the beauty of holiness

As a follow up to yesterday (and as a point of clarification), I'll let John Piper give a little background for the "killing sin" comment in my post. This is an excerpt from the sermon yesterday that concluded the conference, available here in manuscript form.

The beauty of holiness in God’s children is the harmony, or the concord, between our lives and the infinite value of all God is. And that God predestined us to holiness because his aim is that earth be filled with the beauty of holiness — the expression of the infinite worth of his transcendent fullness.

And on the way to that predestined beauty we have seen that God cancelled the sins of his people by the death of his Son. And then he commanded that we break the power of this cancelled sin — that we kill sin and pursue holiness. And then he instructed us to act the miracle of holiness by the power of the Spirit, and because he is at work in us to will and to do this very miracle. He authors it, we act it. And then he showed us that we tap into this sanctifying, sin-killing, holiness-producing power by the hearing of faith. By hearing all that God promises to be for us in Jesus, and embracing this as our supremely satisfying treasure.

I love that "on the way to that predestined beauty we have seen that God cancelled the sins of his people by the death of his Son."

We are swept up into this way-more-than-my-lifetime journey toward predestined beauty, but not by accident or afterthought. We are swept up intentionally, commanded to break the power of our cancelled sin and instructed to act this miracle of sanctification by the power of the Spirit and through the hearing of faith. On the way to an end God could already be enjoying, He sets us (saints in Christ's name) on the holiness path with eyes to see both the abundant joy of the path and the unbelievable delight in God's aim is to fill the whole earth with His holiness.

Do I make much of my Savior - do I love Him supremely by acting the miracles He has authored in my life?

I'm still chewing on this, but there's plenty of meat to go around. What are your thoughts?

let LOVE fly like cRaZy

God the author, we the actors

I assume a certain posture when words escape me. Thankfully, it's a much more culturally acceptable posture than the one of my mind in the same moment (jumping, leaping, and exploding with wild gestures). It looks like pursed lips, furrowed and thoughtful brows, shoulders bent in, and eyes fixated on the thought threatening to wriggle free of my grasp. This is how I spent the weekend - with body borderline catatonic while my mind raced after revelations that came as a steady stream through the preaching and teaching from the Word at the Desiring God Conference. My pen sped across journal pages to scratch out notes and doodle inspirations; every once in a while I would nod or grunt or breathe out an "Amen!" with an agreement my heart could feel.

I think I would say this is one of many postures of praise, informed by a grace I still don't fully appreciate. It is in this posture I heard these words,

God works in you as the Author of the miracle and then you act the miracle.

Jesus gave sight to the blind, but it is the blind man who opened his eyes to do the seeing. Jesus healed the lame man, but it was the lame man who stood up to do the walking. Jesus canceled my debt of sin at the cross (Colossians 2:15), but it is I who must do the living out of my new sinless status. Through faith, it is I who must daily conquer that canceled sin by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Imagine if the blind man had not opened his eyes or the lame man had not stood up to walk. Imagine the miracles begging to be acted out, already authored by God but with hearts unwilling to be the actors. If the blind man does not open his eyes or the lame man does not stand, there is no evidence that he can see or stand. We must act out this miracle because in its acting out we see its reality.

I must act the miracle God authored because, as John Piper said, "Killing sin - pursuing holiness - is essential for salvation. The will to kill sin is the SIGN that sin is canceled."

Whooooosh. Like the thrill in knowing a roller coaster must descend with the rush of gravity after climbing to its highest height, my heart raced with these words that explained a truth already hidden in my soul.

Though my arms waved wildly in my mind, I maintained my outward posture of praise as I considered sanctification. I felt literally swept up in the joy and exhilaration of acting out the miracle God has already authored in my life. The process of becoming holy begins with the reality that God is holy - and we are invited to share in His holiness (Hebrews 12:10).

We are invited to be like God (1 Peter 1:14-16) as we effectively conform our feelings, thoughts, and actions into complete harmony the infinite worth of the transcendent, trinitarian fullness of God.

What. an. invitation.

let LOVE fly like cRaZy

brushstrokes like fire

 

This series of moments called autumn, when fall picks up her paintbrush and tickles the leaves with shades of fire, is favorite. When the morning wakes up to shine the sun's spotlight on the trees stretching out in multi-colored glory, you might as well give me a brown paper package all tied up with string.

This is favorite. (so much so that it is indeed worthy of noun status)

Autumn. Harvest. Provision. Beauty. Gatherings. Family. Colors. Bonfires. Hot drinks. Fall. Road trips. Friends. Books. Blankets.

When the September sun warms like a blanket on a cool, 70 degree day, Creation sings melody along with its painful, groaning harmony to the tune of "already, not yet."

Even the seasons invite a study of God!

I delight in the beauty of the season unfolding around me, but I am acutely aware of all the ways Creation groans for complete restoration - where beauty can be displayed forever, free from any threat to its perfect and colorful song.

Here, in this season of beauty, we are home. And here, in this season of beauty, we long for home.

So, today I am singing with lungs and heart full of praise for the One who invites me in to His  always home.

