getting near the glowing heart of the Lord

In a tiny Williamsburg living room last Tuesday night, we all stared down at the Mark 9 passage printed on our laps. After three readings, we talked about the transfiguration of Jesus over hot tea and no one had it figured out. These men, the closest friends of Jesus, saw humanity in full glory and they were scrambling for the right response. I've been trying all week, but I can not find the right imagination to stand on that holy ground and watch as glory made Jesus glow.

But I am so thankful for Peter.

I think we would be friends, Peter and me. It would be a reckless friendship, but an adventurous one. I imagine Peter's immediate response to set up a worship service with three tabernacles bursting from his hope to usher in the kingdom with the light of Jesus' transformed face. In the middle of these glowing moments of glory, maybe Peter was grasping for the best thing he could think to do.

In the presence of Jesus, don't we all do that? I don't actually know what Peter was thinking, but I know what sometimes happens when I sense Jesus is near. I kind of hyperventilate.

I might be in a group of friends or about to take communion or walking alone between Bedford and Fulton. It can really happen anywhere - the sense that Jesus is present and His glory is real. I am sad to say I don't feel it all the time, but when I do I immediately want to do something. And I want that something to be the best thing.

I get nervous and flustered and hasty. At the same time that I want to savor the beauty and miracle of Jesus' presence, my heart swells to take part in it - to be swallowed up by a beauty that covers everything ugly and wrong.

I fear I will miss those moments - that I'll arrive at 30, 40, 50, and 60 years old and think back on all the times I didn't choose the best thing in the presence of Jesus. I fear I will look back and realize I didn't have eyes to see the miracles or that my response will be clumsy and cluttered.

And then I think about Peter. And I realize it is okay to tend towards hyperventilation in the presence of glory. It is okay to not know how to do the best thing or to not know exactly what the best thing is. All of this confusion about my response to God's glory is okay because the transfiguration is about Jesus.

Lent is not about subtractions and additions as much as it is about getting near the glowing heart of the Lord.

The fasting makes room for the feasting. The fasting churns up hunger for the feast and it is not about our response to the taste but about the food we choose to eat.

love at the end

Remember all those days I thought commuting was beautiful? All those days I fought the NYC face and left early in defiance of minute crunching? Remember when I arrived to work in time to write a blog before the day began? Well, anyway, I guess six months will do it. No more leaving early and no more new routes, but I don't need another reason to talk about commuting. Train lines pretty much start and end every conversation - trains to live by, trains to get places, trains under construction, trains delayed, and trains full of "showtime, showtime, showtime."

But it is okay to savor minutes in my apartment in the morning. It is okay to be quiet and sit still before the day begins. It is okay to declare Sabbath daily before chaos and maybe I should do it more often. Because, gosh, it is busy here.

When I first moved to NYC, I had two things on my mind: love this man and find beauty. I did not move to make it in this city as an actress or a business lady or to struggle up abstract creative ladders. Somehow, knowing that was like saying, "I'm not like the rest of this concrete madness. I value minutes and sunshine and neighboring." I was different.

Six months later, I still value minutes and sunshine and neighboring, but I am desperate for Sabbath rest. I am like every other commuter in the morning, fighting crowds and sounds and shoulders. I am like every other apartment dweller, fighting for quiet minutes and then fighting to fill them. And now I am desperate for Sabbath rest.

My pastor talked about Sabbath rest on Sunday, right after I wrote about it unfolding slowly. Gathered around the weekly spread of cheese, crackers, fruits, and sweets last night, we revisited the passage in Matthew 12 where Jesus heals the man with the shriveled hand on the Sabbath.

It's funny, living here. Because there is nothing we don't work for. The act of striving is kind of the moving gears of this city. Commuting is work, work is work, plans are work, friends are work, keeping up appearances is work. We work for everything; we strive hard to believe "everything" is important to work for.

But rest. 

We can not work for rest, regardless of the comp hours we accumulate or the vacation/sick/personal days we are allowed. We cannot gain rest for our souls by living better, though we believe with the Pharisees that somehow we can.

Christ accomplished our rest.

It's a different kind of Sabbath because Christ fought for and won our rest on the cross. I do not know how to make this more of my rhythm, but I want to learn what it means to rest in the middle of moving gears. I want to learn how to rest while hosting, neighboring, friendshipping, loving, and being.

I need to learn better how to rest.

I don't know what your Sabbath soundtrack would sound like, but mine has John Mark McMillan's new song, "Love at the End." If you have a minute to listen and read the lyrics, do it.

[youtube=http://youtu.be/20-36peh16E]

oh, dear

Friends, this is one of those posts on one of those days. But I probably don't mean what you think. Nothing dreadful happened and I am not hormonal. Beauty got weaved in among other things - into the rearranged plans and the winter traipsing and the new basil plant in our little kitchen windowsill. Beauty got weaved in and now I'm writing by a candle my roommate lit to keep me company in the rest of these night hours. Just me and my chai tea + honey + coconut almond milk, candlelit and tucked inside this Brooklyn winter night - inside the beauty that got weaved in among other threads.

I am not quite sure what makes a beautiful day seem heavy or hard. Maybe I imagine sadness into open spaces or maybe that giant glass sculpture we walked through in the meatpacking district really did have a deeper effect than I thought.

I guess I think there is a way to experience beauty in the negative. It looks like sadness over sketchbooks that stay closed and sadness over craft boxes that stay hidden under beds. It looks like doodled inspiration for home improvement projects and the keyboard leaning in the corner of the living room.

And maybe that is the sadness that makes Saturdays feel heavy, because beauty needs space.

Beauty needs to be breathed in without a city metronome. Beauty needs to hear us say "Yes" when it isn't convenient or instantly beneficial and sometimes my voice gets garbled up in my throat. Sometimes it is hard to know what is beautiful and life feels too crowded to do anything slowly.

That's probably why I ended up sprawled out on my neighbor's floor, looking at photographs of America in the 1900s. Photographs were different then - few were taken an arm's length away. I turned the black and white pages slowly, reading captions and imagining the stories that unfolded after the moments were captured.

This is some of the beauty that got weaved in, but it made me aware of the beauty that got left out. How can I get more of the discernment to know which is which? And is it okay to be sad that I'm not better at choosing?

We're in the middle of fashion week in this fine city. I know this mostly because I've seen more 6+ foot beauties working the sidewalks like runways. I don't know how the wind follows them so it always blows their manicured hair in the right direction, but it is impressive. They look the right amount of tussled and flustered, with the cold concrete city as a backdrop.

