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)

keep your heart young

  Just do it. No, seriously, just keep your heart young.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uFtLhbgM670]

Today, I'm celebrating so many things: Dia de Independencia with my Honduran family and friends, Iowa State football (expected) victory my Dad's birthday tailgating with friends and family the changing colors of falling leaves coffee pumpkin cake with cream cheese frosting bike rides mo-peds cardinal red and gold

And, I'm remembering all the ways Jesus encouraged the disciples to be like children - to blurt things out and come to Him messy, injured, and out of breath. Children are precocious little bugars, but they don't mess around with pretense. And I think this is why they can delight in the wonderful, little things and be so transparent about their tantrums. They've got nothing to hide - and they'll tell it like it really is.

This is a young heart. And I'd like to keep mine that way.

 

hard way home in the passenger seat

Remember when you graduated from high school and the world stretched out like an open road in front of your new-to-you, college-bound car? Remember that? Somehow my car circled around and I'm staring at the same highway and when Brandi Carlile sings the chorus of "hard way home," I belt it louder than is probably appropriate for my post-college age.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8AV5TRO1BqU]

Now, Brandi and I disagree on a few things - some of them pretty major. But, I find a very steady solidarity in our choosing the "hard way home." I'm stubborn. And sometimes my stubbornness gets me into sin, a lot of times I guess. I can look back at my tracks and, with Brandi, point to times I should have redirected my steps but pressed on for pride or fear or foolishness.

I don't know how Brandi feels when she sings this song, but what I feel is gratitude. Oh, man! I'm such an obstinate and fickle girl. I don't know why anyone would have patience with my antics, but the Lord is steady as an oak and faithful like the sun. Though the lost in me thinks faking my death would be an exciting escape (see the bridge), the found in me delights in knowing that I can never be hidden.

With my car facing that same, great highway, the "hard way home" isn't a lonely trek when you are sitting in the passenger seat.

let LOVE fly like cRaZy

grace for the grumps

I like my second job because of the people. I like to ask questions about their lives and find out what makes them laugh. I like to listen to stories from their growing up years and I especially like when the stories keep going after the time clock packs it's punch.

I don't like drinking a fountain soda without any fizz.

What I mean is... I don't like it when things that are supposed to be awesome, aren't.

The main reason I've held onto job #2 is because of the relationships I never would have had otherwise. And I love it. I love biking through campus to get there, throwing out my hellos when I walk in the door, catching up with Jeremiah and learning about Derek's newest future plans. I love meeting new co-workers and seeing them smile. I didn't really know why the print shop was the only part-time work I could find in the city of Ames back in December, but now I'm convinced it's because I needed to meet Jeremiah and Ann and Derek and Mike and Paul and Katherine.

They are the fizz in the fountain soda called job #2 and yesterday was missing the carbonation. I came in with my usual bounce, but fell promptly into a rut of work orders and frustrating design dilemmas and a case of the workplace grumps. All my answers were short and the space between customers was silent.

I fumed because I love my fizz (have you had ever fountain soda without it?) and then the dissonance got too great.

I punched the clock, walked outside with Ann and thought, "maybe the fizz is here after all." I invited her for dinner and then to a prayer class at my church.

Later on last night, when my new friends Ann, Alyssa, and Nicole (all new or new again to Ames) sat around a table playing Taboo, I thought about all the flat soda I'd been drinking... all those days that seemed ruined because they didn't go as planned. And then I thought, maybe it's a mental thing. Maybe when I expect a day to go flat, it does. Maybe there's a lot more fizz in my days and I just have to train my taste buds to recognize the flavor.

Maybe God grants grace for my grumps so that flat days still have fizz.

let LOVE fly like cRaZy

when fun breaks open like a piñata

By Saturday at 9 pm, the streets of Ames still lingered with the day's cardinal and gold victory. A fall chill had crept up after the sun hid itself away behind the horizon and the night was ...

the night was a piñata of possibility.

The coffee brewed with promise as we made plans huddled together like elementary children conspiring a make believe world takeover on the playground. After we'd quibbled about layers and assembled our ragamuffin band, we lined up to break the piñata of possibility and scrambled to enjoy all the fun spilling out.

How many mo-ped gangs do you know that follow the blaring, ride-worthy music of a DeWalt stereo bungee-strapped to one of its riders? How many mo-ped gangs do you know that get high fives driving through campus and hollers as they go down the highway? How many, uh, mo-ped gangs do you know?

