like a heavy raindrop on my soul

My pastor is trying to trick us into memorizing Psalm 32, all of it. I guess I can't call it a trick if he told us the plan and if we all recite it together once a week. The second Sunday I read it in the bulletin, my voice slipped into the lull of liturgy and my mind tried to wander. I mouthed the words in the light of stained glass and corporate contemplation. I wasn't surprised when the reading ended and I felt like I could have just read a paragraph from any book. This past Sunday, we read chapter 32 again and I soaked it in.

I let each word fall like a heavy raindrop on my soul.

And I was not disappointed.

I am in a bit of a word desert right now. I don't like to write when I have nothing to say and I think that is for the best. This morning I am content to hear words spoken over me - the same words God is speaking over all His creation in this very moment.

Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered.

Blessed is the man against whom the LORD counts no iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit.

For when I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer. Selah

I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not cover my iniquity; I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the LORD,” and you forgave the iniquity of my sin. Selah

Therefore let everyone who is godly offer prayer to you at a time when you may be found; surely in the rush of great waters, they shall not reach him.

You are a hiding place for me; you preserve me from trouble; you surround me with shouts of deliverance. Selah

I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my eye upon you. Be not like a horse or a mule, without understanding, which must be curbed with bit and bridle, or it will not stay near you.

Many are the sorrows of the wicked, but steadfast love surrounds the one who trusts in the LORD. Be glad in the LORD, and rejoice, O righteous, and shout for joy, all you upright in heart! (Psalm 32 ESV)

#callingmeout

Oh, hey Lent devotional on the first day of Spring. #callingmeout

Our consumerism is rooted in a lack of faith. We are worried about what others think because we are not convinced that God delights in us (Psalm 149:4). We are anxious because we do not believe God will meet our needs (Matthew 6:32). We vie for attention because we do not think God rewards what is done in secret (Matthew 6:6). We compare ourselves to others because we forget that Jesus is our righteousness (1 Corinthians 1:30). A consumer is self-seeking because he is preoccupied with building his own kingdom in order to meet his own needs. During Lent, Jesus especially calls us to re-right our lives, to “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matthew 6:33)

Spring is here, officially. That's what the calendar says, anyway. I want so badly for winter to be over - to emerge from all the caves we've been hiding inside. But when I read this paragraph this morning, I realized winter cannot be the scapegoat for a wayward heart.

I am a worried, anxious, attention-seeking, comparison complexing, self-seeking consumer. I can blame it on winter, but I would be wrong. Because I can lack faith in the middle of the best blooming Spring the same way I can lack faith in the wake of a forever winter.

This is the beauty of Lent, in the "re-righting" of our lives, God invites us to believe that He is full of miracles to overflow every season. Every season, miracles. Every season, faithfulness. Every season, provision. Every season, righteousness. Every season, abundance.

Every season, always joy.

I may not feel like pastel colors and singing in the rain, but God's offer of abundance is not based on my feelings or my willingness to accept it. God's offer of abundance is based on His goodness and I am missing out to believe in anything else. I am missing out because nothing else will fill me up and nothing else will give an overflow I can pour out in service to others.

The grace of God turns us into servants. Instead of demanding that we be served, we joyfully lay down our rights and seek to serve God and others.

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*Excerpts from this Lent Devotional, Journey to the Cross.

near to Jesus

Somewhere in the middle of our discussion on Matthew 24:15-28 last night, I realized how different it feels to be near to Jesus in Lent. In Epiphany, I was jostling with the crowds to get nearer the miracle. I was standing shoulder to shoulder with the disciples, trying to decipher the beauty and mystery of the God man. In Epiphany, I wanted to be near when Jesus touched lepers and saved harlots and spoke beauty and explained Truth. I wanted to be near Him like I wanted to be near beauty and like a magnet He pulled my soul closer.

In Lent, being near Jesus feels different because it means walking with Him to death.

He is no less beautiful or miraculous or True, but it feels somber to be beside Him as we go. I know it is for me that we're on this journey - for my sin and hard heartedness that He has to set his eyes like flint on Jerusalem.

But I still want to be next to Him and I only want to be next to Him.