And we're all just trying to make space for beauty.

We are all trying to choose what is beautiful even when life feels too crowded to enjoy anything slowly. There is both nothing and too much to do on our lists of lovely things. Maybe I've imagined this weight and we do not need to be brave about beauty. But maybe not.

Maybe it is okay to feel like days have weight.

Maybe it is okay to be sad about beauty that never gets used or loved or held. Maybe it is okay that a sculpture sunk your spirit and it is okay that the feeling followed you all day.

Maybe beauty has weight and needs space.

[youtube=http://youtu.be/OZiDlT94vp4]

this tornado loves you

I have to give credit to Neko. Her song "this tornado loves you" was the inspiration for all the surprise birthday party craziness. Well, her and Patrick's obsession with surprises. I wanted the whole night to feel like a tornado - the surprises, the plans, and the people. But, the best kind of tornado - the reason why Helen Hunt was one of those storm chasers in the movie Twister. Because there is something exciting about getting swept up in that spinning motion; there is something really thrilling about the energy in the air that can lift things off the ground.

That's the kind of feeling I wanted to create.

[soundcloud url="https://api.soundcloud.com/tracks/38133168" params="color=ff5500&auto_play=false&hide_related=false&show_artwork=true" width="100%" height="166" iframe="true" /]

The surprise-keeping was torture. Last night, after he walked in and looked like this:

photos courtesy of Chris!

...after that I started breathing again. Why was it so important for him to walk into a room full of people celebrating him unexpectedly? Because he loves surprises and I love him. 

All the weeks of knotted up insides and half-truth schemes and several versions of party themes... all of it was worth the look on his face when he realized his friends in this city will do crazy things to make him feel special.

He didn't make it easy, though. He wanted to come over yesterday to help me deep clean my apartment (from the terrarium party the week before). After I had hidden the morning's baked goods and refrigerated the first of many bacon treats and covered the rum bacon ice cream, I relented. He brought over fresh doughnuts and his Swiffer (the good kind that sprays) and immediately handy-manned a lamp we've been needing to fix. Then he spent a good 20 minutes beating my area rug on the fire escape before we cleaned all the floors. He almost insisted on carrying my laundry down, but I wiggled out of that one (because the laundry was a ruse to get him out for a few hours, but I legitimately need to do laundry desperately).

When he left, my party planners (and the best friends ever) arrived and we set the tornado in motion.

And then I changed our dinner plans so many times that he became very hangry. He got so frustrated (to be fair, we had planned to eat at 6:30 and I didn't tell him where to meet us until 7:30). Instead of being suspicious, he was just a really severe combination of hungry and angry. I can thank his stomach for helping to keep the surprise, I guess. But I felt horrible. When he opened the door and I was dressed up, he still didn't think anything of it. He was mostly still hangry.

But then he turned the corner and a room full of people sang to celebrate him. And that whole scene made me so happy!

People brought magnets (one of Patrick's random favorite things) and wrote memories down on tornado cards. There was bacon ice cream and bacon wrapped dates and candied bacon and nutty bacon chocolate bark and chocolate chip cookies and chocolate cake. And there was laughter.

Midway through the party, Patrick read one of the tornado cards that said "this surprise has wheels." And everyone grabbed coats in time to make the B43 a party bus (the driver even said Happy Birthday, Pat over the microphone when we got off). We caught a sweet concert that our friend Rebecka rocked out, where we met more friends and ANOTHER surprise cake. From there we headed to one of our favorite spots to close out the night with some multi-colored disco lights and some of Pat's best dance moves. It was all so good, it almost felt like I  was the one unwrapping gifts all night.

But after all that, after all the party planning and party having and party traveling, my favorite part was this morning. It didn't have anything to do with the party last night, but it was the most special thing.

We were sitting in church with big grins across our faces. We greeted our friends we had seen just hours before and we passed the peace to friends we hadn't seen in awhile. We worshipped in song and through prayer and with full hearts as the sun reached through stain glass to warm the tops of our heads. And as we stood in line for communion, we heard "Jesus Paid It All" circling over our heads.

This was my favorite part. There is a bigger tornado of love that swallows up any we can create. It's heavy and light and mysterious and reckless. And it happened this morning when I heard about Jesus healing the paralytic.

As much as we love surprises - giving and receiving and sharing - God must love them most. He made us to have that face we have when we walk into a roomful of people who want to celebrate us. He made us with insides that knot together in nervous excitement when we don't want to spoil the story. He made us and we reflect Him. So He must love surprises. I wonder what face He wore when He surprised creation with His love.

I wonder what His delight looks like when we are surprised by His joy and grace every day.

still epiphany

We're still in that season on the church calendar called Epiphany, but it sure is easy to forget about it. Without the Christmas clutter, whether we embrace it or fight it, we are less aware of any spiritual season. At least I am. And then a song comes through my headphones on my way to work in the morning called Lazarus by Jon Guerra. I remember that this season is about practicing presence. I remember that Jesus walked the earth - that He came to live with us, inside our human struggle. And when he saw pain and death and sickness, he walked towards it. He was fully present in every kind of place with every kind of person.

This is how Jesus responded when the sisters sent word that the one He loved was sick,

"But when Jesus heard it he said, “This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” John 11:4

He did not rush like an EMT to the scene or run the opposite direction from the tragedy's sadness. He did not avoid Judea, though the people tried to stone him the last time he was in town. Jesus was slow, steady, and confident that his presence possessed the authority of the One who sent Him.

And I forget that.

I forget that Jesus is present in the darkness of this world and present in the darkness of my heart. He walks toward the darkness and offends it with the light of His truth. He walks toward dead bones and this is what he says,

Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” John 11:25-26

His presence means resurrection and it means life. And we are all Lazarus, dead for four days, lost in darkness. We are all wrapped up, bodies bandaged and cold, when He makes Himself present to us and then makes us alive to Him. Do we believe this? Do we live believing that faith means we will never die? Do we walk out God's daily miracles of future grace with a confidence of one who will live forever?

When he had said these things, he cried out with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out.” John 11:43

Every day, he stands at the door of our death tombs and says, "Come out." He reminds us that He is present here in this dark day and in our dark hearts. He calls for us to be present with Him and to be His presence. He calls us to "come out" of darkness in order to speak life into a world of death.