Sure, my headlight was actually a flashlight taped to my handlebars and James pedaled several times around the block to get his mo-ped started. Sure, we all felt the fumes of the vintage bikes and made frequent stops to regroup and collect the stragglers who couldn't accelerate enough to keep up. Sure, there were several Chinese fire drills at stoplights and shenanigans on straightaways. Sure, we pulled in to the gas station and $8.00 topped us all off.

The Mighty Unicorn gang rides the streets with orange caution flags waving proudly, picking up all the fun the nights can hold.

And by 2:00 am, every possible piece had been savored.

let LOVE fly like cRaZy

safe place

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_Gvm1o6OAoY] Sometimes, it is best to step into the safest place. And sometimes the safe place breaks free from the dark of the night and splatters golden sun on your face.

I was a stranger the day He called my name but now He calls me friend. A wider, deeper, purer love I will never know. Only in the safe place of His love is laughter unleashed and only in this safe place are dancing feet freed.

That's the place I'm living this morning.

A laugh-dancing place.

let LOVE fly like cRaZy

 

to get where I'm going

I want to get wherever I'm going. And the devil in me says that it's not right now. I'm impatient to say yes to something I don't even know exists - I'm ready to be 'all in' at any moment, but that moment seems to stay frozen just beyond my reach. It's maddening... though I feel foolish for speaking it.

I am impatient to get to a place and a time I don't even know exists. And the longer it remains frozen outside my grasp the stranger these moments become. Maybe I am the one frozen as the moments move forward and what is within reach is actually where I am going - where I am now.

This is late night talking, but it's still me. I think that sometimes I should let the late night talk so the daylight talk doesn't paint a poor portrait. Make no mistake, I am not articulate and 'put together' - less so even than my daylight attempts make me seem.

I am reaching and striving and stretching for things to satisfy and often ending empty-handed. I am inward and withered and measured by useless, manmade instruments. I am still young with hope and wide eyes but I am old with the growing weight of unknowns.

I want to get wherever I'm going. And the devil in me says that it's not right now.

a new start

Today was game day and I woke up at 6 am with my game face on. Pumped. Excited. Ready. I'm living in the states now and football is one enormously beautiful perk I don't want to miss out on.

The Iowa State football season opener was packed out with fans in cardinal red and gold, cheering with full lungs at 120 yards of athletic magic. Here's a little slice of that sweet, homegrown pie:

[youtube=http://youtu.be/Htme-Ak_opE]

Sharing a slice of this red and gold pie with family and new friends is what new starts is all about. Maybe today, the start of football season, was just that. Maybe Sept 1 is a new start.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SO8kTqS7jXs]

a friday for sifting

I'm between jobs 1 and 2 and it's shaking out to be a day of sifting. This Friday is being sifted until only the too-big pieces remain on top. And what is of most importance is becoming very, very clear.

It's normally not so easy to see with an eternal kind of sight. There are coffees to buy and websites to navigate. There are attendance sheets to make and databases to conquer. There are hours to wile away and weekend plans to make. There is an errand to run and another book to add to the pile of those I should read. But, today there is sifting.

And after this Friday is shaken, the big pieces that remain have little to do with what I've gained or stored or clocked or typed. The big pieces are eternal things that I cannot manufacture - things that put all other things in beautiful, right perspective.

Today, I am praying that my life is about the main thing, that I don't treasure my life more than the main thing, and that all other things will fall through my open hands so that I will cling to what remains. I am praying that I delight in Christ so much that I cannot imagine keeping this delight to myself. In my delight and revelry, in my worship and bust-at-the-seams joy, I am praying I live fully in the freedom His suffering allows so that He may be glorified as others hear the same call to freedom from my lips.

Because He is worthy to receive the reward of his suffering.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PXTYsY7XqNU&feature=player_embedded#!]

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

rooting for you

After three years in a place that still claims part of my heart, the move stateside from Honduras was more than culture shock last June. My friends were scattered across the country, each member of my family was plugged in to community where they lived, and the mounting pile of rejection letters made the job market look as grim as everyone said. I don't know what I expected, but it wasn't that. Oh, I wasn't upset or depressed, but the summer days turning into fall were, every one, a surprise. And every day I noticed someone rooting for me.

It happened when I would farm talk with my uncle as I rode in the tractor or when my mom would arrange a special outing or when my dad would come home with new ideas he'd been churning all day in the car. It happened when I visited my friends in Chicago or Michigan or California or Pennsylvania or New York and it happened when I reached for reception in my front yard to hear from far away kindred spirits.