 

when home is hard to... define

If you ever want to get good and sad, do a search in your iTunes for the word "home." I trimmed the playlist to 50, but that's 3:30:06 worth of accompaniment for where I'm not. I've got quite the assortment - from the Peasall Sisters to Coheed and Cambria, from Matthew Mayfield to Waterdeep and from Eliza Doolittle to Trent Dabbs, from Mark Scibila to Iron & Wine and Mates of State to Sarah Jarosz. Simon & Garfunkel even make an appearance, followed by Phil Wickham and William Fitzsimmons.

And they are all singing, desperate and hopeful, about home.

I can't really explain it, but these melodies rustle up a restlessness that says, "You're not home in this moment" and it doesn't even matter where my feet are currently planted. I could be standing in the middle of my childhood home or lounging in one of 10 places I've called "home" since then and it wouldn't matter. There's something distinctly not home-y about life and there are reasons to be discontent about it.

Come on, join in with me. Throw your discontent in my kettle and we'll stir us up some comfort food.

I'm not where I thought I would be at 27... I really wish I had the kind of friends who... It seems like nobody really knows me around here... My laundry does not have the "this definitely came from my house" smell... I can manage to go from Monday - Friday completely anonymous, if I want... If only I could get away and have some time to think... I would feel at home if I was a "regular" at the coffee shop... Home feels more like a tractor when I'm at an office desk and more like an office desk when I'm in a tractor...

I don't know what makes where you are not home, but it's a funny science - this discontent. I think I realized as my heart beat along with the rhythm of these tunes that I need to add home and here and there to the list of "things to hold loosely."

When we are tempted into discontent about the place we find our two feet (for all the pages of reasons we rush to number), it's okay to be honest. It's okay to sing sad songs about home and speak our discontent into the unforgiving air.

But discontent will become our sin when we hold too tightly and hope too strongly for what we don't have.... then discontent becomes a bitter root or a seed of jealousy. Our comfort in the most desperate, sojourning moments is that our always home is not attached to location or city or nation.

In those kind of moments - when I think about all the places I am not - I breathe deep and trust that God is.

If you need to speak your wandering, sojourning spirit into the unforgiving air today, here are some tunes. But, please, don't hold too tightly or hope too strongly for what you don't have.

You have an invitation to always home.

[vimeo http://vimeo.com/37645381]

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dHAZz6HqJ8U]

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zM3-gGB_rMw]

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rbr80q4Rq1o]

Here is the one you listen to when you realize where you are always home.

let LOVE fly like cRaZy

wherever your feet are planted in this moment

why a scrunched up nose is never becoming

Awhile back my brother said something that got under my skin. I mean, really got good and messy - hit a nerve I think because I flared up real defensive like. He said he hoped I wasn't becoming a cynic.

I scoffed and stuttered and scrunched up my nose in protest. Cynic? Me? The one who thinks optimistically about how many plans can be overlapped in one day and about how many grocery bags can be carried at once and that if you sing a song loud enough or dance a jig brave enough the whole world will notice? Me?

I didn't take it very well.

He brought it up because I wasn't really a fan of the newest social justice movement to hit social media. I wasn't against it, necessarily, but I wasn't throwing money in their direction either. The way I described it to my brother Sam was like this, "There are a lot of good things going on out there - a lot of people doing good. I just choose to support other causes."

Recently, while reading "A Praying Life" by Paul Miller, I decided it was about the shape of my eyes and the scrunch of my nose when I look at the world. I would never describe myself as a cynic, but there are times when I look at the world like nothing is possible. Like we're "headed to hell in a handbasket" and "if you can't beat 'em, join 'em" - all the older folk, that is, who sit in the diners with 50 cent bottomless coffees and talk about how "everything's gone to pot."

Maybe that's when having an old soul is unfortunate - when you feel like you've seen enough of life to know that people don't follow through and good causes are corrupt and you can't even trust your own resolve.

That's when I realized the danger of furrowed eyebrows and a scrunched up nose. There's no wonder in that facial expression; no joy in the possibility of ANYTHING being possible. The danger of furrowed eyebrows and a scrunched up nose is what we don't want to grow up into. Because we never want to grow out of wide-eyed wonder. Never. Well, I don't at least. I always want to breathe hope in with deep, lung-filling breaths.

I want to live like everything is possible - like one person really can move a mountain by faith or bring a rainstorm with prayer or heal a paralytic with petitions. I want to believe that God could paint the sky in new colors tonight and that tomorrow I could wake up and not need my glasses (I always squint like spiderman to see if I'm cured).

I want to live like everything is possible because a scrunched up nose is never becoming. It's  not attractive to throw water on the fire in people's bellies and I think that's sometimes what I do with my scrunched up nose.

Today was gloriously opposite a scrunched up nose. Today FILLED to overflowing with possibility and I'm still drinking it in as my fingers stiffen with the cool, autumn air on the back porch. Today, my eyes were wide with the wonder of Creation singing the praise of its Creator while I breathed in deep so I could sing along.

I sent my brother a text the other day to thank him for calling me out. It probably seemed strange that it took me so long, but I'm thankful even if I am slow in learning.

let LOVE fly like cRaZy

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Fz4ZOAsjW6g&feature=related] Thanks, Amanda, for delighting my ears with this brilliance!

shouting praise with sinner-strangers

Lord of all the earth we shout Your name, shout Your nameFilling up the skies with endless praise, endless praise Yahweh, Yahweh! We love to shout Your name O, Lord!

