The Courtroom

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Hope is very important to me, which is why I always try to point back to the hope of the gospel in every blog post. This post dives into the discouragement we can face as Christians when we daily deal with our sinful selves and a confusing, sin-infused world. If you identify with my struggle below, I pray you will also identify with my powerful, joy-giving hope. It is an anchor for our souls.

 Every morning, I wake up up to preside over the courtroom of my soul.
I don’t mean to say that I am the Law for myself. I most certainly–first and only, body and soul— belong to my Lord and Savior.
But each day I climb up to the bench and try the cases of my heart, one by one.
I like knowing. I like certainty.
And sometimes facts and feelings plead their cases, memory and intuition wage war on the courtroom floor, prayers and fears duel on the witness stand, and I sink down behind the bench in dismay.
Because sometimes I can’t figure it all out. And when I do figure it out, often I, the judge, am implicated by the testimonies of my own courtroom.
Either way, the result is the same: my soul is left with a choice, to either despair or trust.
Despair, because I can’t figure out or fix myself.
Trust, because today I see more of my flaws than I could see yesterday—but I can also see more of my God’s goodness than I could see a day ago.

Coming Up Empty

As a child, it worked.
I could analyze all the pieces of my life and see how they fit together. Things were more black and white, people were more stereotypical, and my eyes saw through the rosy tint of childhood.
In my courtroom now, I have more evidence than ever. My storerooms are filled with interpretations, weights, measures, gauges, preconceptions.
And life takes on ever so many more shades.
Before, I could hold up the six stripes of the rainbow and match the color. Now, people and events are painted with shades I never knew existed and shadows I dared not imagine. Ever mixing tones on their own life’s palette, each person colors in their existence with shades of their own making, each creating never-before-seen hues.
The dazzling variety hurts my tender eyes. I don’t know the difference between azure and sky blue. I can’t discern between apricot, coral, and salmon pink.
I can’t even, often, decrypt the colors of my own soul.
So this judge cradles her aching head and sometimes has to leave the bench. And I’m learning that…it’s okay to lay down the gavel. Sometimes, I just have to find out how far God’s Word addresses the situation, pray for wisdom, ask questions, and–every once in a while–suspend judgment.
Sometimes swift and firm decisions are needed. I’m happy to bang the gavel on such occasions.
But others? I’ve worried my soul into a tizzy, pressing it for suitable evidence and arguments. I’ve harried my heart into tears, because I can’t split the fine hairs of my own thoughts.
In these times, I have to recognize my calling. Am I called to read my own mind and discern my own intentions, to the nth degree? Or is my utmost call the glory of God, as I rest and quiet my soul in Him?
Little children, let us not love with word or with tongue, but in deed and truth. We will know by this [love for one another] that we are of the truth, and will assure our heart before Him in whatever our heart condemns us; for God is greater than our heart and knows all things.” 
 – 1 John 3:18-20, NASB –
It is so beautiful, so quiet, to finally lay aside my judging robes and commit my soul to “Him who judges righteously” (1 Peter 2:23).

Coming Up Guilty 

Sometimes, I am my own worst critic.
And, many days, I am everyone else’s worst critic too.
Comparing, weighing their opinions against my own, sizing them up with my own peculiarly-developed standards—I am learning the unloving and selfish ways of my own heart when it is left to itself.
Not to say that I let it wander unchecked.
If you could step into my mind, you would hear the daily dialogue I have with myself. I raise criticisms and bash them down in a breath. I mutter and complain, following up with a “but you should really thank God for all the good things that happened today.” Then, the selfish part of me argues back.
I critique the behavior of those around me…then inform myself that I do the same things. Why should I hold them to a standard I don’t hold myself to?
And back and forth it goes.
So very often, my internal courtroom resounds with my own guilt. As I learn more and more of Christ’s worthiness and my own failures, I have to go back to the same place as I go when I cannot figure out things at all:
Quieting my soul at the foot of the cross…or, perhaps, restoring my soul at the door of the empty tomb.
“O Lord, my heart is not proud, nor my eyes haughty;
Nor do I involve myself in great matters,
Or in things too difficult for me.
Surely I have composed and quieted my soul;
Like a weaned child rests against his mother,
My soul is like a weaned child within me.
O Israel, hope in the Lord
From this time forth and forever.”
 – Psalm 131:1-3, NASB –
My faithful God sent His Son for the mess of me.
My resurrected Savior conquered death so I might live in His victory.
My heart is daily renovated by the Divine Comforter, the Holy Spirit that dwells in His children.
While defeat and imperfection raise their voices in my courtroom, they do not get to rule. Although confusion and mystery chase me around the bench, they are not judge over me.
I have only one Judge in the end, and He is making me new, day by day.
How I long to be new!
I believe that’s just what I’m becoming. “New, fresh, with no mistakes”—as Ann says.
One of these days, I’ll get there. One of these days.
I know it.
“But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by a human court. In fact, I do not even judge myself. For I know of nothing against myself, yet I am not justified by this; but He who judges me is the Lord. Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord comes, who will both bring to light the hidden things of darkness and reveal the counsels of the hearts. Then each one’s praise will come from God.”
 – 1 Corinthians 4:3-5, NKJV –
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The Story of the Trees

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“Spring shows what God can do with a drab and dirty world.”

