Lying-Awake Nights

moon-sky

I’m lying in bed and it’s 11:31 p.m.

And my face is sticky, because I’ve been crying into my pillow. My nose is dripping. I’m hoping to avoid a mirror for a while. Good thing it’s dark in here.

I keep rubbing the back of my neck, hoping for the words to well up again.

All I hear is “Great is Thy Faithfulness.” It’s playing from my computer speakers, speaking to me in a language I’ve known so long. The words that I know by heart echo inside me, even though all I hear are simple piano notes.

It’s like my heart knows the way home, even when I’m tired and it’s dark and all is ajar.

I’ve been praying my thoughts with Psalmist-like honesty. I know that I’m not alone in these nights. How many of you, my friends, have also laid awake in bed kept awake by your fears?

I keep finding myself on the edge of a negotiation with God:

“Lord, I know you’re in control. I just don’t know what that means for me. What does that mean You’ll do? I trust that You’re good…but how does that help this situation? I still don’t know what You’re going to do. What if it’s painful? What if it hurts someone I love? What if Your plan isn’t the one I want? If You’re going to do what You want anyway, does it do any good for me to pray for what I want?

You know, at least for me tonight, I’m not really asking God if He’s in control.

I’m not even asking Him if He’s good.

I’m asking if He cares about what I care about. I want to know if He loves my hurting friend as much as I do. I want to know if He cares about my future as much as I do. I know He’s powerful and working out all that is good.

I just want to know how that applies to me right now.

On nights like tonight, the built-up emotions swirl in me until I’m left dry and tired.

But I lifted my head out of a soggy pillow in sudden joy and grabbed for my computer to tell you this story.

As I prayed gut-wrenching prayers, the knowledge stole over me.

“Lord, you love this friend more than I do.”

“Jesus, You don’t withhold anything good from me, not for one minute more than necessary. Something else better is happening right now, or this waiting would be over.”

THIS is what can sustain me through a night of tears. It’s not just that He rules and plans. The thing that puts my heart to rest is that HE LOVES ME! He loves me, He loves my people, and He cares about the things that weigh on my heart.

The idea of distantly-loving and powerful God doesn’t do much for me. But a personally-involved and caring One? He is a God I can rest in.

So I sniff and wipe my tears and smile in the dark.

“Rock of Ages” plays now. I will hide myself in Him.

“Rock of Ages, cleft for me. Let me hide myself in Thee…

Nothing in my hand I bring
Simply to thy cross I cling.”

 – Augustus Toplady –

 

 

 

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The Measure of a Day

every-step-of-the-way

On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

“What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”

He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”

“You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”

But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan,as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’

“Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”

The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”

Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”

 – Luke 10:25-27, NIV –

I measure days all wrong sometimes.

I like to be productive, useful, and successful–all very good, God-honoring things to be. The trouble comes when I start to think that one particular kind of productivity outweighs the others.

Countable things, particularly.

I like to lay out those responsibilities on a piece of paper, turn them into a to-do list, and check my way through the day. It’s very satisfying to make those check marks. So satisfying, in fact, that I can forget that there are other ways of measuring the success of a life.

When I get to a day when nothing seems to get checked off the list, it is easy to feel like a failure. To a girl who is tempted to measure her worth by her productivity, a list without checkmarks is a sure sign of inadequacy.

When my performance-driven soul gets tied up in knots about all the “important stuff” that hasn’t been finished, I have to remember.

Sometimes I tell it to myself. Other times, someone takes my hand and reminds me why I’m on this earth. Sure, Jesus tells us to do our work well. But what is our main work? What am I here for, after all?

To make sure my to-do lists are perfectly marked off, every day? Primarily to dust the furniture, exercise, clock time at my job?

Or to love the Lord my God with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength…and love my neighbor as myself (Mark 12:29-31)?

Some of the things on my list are important. They are even necessary to loving God with all of myself (Colossians 3:23). But do I really believe that, at the end of the day, they are the most vital parts of my life?

I don’t think I really believe that.

It’s possible to get so caught up in my to-do lists that I forget that the people around me are way more important than my agenda.

