Love to this family member today.” Also, I have to remember to pray for God’s strength–the only way to pull of this Grand Experiment.

2. Choose a “Will Not” to focus on for the day. For example, “I will not sigh when Mom asks me to unload the dishwasher” or “I will not object when my sister picks out the movie she wants to watch instead of the one I prefer.”

3. Prepare a “Will” to accomplish for the day: “Today, I will write my dad a note thanking him for all he does” or “Today I will take my brother out for a Sonic drink.”

The idea of this “Grand Experiment” is not to be nice to someone for a week and then stop again.

Rather, consider this our first baby steps toward Practical Love, our first three push ups in a new fitness program–or maybe learning the ABCs of this new language.

Are you ready to be God’s Love to that one person today?

Let’s do it!

“The worldly man treats certain people kindly because he ‘likes’ them: the Christian, trying to treat every one kindly, finds him liking more and more people as he goes on – including people he could not even have imagined himself liking at the beginning…When you are behaving as if you loved someone, you will presently come to love him. If you injure someone you dislike, you will find yourself disliking him more. If you do him a good turn, you will find yourself disliking him less.”

– C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity –


 Ideas? Questions?

Let us know how you plan to show the Love of Jesus for your Grand Experiment this week!


 

The Paradox of the Holy Fire

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Then Jesus said to his disciples, “All who want to come after me must say no to themselves, take up their cross, and follow me.  All who want to save their lives will lose them. But all who lose their lives because of me will find them.”
– Matthew 16:24-25, CEB –

We’ve talked about Love.

A language, a gift, a labor of prayer, a tree, a song.

For me, this Practical Love Series has impacted me in an unexpected way…


Love has grown from “practical” to Immense.

I can’t pretend I’m an extremely loving person anymore, because I’ve grasped a little more of Extreme Love. Seeing this, seeing Him, I feel no closer to application. I feel like I’ve stumbled into a Magnificent presence, and all I can do is empty compared to His fullness.

I’ve tried to figure out how I can practice Love.

But each day, I wake up on auto-pilot and my own gratification seems to be the destination.

I’ve gotten to Step A: I am not a very loving person.

Even Step B: There’s no way I can love the way I’m commanded to, on my own power.

But where do you and I go from there?

Let’s stop pretending.

People are NOT easy to love. People can be nasty, annoying, selfish, tactless, offensive, apathetic, distant, unjust. Frankly, pretty rotten.

BUT…Sisters, this practice of Love stopped being about “those people” a long time ago.

The problem is not Out There.

It is In Here.

Something inside me has gone desperately wrong and I cannot patch it up on my own.

Love is not a matter of getting everyone else fixed so I can stand being with them.

Love is very much like lighting a bonfire. The light gives–it must, by its nature. Love does not depend on how its object receives it, just as light shines on all around it. Some things reflect back the light; some only absorb it.

But to possess this fire, something in me must burn.

On cricket-creaking nights, I’ve sat by a campfire and seen dull, dry wood kindled. The fire animates it, a resurrection in miniature. And soon what was dead crackles with life–potent orange-blue flickers of heat and light.

And yet, though now alive in a way those branches never could have been on their own, they are being consumed. Living, they die.

In this same way, sin’s entrance into the world abruptly halted the previously unbroken exchange of Love, Creator to creature.Yes, in me, in all of us, something careened off the track. Our taste for good turned sour.

Love became a light that we blind men could not even see.

Now, Love’s restoration requires death. Jesus alone could bridge Love and unloving, or open eyes so the light could come. He, as Love Himself, defined history with the ultimate act of love: His own death.

Love dies.

I shrink from this. It sounds so final, so painful, so awful. Because I don’t want to die. My will doesn’t want to die. I like maintaining my own way, following my own road, chasing my own dreams.

To love, though, I must first die.

It was that way at the beginning, when I first began to breathe resurrection air. Dead in sin, He raised me up. The dry branch was hit with a spark of living fire.