That is the repeat phrase I heard myself say after we finished prayers and I started off toward home last night. All those street preachers are right, at least partially: there is an end to this world and it is serious business. And in the end, I want to be found next to Christ - tucked under His provision and snuggled right up to His beauty when all that is somber thunders down.

If Christ is the most beautiful thing when the world folds in on its own desires, then He is definitely the most beautiful thing about this Wednesday morning.

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honesty about sin means honesty about salvation

I read this gem in my Lent devotional this morning, from philosopher Søren Aabye Kierkegaard:

“Sin is the despairing refusal to find your deepest identity in your relationship and service to God. Sin is seeking to become oneself, to get an identity, apart from God.”

I don't like thinking about my sin, even though it seems I'm always aware of it and always fighting shame against it. But it is a private shame, one I push beneath workflow and to the corners of social plans. I don't like that I stumble and fail and forget lessons I learned the hard way. I don't like that I require crazy amounts of patience from God, as He reteaches my heart to submit and love and serve and obey.

But, when I finally speak my sin into the light I realize how much energy I spent keeping it in the dark. Not that my efforts to hide selfishness and pride can keep anything from my Maker (and, of course I know that), but shame is a great and sly motivator.

When I confess my sin, I distance myself from any identity associated with rebellion and lean on the identity of the One who saves. But this relief only comes by way of honest confession.

So many times, I will kneel in church or pause for prayer and search my mind for something to confess. Satan somehow clears all the sin I have been shamefully hiding and replaces that elephant space in my mind with silent whiteness. My thoughts don't even wander, there is just nothing there at all. Later, of course, the sins creep out from the corners to remind me that I am unworthy.

My heart needs confession (honesty about my sin) because my heart desperately needs forgiveness (honesty about salvation).

There is just no way around it, but there is also no greater glory to be found. God welcomes our confession and exchanges us a crown. He covers us in His grace and grants us inexplicable joy.

He leads us like a shepherd and chases us when we stray. What a beautiful friend we have in Jesus, friends - that He would chase down a forgetful and frightened heart to offer perfect freedom from shame.

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because we have song, they said

The birds sang all over my coffee this morning, through the open window by the fire escape. I wish I knew their song. It seems like creation doesn't hold back or get nervous or feel awkward about its praise. It's just the song inside and the only way is out.

The sunrise and the starlight and the sparrows under God's watchful eye, all just singing out the songs buried inside. If I imagined myself into conversation with the birds outside my window and I asked them why they sang, I wonder what they would say. I wonder if they would think me silly and simple minded when they reply,

"...because we have song."

This is the only option, but it is also the best and I love that the birds know that, and the mountains know that, and the life inside dead tree branches know that. Creation sings without shame or fear, but not to get glory.

Creation sings because the Creator gave them a song. And when creation sings, the songmaker is glorified.

I have a song inside, between doubts and delights and deserts. But the song is not for me. The singing is not so I can hear my own voice, but because I have a song. This, so that God would be glorified and others would see that I am also a part of the Spring chorus of sunlight and starlight and sparrows letting loose melodies into the sky.

Happy Sabbath day, friends.

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.

all the rightness I am not

The ash on his thumb was black and wet and when he rubbed it across my forehead I really did feel like I came from dust. The priest's words, "From dust you came and from dust you shall return" felt like a confirmation of something I try to forget on the regular. I was working late Ash Wednesday night, so I went with a coworker to the noon service at the local Catholic church. She knew all the right hand motions, so I just followed close behind. No one seemed to think it was weird to have a blonde-haired, non-Catholic stranger visiting their bilingual service.

And so the Lent season began. Now, here we are in the middle and I am tempted to rush these 40 days.

If I am honest, I feel ripe for a celebration and that doesn't fit with this somber, Lenten attitude. I crammed introspection into commutes leading up to Wednesday because I didn't want to be hasty or thoughtless about this season. I fought for brain space between subway rappers and social media distractions because I wanted to be the right kind of prepared.

I don't know if I accomplished all the necessary Lent preparations. I had some conversations, made some pancakes, heard some sermons, and sang some songs. But then that priest told me I was dust and I knew he was right.

And I knew I could never be the right kind of prepared, at least I don't think so. God is just calling me to say "Yes" to all His rightness. My heart looks like my apartment right now - boxes and disorder and confusion - but I don't need to get right in these 40 days or in preparation for them.