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S0eL88Zufic&feature=related]

There was something sacred about a the crowd of sinners filling up the Knapp Center with praise last night. And I'm not just saying that because sacred sounds postmodern and ambiguous and the right kind of religious. I use the word sacred because sometimes I need to shake off all my cynicism about Christian music and shout the name of the Lord with a bunch of stranger-sinners because the Lord deserves my praise.

Period.

I didn't know very many people - what kind of car they drove up in or what kind of family situation they'd be driving back to after we all filed out - but we must have all understood the invitation to fill the skies with praise. I was literally sing-shouting in harmonizing fashion and I couldn't stop the grin that raced across my face. I felt like Will Ferrell in Elf,"I'm in love, I'm in love and I don't care who knows it."

J.I. Packer said, "Any theology that does not lead to song is, at a fundamental level, a flawed theology." And sometimes we have to start singing to remember all the songs hidden in our hearts. Sometimes we get wrapped up in the time signature and the notes on the page and the really tricky key change on page 43... and we forget to sing.

We forget all His benefits. We forget His abundant goodness. We forget what we once were. We forget He is the Giver of every good and perfect gift.

We forget to sing.

I really did get a little overwhelmed - thinking about all the sin we brought into that place; all the brokenness and despair and guilt and regret that hung on us like dark clouds. Sin is not unfortunate or uncomfortable - not something we can "get over" or medicate with the right public service announcement. I got overwhelmed because there was a song on the other side of the dark clouds hanging from all of us sinner-strangers.

There is a song to sing when we step back and look at the sheet music and realize the Lord of all the Earth upholds all who are falling and raises up all who are bowed down. He is Provider, satisfying the desires of every living thing. He is righteous and kind and near to those who call on Him in truth (Psalm 145:14-18 paraphrase).

His response to a bunch of sinner-strangers singing His praise is delight. He delights in the praises of His people (Psalm 149:4). He delights. The Lord of all the Earth delights when sinner-strangers sing His praise.

Please, let's not forget to sing.

I will extol you, my God and King, and bless your name forever and ever. Every day I will bless you and praise your name forever and ever. Great is the LORD, and greatly to be praised, and his greatness is unsearchable. One generation shall commend your works to another, and shall declare your mighty acts. On the glorious splendor of your majesty, and on your wondrous works, I will meditate. They shall speak of the might of your awesome deeds, and I will declare your greatness. They shall pour forth the fame of your abundant goodness and shall sing aloud of your righteousness. The LORD is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. The LORD is good to all, and his mercy is over all that he has made. All your works shall give thanks to you, O LORD, and all your saints shall bless you! They shall speak of the glory of your kingdom and tell of your power, to make known to the children of man your mighty deeds, and the glorious splendor of your kingdom. Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and your dominion endures throughout all generations. [The LORD is faithful in all his words and kind in all his works.] The LORD upholds all who are falling and raises up all who are bowed down. The eyes of all look to you, and you give them their food in due season. You open your hand; you satisfy the desire of every living thing. The LORD is righteous in all his ways and kind in all his works. The LORD is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth. He fulfills the desire of those who fear him; he also hears their cry and saves them. The LORD preserves all who love him, but all the wicked he will destroy. My mouth will speak the praise of the LORD, and let all flesh bless his holy name forever and ever. (Psalm 145 ESV)

when the beat becomes the rhythm

I'm not sure what that means,

when the beat becomes the rhythm

but it seems like what's happening to my prayers. I think I was trying to tackle 4/4 time -  to wrestle my prayer life into a disciplined and acceptable metronome pace. I'm not sure, but I think something beautiful is happening.

My prayers are sounding desperate. My prayers are starting with, "Oh, I don't know..." and "Oh, help me trust You..." My prayers are getting frequent.

Have you ever found yourself bobbing your head to a song, without wanting to or meaning to bob your head at all?

Maybe there's no disciplining or wrestling ourselves into the right kind of prayer life.

What if we're drawn into the rhythm of prayer by the beat of our desperate hearts? What if, when we finally get good and helpless, prayer is the song we bob our hearts to in those moments of anxiety or months of indecision?

What if the beat becomes the rhythm?

let LOVE fly like cRaZy

I'm reading A Praying Life by Paul E. Miller right now with a small group and loving the journey. I definitely encourage you to check it out.

joy: a moral obligation

Given the opportunity to experience joy, are we morally obligated to take advantage? My cousin Vince sent me a text in the hours between night and morning - just a little note about he and his new college friends wrestling with the idea of joy.

It's something I've been in the middle of pondering for a couple days and reading his text in partial wakefulness brought it into clearer view - what do we do when joy is on the other side of an open door?

Open Doors

"Taste and see that the Lord is good," from Psalm 34:8 and "Delight in the Lord and He will give the desires of your heart," from Psalm 37:4 both imply action before experience. A person can read these verses a hundred times, recite them with monk-like stoicism and meditate on them with scholarly reverence. But, there is a threshold implied in the command, for tasting and seeing happen only with open mouth and eyes.

Something must be eaten to be tasted, no? Something must be experienced before it is pronounced delightful, no?

What do these open doors to joy look like and how many have I walked by?