That Spark in me began a cycle of flame that both enlivens me and kills me. It turns deadness into sparkles of flaming glory, but at the same time, it burns away part of me.

In his book Mere Christianity, C.S.Lewis talks about the sanctification of the believer:

“The principle runs through all life from top to bottom, Give up yourself, and you will find your real self. Lose your life and you will save it. Submit to death, death of your ambitions and favourite wishes every day and death of your whole body in the end submit with every fibre of your being, and you will find eternal life. Keep back nothing. Nothing that you have not given away will be really yours. Nothing in you that has not died will ever be raised from the dead. Look for yourself, and you will find in the long run only hatred, loneliness, despair, rage, ruin, and decay. But look for Christ and you will find Him, and with Him everything else thrown in.”

C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

Fire-starting is a radical thing. At the outset of our faith, we committed ourselves to unabashed following. What many people do not realize is that this commitment does not keep our hearts focused. We have to re-commit each day.

Each day, we must again die–every minute, if necessary. “Oh Jesus, take my life and let it be Yours, forever. Set my feet on Your path and not mine.”

The flesh that battles in us must be battled with this Holy Fire of Love until Jesus comes back to complete our transformation.

Until then, as long as we keep fighting with the power of God, life will be springing up in the ashes where the fire has scorched our sin nature.

Only as we give ourselves to flames can our light begin to shine.

Our parasitic sinful self, as it dies, makes room for our new self to flourish, a fire-brushed masterpiece of the Creator God.

Only then can we get down to the business of Love, as a practical thing.

Dying, we live.


 Join me next week as I launch a Grand Love Experiment! I don’t promise a burst of genius, but I do think it could be revolutionary for my life, at least.

It is simple, but not easy. It is achievable–but not without Jesus at my side. Will you come along?


 “Give me all of you!!! I don’t want so much of your time, so much of your talents and money, and so much of your work. I want YOU!!! ALL OF YOU!! I have not come to torment or frustrate the natural man or woman, but to KILL IT! No half measures will do. I don’t want to only prune a branch here and a branch there; rather I want the whole tree out! Hand it over to me, the whole outfit, all of your desires, all of your wants and wishes and dreams. Turn them ALL over to me, give yourself to me and I will make of you a new self—in my image. Give me yourself and in exchange I will give you Myself. My will, shall become your will. My heart, shall become your heart.”

C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity ―

 

 

 

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.

Charting Paths and Planting Trees

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“To be born is to be exposed to delights and miseries greater than imagination could have anticipated; that the choice of ways at any cross-road may be more important than we think; and that short cuts may lead us to very nasty places.”

– C.S. Lewis, emphasis mine –

You could say that I was raised to be a gardener, to plant little round specks of seeds that would grow comfortable and familiar in my dusty palm before I really understood. Young as I was, I didn’t know enough to wonder what they would sprout up to become.

With equal truth, you could say that I was born to chart paths. Taught to read enough signposts, though, a girl can become numb to the meaning of the places etched on the wood. Adventurous lands erode into formless names. What was meant to thrill can fade into the rut of habit.

True– to be born in a place where planting seeds and navigating cross-roads is commonplace, must be a privilege. I’m conscious of the voices, the onlookers that wish that they’d been born in my place. Yet I still find the sacred ebbing into merely commonplace.

I, born to a call, wake up one day to find that “There” has grown to be a dull place to be.

And I wonder why opening up pages of God-words doesn’t knock me over with glory.

It bothers me that in the morning I can blink open my eyes to the orange-gold sun and not be flooded with speechless wonder.

When the people I meet are…just normal. Something I accept, without an accelerating flutter of my heart.

When my view of family disintegrates into “those people who live here with me.” When dear people’s embraces are expected, usual.

When I accept a day’s pattern with no more excitement than a shrug and a nod.

It’s not that love–life, the glory–is dead. I feel it, deep inside. But muddy, work-hardened fingers have gotten so stiffly mechanical that dropping the seeds into the soil no longer stirs dreams of what will sprout. “This is just what I do. I plant.”