This is the season of Epiphany, where we celebrate Jesus being present among us. Let us not forget all His benefits (Psalm 103)!

getting comfortable with being ordinary

The oatmeal wheat dough is raising in the oven and I'm on my 13th cup of tea. It feels like someone just boxed my ears and if I knew who it was, I might just let loose some Scrooge on them. But, I don't and that's probably better. The upside of this whole sick thing (because there is always an upside) is that there is bread dough in the warm oven and I'm on my 13th cup of tea.

Making bread is a big commitment and probably why bread machines and bakeries and sliced situations are so popular. Who has hours to linger around a warming oven and who has patience to knead a ball of dough for 6-8 minutes? Few people.

And it might be easy to make assumptions about those few people with that kind of time on their hands - that they are smaller or less important or less interesting. Those ordinary folks with rugged hands and simple lives.

I'd like to be that kind of simple folk - just ordinary, you know.

I'm not saying I don't want to be great or that I don't want to pursue the passions buried in my gut or that I don't want to marvel and chase dreams. I'm not saying that.

I just never want to make life more complicated than it was when God sent a celestial choir to a group of simple folks hanging out in the fields. These were the kinds of folks who spent long hours doing ordinary things and these were the kinds of folks God wanted to tell about the Savior's birth. These were the folks who heard it first, in a glorious arrangement of God's best choir.

[vimeo http://vimeo.com/55715889]

Anyway, there are a lot of lights here - buildings and shops and trees lit up for the holidays. But the lights are always on and people are always working, always getting ahead and afraid of falling behind. The lights are always on and people are always looking for something other than ordinary.

I know I get sucked in just like everyone else. I want people to know me and like me and appreciate my creativity. But there is wisdom inside this slow day. And wisdom in an ordinary life, the most ordinary there is, that can point more easily to a Savior who makes all things glorious.

It was not the shepherds - their stature or accomplishments or reputation - that made that middle of the night song so superb. It was the Lord who sent the host of angels, the Lord who made the starry night display, the Lord who wrote the music and the Lord who directed the song.

Maybe if we can get comfortable with being ordinary, we'll be more prepared to hear and listen and participate in what God is orchestrating in these days.

I'm going to go pour another cup of tea and see if I need to punch down the dough.

triumph at play

When God sent Jesus into the strife and struggle of mortality, He was not nervous like a parent on the first day of kindergarten. He was not uncertain about how Jesus would do when faced with bullies or empty bellies.

God did not take the ultimate risk in sending His Son because He sent Christ in ultimate triumph.

Never was there ever a question about the endgame; never a question about how things would shake out when the heat got hot. God never considered Satan a formidable foe. Never.

"The curse on the serpent teaches us to expect an all-out war against sin and death, but we forget that war only wears a grim face when total victory is in doubt. When God himself entered the fray and took upon himself our frail frame, it was not an act of daring; it was triumph at play."  - Diane Vincent, Associate Professor of Torrey Honors Institute (from The Advent Project)

God was not sending Christ into the mortal game as a last resort or as a "Hail, Mary" play to the endzone because Christ was always central to the salvation story, always the plan for redemption. Always.

"...we forget that war only wears a grim face when total victory is in doubt."

Consider what it would feel like to go to battle knowing you were already victorious. The fear and anxiety of battle vanish. The uncertainty and the sleepless nights and the silent pep talks - everything you might feel in a evenly matched battled - vanishes. As we walk in the shadow of Christ's coming, we take on his sure victory.

He stepped into our weakness so we could step into His triumph, so that we could dance upon injustice and delight in His promise keeping.

We need not wear a grim face in this fight, for it is already won.

 

a different kind of Christmas song

I love the melodies of this season. You might even catch me singing out of church calendar order. "O Come, Let us Adore Thee" always feels appropriate probably because adoration is always appropriate. We are welcome to approach the throne of grace in every season and adoration seems the proper thing to sing. But, today there is a different melody ... one that isn't getting lost between The Christmas Song and Mariah Carey. The melody is not like the hallelujah chorus. It doesn't feel like the candlelight service. This melody is different.

I am singing sadness into this beautiful season and I don't know if that's altogether okay. I don't know if that emotion jives with the church calendar and with the anticipation of my Savior and when others are singing "repeat the sounding joy"?

Can I sing sadness at Christmas?

I think I am, regardless. This song is not all sad, but it is not all "tidings of comfort and joy," either.

[youtube=http://youtu.be/xgdNrppahI4]

Christ came down because we are wretched and wayward. He left glory and snuggled into a humble straw bed because we worship other gods. But, mostly He came down because in His great love He is exalted.

He came quietly, like a whisper in the winter.

And His life shook the universe while He held the universe together. He rubbed shoulders with brokenness, broke bread with sinners, and invited the lowly to dinner. He loved without exception, but He never apologized for the message of redemption - the message that creation is in desperate need of saving.

And if you give a good honest look at our desperate need, it might make you sad, too. Sad that He had to come the way He did, sad that we are so hardheaded and sad that we couldn't learn a different way. Sad that after a miracle birth and miracle resurrection we are still learning and still desperate.

There are a lot of people stuffed on to subway trains, with trees and shopping bags and too many tired faces. Christmas is work here, like a second or third job. It gets spelled out in wrinkles and reprimands and cumbersome boxes and Christmas is work.

Limbs start to feel like lead and the "Christmas spirit" is sly like a fox.

And maybe that's why I am sad. Because the world is still dark. Even though the light came as a miracle in a stable, but the world is still rushing in blind darkness - collecting toys and keeping up appearances and wishing happy holidays.

Sadness is an okay way to feel at Christmas, but it is never the end of the story. In my heart I know that Christ conquered the grave and with that death and darkness fell, too. I know that there is a standing invitation to dance in marvelous light - an invitation that I can extend to every Christmas-weary soul.

Christ came to give life, and life abundant. He came to walk out perfect obedience, to demonstrate perfect love. He came because He was the only One able to perfectly satisfy the payment a world of sin required. And in His coming and living, He showed us the way.

Sadness is an okay emotion, maybe, if it is a prayer. And that is what I am singing today - a prayer to be an instrument, to be a little bit like the miracle who came to redeem me out of a life of darkness.

This is the Christmas song I am singing today.

living slowly, breaking ground

Slow does not seem to happen anymore. Slow hangs like an abstract painting between more palatable pieces - between fast and lazy. This season is sick with fast and lazy, with running around shopping malls and with hiding under thick covers. Too much spending and too much rushing, too much pampering and too much justifying selfish pursuits. Too much. And the hustle is exhausting.

Somewhere along the way, we equated slow with "unproductive" and savor with "inefficient." We let ourselves slide into routines of excess that glorify our gluttony. We are either obsessing about productivity or obsessing about recuperating from productivity.

