Named by Redemption

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“Words, so innocent and powerless…when standing in a dictionary, how potent for good or evil they become in the hands of one who knows how to combine them.”

– Nathaniel Hawthorne –


Over a Baskin Robbins mint chocolate chip cone, I chatted with some friends about their prison ministry.

With wide eyes, one friend told me of the man they had just visited. He had been on the run from the law for months and finally brought into custody, to the relief of family members fearing for his life.

He had a tattoo across his forehead–the name that he had printed on his own skin, embedded into his existence:

HATED

And he lived believing it.

Hating himself, hating the law, hating everyone and everything around him.

And I wondered….what would it be like to scrawl on my forehead all my own shame? What would it be like to stare into my bleary, just-awake eyes every day and see my worst fear and my constant torment written indelibly on my face?

Hated. 

Not loved. Not accepted. Not tolerated. But hated.

What happens to a person to make them brand themselves with hate? By what twisted penance or cocky flagrancy does a man emblazon his greatest pain across his skull?

Names. Labels. Appellations.

We inscribe them on our hearts. We chant them to ourselves over and over, like a cursed mantra. We foist them on others and forge them for ourselves, invisible chains.

Dumb. Unloved. Retarded. Ugly. Unvalued.

What kind of names do we give ourselves? When we look in the mirror, what do we call our own faces? When we step out the door, how do we address our own friends?

We label everything, slap on and spit out names that may sting longer than we know.

Our words are killing us slowly–a poisonous death that we scarcely notice. And surely the tongue has the power of death (Proverbs 18:21).

The young man across the table from me in Sunday School had a rose blooming full and red on his left forearm, and words scripted in green across the other arm.

Sinner.

I wondered if it was a recent way of evangelizing his biker friends or something he had acknowledged about himself long before coming to faith.

What makes a man write the secret sins of his heart upon his body for all to see? Does it make the pain ebb? Does it make the guilt cease?

Words of condemnation are the echoes of our broken hearts and dark-twisted souls. We mutter them to ourselves to keep us somehow feeling through the numbness. We fling them at others to somehow make ourselves seem less fragile.

In our darkness, all we can do is pronounce the death settling upon us all.

But what if a word could bring life?

What if a man was also God, and what if he was God’s own speech wrapped up in sinew, with a mouth instead of letters, and a life instead of pages? What if God’s own Word came down and spoke life to us?

Into the labels of “Hated” and “Sinner,” He steps and looks around.

And He doesn’t contradict them, because we are. Hated, yes, by others. And, worse our sinning hearts disgust the God of holiness (Psalm 11:5). Hated.

Sinner. He confirms it. He goes out of His way to make sure we get the fact that we are dirty, incapable of working our own way to God.

Hated. Sinner.

God Himself does not deny our plight.

How can words bring life to this? How can our mess of hate and sin be solved by words, when all we know to do is remind ourselves of despair?

“I have come.”

He has come? To us? But…whatever for? We, the Hated? We, the Sinner?

“That you might have life.”

Life for the desolate, the dirty, the despised? Life, indeed….for me?

“And have it more abundantly.”

Abundance? When I have inscribed my sin on my skin until I can see nothing but my own decay, smell nothing but my own foul stench in God’s nose, feel nothing but the jagged rasp of my throat when I try to speak my cursed mantra again?

How can He–this Word-man–make it all whole again? How can he draw the indelible sin-stain from my forehead?

How can these names be erased?

Piecing together the things He has said, I can almost imagine the scene: He stoops before me–me, the Hated–writing my sins in the sand.

“I will take the hate. I will be despised and rejected instead of you (Isaiah 53). I will take the anger of God Almighty at your rebellion. I will bear the brunt of His wrath. I will take your shame….

“And do you know why?

“Because I have loved you with an everlasting love (Jeremiah 31:3). I have come that you might have life, and have it more abundantly (John 10:10). Because this is how much God loves this world–He sent me to die for your redemption (John 3:16).”

I, the Sinner, am so like the woman caught in sin and dragged to Jesus, a scarlet blush stamped like condemnation on each of her red cheeks. But when the living Word-man speaks, I start to feel the names I’ve been called slip loose from my shoulders.

And when the Word dies, the Word truly does give life.

When my heart knelt at His cross, and visited His empty tomb, the names that weighed me down rolled away.

Hated…no! No more. I am loved, with that Love everlasting, that Word that will not fail. I am loved.

The ink-stain of hate is washed in holy blood and I have a new name stamped on my head–Daughter of the Most High.

Sinner? Ah, no longer am I under the curse of that name. Its power is drained. My arms no longer ache with the weight of that name printed on them. That too has been washed.

And what instead is written on my arms?

Redeemed. Redeemed.

And oh…

Oh, oh, how I love to proclaim it.


 “My name is graven on His hands, my name is written on His heart.

I know that while in heaven He stands, no tongue can bid me thence depart.”

– Charitie Lees Smith, from “Before the Throne of God Above” –

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Eden Replanted

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

– Frederick W. Robertson –


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

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

For decomposing tissue to knit back seamless

And blood to gush and pulse in gloriously awakened veins?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– 1 Corinthians 15:20-22, NKJV –

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

The gardener? So she thought.