Rattling off the proper turn to make on the journey has become patently logical. “I ought to go this way. It’s the correct way.” Never mind that I used to lie awake nights smiling to myself about the uncharted geography over the next rise. The crinkles in the old maps, the tracks of ridges and beloved valleys and heart-welling childhood glens hidden with faded-ink X’s on old cartographs–these used to quicken my pulse. Imaginings of the sweet, new-land air, the orange-and-spice thrill of mountains and falling waters and trees that stretch on and on to the sun. But now my feet simply go forward. I’ve forgotten how to stop and wonder.

Wake up!

“Awake, my soul!
Awake, harp and lyre!
I will awaken the dawn.” – Psalm 57:8

I shake the shoulders of my slumbering soul. “Wake up!” Tears start to my eyes.My skin bristles with a chill. I’m fearing vision eternally fogged with dream-sleep. Oh, that the charted paths would clear of dust and glow gold again. That the seed would slip again through tender hands, smooth of callouses. I ache to see the glory.

Frantic, wild attempts at self-stirring finally spiral into a gliding calm, a prayer to the only Heart-Awakener.

“Return the joy of your salvation to me
and sustain me with a willing spirit.” – Psalm 51:12, CEB –

Sleep fading from long-still muscles leaves a tingling numbness. But I am–so slowly–beginning to see the dawn.

A compass atop a faded map, waiting at the doorstop, beckon. An adventure waits for my feet to follow. A Friend lingers to walk at my side. He’s already pointing the way to the next rise. I can see He’s come this way before.

The Gardener calls and I realize, as if for the first time, what can spring from the seeds He holds out. Tiny in my palm, yet they may be trees.

Deeds, planted–today. Journeys, started in faith–yes, today I can step through the door.

Tucking potential deep into loamy furrows, I close my eyes and He lets me see the glorious things that may be.

At the beginning of my trek, He leads me to a mountain’s crest and I can see, in dawn swirling on low clouds, dim shapes of the wonders that await in the miles ahead.

“Restore to me this joy.” This time the words are full and breathless. He is so marvelously good to call back this life.

Storyteller Andrew Peterson paints it all in bright words, what this planting, this stepping out, is for us:

“We chose the spot, we dug the hole
We laid the maples in the ground to have and hold
As Autumn falls to Winters sleep
We pray that somehow in the Spring
The roots grow deep

And many years from now
Long after we are gone
These trees will spread their branches out
And bless the dawn…

…So sit down and write that letter
Sign up and join the fight
Sink in to all that matters
Step out into the light
Let go of all that’s passing
Lift up the least of these
Lean into something lasting
Planting trees…

So many years from now
Long after we are gone
These trees will spread their branches out
And bless the dawn
These trees will spread their branches out
And bless someone”

lyrics from “Planting Trees,” by Andrew Peterson

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –  – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

“Awake, my soul!
    Awake, harp and lyre!
        I will awaken the dawn

I will praise you, Lord, among the nations;
    I will sing of you among the peoples.
For great is your love, reaching to the heavens;
    your faithfulness reaches to the skies.

Be exalted, O God, above the heavens;
    let your glory be over all the earth.”

– Psalm 57:8-11, NIV –

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –  – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

Thank you, Public Domain Pictures and Larisa Koshkina, for today’s image.

Tattered Children

mud-play

“No amount of falls will really undo us if we keep on picking ourselves up each time. We shall of course be very muddy and tattered children by the time we reach home, but the bathrooms are all ready, the towels put out, and the clean clothes in the airing cupboard. The only fatal thing is to lose one’s temper and give it up. It is when we notice the dirt that God is most present in us: it is the very sign of His presence.”

– C. S. Lewis –

I feel like a child who forgets she’s had a bath.

I rub my hands together, still mentally covered in the mud’s slime and the sand’s grit.

One film called “The Robe” depicts the journey to faith made by the centurion who crucified Jesus. At first, his guilt haunts him. It nearly drives him mad. In moments of frenzy, he rubs his hand frantically, trying to get the long-erased stain of Jesus’ blood off his fingers.

