where suffering meets joy

Here's a little piece I wrote for the guidance newsletter this month: My friend went to Kenya in 2008 and found himself surrounded by refugees displaced by civil war.

We all marveled at the pictures and listened to his tales when he returned, but after a while, we found ourselves again caught up in our lives layered with routines and more “important” matters. His experience was forced to fit into phrases like, “Oh, yeah, when you were in Africa...” because we didn’t have time for deeper questions requiring deeper answers.

As we step into this Christmas season, much of our discomfort results from crowded checkout lines and shopping cart traffic jams. Our culture presses in to define this celebration with catchy tag lines and guilt-ridden advertisements enticing us to add another gift to the cumbersome pile.

The joy in the angels’ announcement that filled the sky at Christ’s birth is somehow reduced to greeting cards and cavalier “Happy Holidays” thrown around like plastic swiped in those nifty little machines.

Scan of a Christmas greeting card.

Is the subject of your holiday adoration worthy of all the discomfort?

As I examine my own motives for crafting homemade gifts, my mind wanders back to my friend who went to Kenya. Maybe we moved on so quickly from his experience because being near to someone’s pain brings a certain suffering to our lives as well.

Thinking about Kenya beyond the powerpoints and post-trip Q & A is... uncomfortable, and we have a tidy way of stuffing uncomfortable stories in the attic while we stuff stockings over the fireplace.

Though we often set them against each other, suffering is not opposite joy. Christ, who for the joy set before Him, endured the great suffering of the cross. When we open our lives and hearts to let the Spirit move in us, we will experience some of the greatest suffering and most abundant joy.

Christmas is both a time to celebrate the joy of a Savior and a time to long for Christ’s appearing as the only response to the suffering around us.

The closer we walk with those who are suffering, the more we will wonder at God’s joy in this season. Who will you choose to walk beside this season, sharing their pain? Great joy awaits, dear sojourner... GREAT JOY!

let LOVE fly like cRaZy

Jesus, Savior, Pilot Me

I wrote this for the past newsletter and thought now was an appropriate time to post as a blog entry. This past week has been hard. Hard and good. It feels like this piece is just as appropriate today as it was a month ago. Not surprising, I suppose.

 

Maybe it’s the early darkness in the evening or the brisk whip of the breeze... Maybe it’s my imagination of ocean in the air or maybe it is because at this time of year we are all looking for a safe harbor. For whatever reason, my soul’s compass is scanning the shoreline. Whether I’m careening across placid waters in the early morning or waging war against waves in the middle night, my heart is heavy with need.

At times, it feels like I’m bailing out water in the middle of a downpour with a colander. Other times, I rush the bow to flail my arms wide, trying to take in all the beauty at once. What fails to change with emotions or season or temperament, is need.

If I’ve learned anything in my (just recently celebrated) twenty-six years and in my two and a half years here in Honduras, I have certainly learned life is unpredictable. In so many ways, the unpredictability thrills me, like what a ship’s captain must have felt at the start of a journey. This uncertainty also leads me, sometimes gasping for air, straight to the One who holds all things together, singing my favorite song of this season, “Jesus, Savior, Pilot me.”

Reading through 1 Samuel has trained my eyes once again to see God’s faithfulness illuminated against whatever treachery the high seas might heave my way. What I find so beautiful about both the song and the story of King David is very simple: history.

Every single day David crept about in the wilderness, hiding in caves and seeking refuge in foreign cities, God hemmed him in with history. From the intimate times in the mountains as a shepherd to the lop-sided duel with a giant, God’s character remained perfect and unchanged. As David feared for his life and spears flew just shy of his ears, he was keenly aware of his need to depend on God and trust He would be faithful.

My favorite lines in the hymn are several verses down,

“Though the sea be smooth and bright, Sparkling with the stars of night, And my ship’s path be ablaze With the light of halcyon days, Still I know my need of Thee; Jesus, Savior, pilot me.”

What David learned in his desperate days he brought with him into the calmer, halcyon hours. In the same way that our need of a Savior never changes, God’s place as Savior is forever.

God is ever behind and before us, not contained by time or our understanding or physical place. God is altogether outside of the evil crashing up against the sides of our vessel, yet intentionally and intimately involved in our safe passage and final destination.

It is history that reminds us of God’s gift of our beginning breaths, of our failure and God’s faithfulness, of our rebellion and God’s invitation to repentance. It is history that boasts the best and only hope in view of our ever-pressing need... a Savior.

I love these stories we carry around like mental felt boards, ready at any moment to reassure us of both our heritage and our inheritance. When we are caught unaware amid boisterous waves or settled back on our haunches, it is history that assures us that no captain ever possessed more power to truly say, “Fear not, I will pilot thee.”

please, let's

let LOVE fly like cRaZy

movement madness

A little while back, I mused my frustrations in this blogpost about the fashion of movements these days. I rambled on about the ultra distracted, rarely committed, highly energized generation we seem to have become. Our obsession with trends, revolution, and being a part of something "bigger than ourselves" with buzzwords like "countercultural" is a thin veneer. Sometimes, the "make a difference" slogans and painted posters in picket lines advertise self-promotion instead of a cause. We are deathly afraid our lives won't matter, so we join the loudest crowd, learn their clever chants, and march in their lines, hoping our existence will amount to something.

It scares me to think about what will happen when the fad passes... when it is less trendy to identify with the broken and hurting in our world...