It happened when I stepped in to the lives of others and they listened, encouraged, and prayed. And "rooting" still seems to be a great word for the way my family and friends support me. I'm living with my aunt and uncle and they have "rooting for you" down to an art form. I've watched them do it with so many people in their lives - listen, encourage, and then root like they're going to get a kickback from others' success.

So, I write a blog. I don't make it a big deal, but I absolutely love doing it. I love thinking through the ideas while I run, being inspired while I'm driving, and sitting down to pound the keys into the shape of a blog post. I love it.

Though I do not hold it against people who aren't avid blog readers (I get it, seriously), there is something very special about hearing your aunt or uncle say, "Well, you know Caroline blogs, right? You can get them sent straight to your email if you sign up!"

I've been kind of grafted in to my aunt and uncle's family and they've become some of my loudest fans. They root with prayers, networking, career ideas, dinner parties, weekend plans, and late night life talks. They are rooting for me to run the race marked out for me with eyes fixed on the Author and Perfector of my faith.

I think that this is true community - rooting for others to win. And the rooting is not because we're looking to benefit, but because we are so excited about what the Lord could do with someone's life. I'll tell you, being on the receiving end of the cheers is motivation enough to try and try again when success is slippery.

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

the destruction of dillydally

"Don't dillydally, don't load up on video clips and music, don't trust the power of your community service programs, don't rely on marketing. Preach not yourselves, or you will veil the gospel. Preach what, then? The word. What word? The gospel word in the Bible word. Get your Bibles out and share the message of the good news of Jesus Christ. It is amazing the lengths some preachers will go in order not to preach the Bible! We labor week in and week out for years and years to craft the most dynamic, most exciting, most relevant, most creative messages, fitting in some Bible verses into the points we think are really important, and then we wonder why we've gotten loads of decisions but made no disciples." (Jared C. Wilson, p. 193 in Gospel Wakefulness)

Wow.

What an altogether perfect word for what we're doing in Christian circles these days: dillydally.

We eat up the facebook snippets, read the books, tweet the deets, post the newest viral explosion and search for songs with the most emotional moving typeface. No one is immune. We all seem to love knowing the good news. We love the controversies created by differing doctrines and debating the color of the carpet in the fellowship hall. We love to throw down the name of the newest book or sermon or method of sharing the gospel to prove we're keeping up with the Christian Joneses. I don't know why we do it, but I do know that dillydally is an altogether perfect word for all the acrobatics we use to get around preaching the gospel.

Wilson quotes 1 Thessalonians 1:4-6 (emphasis mine) before the excerpt above,

For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you, because our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction. You know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake. And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you received the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit,

Paul writes about the way the gospel came to the people in Thessalonica - in word, in power and in the Holy Spirit with full conviction. I can't speak to what kind of theatrics surrounded their speech, but it's pretty clear that the gospel was explicitly shared with the people. Paul makes it sound like this is obvious - to preach the gospel in word - but we are not so sure these days (the shorter the Sunday sermon the better - seriously, what newcomer wants to listen to a stranger ramble on and on and on about blood and sacrifice and propitiation?).

But how can people believe the gospel unless they've heard the gospel? Explicitly, unashamedly preached with full conviction. The conviction piece is important because our role is not to convince another of the gospel's merit, but to fan the flame of our own conviction that gospel is true. Wilson writes, "My brother, pastor, don't worry about bringing the heat. Just be hot. Fan the flame in yourself to full conviction." I like that: just be hot.

Yesterday, I was reading Gospel Wakefulness poolside and a man asked, "What are you reading? Like, what's it about?"

A little sun-weary and caught off-guard, I fumbled before I found, "It's a book about the gospel... about waking up to the reality of what Christ did on the cross for those who believe."

"Oh, yeah, I believe that," he said, "I used to be really bad, like drinking and smoking and s---, but it was f----- up. I mean, I was hospitalized and I been sober since I got out. They gave me these new meds and I'm like s--- this is living. I mean, I can go out to the forest and be like, that's a f------ tree. It's like what I thought was normal was really screwed up. I mean, I feel like I'm finally awake after a life of hearing voices and s---. Like schizophrenia and all that s---. So, yeah I got out on Monday and it's been f----- awesome."

"Wow, that's really crazy." I didn't really know where this was going, but I was stationary on a lounge chair and it seemed like as good a place as any to discuss what is/isn't the gospel and how it relates to his hospitalization. "So, do you think it's the medication or something spiritual that happened?"