We forget to experience good things slowly.

Last week was an exception. Last week, twelve new and old friends gave beautiful meaning to the phrase, "reclining at table" when we lingered for hours over our Thanksgiving meal. Our hodgepodge living room was candlelit and crowded. The laughter reached all the empty corners where bare walls still meet bare floor. We passed our potluck food around three stretched tables and no one was rushing. We lingered. From appetizers to desserts, we lingered.

A week later, I am learning these lessons of slowly. I am learning to be selfless with a "list of things to do on my day off" when what I think I want is fast and lazy. No, everyday cannot be a day I host a thanksgiving feast in my apartment. But everyday can be about intentionally experiencing good things slowly, like conversations and thoughtful gift making.

Rush, buy, build, pamper, play. I can't keep up with the Joneses and I don't know who can. I'm going to be honest: are the Joneses even happy, whoever they are?

It isn't about doing less in life. Well, maybe it is. Maybe it is about choosing wisely so the good things we choose can be done slowly. I am tackling a "to do list" today, just like anyone would on a day free of 9-5 schedule. But, I want to tackle it slowly. I want my checkbook and my dayplanner to reflect a slow, savored, unselfish day.

And then, I guess I want that to be every day. It's an upstream swim here in NYC, but it is everywhere.

This song by Sara Watkins is on repeat, literally. The rhythm reminds me to breathe deeply and walk slowly when more important people are rushing around my shoulders. The words remind me that slow living is not less important, not less accomplished. Living slowly and savoring good things is still hard work with sweet reward.

[youtube=http://youtu.be/eLpBPiGt248]

Living slowly is about breaking ground for good things.

There is a reward inside our slow, hard work when it is done unselfishly. We are free to be unselfish because Christ gave Himself for us. We are not confident in our efficiency and neither do we trust our cleverness to complete what we've started in breaking ground. We do not revel in past accomplishments or dwell on past failures. As we build on broken ground, we are not hasty in construction or worried about completion because that has already been promised.

We savor good things when we work slowly for others, trusting God to complete and perfect the work. He will take our hodgepodge to-do lists and our hodgepodge gatherings and our hodgepodge 9-5 work days - He will take them all and make them productive. We are left to savor slowly the miracle of working and serving and loving at all.

calvary's hill on the horizon

It snuck up on me, in between all the Thanksgiving plans and while I concern myself with living in the moment. The season of strung lights and sleigh bell music and egg nog descended on this city before I could clear away the thanksgiving plates. Last night at small group, someone shared a prayer request against distractions in this season - that she would be able to focus with her family on celebrating the simple message of Christ coming to earth. New York City does a really great job of distracting even without the help of a consumer-driven season of overspending and dress up parties. So, I'm trying to take it slow. I'm trying to let the Advent readings marinate and linger so I'm anticipating the right things - the best things - and not the hollow things of empty boxes and returned sweaters. And this morning that anticipation led me to Calvary.

"There’s a place for focusing on the stable, the shepherds, and the wonder of the incarnation, but to appreciate the depth of what is happening here, we must keep Calvary’s hill on the horizon." - David Mathis in "Let a Little Lent into your Advent"

Because this season is not waiting for a baby. We are not anticipating the coming of a birth, not merely anyway. Jesus came to earth in a miracle of miracles, but then he lived life full through and ended up at the cross. That God knew all of this before sending His son, and even ordained it, is part of what makes this season magical.

God inserted Himself into his very ugly and and desperate creation so that He might be our redemption.

Christ's birth is beautiful because it is the earthly beginning of the story of salvation on the shoulders of the God-man. Everything about the birth is as unbelievable today as it was when the angels declared it to Mary and Joseph and the shepherds in the fields. Still crazy, still beautiful, still miraculous. But, what makes Christ's birth ever deep is that his life culminated in Calvary - that He died a shameful death on a cross and then rose again to conquer death altogether and purchase pardon for sinners.

The salvation story is not seasonal.

As we anticipate the coming of the Savior King this Christmas, may it be inside the wonder of a greater miracle. How wide can our eyes be to fully take it in? How deep can our joy reach to fully revel in it? How far can our laughter roll to feel the weight of it?

Come, Lord Jesus. Come and live the life of a Messiah. Come and purchase our pardon and come to set us free. Come and do for creation what only You can do. Come and be magnified by the miracle of salvation. Come.

Come to this earth with Calvary on the horizon.

wait, with great expectation

Waiting with anticipation sounds like a funny thing to do. Because it is hard to wait actively and hard to anticipate passively. And that's exactly the miracle of Advent.

There is nothing passive about the days leading up to Christ's birth into the world - the longing for a Messiah is almost palpable throughout the Old Testament. Even as hundreds of years passed, the people of Israel (and beyond) waited with great expectation for the Savior King to come to earth. They were waiting, but they were not resigned to indifference. They read and re-read the prophecies and the promises and then they said, "Come."

Hundreds and hundreds of years of "Come, Lord Jesus." I imagine it maintaining the same intensity, though some generations must have faltered. Still, generation after generation waited actively with the words, "Come."

The incarnation was never meant to happen to us, like witnessing an act of charity on the subway by chance. The incarnation of our Lord was planned from the very beginning, even the stars thrown into the sky were set on a trajectory to proclaim His coming. 

And we are invited to take part in His coming, to anticipate the arrival of the Savior and the fulfillment of the Lord's promise. Christ coming to earth is reason to celebrate salvation for our future, but it is also a reason to celebrate God's salvation in our present. Because He is a faithful promise keeper ... and that translates to Tuesdays. The incarnation is about Tuesday morning devotions and Tuesday afternoon meetings. The incarnation is about financial difficulties and health concerns. The incarnation is about family and brokenness.

The incarnation is about God being a faithful promise keeper when He sent Jesus as a baby into a dark world to be the light.

And the incarnation is not something we let "happen" to us. It is something we invite to transform our Tuesdays and our lives.

Come, thou long expected Jesus. Come.

[youtube=http://youtu.be/bnxBax26qGQ]

stay and wait for the "yet"

I wiggled my way into a Tuesday night home group with no-bake cookies stashed in all the tupperware containers I own. I guess when you are new in town and trying to find the (horribly cliché) "place you fit in," baked goods are never a bad idea (Let's be honest, baked goods are always a good idea). I added my no-bake cookies to the offerings on the coffee table and made a couple bad jokes so the small gathering knew I wasn't trying to play it cool and the cookies really were just a shameless way to endear myself into the group.