It's crazy how relentless God is to pursue us with opportunities to experience Him. He doesn't give up when I pass by an open door marked "FOR YOUR JOY" with a foolish hope that there is something better down the road. He doesn't flinch when I've opted out of His best for my safe settling of just okay. His patience in pursuit overwhelms me because it's so altogether different from our apathetic inclinations.

I'm still thinking through these joy questions - still trying to figure out if it's a sin to walk by those open doors clearly marked for God's glory and my joy. But I'm not confused about joy being good. It's something I'm willing to fight for.

Here are some helpful ways to fight for joy, from John Piper at Desiring God.

the naked state of nescience

"If you know what a man's doing, get in front of him; but if you want to guess what he's doing, keep behind him. Stray when he strays; stop when he stops; travel as slowly as he. Then you may see what he saw and may act as he acted."

Wise words spoken by the character Valentin in G.K. Chesterton's novel The Complete Father Brown Mysteries. He is tracking a notorious thief, Flambeau, and explaining to two policemen why he chose to track the thief in a bus instead of in a much faster taxi.

Aristide Valentin is Chief of the Paris Police, but in this particular thief-chasing caper, he didn't have any clue where to look. He was stuck in what he called the "naked state of nescience." I like how he is so articulate about his lack of knowledge - I guess sometimes we need to sound impressive and confident even about our ignorance. I'm most interested, though, in Valentin's method in chasing the thief once he realizes how little he knows.

His method? "If you want to guess what he's doing, keep behind him."

I've been trying to figure out what it means to follow Jesus and I think I'll take a cue from Valentin on this one.

I'm not about to propose I know enough of what Jesus is doing to get in front of Him, but I'll confess I've done it before. I've run ahead, made plans, entertained assumptions and arrived at conclusions. The more I study the life of Jesus, the more I think Valentin's tracking tactic is the way to understand my Savior.

Because I seem to always be in the naked state of nescience when it comes to doing justice, loving mercy and walking humbly with God. So, in my searching today, I will remember:

Keep behind him. Travel as slowly as He. See what He sees so I can act as He would act.

 

let LOVE fly like cRaZy

 

 

don't rush past this

It's Friday and my mind is not a mess. Don't rush past that sentence... it's kind of a big deal. Normally, blog posts are inspired by conflict or tension or frustration and my mind is mixed up like college freshman at orientation week luau. But, not today!

Last night I shared delicious tomato pie and conversation with friends and later processed (our code for questioning everything) with my Honduran sister. Laughter sprinkled over everything like the right amount of salt because I got up this morning rejoicing.

Don't rush past this, I keep telling myself. It's good to be serious, but OH! it's good to laugh - to breathe in deeply and enjoy all the very good things.

Last night, as Alejandra and I filled the phone line with chatter, she shared something that sent me spiraling (gladly) back into my fascination with words. She was trying to smoosh a week's worth of life into a string of words when she said,

I don't know if I should say this. I mean, I haven't told anyone here because there is no one to tell... but I haven't even thought about it until this moment. I'm saying the words right now and actually thinking about this for the first time. If I say it, then... words have power and I will start thinking about it more. When I speak it, it's real, you know?

I think she probably put it together a little differently, but that was the gist. Words have power. About that, I was already convinced. But, the way she said it made me think. Thoughts just hang in the air without consequence, but speaking thoughts into words is like putting weights on balloons... or putting weights on stars that then make a terrain-altering crater.

I shared what mesmerizes me the same glorious amount no matter how many times I speak it: In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God (John 1:1) and then God said (Genesis 1:3). Back when things were formless and void, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit creatively conspired and then SPOKE. We speak and we describe things, but God speaks and things are. He chose to use language and from His words came galaxies and planets and gravity and microorganisms. After His words formed the world, God kept speaking. Throughout all of the Old Testament, we listen for God's words to the Israelites - his instruction, rebuke, correction, and encouragement. And then, after 400 years of silence, God's words became a human. The WORD of God was walking around, stretching his little arms in the morning light and breaking bread around a table for the evening meal. The Word of God - the very language of Creation - was one man. In the Word (Jesus) all things hold together (Colossians 1:17). All things.

Whew.

Words have power and that's why I'm type-speaking the wonder of this morning into existence. I won't let it rush past, because it's Friday and my mind is not a mess.

There is laughter hidden in the most unlikely of places today and I intend to find all of it.

let LOVE fly like cRaZy

treasuring Christ means sharing the treasure

If I was to write letters to the people who have heard the gospel from my lips, I wonder if I could say what Paul said.

For we never came with words of flattery, as you know, nor with a pretext for greed—God is witness. Nor did we seek glory from people, whether from you or from others, though we could have made demands as apostles of Christ. But we were gentle among you, like a nursing mother taking care of her own children. So, being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us.

(1 Thessalonians 2:5-8 ESV)

As I read from Paul's pen, I imagine what it must have felt like to know he and his little missionary band were "affectionately desirous" of me - ready to share the Gospel and their very lives because I was so dear to them.

Hm. These words come to mind: treasured, valued, loved.

Though I'm sure you would make assumptions about my extrovertedness if we met, relationships aren't something I instinctually sacrifice to develop. Often (ahem, too often) I would rather choose a book or a journal or precious time writing over developing relationships.