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Full of grace and power and love again,

Eden Replanted.

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

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

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


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

– Colossians 1:18-20, NKJV –

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

Radical Grace

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


 

I’ve tried to run on ephemeral moments.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Isn’t it?

Ah, silly girl that I am.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jesus is Right Here, now.

And His call is to things I never dreamed.

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

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

Well, I’m not, not exactly.

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

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

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

Not you. Not just you. Me too.

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

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

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

The author’s point?

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

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

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

That takes power indeed.

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

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

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

Christianity is not being a re-packaged superhero.

Christianity is being a reborn Christ-imitator.

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

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

You asked to go serve in a soup kitchen?

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

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

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

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

Let’s do something Radical.

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

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


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

– John 13:12-17 NKJV, emphasis mine –

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

 

 

 

Unsurpassed

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Trying to figure out God is like trying to catch a fish in the Pacific Ocean with an inch of dental floss

– Matt Chandler –

I’m staggered by this.

That God is the Center, the only One worthy of glory.

And for Him to seek this glory is not arrogant–because what is arrogance but viewing yourself as higher than you are? That’s not a problem for God–there isn’t anyone higher!

What glorious kingliness, to be perfectly Love, Light, Truth, Beauty, Justice, Power!

Nothing surpasses Him.

“Lord, I come before You
To honor and adore You,
For who You are and all that You have done.
Lord, I am not worthy,
My heart is dark and dirty.
Still somehow You bid for me to come.

So clothe me in humility,
Remind me, that I come before a King,

And there is nothing,
There is nothing,
More precious, more worthy.
May I gaze deeper,
May I stand longer,
May I press onward to know You, Lord.”

– “There Is Nothing,” by Laura Story –

So then, no wonder He cannot give this glory away.

“I am the Lord; that is my name;
 I don’t hand out my glory to others
or my praise to idols.”

– Isaiah 42:8, CEB, emphasis mine –

One distant speck of a planet, less than a fleck of dust in a galaxy, a breath, next to nothing in the midst of a horde of starry swirls, monstrous asteroids, and revolving planets.

And in this miniscule dot of a planet, there are tiny fists that dare shake at the cosmos.

People. A filmy shudder of vapor, a breath of passing wind. Yet we humans somehow dare to lift our chins in defiance. Somehow, we dare to declare ourselves as gods, as the deciding force of the universe.

“You have always been because what it is that you are is God, or Divine Intelligence, but God takes on individual forms, droplets, reducing its power to small particles of individual consciousness.”

– Gary Zukav –

God in heaven laughs.

How could He not?

The sheer absurdity of His created creatures, who to Him must be like the tiniest insects in strength, lifting our powerless fists in uprising.

And meanwhile, His power makes all things hold together. It is not possible–but what if God were to allow another to have His glory? Would not the very foundations of the universe crumble? Would not this fabric of existence unravel in an instant?

In the face of our pitiful, obstinate mutiny, how easy it would be for Him to lightly press down His finger and smudge away that microscopic creation from the page of His story.

Yet He doesn’t. Instead, He steps down and takes on the frame of one of these dust specks.

The God of galaxies, Lord of stars spangled like diamonds across heaven’s velvet. The Controller of planetary spins and brilliant fireball-suns and crashing tsunamis and quaking subterranean plates.

Be still, speechless, breathless at this:

This God came to us.

To us.

Does this crumble your ego? It should. What He chose to do should make us quake.

Because the Alpha, without beginning, was born out of a teenage womb into a pile of manured straw.

Because the Omega, endless One, died, bearing the brunt of the Father’s justice.

God in skin–raw, ripped, bloody skin.

Becoming a human, He used that moment to atone for the vileness of those He created.

With the same breathing-out that filled the lungs of the first man, the first to raise a fist against Him

With that breath, He cried out, having bared His pure heart to the dagger of His Father’s fury. He breathed out, one last exhalation.

A shout of cosmic victory. “It is finished!”

He warned that praiseless lips would make the rocks cry out. The stones and mountains did–shaking and roaring and cracking with the darkness that fell, vibrated to pieces by his cry of triumph.

God with us died for us, because of us. Right there, on a man-hewn plank of wood.

Who else was pure enough to be the sacrifice?

Who else was man enough to suffer with us and for us? To intimately know us?

Who else was God enough to overcome even death?

Because, this God is so beyond our strength that Death itself was no match for Him. He rose.

He rose!

I really can’t comprehend this.

I can’t grasp how high He is, how clean and glorious and marvelous He is in comparison to us. I don’t think my human eyes can hold that much light or fathom that depth of spectrum. My human heart can’t seem to grasp how much of His atoning pain was because of my rebellion. My ears can’t hear all of Love’s harmonies, though I hope the music will grow stronger as I journey. My mind can’t expand enough to allow God’s thoughts to enter.

I can only bow.

Mr. Chandler’s right. I feel strikingly like I’m holding an inch of dental floss.

Maybe less than an inch.

“When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers,
The moon and the stars, which You have ordained,
What is man that You are mindful of him,
And the son of man that You visit him?”

– Psalm 8:3-4, NKJV, emphasis mine –

Thank you to Gale Titus and Public Domain Pictures for today’s spacescape!