Sometime after the awkward introductions, we got buried in a discussion over doubt. The sermon the previous week had been about the doubt of John the Baptist in Matthew 11. From prison, the most sold out of all Jesus's followers sent messengers to ask if Jesus really was the One he had been waiting for, preaching about, and prophesying of - John the Baptist sent messengers to find out if Jesus really was the Messiah his entire existence had proclaimed He was.

What a curveball, to think about doubt in this way with this group of strangers and to arrive at the place we did. I don't mean thinking about doubt is a curveball - especially here in hipster heavy Brooklyn where knowing anything for sure is very unhip. We all agreed that our generation doesn't have a problem accepting/engaging/encouraging doubts. We are top heavy with them and at times paralyzed by the balancing act.

The curvy part of the doubt equation is the tension it takes to stay when doubt comes. Because doubt gives way to fear very quickly. Christians often run to the hills and stand beside pagans shouting doubts at the cold, black sky and then run away before ever an answer can be returned.

Where are you, God? Where were you when my sister died? and when my heart got broken? and when I failed at work and life and love? Where were you, God and why don't you answer? Are you even real?

And as quickly as the one-sided conversation began, it ends as we pull away with smug satisfaction that we got no reply - as if to say to the cold, black sky and everyone else, "See, I was right. He isn't there."

But, that's not doubt. That's fear.

Doubt is buried somewhere in the middle of belief. It's a tension that trains us to believe better, stronger, and deeper in the truths we know. Thomas wasn't the only doubter and neither was John the Baptist. David doubted too, and he doubted well... and he stayed. He wandered out (of his own volition and not) into the hills and deserts and shouted out his doubts at the cold, black sky.

And then he stayed.

He stayed until his heart preached these true words to him: Yet you are holy.

David wrestled and John the Baptist wrestled and Thomas wrestled and now we wrestle the same and different mysteries - all those things just outside the reach of our minds and hearts. And if we stay, we will also say with David, "Yet you are holy."

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of mygroaning? O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer, and by night, but I find no rest.

Yet you are holy, enthroned on the praises of Israel. In you our fathers trusted; they trusted, and you delivered them. To you they cried and were rescued; in you they trusted and were not put to shame.

But I am a worm and not a man, scorned by mankind and despised by the people. All who see me mock me; they make mouths at me; they wag their heads; “He trusts in the Lord; let him deliver him; let him rescue him, for he delights in him!”

Yet you are he who took me from the womb; you made me trust you at my mother's breasts. On you was I cast from my birth, and from my mother's womb you have been my God. Be not far from me, for trouble is near, and there is none to help. (Psalm 22:1-11, ESV, emphasis mine)

When John the Baptist sent the messenger to ask Jesus if He was really the One, Jesus responded with Truth. He responded with the only thing that could come from His lips and the only thing that can come back from the cold, black sky if we stay long enough to listen: the Word.

"Jesus replied, 'Go back and report to John what you hear and see: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor. Blessed is anyone who does not stumble on account of me.'" Matthew 11:4-6

Sometimes fear runs our footsteps away from the hills and the cold, black sky before Truth can set us free where we stand.

John the Baptist was locked up in prison without any hope of freedom and his doubt was mixing fear like a cocktail. He wanted some confirmation that his life had not been lived in vain and he was hoping the sign would appear in the form of loosed chains.

His belief was tenuous, his doubt building tension in between and around the solid rock foundation of his faith. But he stayed to hear Jesus say, "Look at the ways I fulfilled the prophesies. Remember?"

John the Baptist believed, but doubt was threatening to give way to fear when belief didn't seem to be holding up inside a jail cell. And the first and best Jesus could give him to bolster his belief was the Word - Himself as the fulfillment to prophecy and evidence of His faithfulness.

Just as Jesus endured the cross and scorned its shame for the joy set before him, our duels with doubts are not without joy because we are never without God. Though he may seem far from us and far from our generation and far from our shouting, fist-shaking nights under a cold, black sky, He is never not present.

And in His presence is fullness of joy.

This, I believe, is what David and John the Baptist and Thomas experienced in the middle and on the other side of their wrestling. Because they stayed to see that God is present and in His presence is fullness of joy.

If our doubt is not swallowed up by fear, we will stay and our tension will give way to greater belief that God is who He claims to be and keeps all His promises. If our doubt is not swallowed up by fear, our greater belief will meet more doubt and tension and joy because God is always the same. His claims are never untrue. His promises are always fulfilled. His Word can always speak straight into the cold questions.

And here is hope for a generation who hasn't the courage to stay and wait to hear the word, "Yet..."

*NOTE: My mom has since pointed out the irony of my calling no-bake cookies "baked goods." Two points for the mom team. She got me there.

we do the living

I'm early to work. How often does one say that in a city that depends on an unreliable transportation system? Well... pretty often if you are this girl. I think it has something to do with my insistence in taking a different route every day compounded with the fact that I don't conform well to the minutes on the clock. I leave when I'm ready and sometimes that's well before I need to. And so it was this morning. But, I'm not bothered. I wonder how long it will be until I know the commute down to the minute, because then I can imagine being very frustrated when those minutes don't work out.

For today, I am spending my extra minutes thinking about Lazarus as I read "Finally Alive" by John Piper.

In John 11:43, Jesus says to the dead Lazarus, "Lazarus, come out." And the next verse says, "The man who had died came out." So Lazarus takes part in this resurrection. He comes out. Christ causes it. Lazarus does it. He is the one who rises from the dead! Christ brings about the resurrection. Lazarus acts out the resurrection. The instant Christ commands Lazarus to rise, Lazarus does the rising. The instant God gives new life, we do the living. The instant the Spirit produces faith, we do the believing. (Finally Alive, John Piper)

The instant God gives new life, we do the living. Now that is magnificent. That is life altering in the most literal, formerly dead sense. Though we have no part in causing new life to happen inside us, we very much are a part of the acting out of that miraculous gift.

The instant the Spirit produces faith, we do the believing.

I may be in an early-to-work, commuter stupor, but this is most definitely the brilliance that was shining through the stained glass at my Broadway Junction transfer this morning. As the sermon from Sunday night is still marinating in the marrow of my soul, I am thinking about what the death-to-life call meant for Matthew.

When Jesus said, "Walk the same path with me" to Matthew, He was calling him out of a life of darkness and into a life of light. And Matthew rose up and followed.

He acted out Jesus' calling by joining him on the narrow foot path. He believed this man as a result of the Spirit's gift of faith.