– Virgil A. Kraft –


 

Winter is over, because the trees say so.

Driving the Arkansas hills this weekend, I saw the proof. Budding fruit trees—pink cherries, the snowy-white of the pears, the deep magenta of the red bud tree and flagrantly-golden forsythia—line side roads and dot the valleys and farm houses with splashes of color.

Spring is here. All is new.

I didn’t know how much I wanted the spring until it arrived. The hay bales lie sodden brown in the rain-soaked, brown and gray fields. Rain has greened up some of the grass on either side of the yellow-lined road. Cows speckle the mottled hills, finding the first tender blades of springtime between the straw stubble.

But my favorites are the trees.

Wordlessly momentous, they wear the wedding colors of spring.

It means something just out of reach. The brilliant simplicity of the trees carries a weight that I feel, but cannot yet quite grasp.

Maybe it is the abundant life sprouting up in the middle of the bare groves sticking their splintery branches into the sky.

Maybe it is the insistent return of joy.

Maybe it is the trees dressing up for no reason, just because it is a good day to be alive under the blue, blue dome of heaven.

Spring is springing, and my heart springs along with it.

Is life perfect? No. But His times and seasons are, whether sunshine or inclement weather, drought or abundant rain. Struggles are real, longings deep, battles hard.

But all is well. Spring is here. All is new.

It is a promise to the world, once again. “As long as the earth remains, there will be planting and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night…” (Genesis 8:22, NLT.)

God says, “Do it again,” and again the celestial orbs take their places in line, to reenact the elliptical dance they know so well.

The renewal of spring reminds us of the refreshing He can always bring to the souls of His children.

“Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.” – Romans 12:2, NLT

And the bright budding of spring tells a tale for which we wait:

“And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, ‘Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”“Behold, I am making all things new!’ ” – Revelation 21:5, ESV

Even as we wait for the world’s crowning day, daily He brings us newness, springtime in our hearts. “Your mercies are new every morning.” “There is therefore now no condemnation.” “The old has gone, the new has come.” (Lamentations 3:22-23; Romans 8:1; 2 Corinthians 5:17.)

Maybe that is why “my heart with pleasure fills” when I look out the car window at the triumphant white of the pears springing up in the fields.

Spring is the world going on, birthing life out of death.

Spring is God’s metaphor for what He does in our lives everyday. Refreshing. Renewing. Filling our bare branches with living color.

Today, again, He is declaring Springtime over our longing hearts.


 

“Spring is when life’s alive in everything.”

 – Christina Rossetti –

Welcoming the Old with the New

 

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“That’s what people do who love you. They put their arms around you and love you when you’re not so lovable.”

 – Deb Caletti –

Bare branches in the trees are diamond crusted this morning. Hanging low and happily yellow, the sun smiles at its reflection in the powdered sugar snow.

As my favorite fictional redhead says, it is “a new day with no mistakes in it yet.”

That’s what I need, for sure.

Welcome is my word of the year, as I explained in my last post.

But I didn’t anticipate how far into me it would reverberate. I especially didn’t anticipate how much I would need to change.

But, now I see…Welcome can’t come into my life if I stay the same.

To grow a heart of welcome in me, God has to do some furniture rearranging. A dear friend of mine is currently living with my family. Today, she reminded me that welcoming in means we have to move some things out of the house. It means a bit of winter cleaning. It means we might bump into the furniture a little, because it’s in a place it has never been before.

But I learned something today about welcome—it is not just for the new people.

Sometimes, doors in your heart get partly shut. Sometimes, the hinges get a little rusty. And sometimes we avoid some halls in our hearts. They’re a part of us…but we cease to welcome them.

Maybe it is more tragic to be an insider who is not welcomed than it is to be an unwelcome newcomer.

I realized that, in my pursuit of welcome, my family was losing me. Somehow, my most favorite people were getting shut out.

It began when I decided not to tell a family member about certain thoughts or feelings, because I didn’t think they would understand. So gradually, I bumped that door, closing it more and more…

Until this morning, they came face-to-face with me, and I confessed that I feared telling them my true thoughts, because I didn’t want my feelings to be dismissed. They were shocked and saddened that I had not opened my heart-door and told them before.

I had been wrapping myself in silence–in a lack of welcome–in this relationship. And it took a toll. In my reluctance to bring them into my inner self, I pushed them away. I shut my door. I was slowly eroding a priceless relationship, by my own self-focus.

So I took a risk, when I confessed my hiding today.

And the sun came out, glistening on the snow.

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Are relationships hard? Absolutely. Are they messy? Sure. Sometimes it seems better to hold certain thoughts inside…it seems safer. Definitely less complicated.

But love often means sharing anyway, making your feelings vulnerable to criticism…and also open to understanding. Love means you welcome the other person into your heart anyway. It means you risk getting hurt..but it also means you open yourself up to grace.