I feel like that centurion, haunted by stains others have forgotten or never saw at all.

Chased down by guilt that was forgiven in an instant. If only I could stop my flailing long enough to actually see what Jesus has done.

In those stomach-twisting moments, I am Simon Peter, pleading for my head  and my hands to be washed as well as my feet (John 13:9). All of me feels desecrated.

Like C.S. Lewis, I feel the “despair of overcoming chronic temptations,” a Fatal slipping back into the wallow.

Relief is foreign, in those moments. They stretch on and on, a desert where refreshing can be seen just over the next dune, only to vanish when weary feet stumble up to the mirage.

Bogged in such a moment, I vacillate between a frantic, gasping desire for the old peace and a slithering despondency that by trying harder, working up more memories of things to repent of, I will only slip farther into the pit, the steep-sided slough.

I struggle for balance, grasping one moment at a shining thread of truth, seen through the fog like light seeping under a closed door. The next moment, I miss the strand and plummet farther into a ceaseless reel of my failures. I play them over and over to myself, each bout ending with a tighter feeling in my chest before I once again shrug off the feeling.

I talk myself into guilt, then try to convince myself that I am innocent. I lay awake conjuring up memories. Did I say that in a cutting way? Should I apologize to that person? What about that one time years ago when I did that? Maybe I should try to ask that person’s forgiveness. Oh dear. I think my annoyance at someone crossed my face. Maybe I should say I’m sorry?

And then the other side battles back. “So and so” probably didn’t think anything of your tone. They didn’t seem offended. Good grief! That was years ago–and your mom said not to worry about it, that it was fine. No, I don’t think you showed your annoyance. Snap out of it. It’s not a big deal. Just ask God to help you and get on with living! Yes, repent if you’ve really offended someone. But you’re making yourself miserable over a basket full of nothing!

But by the time these two pieces of myself have battled, the spirit of pseudo-spirituality has worn me thin and praying seems distasteful. I edge into sleep with only a few obligatory lines murmured, afraid that at His feet too I will be rejected. If I can’t even reason myself out of the hole, if I can’t find an end to my own fault-finding–why on earth should I expect to be clear of guilt standing before a Holy God?

There is, undoubtedly, a vital, soul-cleansing place for repentance in the life of the Christian. Just as much–or more–danger lies in failing to repent as there is in hypersensitivity. Failing to see the deadly ugliness of sin is an opposite “ditch” that we just as often fall into.

From time to time, there will be an awakening. We children will look down and “come to ourselves.” We will realize that the clothes that were just laundered are now mud-caked and full of rotten stench. We are Prodigals, seeing where our pleasure hunt has led us at last. Then, it is good to see the sewer for what it is. It is good to smell it for what it is–a place of decay, disease, death, and dissatisfaction. There, our eyes finally open and we see how very tattered we have become.

This itself is a good thing, even “the sign of His presence.” Only opened eyes can draw the contrast between blindness and true light. Only opened ears can begin to hear the difference between the world’s unsettling clash and the joyous harmonies of glory. Only the children that notice the dirt can continue to fight against the sins that cause it.

What is vital is that we believe.

That is the problem, I discovered.

As I mulled over my recent sin-struggle, I wondered if there could be some connection between the far-apart symptoms of self-satisfied unrepentance and self-destroying oversensitivity.

Lying on my bed in the dark, I finally saw. Thank God, I saw.

Saw that my problem has been, all along, that I am not really believing God. That whether hard-hearted or too anxious, the disease is unbelief in what God says He will do. One person does not believe God actually abhors sin and will punish it; the other does not believe in His breathtaking promise to forgive.

Overscrutinizing my expressions, replaying memories of my failures that no one else recalls, scrutinizing every moment for the tiniest flaw for which I need to grovel–in these I doubt Christ’s power.

Yes, I need to repent.

But once I have repented, I am free.

Free!