I remember moving to Austin, Texas after I graduated from college. After living with college friends for four years, renting a room from a nice couple in the suburbs was quite the adjustment. I read a lot of books those first few months. Sometimes, I would go to BORDERS to see how many books I could finish on the overstuffed chair in the biography section (I was on a bit of a budget). But, I'll never forget the phone calls I would receive from my new Austin friends. It would be 6 pm on a Thursday night - prime time to dig in to my newest biography on Blaise Pascal - and I would get a call from Katelin or Stephanie or Christine.

Selfishly, I knew Blaise Pascal was safe - that he wouldn't make drama or ask much of me. There was something else, though, that stirred me to say, "...Sure! I'll meet you there in 15 minutes." That something else was hidden in my DNA, woven into my identity by the hand of God while I was still in my mom's tummy.

We were made for relationship. We were designed to enjoy and share and give life in relationship.

Christ Himself proved it was a good design when He became flesh - intentionally walking into humanity as a human who reached out to serve, love, give, and bless. He did not stoop to walk in a flawed design. No, He lived life showing us how it was truly designed to be lived.

Being human is not an unfortunate mistake. God's design is good and the life of Jesus reveals it to be beautifully so.

And how is it that Paul can write with such deep love and sacrifice for the people with whom he shared the Gospel? Because Paul had experienced being treasured and valued and loved by God. Paul was overwhelmed by the amount of grace and mercy he'd received and wanted nothing more than to be spent living as Christ.

Treasuring Christ above all else means sharing the treasure.

let LOVE fly like cRaZy

believing the gospel is beautiful means sitting in the theatre

There is a way of sharing the gospel that makes people wish it was true, even if they believe it's not. At least, Tim Keller thinks so (The Faith to Doubt Christianity). There is a way of sharing the gospel that draws people in first because it's beautiful. Not at first because it's reasonable or socially responsible or sweet sounding, but because it is simply beautiful.

I know we can do battle about beauty - what it is and who decides - but that's for another day (and a day that's already been).

Today, I'm trying to be a student of this kind of gospel sharing. I'm trying to understand what it means to put the beauty of redemption on display - to draw back the curtain on the glorious story acted out on the living stage. I'm trying to remember what it felt like to see the hero die for the villain... and the horrible knot in my gut when I realized the villain was me.

To share a beautiful story, one must believe the story is beautiful.

And for that, I must go and sit in the theatre. I must watch wide-eyed and remember every interaction and every awe-inspiring stage direction. I must hang on every word because every time I know the villain is doomed, but every time the story plays out opposite what I am sure I know. And it is beautiful.

To share a beautiful story, one must first believe the story is beautiful.

There is a way to share the gospel that makes a person sit on the edge of their seat and hang on every word. There is a way to share the gospel that makes one appreciate and even wonder at the beauty so much that one wishes it was true.

I want to learn this way. And so I must go again to the theatre.

let LOVE fly like cRaZy

fruit is meant to be eaten

 

My uncle sent me a text not too long ago after I asked him about the farms in southwest Iowa. It read, "Many mouths will be empty in the world, I fear." The summer has been a big, ugly drought here in the Midwest.

And that has me thinking about provision.

There's no way around it - we need food. We might be confused about how much we need, but the fact that we need it is not up for debate. We are wired to need food.

The reality that we depend on food is something God uses every day to remind us of our dependence on Him. When we have daily bread, we are thankful. When we lack daily bread, we remember that He is the bread of life. Whether we are hungry or full, God is always the Provider.

As I think about the fruit produced in John 15, I wonder what happens to all of the produce. Have you ever thought of that? God is the vine and we are the branches. If we remain in Him, we will bear MUCH FRUIT. It is clear that God is the Provider - what branch can produce fruit separate from the vine? But, for the person who remains in the Lord, what is to become of the fruit he/she produces? Does it just accumulate and then fall to the ground under the fruit-heavy branches?

Fruit is meant to be eaten, at least where I come from. I love the summer months that bring blueberries and sweet bing cherries. I love the fall months that bring Honeycrisp apples and grapes and pomegranates. I love the winter months that bring out the canned peaches and strawberry jams. I love these fruits because they are delicious.

So, what if we thought of the fruit on our branches in the same way? What if, as we are remaining in the Lord - knowing Him, finding out what pleases Him, and delighting to do those things - we are a fruit factory

What if God serves up fruit through our lives so that others can taste and see that HE IS GOOD? Isn't this what it says in Matthew 5:16, "Let your light shine bright before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise the Father in heaven."?

As we remain in Him, we cannot help but produce fruit - delicious, ripe, fresh-off-the-vine fruit. Now, if we could just find ways to serve others with this precious produce. Our fruit is not meant to rot on the branch, but to be shared and enjoyed!

The fruit produced by branches connected to the vine is meant to be eaten by others, enjoyed by others, and served to others. Let this be the way we handle the fruit of the Spirit.

hit by a train

The second time she told me I was really listening.

It's like I told you, Care. Being saved is like getting hit by a train. I imagine there are millions of pieces just splattered everywhere... and that's the end of it. Only a miracle - a straight up act of God Himself - could manage to fit those pieces together. Only God could make me whole after a disaster like that.

She was talking about salvation and this time I was really listening. I already knew Alejandra's life was a miracle, but hearing her tell her salvation story made me realize how little I had to do with it. It was really always this: she had stepped into the path of destruction and then God stepped in to offer a miracle - a life that is whole.