When I get discouraged about how little I’ve accomplished some days, I need to take a step back for a better look. Have I taken the time to look someone in the eyes while they tell me something important to them? Have I given out hugs and kisses, told the “old, old story” once again?  With my life, have I painted a living picture of the grace that I’ve been given? Have I loved, with all my heart and soul, mind and strength?

If so, my day has been undoubtedly full and rich and complete.

“Some think love can be measured by the amount of butterflies in their tummy. Others think love can be measured in bunches of flowers, or by using the words ‘for ever.’ But love can only truly be measured by actions. It can be a small thing, such as peeling an orange for a person you love because you know they don’t like doing it.”
— Marian Keyes —

There is something so compelling about a life centered around love of God and neighbor. Maybe it is the step out of “life” into “life abundant.”

I will probably always make to-do lists. God has given me jobs to do each day, and the little insistent voices of these lists help me remember my responsibilities.

But, when I get to the end of the day and inevitably find some piece of work that still needs to be done, I can set aside my notepad and pen and embrace the living to be found outside the neatly checked boxes.

I think I’ll call it “living outside the box.”

Or, better yet…

Loving outside the box.

“He has achieved success who has lived well, laughed often, and loved much;
Who has enjoyed the trust of pure women, the respect of intelligent men and the love of little children;
Who has filled his niche and accomplished his task;
Who has never lacked appreciation of Earth’s beauty or failed to express it;
Who has left the world better than he found it,
Whether an improved poppy, a perfect poem, or a rescued soul;
Who has always looked for the best in others and given them the best he had;
Whose life was an inspiration;
Whose memory a benediction.”
― Bessie Anderson Stanley

 

 

 

Breaking Down the “Other”

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“Love each other as I have loved you…”

 –  John 13:34b –


I happened to have two young teenage friends with me in Walmart the other day. While I moved around freely between the aisles, one of my young friends in particular seemed very inhibited. She was nervous and wary of our other friend straying too far away from us.

As I scanned shelves of fabric looking for a potential rainbow costume for a children’s song about God’s creation, my anxious young friend piped up again. I don’t think I was looking at her at the moment, but I can only imagine the wide-eyed, sidelong glances she may have been giving our fellow shoppers.

“People at Walmart keep getting stranger and stranger. Have you noticed that?” she asked us.

I held my tongue, but internally, I mulled over her reaction to people in the “outside world” — that is, those beyond her church and homeschool circles.

My sweet young friend suffers from a condition that many Christians seem to have, especially those who identify as conservative. In reality, I’m sure that this condition still lingers in me as well, although more extreme circumstances than a shopping trip might be required to draw it out of me.

This condition is “otherness.”

As a result of sin, humans instinctively withdraw from others who are different from us. Historically, there have been hundreds, if not thousands, of dividing lines: ideology, religion, language, education, skin color, social status, clothing choices, geographic boundaries, gender, intelligence, or political view, to name a few.

All of these differences reinforce to us the “otherness” of those around us. They are so different, so very strange. We stay back because…well, why would we move toward them? Why would we want to? Estranged by their cultural leanings, the way they dress, or the number of tattoos marking their arms–these “others” move past us and we often watch them go by with fear, disdain, or even anger.

Distance demonizes.

I don’t know who first coined that small phrase, but it is so true. The distance we erect between us and “them” makes others grow strange and monstrous. The farther away you get, the worse your perception of people will be. Distance demonizes. Estrangement is a dangerous sort of myopia, eroding your relational perception until all you can see is the faint shadow or outline of a person.

This is not the way of Jesus.

Sometimes we can get confused about what being salt and light means. Salt has to be on the food in order for it to make a difference in the taste or preserve the food beyond its natural shelf life. Light has to be uncovered and obvious in order for it to pierce the darkness.

You are like light for the whole world. A city built on top of a hill cannot be hidden, and no one would light a lamp and put it under a clay pot. A lamp is placed on a lampstand, where it can give light to everyone in the house. Make your light shine, so that others will see the good that you do and will praise your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:14-16, CEV).

How did Jesus deal with people who were different from Him? The Bible contains many examples if we really want to know: Samaritans, people with contagious diseases, the wealthy, the impoverished, the thieves, the notorious sinners (John 4:1-42; Matthew 8:1-4; Matthew 10:17-27; Luke 21:1-4; Luke 19:1-10; Luke 23:39-43; Matthew 2:13-17).