The Bible declares forgiveness in such simple, clear terms. If we confess our sins, the faithful and just Savior will forgive (1 John 1:9). There are no added conditions, no fine print that to our confessions must be added a certain measure of despondency, a certain number of penances, and a time-out period.

Amy Carmichael wrote,

“If I cast up a confessed, repented, and forsaken sin against another, and allow my remembrance of that sin to colour my thinking and feed my suspicions, then I know nothing of Calvary love.”

Though she speaks of having unforgiveness toward another person, this same truth applies to ourselves. We sin. We fly to the throne. Through tears, we cast it away into the corner and plead forgiveness from the One who died that we could be reconciled. Then, we run off before we hear the forgiveness announced. We hurry back to our places and begin to “cast up a confessed, repented, and forsaken sin” against ourselves, words flagellating the bare, raw backs of our souls as much as ever did a monk’s penance whip.

“Forgiven!” He shouts it from the heavens, but we are so transfixed in repeating over and again our own self-declared guilt sentence that our ears do not hear his voice. It is amazing how easily God’s clear proclamations can be drowned out by our own muttering.

For me, it took until Communion Day to finally receive the message of His pardon. My soul felt whipped into shreds, my desire for Him scarred by imaginings that He would be even more stern with me than I had been with myself. I could only beg His forgiveness for not loving Him more. But sitting there, about to receive the bread, I still felt no pardon.

But I believed. I had been reading The Screwtape Letters and read this devilish advice: ” Teach [Christians] to estimate the value of each prayer by their success in producing the desired feeling.” So I realized that the battle was one of faith. I didn’t have to feel some great Heavenly wave wash over me. I just had to cling to Jesus’ blood and righteousness–like Harriet Tubman’s constant prayer in her work to free slaves: “Lord, I’m going to hold steady on to you and You’ve got to see me through.”

There are two ‘courts’ we must deal with: the court of God in Heaven and the court of conscience in our souls. When we first trust in Christ for salvation, God’s court is forever satisfied. Never again will a charge of guilt be brought against us in Heaven. Our consciences, however, are continually pronouncing us guilty. That is the function of conscience. Therefore, we must by faith bring the verdict of conscience into line with the verdict of Heaven. We do this by agreeing with our conscience about our guilt, but then reminding it that our guilt has already been borne by Christ.

– Jerry Bridges, emphasis mine –

 And, as it so often happens, when I believed, He granted me more than I could have asked.   

As I trusted, sitting there holding a small piece of cracker, a picture formed in my mind.

I could almost see a child, a little girl, clothed in a white dress that had been spattered with  mud and ripped at the knees, knocking timidly at a cottage door. I knew the child was me.

And I could feel the thrum of the guilty little heart, after her forbidden excursion.

But then the Father threw open the door. The little girl ran into His arms. Both eyes were full of tears–the girl’s of penitence, the Father’s of joy.

It took my breath away. It was no vision. I have no spiritual illusions that it was anything more than a God-granted thought.

But it was as if I were in the arms of my Abba Father in that instant. All the Kingly declarations of forgiveness, the celestial shouts –these, by my own fault, I could not hear. In that moment though, when in my mind I was the little girl in her Father’s arms, I could hear the still, small whisper. “Forgiven, my child. Forgiven.”

“There is no thirst of the soul so consuming as the desire for pardon. The sense of its bestowal is the starting-point of all goodness. It comes bringing with it, if not the freshness of innocence, yet a glow of inspiration that nerves feeble hands for hard tasks, a fire of hope that lights anew the old high ideal, so that it stands before the eye in clear relief, beckoning to make it out on its own.”

– Charles H. Brent –

The old joy began to return, the lightness of  freedom (Galatians 5:1).

When I received that hug from God, I knew the Prodigal was home.

Behold, what manner of love is this, that Christ should be arraigned and we adorned, that the curse should be laid on His head and the crown set on ours.

– Thomas Watson –

Thanks to Sonita Lewis and Public Domain Pictures for this post’s photo!