I need to believe Christ is all the rightness I am not.

I need to follow Christ into the desert, to fast from distractions and feast on the Word, because He is all the rightness I am not. He is all the order I cannot muster and all the beauty I cannot duplicate.

I was truly unprepared in every way for these Lent feelings. I am the wet, black ash smeared across my forehead and there is nothing I can do to get more right. But God, in His grace is all the rightness I am not. He makes a way for me to feast as I fast. He makes a way for the lowly and the weak to praise His name.

Whoa. whoa. whoa.

I can stretch into that kind of praise, with a heart that looks like a hurricane and a house that looks haphazard. I can sing this song with a full heart and know that the God who formed me from dust hears my humble song!

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heaping cups of consolation

Today, I woke up on an air mattress in the middle of my bedroom, sorting out strange dreams and back stiffness. It's a long story and one I'm currently stuck in the middle of, so I'll give you the full version when I can say "this too shall pass" with the kind of tone that believes it will. For now, the morning light is stretching out across the living room while I enjoy a slow cup of french press coffee. For now, I am stretching into this blue sky Saturday while I listen to Keller preach on anxiety and emotions and the psychology of happiness. I am not usually an emotional roller coaster, so I am a little ashamed to admit I have been one the past couple days.

Last night, I had a shot of whiskey before going to bed.

It felt more like an old-fashioned remedy to nervousness than it felt like self-medication, but it was probably both. So, when I opened an email from my dear friend Whitney this morning, my heart was primed. I needed an encouraging word - the kind that speaks Truth softly but firmly and without reservation. The sermon she sent was called, "The Wounded Spirit" and I instantly felt guilty for thinking my spirit qualified. I recently watched Scott Hamilton's story in his I AM SECOND video - what kind of candle can my troubles hold to that struggle?

Theodore Roosevelt said "comparison is the thief of joy," and in this case its thievery also included consolation. Our problems are always small in comparison to the problems of others, at least mine are. I can always find someone who has it worse, always, and I end up disqualifying myself for consolation as a result. But, I listened to the sermon anyway - even if I felt guilty for thinking my heart qualified.

And I found heaping cups of consolation, buried like treasure inside Scripture.

An anxious heart weighs a man down but a good word makes him glad. (Proverbs 12:25)

Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a desire fulfilled is a tree of life. (Proverbs 13:12, ESV)

The heart knows its own bitterness, and no stranger shares its joy. (Proverbs 14:10, ESV)

A glad heart makes a cheerful face, but by sorrow of heart the spirit is crushed. The heart of him who has understanding seeks knowledge, but the mouths of fools feed on folly. (Proverbs 15:13-14, ESV)

The wicked flee when no one pursues, but the righteous are bold as a lion. (Proverbs 28:1)

In each of these passages and a few more, Keller points to the good news of the Gospel - Christ is the ultimate good word, the best hope, the supremest joy, the most sincere gladness, and the boldest righteousness. But this good news does not live inside a vacuum. This good news lives inside this real world, in real and unforgiving circumstances.

"Happiness is determined by how you deal with your circumstances on the inside - how you process, how you address, how you view them." - Tim Keller

God's sweet consolation does not mind how trivial or monumental our anxiety. He does not measure our worries against one another and dole out consolation accordingly. The good news of the Gospel is that it will never run out.

My heart always qualifies for consolation and the consolation of the Good News will never run out.

At the end of the sermon, Keller stresses,

"Come on! He took the tree of death so you can have the tree of life. Use that on your conscience, use that on your emotions, use that on your existential angst. That'll get rid of your fear of death. But most of all use it on the hope of your heart..."

This too shall pass. Yes, I believe it will.

The hope in my heart is not something I've conquered or created. The hope in my heart is heaping cups of consolation from the Giver of Good News.

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.

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slow Sabbath

Today is a new day and today is the Sabbath, so it has two things going for it and the clock still says 8 am. The Lord welcomes me when days have weight I do not understand. The Lord is faithful and He is strong.

And today I will not pretend to steal strength.

Maybe if I start off admitting my weakness, I will not be so surprised when I need to lean on His strength. More than just admitting, though, this day's beginning needs believing that it is good to not be God. It is good to believe God is completely and uniquely God, that all things rest on His shoulders and all things are held together in His hand.