"Oh, yeah, totally that medication. It's crazy - the doctors had me on all kinds of s--- growing up and I was f----- up bad, but I just thought it was normal. But, seriously, there's no side effects to this drug I'm on. I sleep for 5 hours and I'm like gettin' s--- done before I go to work at 9 am!"

"Well, what this book is really talking about is the gospel (the good news) that we read about in the Bible. Jesus suffered the punishment that we deserve for our sins so that we can be free. He took on all our messes on the cross and gave us relief and joy in this life and forever in eternity with Him--"

"Yeah, I believe that."

At this point, I'm thinking 1) I should really brush up on my 'how to share the gospel when caught off guard in a lounge chair' skills and 2) does he really believe that?

"Yeah, it's like everyone believes," he went on, "You know, in a higher power. I mean, I believe Jesus is in all of us. Don't you believe that?"

I won't give you our whole conversation, but this guy was persistent, inquisitive, and interested. Granted, the situation was less than ideal - laying on sweaty plastic lounge chairs in bathing suits - but I suppose this is what it means to "always be prepared to give an answer."

I asked him some hard questions, mentally thanking Tim Keller for all those chapters in Reason for God that wrestle with doubts. We bantered back and forth and I was careful to not blink an eye with all his cursing. I'll confess I got kind of casual with my language, as we talked about who would populate heaven. He told me, "Well, I mean the good people. Like I believe we all put out vibes. I mean, if you're a b---- you're not going to be in heaven, but if you're good you will."

"But who determines who is good and who is a b----? I mean I might think I'm good according to my standards, but someone else might think I'm a b----... so who's going to heaven?"

More than ever in that conversation I needed explicit words. I did not need games or videos or pictures. I needed to speak the good news of the gospel into the chaos of crowded beliefs Joseph had assembled. And even when I spelled it out in all it's offensive glory, Joseph persisted with more questions and stories about his life.

I told Joseph about church on Sunday and he said he would come. He said it didn't even matter how early because the medication has him up by 5 am.

I pray he does come and I pray my pastor preaches the gospel because I need it just as much as Joseph.

Because we are all on the verge of destruction by dillydally... the painful beat around the bush game of kind of the gospel. We are all in danger of believing and speaking and hearing a gospel that is less than Jesus' words on the cross, "It is finished" and less than the glorious result of his work.

run the suns | walk the shades

The heat is heavy - like a blanket you can't crawl out from under. It runs in front of you and pushes in behind you and squeezes on all sides. The heat is heavy these days. A few weeks ago, I was haphazardly training for the 4 mile trail run I ran with my family this past Saturday. The Coast Guard Trail Run is not just any 7K race - it involves dunes and trails and an enormous amount of steps that take you to the top of a dune where you can see Lake Michigan touch the horizon. It was worth every step and much more fun when you have matching shirts that say "Nichols family running team."

But back to my training.

The heat seemed to suck all the smart out of me in those days leading up to the race. I kept deciding to run in the middle of the afternoon when the heat was most oppressive. Running isn't something I plan around in my day... it's something that happens when the window appears. It may be at 5 pm or 3 pm or 9:30 pm, but rarely if ever at 7 am (which of course is the coolest time of the day).

After about a mile on a 100 degree day around 3:30 pm, I had that familiar thought, "This might not end well." The heat was getting into my throat and my legs were resisting the steady movement pounding the paved path.  It was like my lungs knew things were about to get desperate. Good thing I had mapped out where all the water was on my route, because I don't think I would have made it without the rusty fountain in O'Neil Park. Right about that time I realized how far I was from my front door and how long it would take to get back there.

I devised a survival technique called "run the suns, walk the shades." I would sprint through the sunny parts of the trail and slow to a walk where the shade hovered over the sidewalk. As I made my way home in this pattern, I thought of G.K. Chesterton and Moses.

I know what you are thinking - I was delirious. This very well may have been true. But, I've since drank lots of water and slept many nights and the thought remains. Though Moses went up to Mt. Sinai to listen to the Lord, he did not sit down across the table to have afternoon tea. It was a frightfully powerful experience. When Moses wanted to see God, he was told to hide in a cave while the Lord passed by. An ordinary encounter is the farthest thing from God's powerful presence. In Chesterton's book, "The Man Who Was Thursday" we see glimpses (the backside) of the Sunday character (God). This character is meant (I think) to be the sovereign part of God and we cannot bear the weight of it.

Because the sun is too strong. Humans have a heat threshold and when we reach it, our bodies can't function anymore. There is a point where the heat jumping from the sun is too much for our skin and our head and our lungs. The sun is too strong.