The next thing she said shouldn't have been shocking, but there is always more to learn about salvation.

I don't understand how people can have a middle phase to faith. I mean, when you get hit by a train, you either stay blasted in pieces or there is a miracle to make you whole.

And that's the truth. There's no "call me, maybe" in this scenario, no lukewarm in this salvation equation. The only way to be sure you are "in" is to think you must be "out" (to borrow from Tim Keller). The only way to experience the highest delight in this life is to know that it is a miracle of grace to experience anything at all.

We must never, ever lose sight of that train or the tracks that we tread toward our destruction. We must never, ever lose sight of the magnitude of the miracle that put life in our dead bones.

And if you are still on the tracks, blasted into bits by your own doing, know that there is One who desires you do not remain destroyed. And He is the One with the power to do something about it.

let LOVE fly like cRaZy

training is the best accountability

We've established I'm not a runner (see 'lost in cornfield' story). But I do like to run. I like the the time it gives me to think and I like how all the jostling helps my loose marbles make some sense.

I set off for a run the other day and, as is usually the case, decided how long I would run based on my plans for the night. As I considered my route, I thought about why a runner trains. I remembered the first question people asked me after I finished Dam to Dam, "When's your next race?" Everyone assumed I had become "one of those runners" who was always looking for the next race. I thought, "Sure, I'll do it again."

But as I mentally mapped out my route (that I'd determined should take me 45 minutes max), I realized why runners sign up for races.

signing up for a race is the best accountability for training for a race

I know it's not rocket science, but it seemed pretty profound to me as the loose marbles starting making sense on Duff Avenue. The motivation for training comes from the goals for race day. Then race day happens. And then you sign up for another race. People have told me that you lose weeks of training in days and now I know it's true. A whole lot of training and accomplishment and hard work amounts to little after a few days off.

And so, of course, I think about this Christian race we're running. We stretch and train and beat our bodies into submission because we are training for something. And, I wonder if Paul felt the weight of "not having attained it" after every race he finished - every missionary journey and shipwreck and public sermon - he immediately signed up for another. His training built on training and there was never a time where he wasn't preparing because there was never a time he wasn't signed up for a race.

I wonder this because I can see the temptation after a race to wait, consider, and "rest" in a way that smacks excuses. When we finish something like a race, we feel accomplished and proud and (in some ways) as if we've arrived. When we believe it's all about us, we will fall hard and fast clinging to the comfortable title of "accomplished" that seals our fate and renders us useless.

What a beautiful thing to always have the prize in front of us, to always strain towards what is ahead, to always have something worth training for even as we cross the finish line.

Training is the best accountability for runners and you only train when you are signed up for a race. Today, I'm taking inventory. Today, I'm making sure I'm signed up.

let LOVE fly like cRaZy

a front row seat in the glorious theater

Darkness fell like a hush; the lights circled us as we circled the fire. The jumping glow splashed on our faces and warmed our autumn skin as we cupped black coffee in thankful hands. The sky speckled with stars and the creatures sang out their evening melodies. And we sat in the front row in the glorious theater of God.

After reading Bonhoeffer by Eric Metaxas, we had all carried around conversations that couldn't happen over the phone and couldn't happen half-hearted. This night was set apart to try to understand someone from the great cloud of witnesses - to look at the life of someone who treasured the Lord in such a way that he was ruined for anything else.

And we sat in the front row in the glorious theater of God, right there in the backyard of an Iowa farmhouse.

The candles glowed in mason jars to light the path from the woodshop, where we enjoyed a bountiful spread of German delights, and inside I was a mess of emotion. A weighty, good mess of gratitude and purpose and joy and hope and pain and fear and defeat and doubt and sorrow. When despair seems simpler and right, stories of hope read more like fiction. But not last night... not when we remembered people whose lives were anchored by one thing, driven by one thing, delighted by one thing ... and not when I looked around at the firelit faces of my friends, whose struggles on stormy seas are anchored deep down by the same greatest treasure.

The struggle is not to stay upright, but to rejoice in the anchor which holds us. Bonhoeffer's life was not about making the message of Jesus look good or better or more intellectual than whatever religion his peers and countrymen presented. He was not about being interesting or popular or approachable, at least in the end. Bonhoeffer purposed to be about truth. He set out to know God and to draw others into a knowledge of God as it is revealed in the Word of God. His culture said a lot of things, burned a lot of books, and printed a lot of promotional materials for massive political campaigns... but Bonhoeffer had eyes to shake off the surface storms and cling to the hope that anchored and the only hope that would reveal the evil that had usurped the hearts of his countrymen.

This. This is beautiful, I thought.

I love how David Hall describes John Calvin's thoughts on our seats in the glorious theater.

Calvin described this world, moved by God’s providence, as theatrum gloriae. For him, every aspect of life from work to worship and from art to technology bears the potential to glorify God (Institutes, 1.11.12). Creation is depicted as a platform for God’s glory (1.14.20) or a “dazzling theater” (1.5.8; 2.6.1), displaying God’s glorious works. Calvin viewed the first commandment as making it unlawful to steal “even a particle from this glory” (2.8.16). Such comments support Lloyd-Jones’ later claim that for Calvin “the great central and all-important truth was the sovereignty of God and God’s glory.” ("The Theater of God's Glory" by David Hall at Ligonier Ministries)

I went away from the night knowing we hadn't talked about everything, hadn't appreciated history completely, hadn't understood theology thoroughly... but oh so thankful that we showed up at the theater. I'm thankful I have others with whom I can behold the glory of God and I'm thankful for the support we give each other to be unapologetic about truth.