"In our giving heed to God’s power there rises up in us a realization that God created the universe for this: So that we could have the supremely satisfying experience of not being God, but admiring the Godness of God — the strength of God. There settles over us a peaceful realization that admiration of the infinite is the final end of all things." Solid Joys DevotionalGladly Not God

It is good to believe that being human is okay and even just the way God planned things. It is good to praise God for the strength it takes to hold the world together. And as I praise this God of strength today, I will not pretend to steal strength away because it never works.

Being human and weak is the only way we can rejoice in the freedom of God being God and strong.

In His strength, we are held up.

a study in abundance

Usually, when I talk about abundance I am talking about the kind of life Jesus came to bring. I'm talking about overflowing cups and about grace that is more than enough. I'm talking about bust-at-the-seams joy and about delight that chases sunlight. Usually, when I talk about abundance, it sounds like things you want to have seeping out from the pores of your life.

Then I read these words from Francis Schaeffer in True Spirituality,

"We are surrounded by a world that says no to nothing. When we are surrounded with this sort of mentality, in which everything is judged by binges and by success, then suddenly to be told that in the Christian life there is to be this strong negative aspect of saying no to things and no to self, it must seem hard. And if it does not feel hard to us, we are not really letting it speak to us." - Schaeffer, True Spirituality

This is a different, empty abundance, and it is everywhere. I can literally think of absolutely any desire and then indulge at some point on my commute home from work. Feeling sad? Eat cake. Feeling tired? Buy a latte. Feeling lonely? Arrange a meet up with friends. Feeling overcrowded? Pick up takeout and watch netflix. Feeling poor? Swipe your plastic to prove you can still splurge. Feeling bored at work? Job search on Linkedin while in transit. Feeling achy and sore? Swing by the corner store for medicines.

We don't like to be limited.

We want an abundance we control - an abundance that serves us and gratifies our petty, momentary desires. We want an abundance that tastes like chocolate and comfort and success. We want an abundance that never hurts, never sweats, never needs anything but our desire for more of it. We want an abundance we can control.

Schaeffer is framing a concept in the second chapter that makes pretty much everyone uncomfortable. He doesn't even try to ease into it... he titled the chapter The Centrality of Death. He pulls us into a conversation about the real issue at stake as we try to live out the Christian life. He writes,

"It is not, for example, a matter of waiting until we no longer have strong sexual desires, but rather that in the midst of the moving of life, surrounded by a world that grabs everything in rebellion, first against God and then against fellow men, we are to understand what Jesus means when he talks about denying ourselves and renouncing ourselves with regard to that which is not rightfully ours." - Francis Scaeffer, True Spirituality

in the midst of the moving of life ... we are to understand what Jesus means when he talks about denying ourselves and renouncing ourselves

Yes, it is in the midst of the moving of life that we get especially uncomfortable with denying ourselves. Because that is when we reach for quick fixes. We have a very real empty filling, but we would prefer to orchestrate our own abundance.

This really got stuck in my soul this week. I would like to think otherwise, but this is my story as much as it is any average New Yorker's. I self medicate with coffees and chocolates and plans and hipster toys. "Death by choice," as Schaeffer calls it, does not sound appealing. But, his encouragement is that there is no way around it. If we want the kind of abundance Christ offered, it will come by way of death.

"The order - rejected, slain, raised - is also the order of the Christian life of true spirituality; there is no other." Schaeffer, True Spirituality

What power is there in being raised if we were never buried? What miracle is there in new birth if the old is still around? The Christian life is an everyday dying of self, an everyday denying of selfish desires. But the Christian life is also an everyday revival and an everyday raising.

My soul is looking like a seesaw over this truth.

I am learning what it means to die to self everyday so that I can live the miracle of being raised. That is when abundance starts to make sense - when you know what you have died to and what you have been raised for.

when the skies wear out

The sky was beautiful today, but it is not forever. The pale blue will not always look so perfect; the clouds will not always stretch across it like orphaned feathers. There is nothing permanent about the beauty we see around us. Like the thick ribbons of snow from yesterday getting trampled into brown slush underfoot today, there is nothing permanent about the beauty on this earth. At least not now.