If the power of the Lord unleashed, our eyes could not bear it. Our lungs could not breathe the weight of glory that He would display in His fullness. Even a glimpse would lay us out flatter than the most intense heat exhaustion.

And I felt the power of the sun as I raced to the shade. I'm a very steady kind of grateful because though the Lord could lay us all out flat with the weight of His glory, He gives shade. He provides covering in Christ that allows us to stand now in front of the Lord redeemed and under His shade until He returns.

That's a mysterious combination of glory and grace and it makes me want to

let LOVE fly like cRaZy

Fanfaronades and Delighting in Others' Delight

This word, fanfaronade, popped out in the list of Unusual Words Rendered in Bold Graphics. I love words, or don't you know that already? Well, I do. I love words because words make language. Language is that stuff that floats between people and between people and God. Language describes things, explains things, and... puts clothes on the skeletons of emotions, ideas, and surprises.

Fanfaronade is just funny to say. The syllables fold out like the person who wears them. You know the type, right? She's that person everyone is regularly embarrassed to be around. She's known for "making a scene" at the airport check-in counter and also when she's ordering coffee at Starbucks. Her recent accomplishments are never secrets and her failures are unfortunate misunderstandings of her gifts. She's never a supporting actress, even if she has to cause an emergency backstage to be front and center.

Though she would protest her theatrics described as such, fanfaronades are exactly what they are. The word doesn't even have the dignity of distinguished pronunciation.

fan-fer-uh-neyd

It sounds like something an Uncle Bob might say about his out-of-control, pre-teen daughter Samantha who insists people call her Savannah the Singing Star. "Somebody's gotta tell her we've had 'bout enough 'o them fanfaronades 'o hers," he'd say. Can't you just hear him?

I love the graphic from Project Twins because this is the noise following people who are known for fanfaronades - bleating horn blasts that crowd out all other sounds in the room.

I'm thinking about fanfaronades as I spend time with family in one of my favorite places - where beaches rival any in the world and half the blueberries never make it past the pickers. This little one, Natalie, is my almost constant companion for our West Michigan family vacation.

I chase her around and then she chases me. And I see how my brother and sister-in-law spot her fanfaronades and find many teachable moments. She announces her time-outs with resignation, but she always comes back calmly accepting her supporting role (at least for now). She doesn't exactly know she's fanfaronading, which is why she's not... yet.

But we should know better.

Why can kids call spades spades without hesitation and we struggle to admit our charades?

I love to be around Natalie because something wild in me wants it to be all about her - I want to do things that spark wonder in her eyes. I want to give in when she says, "again" again and again and again. I want to hear her giggle. I want to witness her taste blueberries off the branch and build sand castles on the beach. I want to watch her delight in life.

I know there's such a thing as smothering little ones with too much. But, I realized something happens when I'm around her. I want to do less fanfaronading because it's not about me anymore.

I've wandered around with words to land at these conclusions: 1) Jesus - the One most qualified to speak all and only about Himself - spent his whole life pointing to the Father. He didn't consider equality with God something to be grasped. 2) I've got to figure out how to take my affections for Natalie - the way I delight in her delight - and live that way with everyone. I want to delight to watch others delight.

Is this some of God's heart for His creation? Does he delight in us as He watches us delight in Him, in life, in others?

let LOVE fly like cRaZy

things that don't surprise me

The heat is borderline unbearable, but I still love it. People think I'm crazy, but I love getting into my car and letting the thick, stale air hug me for a minute before the sweat starts to trickle. I wear my hair down and drive with my windows open and try to remember how much I longed for these days in December. I love summer.

This summer day reminds me of the days I lived in Chicago. The oppressive heat is part of it (it was walk or public transport if I wanted to go somewhere), but today makes perfect sense in light of my track record (read funny stories here) of strange things.

I had a meeting at the University for a social media project I'm working on. I know - you're jealous already. I'm getting paid to do social media and I'm still giddy about it. I decided to bike to campus because parking tickets are outrageous and because I love biking (thank you craigslist and that nice family man in Des Moines who sold me a purple beauty). I realized soon after I started that I would not show up to my meeting looking refreshed.

After I parked my bike and booked it up two flights of stairs to be 5 minutes early, I was wiping sweat off my nose and eyebrows for the next 20 minutes. After I had introduced myself and sat down, I realized my flip-flop was broken. Between my heaving breaths, sweat wiping, and random throat tickle (of all times to get a tickle attack!), I managed to ask intelligent questions while planning an exit strategy with a broken flip-flop.