Today, I am still purposing to know God, find out what pleases Him, and delight to do those things. And today I am thankful for those I can share steps with along the way.

let LOVE fly like cRaZy

the human referral effect

Today, I put on my über hip (but less than hipster) tortoise shell glasses with the confidence of someone who needs corrective lenses and wears them with style. Just to be clear, I think glasses for fashion only is silly and a waste of money. If you do have to purchase glasses, then making it a fashion statement is a bonus. But why am I talking about fashion, which is so clearly out of my realm of expertise? Because I bought my glasses online at Zenni Optical - which was WAY cooler than Factory Eyeglass Outlet, where my parents would take us to get glasses when we were growing up. Here's the cold, hard fact: glasses are crazy expensive! You could pay up to $400 for glasses and that was $350 above my parents' price range. You might assume I've really moved up in the world and am able to buy a $400 status symbol, but I haven't. Actually, $400 glasses are about $375 above my price range and I'm now very thankful for those extra dollars my parents were able to spend on "any pair with the yellow sticker, sweetie."

I heard about Zenni Optical from my friend Tina who heard about it from my sister, who googled cheap eyeglasses and then told everyone about her experience. It seems fake at first - almost like a really horrible practical joke because the price for a pair of sweet, hip lenses from their website is as low as $6.95. I know, I didn't believe it either.

But then they arrived in the mail and you couldn't pay me to NOT advertise for them. People would say, "Oh, your glasses are so cool!" and I'd always touch the corner, real studious like, and say with a shrug, "Oh, these? $12.00."

No one believes me at first, but eventually I get them to write down the website and promise to look it up for themselves. At $12, you can afford to buy 2 or 3 pairs just in case one breaks. And, if you lose a pair, you just skip going to the theatre and you've evened things up for your wallet!

Zenni has since really snazzed up their website and have a feature where you can virtually try on glasses to see how they look on your face.

Wow.

I haven't ordered a pair in several years, but I still get excited at the idea of someone else getting a good product for a good price.

And why all this about my glasses?

Because I read this article about the human referral effect in Forbes magazine that highlights another eyeglass outfitter who is committed to giving quality for a fair price. The author of the article, Alexander Taub (Iowa native, btw) talks about his Warby Parker purchase and the chain reaction of referrals that followed.

Bottom line: we like to point people in the direction of something wonderful... and not just the possibility of something wonderful, but the guarantee of something wonderful.

I love this idea. I love that humanity is a fan of guaranteed wonderful things and that we want other people to have guaranteed wonderful things too. I love that the human referral effect happens and that it happens so often and that Forbes magazine is taking notice.

What I wonder is if eyeglasses are the only thing we should be sending down this highly effective human pipeline. I wonder if this human referral effect is being extremely under utilized.

I wonder what would be the best thing for humans to refer to one another?

let LOVE fly like cRaZy

like wrestling a jellyfish

We were sitting around a crowded table at the youth offices with plastic plates piled with Abbey's ciabatta pesto creation and various other potluck offerings. Our Bibles and devotionals and journals were all spread open in the mix of things and we were talking about how Jesus learned things. He studied the Scriptures and realized what it was He was supposed to do. As he learned, he obeyed by submitting to what was prophesied about Him. Jesus learned things. Doesn't that sound crazy?

It could have been all the banana bread baking or the fumes of a newly refinished gym floor a few doors down, but as the realization settled in, we wrestled. We tried to make sense of Jesus being human - learning things from the Lord and learning things about life that he didn't know before. We wrestled through the possibility of another human obeying perfectly and submitting to the Father's will. Yes, we know it's not possible. We know that Jesus fulfilled the law. But, we thought about it. We wrestled.

And that's when I looked around and saw that we were thinking of things, imagining things, wrestling with things that made our minds hurt a little bit. It kind of just came out,

Sometimes, when we seek hard after the Lord in Scripture ... sometimes it's like wrestling a jellyfish.

They looked back at me blankly while the picture played in their minds. I probably should have, but I didn't take it back, because I really do think that our searching sometimes feels slippery and even that sometimes we are surprised by what we find. Sometimes answers seem illusive or strange and sometimes they sting. But, we're drawn into that wrestling match because there's something incredibly beautiful about knowing more of something so wonderful.

Yes, the analogy breaks down, as all analogies do.

But, until someone gives me a good reason not to, I'll keep wrestling the jellyfish as I seek to know more about my Savior, to find out what pleases Him, and then delight to do those things.

let LOVE fly like cRaZy

every promise, always kept

We suffer the sale of cheap words, but we buy them still.Every day their consequence cuts afresh the wound of our failure and exposes all the ways we fall short.

"The hill I'm walking up is gettin' good and steep but I'm still looking for a promise even I can't keep."