When we realize the $80 shoes aren't that cute and we'll never meet those barefoot kids. When we realize how awkward it is to wear a shirt that has the words "sex" and "trafficking" in bold letters. When we realize the chants we are shouting actually require us to buy less, have less, and give more. What happens then?

I'm not always this cynical, but I want to ask these questions of myself and our generation because I am concerned. I'm not worried. I believe the Creator of the universe has a plan to restore all of creation and that plan cannot fail.

I am concerned because we are given a very clear, very serious command to respond (not just with angry outbursts and clever marketing) in a very human way to the needs we see in this world (Isaiah 58).

I hope we can understand that at the end of the day, after all the cause-claiming blogs have been written and all the cause-supporting merchandise has been sent, that caring for the broken, the hurting, and the needy in this world is first and foremost a human responsibility. We can give up on t-shirts and recycled bags or move on to the next fad, but let us not lose sight of what is most important...

If the roots of our motivation reach deeper than trends to the rich soil of God's heart, we will see that responding to the needs of the broken is not a cause...

it's a lifestyle.

Just so you know I can be optimistic, too, here are some links that I think encourage the right kind of movement: Love in Stereo Nomi Network Dalit Freedom Network Gospel for Asia International Justice Mission Strategic World Impact

counting many blessings

We are coming up on the time of year I love so so incredibly much... Thanksgiving. I know the holiday has historical significance, but to me it is mostly a beautiful time to remember all the wonderful ways God is making Himself known in our lives. I just recently started a journey of 129 questions and 52 weeks. For the next year, on Sundays, I hope to meditate on several questions of the Heidelberg Catechism with the help of Kevin DeYoung's book, "The Good News We Almost Forgot." As I read the introduction and the first day this past week, I was struck with how this question/answer list of Bible truths is organized.

Grief  --> Grace --> Gratitude

Every day I see the flaws of my sinful nature peek out my skin. Every day I yearn to be in right relationship once again. Every day I see how many ways I fall dreadfully short.

And every day I am reminded that ONLY by God's grace am I anything more than those flaws. If God's grace is sufficient to cover all the grief that results from my sin (and I believe that it is), my ONLY comfort in life and in death (as the first question of Heidelberg asks) is that I "am not my own, but I belong, body and soul, in life and in death, to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ." Oh, what BEAUTY it is to belong!!

The grace overwhelms me... it is too much to consider God has overcome my sin and grief and has grafted me in as His child, to BELONG to Him. What joy in this grace!

And, so friends... today as I count the blessings of facebook messages, pictures, balloons, cards, candies, and cakes, and an unbelievable amount of hugs (for today I am counting the blessings of 26 years), I am grateful.

I am overcome with gratitude for the grace God has shown me and the ways He expresses that grace through beautiful people in my life. God is so incredibly good.

let LOVE fly like cRazY

Here are the words to my favorite song of the Thanksgiving season. Just for the record, I'm so glad that every day is an appropriate time to sing these praises. Without much effort, I can call to mind the harmonizing voices of my family, gathered around a very long, harvest-laden table, singing this very song together.

When upon life’s billows you are tempest tossed, When you are discouraged, thinking all is lost, Count your many blessings, name them one by one, And it will surprise you what the Lord hath done.

Refrain

Count your blessings, name them one by one, Count your blessings, see what God hath done! Count your blessings, name them one by one, And it will surprise you what the Lord hath done.

Are you ever burdened with a load of care? Does the cross seem heavy you are called to bear? Count your many blessings, every doubt will fly, And you will keep singing as the days go by.

Refrain

When you look at others with their lands and gold, Think that Christ has promised you His wealth untold; Count your many blessings. Wealth can never buy Your reward in heaven, nor your home on high.

Refrain

So, amid the conflict whether great or small, Do not be disheartened, God is over all; Count your many blessings, angels will attend, Help and comfort give you to your journey’s end.

Whom Shall I Fear?

 

Is this the way ?

 

If you have ever been near me when a door slams or a bell rings or a balloon pops or a loud noise sounds, you might know of my irrational reaction. It is safe to say that surprises often end with me on the floor or clutching the nearest person’s sweater.

Even if you don’t have an extremely embarrassing, undiagnosed and somewhat questionable condition like mine, you still might find yourself, at times, afraid.

We shouldn’t be surprised. A life completely void of fear would be ... well, it would be heaven and we can all admit we’re not there yet.

So, what do we do with this thing called fear? There are so many things in this world that make us want to hide under the table or curl up under the covers or find a friend for comfort. Everything in our world seems impossibly broken, which has us constantly running for cover.

Maybe you fear grades or parents or the weekend or strangers or your future plans. Or maybe you fear the things you hide deep down inside yourself - those things you’ve allowed no one to know.

In Psalm 27, David shows us that fear is not something to get over or pass through, but rather something that requires daily persistence to live confident of God’s protection. He writes, “The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The LORD is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?”

However easy this sounds, David does not stop with these questions. He vividly describes some of the worst enemies - the things in his life very worthy of fear. In light of these, he writes, “One thing have I asked of the LORD, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD and to inquire in his temple.”

David knows the only safe and secure place for his soul is where the Lord dwells. The Lord fears nothing, for He created everything.

What better place to find shelter from our fears? “For he will hide me in his shelter in the day of trouble; he will conceal me under the cover of his tent; he will lift me high upon a rock.” Find yourself safe in the Lord today.

This appeared in the last High School Guidance Newsletter.

are you going to

let LOVE fly like CRAZY today?