At the end of the meeting, I peeled myself from the chair in the conference room and squeezed my toes in a last ditch effort to walk out with my dignity (and my broken flip-flop). When I realized this was impossible, I picked up the beaded thrift-store sandal (thanks, Dad) and said, "Well, I guess my flip-flop broke. That's awkward!"

I thought I'd dealt with the worst of it when I walked out of Ross Hall barefoot and then I climbed on my purple bike. With one flip-flop on and one flip-flop in my right hand, I biked back to my house with a ridiculous case of the giggles. I imagined the inner conversation of every person I met, "I wonder why that girl is barefoot... Doesn't she know it's illegal to ride a bike without shoes? Humph.... high school kids! Seriously, she'll lose a toe!"

And I just giggled. These things never surprise me.

let LOVE fly like cRaZy

Jesus, I Come

A weepy weariness hides inside my chest while my heart sings parallel a convincing and clear song. It is not a sadness that weeps, but a longing. Jesus, I come.

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I'm walking out of everything that lacks in this day and into all the abundance Christ provides. This morning feels like a desperate sprint out of distress and to jubilant song. Jesus, I come to Thee.

This week I'm speaking at a camp full of 10, 11, and 12-year-olds and my heart is almost sick with desire that they know the surpassing joy of Jesus - to reverence His power, imitate His love, and join with Him in suffering. Oh, how I love my Jesus. There is absolutely nothing sweeter. Last night, I left the counselors with the students to make meaning of my talk on suffering while I prayed with my mentor in a quiet room.

My talk last night was supposed to be on love. Because God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, love, and self-discipline (2 Tim. 1:7). As I was preparing and praying and enjoying the presence of the Lord (don't let anyone ever kid you - preparing to speak is the gift of more time with Jesus), I thought about Paul writing the letter to Timothy from prison. I remembered that when God first invited Paul to be his child, he invited Paul to suffering (Acts 9). I remembered the orders Jesus received from the Father - to suffer because God so loved. And when Christ set his face toward Jerusalem and toward the ultimate suffering of the cross, it was for the joy set before Him.

I know I fumbled and mumbled with my wild gestures and crazy illustrations, but my whole heart hopes that this morning the campers have a notion that love and suffering cannot be separated... and that somehow God has woven a mystery of joy into the pair. As we become more like Christ, we can expect to suffer... and delight that we might know our great Redeemer more intimately.

And so today, I set my gaze opposite all other things because it is to Jesus I come. He is my supreme hope, delight, strength, and overwhelming joy.

Out of my bondage, sorrow and night, Jesus, I come, Jesus, I come; Into Thy freedom, gladness, and light, Jesus, I come to Thee; Out of my sickness, into Thy health, Out of my want and into Thy wealth, Out of my sin and into Thyself, Jesus, I come to Thee.

Out of my shameful failure and loss, Jesus, I come, Jesus, I come; Into the glorious gain of Thy cross, Jesus, I come to Thee; Out of earth’s sorrows, into Thy balm, Out of life’s storms and into Thy calm, Out of distress to jubilant psalm, Jesus, I come to Thee.

Out of unrest and arrogant pride, Jesus, I come, Jesus, I come; Into Thy blessed will to abide, Jesus, I come to Thee; Out of myself to dwell in Thy love, Out of despair, into raptures above, Upward for aye on wings like a dove, Jesus, I come to Thee.

Out of the fear and dread of the tomb, Jesus, I come, Jesus, I come; Into the joy and light of Thy home, Jesus, I come to Thee; Out of the depths of ruin untold, Into the peace of Thy sheltering fold, Ever Thy glorious face to behold, Jesus, I come to Thee.

don't forget His love

I was driving around today, overlapping errands with more errands while the next few weeks ran circles in my brain. The breeze picked up as I accelerated little Eddie down the road with the windows wide open. My arm reached out as Ellie Holcomb came over my radio and I had a moment there on George Washington Carver Ave. I started smiling to myself because I was strapped in and my brain couldn't run away without my body. I was stuck in my car for a stretch of minutes - confined to enjoy the wind and the sun and the melodies in my speakers. I was stuck and I loved it. With my hand out the window, I thought about those times in our lives where we feel we are holding on for dear life. I pictured my hands clenched around a vine with knuckles white. Then, the picture in my mind zoomed out and I knew the vine could take all my weight. I also realized I was not only holding on for dear life - I was enjoying the greatest rush as I swung over lakes and rivers and treetops in the jungle. "Holding on for dear life" might feel desperate, but it is also feels exciting and unafraid.