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mzIab7WI7-E&feature=related]

Brandi Carlile can sing. She can sing and boy! can she write. Her song, "A Promise to Keep" has been rolling around in my soul since she released a free EP on Noisetrade. When I listen to this song, my shoulders slump with sadness - a kind of resignation that wraps me in and weighs me down. The words are heavy bundles with long, painful sighs because the notes sing the melody of hurt.

Carlile sings hurt... maybe because she has suffered the sale of cheap words, but she buys them still. Maybe because she feels the consequence of fresh cut failure-wounds and is exposed to all the ways she falls short. It's a humanity kind of failure - a shortsightedness that presumes another promise spoken, believed, and broken.

My shoulders fold in and my lip shakes a little and I hurt with her for the insufferable exchange - the buying and selling of promises.

I still talk to you in my sleep I don't say much cause the hurt runs too deep I gave you the moon and the stars to keep but you gave them back to me

The hill I'm walkin up is gettin good and steep but I'm still looking for a promise even I can't keep

I still lay on my side of the bed I dance alone when the last bottle's spent memories like a river runnin through my head I'll have me an ocean before I'm dead

The hill I'm walkin up is gettin good and steep but I'm still looking for a promise even I can't keep

I still whisper sweet words to you and when I'm busy, or have nothing to do I pray to god, that my words ring true and that your words might reach me too

The hill I'm walkin up is gettin good and steep but I'm still looking for a promise even I can't keep I can't keep it...

My hearts in pieces so please understand I've tried to jump, but I've nowhere to land so give me your heart and I'll give you my hand and I'll try as goddamn hard as I can

The hill I'm walkin up is gettin good and steep but I'm still looking for a promise even I can't keep

She is desperate for an impossible promise and her grief is filling up oceans, recklessly hoping there is someone better than she. I get woven in to her grief like I'm knit right into the melody's sweater. I croon it out my car windows and sing it to the silent roof.

Why can't I find someone who keeps a promise these days? Why can't I keep a promise?

And with my heart freshly beaten, my soul cast down at our dreadfulness, I hear sweet words proclaimed from the pen of Paul.

For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, whom we proclaimed among you, Silvanus and Timothy and I, was not Yes and No, but in him it is always Yes. For all the promises of God find their Yes in him. That is why it is through him that we utter our Amen to God for his glory. And it is God who establishes us with you in Christ, and has anointed us, and who has also put his seal on us and given us his Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee. (2 Corinthians 1:19-22 ESV)

For the promises of God find their Yes in him (Christ).

Through Christ I can utter my beaten, battered, folded-in AMEN to God for his glorious promises kept to a suffering and obstinate people. Not one of us can sing Carlile's song and not know her hurt. But, oh! that we might claim the AMEN in Christ - who was the fulfillment of God's promises and evidence of God's faithfulness.

God establishes us in Christ, anoints us, puts his seal on us, and gives us his Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee.

The hills we walk up will get good and steep and full of suffering. But, even as we sing of our despair in broken promises, let us glory in the God whose promises are all Yes! in Christ. Every promise, always yes. Every promise, always kept.

let LOVE fly like cRaZy

how many daisies?

"Natalie. Build. Castle!"

"Oh, are we building a castle?"

"Uh-huh! Yep! Build castle!"

"Wow, look at that ca--"

"Natalie step on it!"

"Yep, you sure did. Now what are we going to do?"

"Natalie. Build. Castle!"

And so it went this past week - back and forth from the water to the shore and back again. Dig, rinse, scoop, pour, stomp. Repeat.

There's a beauty in a child's monotony that big people miss. We want our actions to produce something that wasn't there before we started. We want results that make sense.

And we are annoyed when rhythms appear (to us) to move without purpose. We don't delight in doing simple things over and over again. There's nothing delightful about laboring for underwhelming results.

We've lost our awe of little things.

But, oh, I wish you could have seen Natalie's face! She got so industrious with that shovel and had such purpose with the big red bucket. She kept beautiful busy - building or destroying - and every once in a while she would invite someone else to join her. Try explaining to great, big  2-year-old blue eyes that digging, rinsing, scooping, pouring, stomping and repeating isn't a good use of her time. Just try it.

Albert Einstein said the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. I wonder what he would say to my 2-year-old niece who does the same thing over and over again and watches the result like it's the first time she's ever seen it.

She isn't expecting something different (she knows full well what is coming), but when "it" happens, she blooms with joy. Every time, like it's the first time.

G. K. Chesterton wrote in Orthodoxy Chapter 4:

“A child kicks his legs rhythmically through excess, not absence, of life. Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, ‘Do it again’; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, ‘Do it again’ to the sun; and every evening, ‘Do it again’ to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we.”

I love it.

love how Natalie could have the same amount of joy every time she built up the sand and every time the water washed it away... Every time I hid under the blankets and every time I appeared from underneath... Every time she said, "Natalie go outside, please" and every time she convinced someone to follow her.

Most of all, I love that "God is strong enough to exult in monotony." Every once in a while we stop and admire the way the water comes in to the shore and splashes the beach, but God makes the water work in rhythm every day with crazy, consistent joy. I love to think that God "has the eternal appetite of infancy."

Because how many times have we succumbed to sin, "growing old" with maturity marking our progress? How many times have we decided we don't have time for monotony or aren't interested or amazed by it anymore?

And how many daisies did God make today, delighting the same in the monotonous beauty of every one?

let LOVE fly like cRaZy