I recently discovered — and highly recommend — a beautifully-written book that clearly and practically lays out steps we can take to walk “with others in wisdom and love,” as the subtitle says. This book Side by Side, by Edward T. Welch, lays out the pattern for us to follow:

“As the King goes, so go his people. He moves toward people; we move toward people. He moves toward people who seek him and people who do not; we move toward those who want help and those who seem distant and marginalized. He moves toward friends and even enemies; we move out beyond our circle of friends to those far beyond that circle” (Chapter 8, p. 74).

As my pastor preached on Sunday, Jesus’ death and resurrection established a New Covenant that no longer keeps an ethnic people cordoned off from the rest of the world. Ephesians 2 says that He broke down the barriers of separation between us and made the two (Jews and Gentiles) into one. On a universal level, this means that no one is beneath our notice, no one is too lost to be redeemed, no cultural gap is too wide, and no hands are too dirty or too bloody to be clasped in welcome.

Why would we welcome?

 Because, if we claim follow Jesus, there is no other real option.

Yes, God is the only one with enough love and courage to unswervingly enter into the mess of someone else…but this glorious God’s power fills us. The divine power that resurrected Jesus is the power that fuels us with the ability to move away from our prideful perspectives and, instead, move toward others (Romans 8:11).

And what we see–if we see rightly–is that at the foot of the cross we are no cleaner, no more acceptable, no more lovable, than anyone else in this broken world. It is our sin–yours and mine and theirs–that drove the bloody nails into our Savior. 

But this crucified and risen Savior welcomes you and me and them, all of us equally, without playing favorites.

Christ’s love to sinners is radical, transformative, unconditional, and full of compassion.

Who are we to offer anything less to others?

And if we got close enough to look, we might see that the people we instinctively demonize are just…people. People who, like us, are desperate for a taste of grace.

I don’t know how much opportunity I’ll have to lead my shy young friend in the way of this grace, but I do know that her fear of “otherness” taught me something this week.

Jesus broke down all the barriers of “otherness,” and if we claim to be His, we cannot fail to do the same.

One broken, love-starved heart at a time.


Then he came to Nazareth where he had been brought up and, according to his custom, went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day. He stood up to read the scriptures and the book of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. He opened the book and found the place where these words are written—‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach the Gospel to the poor. He has sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to preach the acceptable year of the Lord’.

Then he shut the book, handed it back to the attendant and resumed his seat. Every eye in the synagogue was fixed upon him and he began to tell them, “This very day this scripture has been fulfilled, while you were listening to it!”

 – Luke 4:16-22, Phillips –

 

Treasuring Me

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“Then, as the sun was setting, all those who had friends suffering from every kind of disease brought them to Jesus and he laid his hands on each one of them separately and healed them.”

 – Luke 4:40, Phillips –

Healing was more than a job for Jesus.

He healed very few people en masse, although He did heal the ten lepers with only a word (Luke 17:11-19). But ten isn’t a very large crowd for a God who spoke a galaxy into motion.

“Our God is at home with the rolling spheres, And at home with broken hearts.”

– M. P. Ferguson –

He could have very easily said the word and healed everyone at once.

But He didn’t.

When He called a rag-tag group of disciples to follow Him across the countryside, He could have used supernatural revelation to reveal His vast knowledge to them in an instant. Instead, He spent three years walking and talking with them. He didn’t infuse their minds automatically with Himself–He let them slowly soak in and learn of Him.

He lived in moments and worked in the context of time. More importantly, centering His will on His Father’s plan, He concentrated on whoever was in front of Him.

Not to say that Jesus had a people-centric view of life. He was always God-centric.

But that divine fellowship daily overflowed into moments focused on loving others. Complete in His triune nature, God, in His great grace, overflows to those who could never repay it. We are poor companions, yet He delights to know us. We are unfaithful partners, yet He is pleased to wash us and bring us back home.

I was listening to the Daily Audio Bible this week and heard a passage from Luke 4. Eager crowds flooded Jesus with friends in need of healing, and the passage takes great care to record His response: “Then, as the sun was setting, all those who had friends suffering from every kind of disease brought them to Jesus and he laid his hands on each one of them separately and healed them” (Luke 4:40, Phillips).

He put his hands on them.