Don’t stuff it all in and walk away from conversations frustrated that, once again, they do not understand you. How could they? You never told them. 

I think we can hide from our families, even while rubbing shoulders with them every day. We can put walls up to keep ourselves safe, exhausting ourselves with needless protectiveness.

So I am posting a new welcome sign on my heart:

Welcome, family. You, too, are welcome in my heart. In fact, I’ll make you duplicates of my key, okay? Then you can come in whenever you like.

In fact, could you come right away? I’ve been missing you.


If you are joining me on the journey to Welcome this year, how are you doing in your family? Have you shut a door in your heart? Is there a hallway barricaded? What old relationship needs a little oil and polish?

Don’t shut out your biggest fans. God gave you to them for a reason. He can give you the grace to open the door again. 

Why don’t you ask Him right now?

“He gives families to the lonely, and releases prisoners from jail, singing with joy!”

 – Psalm 68:6, TLB –

 

 

 

Every Birth, Every Leaf

Our Lord has written the promise of resurrection, not in books alone but in every leaf of springtime.

– Martin Luther-

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With spring comes new birth.

Yesterday I watched three wet goat kids birthed into a cold, pain-raged world.

And we are like them.

We were unborn, safe, heedless of the agony and despair just outside the barricading womb.

Then the birth throes came and our mothers panted and cried with pain and we appeared.

Like those kids, slick and wet. Like them, bloody and gasping for air and scared to be pushed out of the safety and closed-in comfort. The ground is unyielding beneath our quivering legs. The prickly straw jabs.

We long to go back in to the dark tightness where our mothers’ breath heaved right above our huddled bodies. We grow to hate the cold but yet draw back against the warmth washing away our birth sac, stripping away the cold membrane that was so comfortable and now chills us.

And one day we begin to understand the depth of the significance of the first cry.

On some days, we wonder if there is anything in all this broken world but crying.

Even with the budding out of spring, do you ever wonder what is the point, when so much of death’s stench seeps into our moments? Do you ever wonder why the flowers still smile when the frost will bite them off in only a few short months?

Where is the spring in that?

More importantly, if even the most hopeful time of year is tainted, what hope is there for me?

A few weeks ago, Easter morning broke all over the world again, the anniversary of a death. Yes, on Friday the God of this Broken world died to redeem it. But on Sunday, another death occurred.

Death died that Sunday morning.

And unlike all the other deaths of this world, in direct opposition to the struggle and misery—the death of Death snapped chains and broke cords and singing was unleashed.

All the Springtimes before that year of Resurrection had been foretelling. Each revolution around the yellow sun, the flowers had budded out and the deer had birthed their fawns. All of creation gathered and cried out to man that the end of Death’s Winter was coming. That Spring would come and our Ransom-Payer would arise, with healing in His wings. Every year, they kept repeating the promise to come:

Arise, shine;
For your light has come!
And the glory of the Lord is risen upon you.
For behold, the darkness shall cover the earth,
And deep darkness the people;
But the Lord will arise over you,
And His glory will be seen upon you.
 The Gentiles shall come to your light,
And kings to the brightness of your rising.

~ Isaiah 60:1-3, NKJV ~

And with the world-shaking rising of that Ransom-Payer, Death was crushed, Despair was led away captive, Pain lost it’s sting.

Maybe you marvel at a God of Love who can allow us to hurt and sin.

I marvel at a God of Love who Took our hurt and Became our sin.

So when the pain keeps coming and the ache crushes all of your breath away, there is a higher place you can go than just looking at the Springtime.  All the new life in the world won’t help you if your heart keeps dwelling in the death.

 “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.”

~ 2 Corinthians 5:17, NKJV ~

You can go to the one that is the Spring rising in our hearts, that is the Light after the Winter’s dark.

 “So when God desired to show more convincingly to the heirs of the promise the unchangeable character of his purpose, he guaranteed it with an oath, so that by two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled for refuge might have strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us. We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain, where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf, having become a high priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.

~ Hebrews 6:17-20, ESV ~

Because Jesus lives, we can face tomorrow.

Fearless, Faithful, Knowing, Confident. Standing in His Love, by His Power, through His blood.

Because we have been redeemed, Spring is our daily reality.

May the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ be blessed! On account of his vast mercy, he has given us new birth. You have been born anew into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. You have a pure and enduring inheritance that cannot perish—an inheritance that is presently kept safe in heaven for you. Through his faithfulness, you are guarded by God’s power so that you can receive the salvation he is ready to reveal in the last time.

You now rejoice in this hope, even if it’s necessary for you to be distressed for a short time by various trials. This is necessary so that your faith may be found genuine. (Your faith is more valuable than gold, which will be destroyed even though it is itself tested by fire.) Your genuine faith will result in praise, glory, and honor for you when Jesus Christ is revealed. Although you’ve never seen him, you love him. Even though you don’t see him now, you trust him and so rejoice with a glorious joy that is too much for words. You are receiving the goal of your faith: your salvation.

~1 Peter 1:3-9, CEB ~

Amen.