And I have a hunger for the beauty, for the kingdom come, for the eternal. I have a hunger for a beauty that will last forever. We are in the middle of the dead of winter and sometimes it feels like our stone hearts are as dead as the dirty brown earth the snow is covering. It feels like our hearts are too dead to be revived by beauty.

Here is a bouquet of sorts. This song sounds to me like a beautiful flower delivery today - beauty and life in the dead of winter's grim. Open it and listen and sing and rejoice because Christ makes beauty possible and Christ makes beauty secure.

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As I celebrate the presence and beauty of Christ in Epiphany, I am also looking ahead (as Christ's followers must have). I am looking ahead because, as Christ forgave sins and healed sinners, He was looking ahead to the cross.

Being present does not mean forgetting future glory. Being present does not mean avoiding future pain. Being present does not mean poor planning.

As Christ planted His presence in the soil of this earth, He also looked ahead to the ultimate sacrifice and endured it "for the joy set before Him." He looked forward to the day He would satisfy justice and restore His children.

Rock of Ages, you have brought me near You have poured out your life-blood, your love, your tears To make this stone heart come alive again Rock of Ages, forgive my sin.

Christ is the beauty that is forever, when the skies wear out. Christ is the beauty that makes stone hearts come alive again. Christ is the beauty that is hope secure.

we are chance creators

There is this thing in soccer called "chances created." It's a statistic that tracks how many times a soccer player has created chances for plays. I heard about it yesterday at church because our pastor's favorite soccer player is known for his "chances created" statistic. And this matters because the friends of the paralyzed man in Matthew 9:1-8 were about creating chances. They knew that carrying their friend to the door of the home where Jesus was preaching was not enough. The crowd craned their necks from all windows and doorways to see and hear the teaching; there was no way to get their friend to the front where Jesus stood.

Oh, sure, they could have turned back and no one would have asked why. But they were about creating chances - they were determined to get their friend to the feet of Jesus because they thought something unbelievable could happen.

There was no guarantee, just a chance to witness something beautiful.

And that belief was big enough to motivate their deconstructing a roof and their Macgyvering a lowering system to interrupt Jesus' teaching with the presence of a disabled man.

The presence of Jesus was that important.

They created a chance for their paralyzed friend to meet Jesus because they believed it could change his life forever. Even just the chance was worth the sweat and trouble and questioning stares. Worth it.

Do I think getting uncomfortable and awkward and tired is worth the chances it creates for others to meet Jesus?

Good question.

Sometimes I waste time weighing out my options. I wonder if the invitations will be received well and if the conversation will be offensive. I wonder about future conversations and wonder if I will keep or lose friendships. I wonder about looking silly and feeling ashamed. I wonder about how much the other person even wants a chance to meet Jesus.

But these guys, they were relentless. And when their paralyzed friend finally got lowered down with the Bible times version of duct tape and WD 40, Jesus surprised everyone.

He looked past the paralyzed man's obvious and most debilitating physical need. He looked past the years of struggle and got inside his heart... and what He saw needed forgiving. Whatever it was, we can all relate. We are all the paralyzed man, inside. We all need to get to the foot of Jesus so He can expose what is dark apart from any physical anxieties that knot us up on the outside.

So, this was the man's chance at the feet of Jesus - his chance to experience something that would transform everything else about his mat-constrained life. And then Jesus healed this paralyzed man of sin. He forgave him for all the darkness hiding out in his heart. That was the magic and that was the mystery - the play that happened as a result of the chance created.

After the crowd backlashed and questioned, Jesus also healed the man's physical body so that "you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.” He is Lord over the spiritual and the physical. All of it, everything.

"There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry, Mine!” - Abraham Kuyper

This is why we are chance creators.

Because God is the best at unearned surprises - the eternal and physical, the now and future, the simple and complex kinds. He is the best at surprises and we must be about creating chances for friends and neighbors and strangers to sit at His feet.

We don't know what will happen, but it will never be bad. God will always be glorified and it will always be worth it.

Definitely love your local church, but if you want to be encouraged by mine, listen to this sermon from Sunday by Vito!