Separately.

Each and everyone one of them.

And they were healed.

This is how my God does business. He works in subtle moments and cultivated relationships. He moves in compassion, not just addressing a problem with a general, one-size-fits-all solution, but with a wise plan tailored just for me, just for you.

He stopped and poured Himself into each precious moment with whoever stood before Him.

He paused in a crowd to search out the woman who had grasped His robe in faith. He stopped His sermon for the lame man being let down from the ceiling. On the roads, He paused for cripples, the blind, and lepers who called out for His mercy.

And when we are stumbling along in our own confusion, He is there, also. The God of galaxies smiles upon us and puts His hand on us.

Separately. Individually. Specially.

The Church is the Bride of Christ, all the members together making one body. But individually, we still matter to our Father. We are not faceless appendages in the body. We are treasured children.

“See what an incredible quality of love the Father has shown to us, that we would [be permitted to] be named and called and counted the children of God! And so we are!

 – 1 John 3:1, AMP –

The gospel is not people-centered. God’s love doesn’t revolve around me. I am not the center of the universe or the focal point of heaven. And I was never meant to be.

But oh, what grace is mine! What have I done that He would stop and look upon me?

We should not be surprised to hear that heaven and earth does not wait for our beck and call.

But we should be surprised, eternally surprised, that God would ever stoop to look at the specks upon this planet–specks that, somehow, He has seen, and loved, and filled with the image of Himself.

Take courage.

We serve the same Jesus that lovingly attended to each person He met. He has not changed.

Sometimes God is silent. Sometimes He does not move when we think it is time for something to happen. Sometimes He says no.

But He comes when we call. He places His hand upon our heads when we cry out in need. He cares about our cries.

Always.

 

“Be strong and courageous; don’t be terrified or afraid of them. For it is the Lord your God who goes with you; He will not leave you or forsake you.”

 – Deuteronomy 31:6, HCSB –

My Father’s Arms

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“Father! — to God himself we cannot give a holier name.”

~William Wordsworth~

Waiting in the local Walmart parking lot, I felt the wind swaying our 2-ton vehicle. It whistled around the building corners and practically blew shoppers in and out of the automatic doors.

I watched a couple get out of the car, the man pulling his coat tight around his chest. When I looked closely, I saw he carried something in his arms, wrapped beneath his coat.

A child.

A tiny pink-socked foot stuck out beneath the coat. The couple fought the wind as they approached the store’s entrance. I was entranced by the baby hidden away from sight.

I smiled to myself. In an instant, that father painted a picture of God for me. Baring himself to the elements without a concern, putting his head down into the wind without hesitation, shouldering through the storm without blinking–but his baby girl was safe and warm against his chest. He might be blasted by the wind, but not his girl. She was protected in his arms.

“I have found a place where I can hide. It’s safe inside Your arms of love. Like a child who’s held throughout a storm, You keep me warm in Your arms of love.”

 – Grant, Smith, and Chapman, “Arms of Love” –

Thinking recently about God’s powerful kindness, I wrote, “You carry the cosmos like a lamb between Your shoulders.”

I face storms. We all do. In many ways, we face the wind and waves and must stand up to them in courage. We seem them crashing down over our heads and wonder if there is a place of shelter from the wind after all.

In the middle of our questions and in the midst of our fears, how refreshing it is to remember the Father, to whom we are “worth more than many sparrows” (Matthew 10:31).

Chris Tomlin’s new song “Good, Good Father” has run through my head so often lately. The concept of God’s fatherhood expressed in this song has become a frequent meditation. “He’s a good, good Father,” I find myself saying to others.

Isn’t He, though? Life is hard, certainly. The path is rocky and the wind rips with cold ferocity.

But He is there, too. He is with us, carrying us in His power, bearing us in His arms, wrapping His coat of love around us to shelter us from the storm.

Life isn’t perfect.

But still, He’s a good, good Father. And He is making all things new.

“In that same hour he rejoiced in the Holy Spirit and said, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows who the Son is except the Father, or who the Father is except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.”

 – Luke 10:21-22, ESV –

Christmas for Real People

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“Blessed is
The season which
Engages the whole
World in a
Conspiracy of love.”

 – Hamilton Wright Mabie –


I adore Christmas. I really do.