And today, whether I notice the minutes passing or not, God has authored transformation as he breathes life into my bones.

And as He miraculously sustains my life, I walk.

I walk and run and laugh and dance and as I do, I stretch out the fingers of this miracle. Because I was dead but He made me alive and He keeps me alive!

grounded in freefall

Do you ever get a sense that you are just floating - waiting for your feet to find land so that you can report a location? Everything feels in motion because you are in motion and it's hard to orientate yourself when you are in a freefall. Those typical questions people ask depend a bit on roots, like "Where are you from?" and "What do you do?" My answers, in this freefall, are fluid and sweeping and noncommittal and perhaps a little evasive. I don't like to let people watch me grasp for ground - it's uncomfortable to flail about when you are used to being surefooted.

I don't know how to explain the strange and confident peace that covers my soul in all this uncertain discomfort. I sound like a broken record, but it's always about believing. Believing the Lord will make good on His promise to provide, protect, and preserve. When we believe God is a faithful promise keeper, the freefall feels different.

When life gives you freefall, become like an astronaut.

Does that sound cheesy? Probably. But, I imagine astronauts do not spend all their gravity-less time wondering if they will ever touch ground again or if there is ground at all all the thousands of miles beneath them.

I imagine they know there is and I imagine they stretch to enjoy the float. I know that astronauts are not in freefall - that they don't have to fear the impact on the other side of their floating. And my freefall in these uncertain moments is the same: I am secure in God's promises, secure in the solid rock of His word, secure in the refuge of His wings.

He is my ground when there is none underneath me.

Christ is my identity even as I'm floating in freefall and flailing. I am His and He is mine. He is with me in my present and He is my secure future. I am reading through Galatians and this morning I read,

for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ's, then you are Abraham's offspring, heirs according to promise. (Galatians 3:26-29, ESV)

My identity can't change mid-flight. I am a son of God - my inheritance is secured in Christ in the middle of all the insecurities I might feel. I have already been named an heir, through faith.

This is my solid ground.

The beautiful thing about putting on Christ like clothes is that He's with you in the freefall, closer than any other thing. He is my inheritance and secure future, but He is not distant and silent. He is breathing truth to my soul and filling my cup to overflowing. He is holding me together.

When I believe what He has promised, I do not doubt the ground. I do not doubt my future or my inheritance. My adoption means comfort more closely and hope more securely than any other thing.

God has called me His in this freefall. My flailing may not make sense and my floating might make people talk, but my heart is grounded in God's promises.

 

 

less, but never nothing

It is never a question of whether "processing" happens when I spend time with Alejandra, but how much of our time will be spent opening Scripture and asking questions of the Lord. This past weekend was no exception. One of the zillions of processing thoughts floating around in our brains and souls and conversations was from this passage in 1 Thessalonians.

Finally then, brethren, we request and exhort you in the Lord Jesus, that as you received from us instruction as to how you ought to walk and please God (just as you actually do walk), that you excel still more. 2 For you know what commandments we gave you by the authority of the Lord Jesus. 3 For this is the will of God, your sanctification; that is, that you abstain from sexual immorality; 4 that each of you know how to possess his own vessel in sanctification and honor, 5 not in lustful passion, like the Gentiles who do not know God; 6 and that no man transgress and defraud his brother in the matter because the Lord is the avenger in all these things, just as we also told you before and solemnly warned you. 7 For God has not called us for the purpose of impurity, but in sanctification. 8 So, he who rejects this is not rejecting man but the God who gives His Holy Spirit to you. 1 Thessalonians 4:1–8, ESV

Specifically, Paul's admonition in verses 4 and 5, "that each of you know how to possess his own vessel in sanctification and honor, not in lustful passion, like the Gentiles who do not know God." In this scenario, Paul equates the Gentiles with those who "do not know God."

Gentiles = do not know God = do not know how to possess their bodies in sanctification and honor = live in lustful passion = reject God.

So, this progression begs the question, "What is the alternative?"

Knowing God.

Do believers, who do know God and are being sanctified, eventually get "cured" of lustful passions and impurities? It might seem like our sanctification (sealed in our salvation) looks like the kind of progress that makes struggles like lust eventually obsolete in our lives.

Paul writes in verse 1, "Finally then, brethren, we request and exhort you in the Lord Jesus, that as you received from us instruction as to how you ought to walk and please God (just as you actually do walk), that you excel still more."

We know from Scripture how we ought to walk (Micah 6:8), what pleases God (Hebrews 6), and that our walk looks like actual steps (Galatians 5) and not just philosophies or cultural expectations. We also know that God promises to be faithful in sanctifying us from one degree of glory to the next (2 Corinthians 3:18). As we obey (not because we obey), in His grace He sanctifies and allows us to excel still more.

But, here we reach that cumbersome impasse.

If we are knowing God in increasing measure and living a life that reflects that knowledge, will our sin eventually disappear? Will we eventually be completely free, by way of sanctification, of the sin that tangles and ties us down?

I wonder if that answer is yes and no.

Yes, We must believe God when He says He is sanctifying us and that He will not stop until that work is completed. We must believe God when He says "excelling more" is possible. We must believe God when He says there is grace enough and strength enough to overcome whatever tools Satan wields against us. We must believe that His power is always greater, every time.

No, We must know that our sin on this side of heaven will never be nothing. I don't care if you are a pastor or a prince or a peddler - your sin will never be nothing on this side of heaven. No one will make weekly trips to church with nothing to confess.

But before we start taking a measuring stick to our spiritual success, let's consider where our eyes ought to be focused - on the author and perfecter of our faith (Hebrews 12:2), on what is unseen (2 Corinthians 4:18), on the eternal weight of glory (2 Corinthians 4:17).

We do not believe God is faithful to sanctify us by fixing our eyes on our progress, but by fixing our eyes on the One who progresses us from one degree of glory to the next.

Should our sin become less as we are being sanctified? Yes, but we are not consumed by the amount of "less" sin because we are too busy being consumed with the amount of "more" life we have in Christ.

He said abundant and I believe Him for it.

Living in abundance feeds a hunger for more abundance - life gives breath to more life and our eyes are fixed on the Giver in the already, not yet part of this salvation story. Our sin can be less but never nothing on this side of heaven. Knowing God should mean less sin, but the measuring stick is always Christ. He accomplished (past tense) our sanctification, so none of our efforts can aim to accomplish anything. Our obedience is a testimony to His faithfulness, His provision, and His promise-keeping.

Just to be clear...