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)!

there is no master puppeteer

It happens to everyone's life. We think we've wrangled enough control away from the arms of fate to coordinate our own puppet strings. We convince ourselves we are more secure this way - directing our own destinies. If the pace gets too frantic, we say it is because we want it to be that way. If it is too slow, we say the same.

We are all trying to "make it" and none of us want to fail. That explains the mad wrangling to be master puppeteer. But that means somewhere, in the middle of the dead of winter's whirlwind, we lift up our stringless arms like we've seen them for the first time. We realize there are no puppets and no Master Puppeteer. We realize the fate controlling position we have been desperate to maintain is not a position at all.

It doesn't matter if the ways we want to "make it" are worldly or heaven worthy. It doesn't matter if our aspirations are corporate ladders or non-profit puzzles. It doesn't matter whether or not we are clever. It doesn't even matter if we have felt success.

What matters is that somewhere, in the middle of the dead of winter's whirlwind, we see that only God is sovereign.

Maybe in theory, we always knew. We read the verses and heard the sermons and listened to friends' humbled tales. We looked up at that great blue expanse and at the speckled night sky. We blinked eyes open in the morning and held joy in our hands. In theory, we always knew this world was too mysterious and painful and beauty-drenched to be contained by strings we could hold.

The devil in us convinced us it was possible and we believed.

But there's something about winter that unravels the belief that we can control anything. Maybe it is standing on a subway platform wondering if our ten toes are still in tact. Or maybe it is trudging miles every day against the wind to catch public transit so we can make it 3.7 miles across the borough. Maybe it is lugging laundry 3 blocks away in wintry snow/rain mix. Or maybe it is gaining weight and wearing layers like marshmallows.

And when winter does unravel this foolish belief that we can be the Master Puppeteer (and that there is such a thing at all), we collapse a little bit with a great sigh. We fold into relief that it doesn't depend on our performance or our planning. We re-read the words we've already memorized in Scripture and we nestle in to a future we cannot control.

"My God will supply all your needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus." Philippians 4:19

"Let no one boast in men. For all things belong to you, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or things present or things to come; all things belong to you, and you belong to Christ; and Christ belongs to God." 1 Corinthians 3:21-23

"If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you." John 15:7

"In that day you will not question Me about anything. Truly, truly, I say to you, if you ask the Father for anything in My name, He will give it to you. Until now you have asked for nothing in My name; ask and you will receive, so that your joy may be made full." John 16:23-24

"Therefore I say to you, all things for which you pray and ask, believe that you have received them, and they will be granted you." Mark 11:24

"Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ." Ephesians 1:3

"Whatever we ask we receive from Him, because we keep His commandments and do the things that are pleasing in His sight." 1 John 3:22

"He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him." 2 Corinthians 5:21

"Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come." 2 Corinthians 5:17

"Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us, to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen." Ephesians 3:20-21

"God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that always having all sufficiency in everything, you may have an abundance for every good deed." 2 Corinthians 9:8

"Blessed be the Lord, who daily bears our burden, the God who is our salvation." Psalm 68:19

We bless the Lord who daily bears our burdens - not as a Puppeteer but as a Savior. We bless the Lord as we claim His control over the future and the past and the present. We bless the Lord as we live today believing He is able to make grace abound.

The Feast of the Resurrection

It's not a thing, yet. Easter usually looks like pastel outfits, higher church attendance, and some version of ham taking center stage at the Sunday dinner table. At least that has been my observation of Easter in mainstream Christianity over the years. And even in more serious circles, Easter is always situated on a Sunday so that means less paid time off to reflect on deeper things.

The Feast of the Resurrection is not a thing, yet. But it will be this year, April 18-20 in my Brooklyn apartment, and you are invited. This is something Patrick has talked about for years - he believes Easter should be bigger than Christmas and certainly bigger than Thanksgiving. And I am all in. Regardless of what traditions or work schedules tell us, we know Easter is about death dying.

I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (Galatians 2:20, ESV)

Jesus' death and resurrection changed the course of our earthly and eternal lives. This seems like it deserves more than pastel colors, festive ham and a theatrical production on Sunday morning where a faux tomb is rolled away.

Enter the plans for The Feast of the Resurrection, a three day event with meals and Scripture and music and laughter. Slow mornings and lively afternoons and precious times gathered around a table to break bread, drink wine, and remember the life we were given when Christ conquered death on the cross.