But I am also a girl becoming more and more an adult…and I’ve seen things this year that make me look at Christmas differently.

I’ve made decisions that have rippled their effects through my future.

I’ve stared into the eyes of a laughing girl–eyes that laugh to hide how deep the often-inflicted pain has scarred her.

I’ve held other hands and prayed for peace to come at last, after dark days and frightening nights.

I’ve known pain, especially the pain of others.

Becoming an adult, ever so slowly, means I can’t help but see Christmas differently.

But “differently” doesn’t mean that my love of Christmas is dimming. In fact…maybe I am just beginning to understand. I think I get it now.

Christmas is for real people.

Christmas is not made up of fake, perfectly-cast families that you see on the Hallmark Channel. Christmas is not flawless decorating. It is not smooth ornaments and trees without bare spots and everlastingly-cheerful radio music.

Christmas is made of real people. Chipped china and deformed gingerbread. An undercurrent of stress combined with the wonder. People who get tired and cranky and who don’t always get along. People who hurt and love and want to know if Christmas is really for people like them.

Just like we create false ideas of God in our minds, I think we create wrong ideas of the purpose of Christmas.

Christmas is not for the people who have no problems and gather together to celebrate flawless lives.

Christmas is the beginning of God’s expression of love, a response to all our outcries for help and deliverance. When the angels proclaimed Jesus’ birth to the nearby sheep herders, what did they say? “We bring you good news of incredible joy which will be for all nations.” (Luke 2:10-11, my paraphrase)

Good news–after centuries and centuries of waiting. At last, good news!

“Like cold water to a thirsty soul is good news from a far country.” (Proverbs 25:25)

So God spoke from the Far Country, bringing at last the refreshment, the consolation–both to Israel and, through them, to the world.

He didn’t bring Christmas to the King Herods entranced by their own power, to the religious right impressed with their own piety, to the well-satisfied in their own prosperity.

“The well [at least, those who think they’re well!] have no need for a doctor–the sick are the ones who need the doctor.” Jesus would one day say. “I come to call sinners, not the self-righteous. “(Mark 2:17, my paraphrase)

Christmas is for those who see the bare truth of their own powerlessness, sinfulness, and emptiness apart from a God who opens the way for redemption.

I’ll tell you the truth–I’m having to re-think Christmas in my own heart. I’m having to consciously remember that it is not  a holiday made for the perfect and put-together. It is a holy day because God came down to our level–pitiful and impoverished as we are– and made all days holy, because He is with us in them.

If you don’t feel up to celebrating Christmas…

If you feel too empty, too broken, too needy, too much like a refugee from the wounds of life…

If you don’t feel worthy, or capable…

If you think you have nothing to give…

Remember–this is why He came. He came for people like you, “to bring good news to the suffering and afflicted. He has sent me to comfort the brokenhearted, to announce liberty to captives, and to open the eyes of the blind. He has sent me to tell those who mourn that the time of God’s favor to them has come, and the day of his wrath to their enemies. To all who mourn in Israel he will give: beauty for ashes; joy instead of mourning; praise instead of heaviness. For God has planted them like strong and graceful oaks for his own glory.” (Isaiah 61:1-3, TLB)

He came for real people, giving real, satisfying love, and will eventually bring real wholeness to the entire earth.

My inadequacy, my scars, my falling-short–these are not barriers to celebrating Christmas. Since Jesus came, my barriers are now the very reasons I can rejoice in this season. Because Jesus came to bring healing and true joy at last. Because Jesus’s birth and life, death and rising, mean that this world’s suffering isn’t meaningless. Because this good news is for me, too.

I learned a lot about myself this year…and that changed the way I look at Christmas.

I think, maybe, I’m starting to understand.


“The more unworthy you feel yourself to be, the more evidence have you that nothing but unspeakable love could have led the Lord Jesus to save such a soul as yours. The more demerit you feel, the clearer is the display of the abounding love of God in having chosen you, and called you, and made you an heir of bliss.”

 – Charles Haddon Spurgeon –

 

That Glorious Generosity

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“Praise be to God for giving us through Christ every possible spiritual benefit as citizens of Heaven! For consider what he has done—before the foundation of the world he chose us to become, in Christ, his holy and blameless children living within his constant care. He planned, in his purpose of love, that we should be adopted as his own children through Jesus Christ—that we might learn to praise that glorious generosity of his which has made us welcome in the everlasting love he bears towards the Son.”