Today, I am praising the Lord and forgetting not His benefits.

Bless the LORD, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name!

Bless the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits, who forgives all your iniquity, who heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit, who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy, who satisfies you with good so that your youth is renewed like the eagle's.

The LORD works righteousness and justice for all who are oppressed. He made known his ways to Moses, his acts to the people of Israel.

The LORD is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. He will not always chide, nor will he keep his anger forever.

He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us.

As a father shows compassion to his children, so the LORD shows compassion to those who fear him. For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust. As for man, his days are like grass; he flourishes like a flower of the field; for the wind passes over it, and it is gone, and its place knows it no more.

But the steadfast love of the LORD is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear him, and his righteousness to children's children, to those who keep his covenant and remember to do his commandments.

The LORD has established his throne in the heavens, and his kingdom rules over all.

Bless the LORD, O you his angels, you mighty ones who do his word, obeying the voice of his word!

Bless the LORD, all his hosts, his ministers, who do his will!

Bless the LORD, all his works, in all places of his dominion. Bless the LORD, O my soul! (Psalm 103 ESV)

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destroyed for lack of knowledge

My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge; because you have rejected knowledge, I reject you from being a priest to me. And since you have forgotten the law of your God, I also will forget your children. (Hosea 4:6 ESV)

On the way to work my shift at the print shop last night, I was thinking about my morning meeting at the university that didn't go as planned and about the transportation for the youth summer trips and about the grades for the Bible Instruction Course that still need calculated and about preparing a meal for 70 at the soup kitchen downtown.

I was glad to be on my bike, pedaling against the wind that I wished would blow through the clutter in my mind.

When I got to work, Derek asked if I had just woken up and I desperately wished I could have said yes. I slid into the groove and Derek, Jeremiah, and I made good progress on the night's orders, though I kept noticing the weight of my feet.

And then Derek asked, "You read the Bible, right?"

Whatever was dead in me revived and I think my eyes got really big, "Uh-huh..."

"Well, you believe that it's all true, right? 'Cuz I have a question..."

I smelled trouble, "Derek, this sounds like I'm about to walk into a trap, but I'll hang with you. What's your question?"

He kind of smirked, acknowledging his underhanded set-up of this conversation, "Well, why does it tell me I can't mix threads in my clothing or that we can't eat, like, meat of hooved animals?"

I was quiet for a bit, measuring his interest.

"I mean, do you believe that - because you believe the Bible, right?" he pushed a little further.

"Derek... can you hear me out?" I thought I should get his permission before launching into a discussion of the old and new covenants and the significance of the Bible read as a whole.

He actually looked surprised, "Oh, of course! That's why I asked."

Derek is currently one of my favorite people and he wears genuine around like its high fashion. So, I took a deep breath and dove in. I can't really explain what happened next.

We talked about Adam and sin and how it put all people at odds with God. We talked about Moses and Abraham and the guidelines God gave in the Old Testament for a holy, healthy life. We talked about the covenant God made with the people and how that covenant set up a temporary system until the fully sufficient sacrifice - a Savior - would arrive. We talked about Jesus and how he was that sacrifice. We talked about Peter's vision in Acts 10 and about how salvation is not based on works or a family pedigree. We talked about how salvation is meant to bring freedom from the bondage of sin.

Not one customer came in during our conversation and the telephone stayed silent.

At the end of all this rambling, Derek asked, "So, does your church teach you that stuff - like do they present it like that? How do you know what you just said?"

I threw off all the strange weight of a full day, as I stood there and heard his questions. There was nothing else but his question and the Truth that answered him.

I shared the Gospel, plain and simple. I was a sinner, destined for destruction and deserving of death. But, I believe that Christ took my place on the cross and I'm now united in right relationship with Him and freed to live life abundantly with a knowledge of the Lord. The Spirit lives inside me and He shows me what is true. He gives me understanding as I read the Bible. The more I read the Bible, the better I know the Lord. And, yes, church is part of that process.

My knowledge of the Lord is my delight. Knowing Him means mystery, adventure, security, refuge, and cRaZy joy.

And so I want Derek to know Him, too! I want him to get lost in the wonder and get filled with the beauty that comes as we grow in the knowledge of the Lord.

God desires that we return to Him - that we seek Him and not vain pursuits.