I'll add this little caveat that might be helpful as we process the idea of sinning less and enjoying Christ more. If we sin at all, we are in constant and desperate need of salvation. So, since we sin at all (less or more makes no difference) on this side of heaven, there is no room for boasting and no room for pride. Our boast is in the Lord alone, whose grace is sufficient to cover our sin even as we are believing God as He completes the sanctifies work in us. Our sanctification hangs on grace and not on our efforts - it depends on what Christ accomplished through the cross and not what we can accomplish by keeping the law.

Read Piper's thoughts in the sermon, 'This is the Will of God for You...' and then please share your own. The best part of processing is being challenged and sharpened!

what keeps my bones revived

I'm not sure if Smalltown Poets were ever cool when I was growing up, but their CD got major airplay in my little room with slanted ceilings. I'm sure they inspired some of the sappy journal writing I did or at least accompanied it. One of their songs came to mind recently when I was taking communion, the chorus of "Trust" reads,

Take this bread, Drink this cup, Know this price has pardoned you From all that's hardened you, But it's going to take some trust

When the bread passed by me in the pew, I pulled off a good-sized chunk (thanks to Kevin DeYoung, whose message on sanctification and communion inspired me to peel off enough bread to "feel the weight of it") and stared at it in my hand. Jesus instructed us to take the bread and drink the cup, for as often as we take the bread and drink the cup we proclaim the Lord's death until He comes (see 1 Corinthians 11:26). So, I weighed the good-sized chunk in my hand while I considered what it proclaimed. This price has pardoned me from all that's hardened me.

Oh, boy. That was the price my hardening required - a pardon that looked like a broken body and spilled blood?

Yes. That is just exactly the kind of price. Even the good-sized chunk of bread couldn't help me imagine the weight of my dead bones before Christ revived me. But feeling the weight of the bread during communion is something different than guilt and nothing like condemnation. The weight of my good-sized chunk of communion bread felt like freedom. 

But the challenge with communion, for me, is not believing that Jesus' death and resurrection happened or that it is the event that brought life to my dead bones. I am redeemed and a child of the King, of that I am sure.

The challenge with communion is believing that Jesus' death and resurrection is currently keeping my bones revived.

When a slave is granted freedom, we do not say that freedom existed for the one moment when his chains fell. Freedom is also every moment after the shackles break; salvation is happening in our lives as believers as much as it happened when we first believed. 

What Jesus accomplished on the cross was not millions of salvation moments, but rather millions of salvation stories.

Yes, Smalltown Poets, this is "going to take some trust." We are freed to obey, freed to believe, and freed to trust that this Savior who secured my freedom is faithful to keep securing my freedom.

This is what I proclaim in the bread and the cup: trust that God pardoned me and He is keeping me pardoned.

That means I am freed from greed and fear and worry. I am freed from anxiety and pain and jealousy. I am freed from pride and guilt and shame. I am freed from sin and death and given a way out from temptation. I am freed and Christ is keeping me freed.

This is starting to sound like a broken record. I'm not sure that's so bad.

let LOVE fly like cRaZy

this ain't no kind of religion

If it was, I'd be doomed. If this life is about religion, I'd be zonked, smothered, shriveled, beat up, dried out, and downcast. If yesterday was about measuring up and looking good and doing right, I failed.

I thought a run would cure my sour rhythm, but right before I left I opted for the rollerblades. I wanted to feel the wind faster in my face, I guess. Halfway around Gray's Lake, after picking up speed on the perfect slope, a very large and very deep pool of water stretched over the path. I made a last minute decision to go off-roading on the grass, which ended as quickly as it started - with me on my back.

I jumped up and blade ran (sideways with arms pumping) across the rest of the grass until the path was clear. I'm not really sure why I did this because blade running is not a thing. No one runs on rollerblades in the grass.

But when I picked up speed again on the other side of that pool of water, I thought about a conversation I had with a colleague recently. She said, "Yeah, I just get sick of some Christians in my life saying they want to do more Christian stuff. I'm like, 'Why don't you just stop talking about it and live it?' I mean, I'm not much into religion, but I do it 40 hours a week. It's my job."

This colleague is my favorite, but I couldn't make any sense of her statements. I think she was saying that she does what Christians talk about every work week - it's her day job. Apparently, there are "Christians" in her life who have less humanitarian jobs and they feel guilty about their efforts to better humanity. She's not a fan of religion, but she does it pretty well anyway.

In any case, I was thinking about this conversation when I was rollerblading (faster now to escape the humiliation of my fall) when night was settling on the city.

And I knew that every doomed day would stay doomed if it was about religion. Even if we all worked in the social services field all day, every day... even if we helped a thousand zillion people because of our efforts... even then we would be doomed if it was about religion.

THIS IS LOVE.

Christ breaks through every day that we fail to "do religion" perfectly (and that's every day). He sets us free from human measurements and standards. He invites us to dance unashamed because our freedom was purchased by His love.

In every way we fall short, His grace extends far enough.

Can you feel it? It's like rain, this love. It falls on the mighty and the weak, the smart and the simple, the famous and the obscure. His love falls on those who wrestle in doubt, cower in fear, and push back in anger. It's like a downpour, this love.

His love accepts our incomplete efforts because the only measurement is Christ. He accomplished everything so I could accomplish anything at all.

Thursday is a good day to get soaked.

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home chased and caught me

Home is not where I get chased to or chased from because home is chasing me. I know because it chased me across these five calendar days, begging for me to abide. It had a little bit to do with the anxiety of job applications and a little bit to do with odd working hours and a little bit to do with prioritizing phone conversations. But, I can tell you it had everything to do with my heart being homesick.

I met a friend for a near-sunrise breakfast this week and I asked about the past weekend with her parents. She had one of those contented smiles on her face - the ones we wear when words won't suffice - and she said, "Good. It was just so good." And I knew just what she meant.

Home is that feeling you get when you are abiding under someone else's roof.

But my parents' home was not chasing me this week (although it is a wonderful place to abide - a place I don't have to check the mail or arrange a social calendar or clear the dust mites from the corners of the closets). And to be honest, the "home feeling" has a time limit when it's confined to a location.

I've called a lot of places home. After 6 months in Des Moines, "home" definitely describes my little street and the corner meat store and the running path to Gray's Lake. I don't have a hard time settling into new homes or missing them dearly when I uproot and transplant, but none of them were chasing me this week either. Because there is a limit to our earthly contentedness, an impenetrable obstacle to our earthly abiding even in the most home-ly of places.