 – Ephesians 1:5, PHILLIPS paraphrase –

Pneumonia has a way of simplifying life.

At least, that’s what it just did for me.

Like any illness, it got in the way. I couldn’t keep my appointments and I wasn’t a very productive citizen the past 2 weeks.

But when I thought about God during my illness, something unexpected happened.

Since I didn’t feel like doing much, I decided against long devotional times or heavy theological ponderings.

So I just thought about Jesus.

These weren’t long thoughts, or especially original.

But when I didn’t feel like doing anything, it was comforting to remember Who loves me.

Thinking about the love, grace, and kindness of my Savior brought worship into my heart, even though I didn’t feel especially devout while lying on a recliner with a fever and cough.

A friend on Instagram recently took a photo of her morning’s reading in Ephesians, so I opened up to Ephesians 1 a few nights ago. The powerful, affectionate language instantly lifted up my soul in amazement.

I was reading verse 5 in my thick NASB Bible:

“He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will…”

The kind intention of His will.

Wow!

Do you ever forget that God is kind?

I do. In my determination to remember His holiness and His justice, His perfect mix of anger and love, I forget HE IS KIND.

And He has been gracious enough to direct this kind intention toward you and toward me.

Another version of Ephesians 1:5 (The Living Bible) says it this way:

“His unchanging plan has always been to adopt us into his own family by sending Jesus Christ to die for us. And he did this because he wanted to!”

This one makes me smile.

He saved us because He wanted to. He wanted us, just because.

Just because it would show off His amazing love.

The New Living Translation (verses 4-6) says:

“Even before he made the world, God loved us and chose us in Christ to be holy and without fault in his eyes. God decided in advance to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to himself through Jesus Christ. This is what he wanted to do, and it gave him great pleasure. So we praise God for the glorious grace he has poured out on us who belong to his dear Son.”

This is what He wanted to do, and it gave Him great pleasure.

Does that excite you? I am amazed that He could find pleasure in me. I know that, on my own, I am nothing. But just think! Being Jesus’ purchased possession makes me pleasure to the Lord!

Next time you are down–whether you are feeling discouraged or whether pneumonia has you bedridden–remember Jesus.

Remember that He is a God of many beautiful, thunderous, earth-quaking qualities–and He is also full of kindness.

He chose us. He decided, long ago, that we would be the ones He loves for all time. What love is this? What glorious generosity!

“That is what He wanted to do, and it gave Him great pleasure.”

And it brings Him pleasure still.

“God doesn’t owe us anything–yet in His grace, He still gives us good things.”

 – Billy Graham –

More Wonderful

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Have you ever seen something so wonderful that you wonder how anything else could be better?


I think most people watched the bride when she glided down the aisle.

I couldn’t tell, because I was waiting for the groom’s reaction.

When the doors opened, he just looked.

Then, very slowly, reverently, his face melted into pure, overwhelmed wonder. All he could do was shake his head in awe.

I burst into tears, right then and there.

There were plenty of lovely things about that wedding, but the way the groom shook his head–the pride and joy he had in his bride–stand out to me as the highlight of the wedding.

When I think of him, I think of Jesus.

I think about how He calls the church His Bride. There is no shadow of unworthiness on the Church for which Christ died. When He welcomes us into the wedding feast, He will not be looking down his nose at “that second-rate bride.” No! He gave Himself to purify us. He bled to clothe us in that brilliant white. So He most certainly will not count us less worthy for having to do all the work Himself. That is the very basis of our worthiness. 

If this young earthly groom was so overjoyed at his wedding, how much greater joy and love our Groom will express to us! If a young man’s wonder-filled face brought me to immediate tears, what will the triumphant, loving face of Jesus do to me?

“Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her, that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word, that He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish.”

– Ephesians 5:25-27, NKJV –

A glorious Church!

We don’t understand this love. How can we? We don’t expect any self-respecting groom to go pull his bride out of a gutter, wash her off, and bring her to the altar already loving her. But what has Jesus done? Loved us when we despised Him, pursued us when we ran, sanctified and cleansed us with His words when all the words we’d been saying to our own selves had not done a thing. And He was happy to do it. He doesn’t regret it. He doesn’t look back and wish He’d have found a better Bride. We are the Bride that was gloriously chosen. He is glad.