“Come, let us return to the LORD; for he has torn us, that he may heal us; he has struck us down, and he will bind us up. After two days he will revive us; on the third day he will raise us up, that we may live before him. (Hosea 6:1-2 ESV)

Hosea's story parallels the hearts of the wayward Israelites - who pursued many lovers. Our story is similarly told - our hearts are inclined to love another. But, in Hosea, there is a future hope of reuniting with the Lord through Christ on the cross, "...after two days he will revive us; on the third day he will raise us up..."

We live with that hope.

Let us know; let us press on to know the LORD; his going out is sure as the dawn; he will come to us as the showers, as the spring rains that water the earth.” (Hosea 6:3 ESV)

Let us know. Let us press on to know the Lord. By the grace of God, may we not be destroyed for lack of knowledge. 

let LOVE fly like cRaZy

6 feet under blessings

Today my pen felt too heavy and my journal page felt too blank and the day stretched before me with weight it didn't deserve. I was sitting with my Bible and journal on my lap - my eyes glued open but my mind in spreadsheets and deadlines and packing in weekend plans. None of it bad. All of it good.

And this is how the enemy attacks - crawling up and under and through and on top of everything that is good.

The blessings have buried me six feet under and I feel stuck. And I'm mad at feeling stuck because every good thing comes from above and what the Lord gives is anything but stuck. His blessings are freedom. His blessings are joy.

His blessings release the weight and unite us with a lighter load.

So, feeling buried under blessings makes me angry at my affections. I must be dealing unwisely with what I've been given... and I hate being unwise. Proverbs is making me want wisdom as a constant companion. The more I linger on the Word, the more I understand Jeremiah's encouragement to take and eat the Word. This is every bit where joy and delight dance in my heart.

Your words were found, and I ate them, and your words became to me a joy and the delight of my heart, for I am called by your name, O LORD, God of hosts. Jeremiah 15:16

How does one explain stress from too many blessings? I only know that my salvation depends not on what I'm buried under, but on the power of the One who rescues me out from under the weight. Yep, I know that like I know the droop of my eyes. It's what will keep my eyes open when the burden of blessing seems to much.

Because this is how the enemy attacks - crawling up and under and through and on top of everything that is good.

When thou sleepest, think that thou art resting on the battlefield; when thou walkest, suspect an ambush in every hedge. —C.H. Spurgeon

ransomed from futility

The Lord's faithfulness does not depend on me. What a mess I'd be in if that weren't true! Somehow, I eased out of my daily Word-drenched routine and into a more me-saturated schedule. I took my eyes off eternity and set my gaze much... lower. It wasn't noticeable in bold-lettered ways, but the pages I've written in life the past week are missing the main character - the voice of the Writer, Narrator, and Hero - you could say I'm missing the red letters. It's probably that weaselly Wormwood character doing his work in the trenches to make me think I'm "just fine" when I really need to deal with sin.

Today was the glorious antidote, though I shouldn't be surprised. Truth is a powerful serum. It gets inside the blood stream and awakens all the right sensors to alert the body of all the "false" that has taken over.

As I was reading Proverbs 1, Truth seemed to seep in and spread over all that sin that was crowding His story in my life. Specifically, the call of wisdom in verses 20-33. The call to turn from simple, foolish whims to deep, mysterious wisdom seems an easy sell (who wants to be simple and foolish?). But, as I read the words of the wayward, I realized that wisdom would mean the pages of my life would be filled to full with red letters - those would be the words I breathed in and lived out.

In 2 Timothy 3, Paul writes about how things will run amuck in the last days - about people who will be completely conformed to the world and calling others to join them. In his caution, "Avoid such people" (v. 5), he explains that they are "burdened with sins and have been led astray by passions, always learning and never able to arrive at a knowledge of the truth" (v. 6 -7).

What maddening futility! To always learn and never arrive at a knowledge of the truth - this sounds like what gives a scientist the "mad" prefix. And what joy that we've been rescued from futility!

...knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot. He was foreknown before the foundation of the world but was made manifest in the last times for the sake of you who through him are believers in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God. (1 Peter 1:17-21 ESV)

Today, I am sad for my wandering. Today, I am amazed that God allows me to learn and arrive at a knowledge of the Truth through the work of Christ. Today, I am blessed by the call to wisdom and for ears to hear. Today, I know I can dwell secure, without dread of disaster.

but whoever listens to me will dwell secure and will be at ease, without dread of disaster.” (Proverbs 1:32-33 ESV)

Because when I am faithless, the Lord is faithful.