This week the home that chased me was the one from John 15 and Psalm 23:6 and Exodus 36:4. It caught up with me mid-morning when I realized the ache in my gut wasn't heartburn or indigestion or hormones. My heart missed home.

When the rain started to fall in the park, it struck me all of a sudden that my sloppy schedule and mishandled time management had cost me precious time with my Savior. I was doing things, some good and some just things, and somehow my silly feet had wandered from my true home.

I skipped my morning devotions. I prayed mostly in transit.

I laughed and moped and chatted and filled all the space of the day. And then, I shook away the nudge to be still. I drank more coffee and went on longer rollerblading runs. I scribbled notes and made lists. I pushed down the prick of conviction and today it pushed back.

When I read this devotion today from Solid Joys, I remembered why it is good to be at home with the Lord, abiding in His presence. I remembered why my Savior's shelter is the best place to abide. Because home is not where you run to when your vagabond shoes have holes and home is not where you run from in a dry season of discontent. 

Home is the forever love of the Father, who pursues us so our souls can best abide.

His is the home that never changes, never wearies, never rusts, and never tires. His is the home my heart gets sick for and the shelter that best covers my soul. His is the space where I want to abide.

Home chased me this week and caught me today. And as I abide out this Friday, His kindness is leading me to repentance.

when faith sees

He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was as good as dead (since he was about a hundred years old), or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah's womb. No unbelief made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised. (Romans 4:19–21)

What does it look like to be convinced that God is able to do what He promises? And what does it look like when what is promised is impossible?

What if someone told you that one day you would be the President or that you would be the Queen? And what if it wasn't just an offhand comment, but a promise. It would be an impossible promise (maybe not for you, in which case I'm very honored that you are reading my blog).

Abraham was promised something impossible, but He was convinced in God's faithfulness to keep His promises. There were a lot of details that didn't make sense - a lot of good practical reasons to doubt the Word of the Lord - but Abraham persevered in faith. God's grace allowed Abraham to believe and grow stronger in His belief that God would keep His promise.

This active believing was counted to Abraham as righteousness. God wrote out the storyline (Abraham would be the father of nations) and then by His grace Abraham lived out the impossible story by His belief that it was true.

Abraham had no idea of knowing what the promises would look like, but he knew what God's faithfulness looked like - steadfast, sure, steady, true.

Sometimes, we are consumed with figuring out what the promises will look like when they are fulfilled. How will God show Himself faithful in finding me a job? How will God's promise be fulfilled in my friendships? How can God be faithful to overcome the evil in the world and dispel the lies? How do I believe what He promises about eternity?

What will His fulfilled promises look like in my life - in those impossible things?

God's faithfulness to keep every promise He has ever made gives us a clear picture of the Promise Keeper. Sometimes we are not meant to see what those impossible promises look like, but we are always meant to see who holds the promises secure.

Our faith sees this Promise Keeper and actively believes in His faithfulness. 

Abraham could never have imagined what God was promising - what it would look like. He never would have expected that Christ would come as a result of God's promise and die to demonstrate His faithfulness and mercy. In Christ, God made a way for us and proved His ultimate promise keeping in the most impossible situation: satisfying the debt we owed and securing our place with Him for eternity.

Our faith sees this Promise Keeper and actively believes He will continue keeping promises, even if we have no idea what the promises will look like when they are kept.

all the million other reasons

My friend Nicole and I often recount the impossibility of our becoming friends. We love the silly madness of it - Nicole was looking to transfer schools during our first semester at Hope College and I was reveling in independent bliss with my new best friend Meghan. Meghan and I were next door neighbors in the dorm and fast friends. It just so happened that we were assigned to the same Bible study group, where we learned that someone named Nicole wanted to transfer.

Meghan and I decided Nicole would be our friend, even though we knew very little about her. One day, we were biking from a football game and we spotted Nicole on the sidewalk. In our excitement, we fell over in front of her while trying to explain that we would all soon be friends. There are many surprising things - like that it was actually Nicole we saw (there weren't many Asian students) and that she didn't run in the other direction when we made a scene.

But we love that story because here we are in the present, remembering that first year of Bible study and the following years of friendship. Here we are, right now, playing phone tag because our friendship is the kindred kind.

And from such an unlikely beginning.

I have always recounted stories like these (it seems I collect them like kids collect seashells at the beach) and praised God for His sovereignty. How amazing that He cared about all the little details - all the punctuation in the writing of our beautiful story of friendship.

Recently, I rediscovered a friendship from childhood and I was praising God in the same way - expressing wonder that He would bless us in such an unlikely and surprising way. My new/old friend lost no time in being the iron that sharpens iron. She mentioned a Tim Keller sermon that had changed how she thought about unlikely circumstances in her life. Instead of thinking about all the reasons things happened for her benefit as God was writing her story, Keller challenged my friend to think about all the million little things He was doing in the stories of the people around her and in the greater and bigger story of Creation.

Think about that for a second.

God is, indeed, working out all things for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28). But, I can only look back on my life and see the tiniest number of reasons why God might have worked the way He did. Naturally, we rush to explain that what we didn't know then and do know now gives us a glimpse of His perfect plan. What about all the other hundreds of people who have stepped in and out of my little story... couldn't some of the unlikely details and detours of my life play a part in their stories?

Most importantly, when we marvel at the way God is sovereignly writing the narrative of creation and holding it together in Christ, we must never be at the center.

Every unlikely detail of our lives followed by every unlikely consequence are sentences in a story about God's grace and God's love toward us.

His name and renown are always at the center of the story, even though we are the recipients. My unlikely friendship with Nicole might have started because our bikes tipped over by Holland Municipal Stadium, but there might be a million other reasons God started our story the way He did - for His name's sake. I will never know all the reasons God blessed my life the way He has, but the little I do know has produced joy in overwhelming abundance. Maybe that's why we don't know all the million other reasons - the joy at His goodness would be too much.

Here are some reminders from Josh Etter at Desiring God that we are created, saved, and sanctified for God's name's sake.

We are created for God's name's sake:

Bring my sons from afar and my daughters from the end of the earth, every one who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory (Isaiah 43:6-7).

We are saved for God's name's sake:

I acted for the sake of my name, that it should not be profaned in the sight of the nations in whose sight I had brought them out (Ezekiel 20:14).

We are sanctified for God's name's sake:

Behold, I have refined you, but not as silver; I have tested you in the furnace of affliction. For My own sake, for My own sake, I will act; for how can My name be profaned? And My glory I will not give to another (Isaiah 48:10-11).