I believe that one day I’ll see a look on Jesus’ face that will far outdo that earthly groom’s expression.

But until then, I don’t think my imagination can improve on that wedding day moment.


 

“Let us be glad and rejoice and give Him glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and His wife has made herself ready.” And to her it was granted to be arrayed in fine linen, clean and bright, for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints.

Then he said to me, “Write: ‘Blessed are those who are called to the marriage supper of the Lamb!’” And he said to me, “These are the true sayings of God.”

Revelation 19:7-9, NKJV

November Fog

tree-and-fog

Yesterday morning, I sat in church and looked out into the fog surrounding the little white clapboard building. The mist was grey-white and dense as wool. I thought of what I’ve been learning about reaching out to people in need, and I realized that often we let a fog settle over our vision. We don’t want to see the need. It’s too much. It’s overwhelming. So we hide it in mist and, as long as we don’t know, maybe we won’t have to think about it.

But when God works in our hearts–watch out. If you reach out just once, if you feel the joy of touching a life that God puts in your path, beware! It is addicting, revealing, humbling, and awe-inspiring. It is heart-breaking and incredible. 

I am convinced that our Father made us to touch one another and be His tools in patching up broken souls. Yesterday, the November fog reminded me of that, birthing this poem.


November fog,

Like the fog I allow to fall in my eyes, shades the colors of the world,

Hides the Browned and Bitter fallen, shrouds the bare branches cold-robbed of clothes.

I cannot see.

November fog,

The mist of suspended belief, hiding in earth-clouds the season’s Truth.

And I plunge into it unseeing, happily ignorant of a world groaning, growing old.

I will not see.

But did you ever see

A November fog melt in autumnal glare?

Yellow-gold spear tear the curtain from

Sky to soil, and Glory lay the earth bare?

Did you ever, finally, see?

Watch leaves blaze with joy, tremble hope, blush agony, drop grief?

And were you ever brought to knees

By beauty and pain untouched, unloved?

A Painter sparkled the blushing, beaming trees,

And spangled hearts with life.

And every fall He sings the woods to sleep,

Tucking them tight into mossy nests and snow-satin sheets.

And He took on a heart to feel Himself the pain of hearts,

Found, bought, loved this very heart of mine,

But still I lose my way in November fog,

Forgetting to see the hearts, the trees.

November fog clears–my sight with it–

And how can I regret the revealing Light?

The blaze lights the way, reveals deep places I never imagined,

Intensities of colors, colors of shade, shades of hearts.

Autumn sun and I both finally wake to the stark-laid need of the vivid world,

The way the summer is curling up into rest,

The way hearts are curling up into self,

Waiting for the fog to part and some warm light to finally see them and love them.

Yes.

Now, I think I see the colors of the leaves.


“We know and, to some extent realise, the love of God for us because Christ expressed it in laying down his life for us. We must in turn express our love by laying down our lives for those who are our brothers. But as for the well-to-do man who sees his brothers in want but shuts his eyes—and his heart—how could anyone believe that the love of God lives in him? My children, let us not love merely in theory or in words—let us love in sincerity and in practice!”

 – 1 John 3:16-18, Phillips paraphrase –

Trench Love

trenches-on-the-beach

“Then I read that Jesus was a friend of sinners. This still bothers me. Not because Jesus was a friend of sinners (because that came in really handy in my case). It bothered me because if I’m trying to live like Jesus, that means I’m supposed to be a friend of sinners too.”
― Dillon Burroughs, Undefending Christianity ―


Maybe the whole world is brimming with rough-cut trenches.

Have I spent too long on the ridges in between? Or am I a friend of sinners?

My God stepped into the trenches and touched lepers with open, running sores. He blessed the faith and tears of dark-eyed prostitutes. His hand dipped into meals with the dusty, money-rubbing hands of hardened thieves. He frequented the places that the Religious Right of the day called inappropriate and sinful. He had a band of ragamuffins: fisherman, half-breed Samaritans, government workers, wives, radical freedom fighters, women of the night, peasants.