If there was ever something to celebrate, it would be this gift. If there was ever a reason to cancel all plans to throw a big party, it would be to remember this event.

And so, it is happening. The first annual Feast of the Resurrection and I am already giddy with anticipation. I hope my preparations in Lent this year will look a little different, with this celebration in view. I am excited to see this vision of community and fellowship and joy spill over into a new tradition.

It's not a thing, yet... but it is about to be and you are invited!

in the name of the One who is not ashamed of you

There are puddles outside, making funny reflections of this strange winter season. It was 50 degrees yesterday and today it is 48 in the Big Apple. These rainy days are making me want Spring to come, and soon. I'm getting hungry for buds and blooms and the kind of wet earth that makes things grow. I'm getting homesick for the time of year when things come alive, up out of the dead ground.

But right now, it is Epiphany season.

We flipped the church calendar after Christmas. After all the wrapping gets stuffed away and all the toys get shoved in corners and under beds. We move on and push forward and just get by until there is something new to celebrate by breaking our routine and budget once again.

But right now, it is Epiphany season.

When Jesus came as a baby, his life was not as short as a birth. His presence was not an event, simply celebrated inside paid holidays. He slept and awoke and ate and drank and loved and walked and served and ... well, he lived. His presence spanned from his first breath to his last gasp - and all the physical life lived in the flatlands in between.

That is what we are celebrating in Epiphany: Christ came and lived with us - next to us in a real house, in a real city, on the real ground of this world.

And it is Epiphany season in the flatlands.

The good news of God's presence is that He was not surprised at the weight of the incarnation. He didn't plan for an early exit once He realized just how bad things had gotten down on earth. His days were marked with human chronology. His heart beat with human rhythm.

In the middle of a wayward world, Christ was not ashamed to know and be known by the neighbors, the neglected, the friends, and the frightened ones. He was present.

What crazy news we carry around with us in the flatlands! Christ chose [and chooses] to be present inside human chronology and present inside human rhythm. He is not ashamed to call us His children, not ashamed to rescue the lost. He is not ashamed to reach down and mend the ways we've been broken and the ways we break others. He is not ashamed to say, "You are mine." The God of the universe was not ashamed to claim my eternity for heaven on the cross and He is not ashamed to cover my life with His presence on earth.

We have the most supreme delight in a gift that is never completely unwrapped, never completely old news, never completely discovered.

We have this delight in the presence of Jesus at our breakfast table and in our daily commute and at the laundromat and at pancake Mondays and at the Saturday night party. Sometimes the delight feels like a fight and other times it feels like free tickets to our favorite destination. But, all the time Jesus is present and all the time His presence never runs out.

I'm learning to practice presence.

I am learning to be present, in the name of the One who is not ashamed of me. That's what I read on Sunday night in my evening reflection and it was fitting because I needed a lesson on presence before Pancake Mondays could get filled with anxiety. Spurgeon wrote,

"Seek in the name of Him who was not ashamed of you - to do some little violence to your feelings, and tell to others what Christ has told to you. If you cannot speak with trumpet tongue, use the still small voice. If the pulpit must not be your tribune, if the press may not carry your words on its wings - yet say with Peter and John, "Silver and gold have I none - but such as I have, I give you.""

It sounds dramatic to do violence to my feelings, but it really is necessary sometimes. Christ's presence is a fact that changes everything, no matter what the colors of my current emotional state. When my anxiety and fears and insecurities are pushed aside, I am free to live like Christ's presence is a game changer for my identity and the most important gift I can give to every person in my day. This is how we celebrate Christ's presence - not like an elephant in the room, but more like a chocolate fountain. It is what excites us, thrills us, animates us, and motivates us to delight.

I've rambled enough for a post-work/pre-evening post. Go out and get present with someone tonight - get kindred and conversational with someone. Neglected and/or neighbor, friend and/or frightened - go out and get present.

Go out and get present because Christ is not ashamed to be present with you.

when God says "you are mine"

Sometimes we sort out identity with "I" statements. We say things like, "I am a city dweller, I am a counselor, I am a daughter, I am a friend, I am a writer..." and all those other identifiers that are helpful in awkward, small talk conversations. And when we explain our identities, we are simultaneously reassuring ourselves that these statements are fact.

But every once in a while (and maybe often) the statements seem empty. We finish the small talk and say to ourselves, "Am I really?" We walk away feeling uncertain because the identity statements depend on a power bigger than my ability to possess.

I've been reading from Charles Spurgeon's "Morning and Evening Readings" and this morning, the verse was short and simple, from 1 Corinthians 3:23.

"You are Christ's."

It was an identity statement, but it spoke to a place my words can't reach. These are the statements spoken over the life of a believer - over all the fears and worries and hopes and dreams.

"You are His by donation - for the Father gave you to the Son. You are His by His bloody purchase - for He paid the price for your redemption. You are His by dedication - for you have consecrated yourself to Him. You are His by relation - for you are named by His name, and made one of His brethren and joint-heirs." - Charles Spurgeon, Morning and Evening Readings

The life that God breathes into my bones, more than just holding me together as He holds the world (Colossians 1:17), are these precious words, "You are mine" (Isaiah 43:1).

But now thus says the Lord, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.

I am a lot of things, depending on the day of the week and the amount of time my mind has to wander.

But I am always His, because He said so.

It has nothing to do with the way I small talk or my professional progress. It has nothing to do with my pedigree or and nothing to do with the words I choose to describe my identity. My identity begins and ends with the words securing my eternity: "you are mine." Spurgeon encourages the Christian to step into the identity Christ has declared,"Labor practically to show the world that you are the servant, the friend, the bride of Jesus." Later, He writes,

"When the cause of God invites you - give your goods and yourself away, for you are Christ's. Never belie your profession. Be ever one of those whose manners are Christian, whose speech is like the Nazarene, whose conduct and conversation are so redolent of heaven - that all who see you may know that you are the Savior's, recognizing in you His features of love and His countenance of holiness.

I want to be more productive at being the Lord's, better at accepting His invitation to give myself away. Because He is my identity, my life should have the look of heaven. My Monday night words and my middle-of-the-work-week thoughts and my small talk struggles should look like I believe the identity spoken over me.

This week, I will listen for God's voice saying, "You are mine."

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find us faithful and find us ready

Simple prayers are the best because my words get in the way. No one has ever accused me of being a woman of few words, though I have tried to be a woman of less. Maybe sometimes - no definitely sometimes - I complicate prayers  with too much vocabulary. I get flustered and the words fumble out sounding impressive or hollow or planned.

This advent season, my shoulders have a humble slump and it is making me appreciate simple prayers and spelled out liturgies. Because my words aren't anything special, nothing revolutionary or new is streaming from my cyber pen. I am one in a million breaking winter silence with thoughts from my fickle, foolish heart. I join a history as old as the sun - a history of people who speak and explain and write and ponder. And we have many, many words to evidence our legitimacy... as word lovers.

I always wonder if we can come about true humility by way of humiliation. Can a person be truly humble as a result of feeling truly humiliated? No one loves humiliation. I try to stay away from it and all the rosy cheeked aftermath, but it still sneaks up on me with regular rhythm. I am always saying the wrong thing and doing the wrong thing and both at all the wrong times. I know being awkward is all the hipster craze these days, but (let's be honest) no one enjoys being humiliated.

And so my slumped shoulders find me meditating on the Messiah, knowing I am a little drummer boy with a pen and paper - standing at the entrance to the stable of my King.

I don't have much to bring and even my words are weightless and wilty sometimes. What I do have to offer is sometimes the very thing that humiliates me. I am walking with those ancient wise men, following the miracle star to meet my Messiah, so that the Messiah can meet all my messes.

I lit the third advent candle today with slumped shoulders and a thankful heart, because I am not impressive and I do not have to be. The Lord was gracious to send a Savior, One who could handle all the words in the world - all the things we think we have to offer. I am thankful today to pray a simple prayer, believing God is the something special about advent and Christmas and salvation and redemption.

Christ is what makes this season glorious.

And my words cannot make more or less of that. So, I pray a simple prayer with slumped shoulders knowing the Lord cares tenderly for His children. He is gracious to invite me to worship at the stable and at the cross with my slumped shoulders, with my pen and paper.

Lord, find us faithful and find us ready. Amen.

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.