But I do not have to find a leper colony, a brothel, or a gang of bank robbers to get in the trenches. Yes, those are needy trenches indeed. But that is not the idea.

Trenches are everywhere, crisscrossing the whole earth. And people are in those trenches–needy, hurting, growing, sinning people.

People just like you and me.

Some of them have Jesus. Some of them don’t.

Some of them have hope. Some of them can’t stand to think that the sun might come up again.

Some of them wear Prada and shop on New York’s 5th Avenue. Some of them wear Levis and push a cart at Wal-Mart. Some of them wear second-hand rags and dig in the dumpster for scraps.

Find them. There is a trench beside you. Get in it and see what you find.

See who you find.

Verda is in one of my trenches–an 83-year-old nursing home resident, hard of hearing and frail body swollen with excess fluid. She wiggled her finger at me, and soon I was kneeling beside her wheelchair, praying and clutching her bony fingers.

Jake is in a nearby trench–just a boy, a teenage boy I don’t even know, but his half-sister goes to my church. See, Jake is in ICU today. He shot or sniffed or smoked so much at once that his body began to shut down from a drug overdose. Is he living or dying right now? I only pray he will have one last chance to hear that there is hope. And maybe, just maybe, he will live to tell of a Redeemer.

Brent is in one of my trenches, strong and growing stronger in every way. I was put into his trench by Divine arrangement. See, he is my brother. Even brothers have trenches, and even brothers have needs and prayers and growing pains. But the good thing about being a brother is that there is someone else born right in your trench, right in your family, ready-made to do trench warfare on your behalf. That is why I am here–to fight for him, beside him, in the trench.

Destiny is in a trench nearby. Maybe 9 or 10 years old, on ADD medication, Mormon by family choice, living with her grandmother because her mother, for whatever reason, just couldn’t handle raising her. And she’s picking up a violin for the second semester. So every two weeks, I get to kneel by her and show her how to coax a song out of piece of wood and a bundle of horse hair. And maybe I get to show her a little love that she doesn’t get too often.

My friend Lizzie told me this:

“No one can prepare you for the ways this [getting in the trenches] changes you. If any of these encounters are NOT something, they are not heroic. They are not inspiring. They are not dramatic.

But. If God calls you to those trenches, in whatever field He chooses, you will bury your hands in the same dirt as He.”

Yes. I will be sinking my fingers into the same dirt, maybe writing mercy in it for the scarred and wandering, just as He did (John 8:6).

The point is not to find a glamorous trench, or an especially dark and dirty trench, or even a new trench. The point is that if you are walking on the ridges instead of getting down in the middle of life–where people and problems and pain are, you can’t be living like Jesus.

Because Jesus didn’t stay up safe on a plain above us.

He got down and got dirty, stripped away His heavenly beauty and invulnerability, and became one of us. Subject to our temptations. Exposed to cold, hunger, homelessness, misunderstanding.

For us.

I can’t NOT go into the trenches. Whether my trench tomorrow is new or old, a nursing home or my own kitchen, a violin class or an unexpected counseling session, a women’s prison or a road trip with my brother, I’m surrounded by trenches calling me to come to the battle.

So I will go. Not armed with hate for the sinner. Not looking for sensation and easy fixes. Truly, and blessedly, overflowing with love that can’t wait to get out and see what God will do with a life that belongs to Him.

When I’m rubbing Verda’s swollen ankles or showing Destiny just where to put her fingers on the violin string, something happens.

The cares and worries and tiny, unnecessary, meaningless chaff of my life drift away and I realize what I was made to do:

Be a friend of sinners, pointing them to their Ultimate Friend.

In whatever trench I happen to find myself.


“ ‘Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.’ These men without possessions or power, these strangers on Earth, these sinners, these followers of Jesus, have in their life with him renounced their own dignity, for they are merciful. As if their own needs and their own distress were not enough, they take upon themselves the distress and humiliation of others. They have an irresistible love for the down-trodden, the sick, the wretched, the wronged, the outcast and all who are tortured with anxiety. They go out and seek all who are enmeshed in the toils of sin and guilt. No distress is too great, no sin too appalling for their pity. If any man falls into disgrace, the merciful will sacrifice their own honour to shield him, and take his shame upon themselves.”

― Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship ―