We are in the middle of moving, so I will be fetching from the archives for the next two or three weeks. Enjoy!
I am caught in this world and cannot seem to escape it.
I cling to the security of our money, not wanting to give up our extra even to help one who is hurting. I cling to my anger, not wanting to give it up even for the sake of my child’s heart. I cling to my idea of success, not wanting to give up the possibility of my daughters’ successes in the world even for the sake of their love for God and neighbor.
I am helpless, mired, enmeshed and enslaved. I cannot even turn away from sin on my own. I am incapable of seeing my sin for what it is.
I am like Peter in the courtyard, having just betrayed the One he saw raising the dead and being transfigured, having sworn and cursed that he did not know Him. Peter, too, was unable to turn, unable to grieve over his betrayal, until…
Just as he was speaking, the rooster crowed. The Lord turned and looked straight at Peter. Then Peter remembered the word the Lord had spoken to him…And he went outside and wept bitterly. ~ Luke 22.60-62
Peter not turn first, Jesus did. When Peter was right in the middle of his sin, when he would have preferred to look anywhere else other than at Jesus, Jesus turned and looked at Peter.
I cannot turn from my sin unless Jesus turns to me first. I can, perhaps, feel frustrated at my inability to obey, but this is not the kind of sorrow that bears any kind of lasting fruit. This is only a kind of twisted pride. What I cannot do is to understand my own helplessness and the depths of my sin.
If I have any repentance at all, any true turning of my heart to God, it is only by the grace of God turning to me first.
Sorrow over our sinful condition is…God’s attribute above all. Sorrow over sin does not finally belong to us humans; we ourselves are not capable of it. ~ Martin Luther
Learning how to make all things in your life sacred takes focus. It takes the sort of focus that teaches me how to be single-hearted towards God.
She is good at being very focused and single-minded, my youngest. Especially when she needs something.
The dreaded event of all mothers everywhere, her special lovey simply had to be washed at bedtime one night. She just couldn’t understand why she didn’t have her bunny.
“Bunny?” “Bunny is taking a bath, darling. I will bring you Bunny as soon as she is dry.” “O-hay.”
“Can I read you a bedtime story?” “Bunny?” “Bunny is taking a bath.” “Bass? Bunny?” “Yes, a bath. I’ll bring you Bunny when she is done.” “O-hay.”
“Let’s talk about our day, shall we?” “Mommy? Bunny?”
I sigh in frustration, yet feel a small stir in my heart.
What if I were that focused in my pursuit of God, my pursuit of making all things in my life meaningful?
What if I blocked out more of the mindless stories I read and the meaningless discussions I have online in order to pursue God? What would that look like?
You will keep in perfect peace him whose mind is steadfast, because he trusts in You. ~ Isaiah 26.3
I read about a mother and daughter on a trip together through the world. During their journey, the mother speaks of a friend who accomplishes a marvelous amount of things during a day:
What’s allowed her to realize her dream where so many others fail, including me for many years, is how carefully and sanely she chooses exactly where to spend her time and energy…Kristin’s life illustrates that it takes more than passion and a lot of work to make a dream work–it takes focus. What you think about matters, a lot. Your thoughts drive your actions.
The mother continues to talk about the myriad of women who choose to please others, to accommodate others, rather than choosing to stand up for themselves and their families.
She says that many of us choose to be “good girls going for gold stars, instead of clasping tight the gold of our lives by living as we truly desire.”
This has the scent of truth that makes me pause. If I substitute “living as God desires”, this touches something deep in my heart.
How many times have I said “yes” to an activity, to a time commitment, even to a service opportunity, simply to please someone else or to create a certain image of myself?
So many times those “yeses” have cost me and my family. They have kept me from clasping tight the gold of obeying God’s desire that I should, for this season, focus most on these little disciples running around my feet.
I want desperately to be single-hearted. I desire to chase after God, to pursue and focus on only what He has called me to do rather than to fritter away my moments on activities that attempt to please others.
What does this look like? How do you do this in your own life? How do you carefully and sanely choose exactly where to spend your time and energy?
Do you have a goal, a purpose or mission statement for your family? Do you have a lens through which you filter every request, every moment’s choice?
The mother in my book says that “change happens in the small moments, when a sliver of light finds its way through the cracks”.
To help herself to focus, “I wrote down every single thing I did in fifteen-minute increments for three entire weeks…I asked myself a thousand times a day before acting – and, miraculously, speaking – What am I creating with this choice right now?”
I want to see everything around me as sacred, to be single-minded in pursuing God and His desires for me. I want to choose with intention rather than feelings, excuses, or circumstances. I want to please God rather than man.
I want to clasp tight the gold instead of aimlessly grasping for gold stars.
I don’t understand why this is so, why God wouldn’t want us to easily understand Him and His ways, but that is a wondering for another time.
All throughout His Word, God makes promises about what will happen when we approach Him. He makes promises about how He answers when we ask Him for something. He makes promises about what He will give if only we would ask.
Sometimes those promises seem to be contradicted by the reality we can see.
Jesus tells us that if we ask, we will receive.
Jesus tells us that if we ask together with others, we will receive.
Jesus tells us that if we ask in His name, we will receive.
Jesus promises that if we are just persistent enough, just have faith enough, just beg Him hard enough with our faces to the ground and our tears falling like blood in desperation, He will give us what we ask for.
This is not what we live.
This is not what we live when a young mother dies of cancer. This is not what we live when a child lives her life in chronic pain and then dies. This is not what we live when a family is torn apart by depression.
So how do we reconcile this? How do we reconcile the promise with the life lived in this world?
Because Jesus also made other promises.
He promised that we would have trouble in this world, that storms would come against us, that we would be hated by this world in which we live.
Did He lie? Is He crazy?
Or is there something deeper within His words that we have trouble understanding?
Is there something deeper that we cannot see from our place here on earth, tethered as we are to the physical, unable to grasp the spiritual all around us?
From one who is stumbling along in the dark along with the rest of you, here is what I believe based on what I read in God’s Word as a whole.
What God does is not always what I want. What God allows is sometimes more than I can comprehend. What God gives is often too hard for me.
What God accomplishes is always best.
Best for me, best for someone else, best for our world. Just…best.
Not painless, not comfortable, not happy.
I know from my own experience as a parent that best is often painful and unpleasant. My children often are unhappy (to put it ridiculously mildly) with what I decide would be best.
When Jesus tells us to ask in His name, rather than His name being a magical incantation to get what we want, perhaps it is a way of living, of remaining in Him as He is in His Father.
When Jesus tells us to ask alongside of others, rather than it being a way to coerce others into asking for what we want so that we can manipulate God, perhaps it is a way to allow the Holy Spirit to work in our hearts in a way that cannot happen on our own.
I don’t know.
As my Papa would say, “Well, I’ll tell you.
I don’t know.”
Here’s what I do know.
When I look at God’s Word in its entirety, whether that be the whole of Scripture or the whole of Jesus’ life, I see a God who is ultimate power and who is ultimate love.
And I see a God who has a plan that makes absolutely no sense while in the middle of it all. A plan that seems, frankly, insane while you are watching it all unfold.
A plan that, at its ending, is better, is more beautiful, is more glorious than anything I could have imagined or asked for.
A plan that is best.
And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be His people, and God Himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” And He was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.”… And He said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end.
And looking up, they saw that the stone had been rolled back – it was very large. And entering the tomb, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, dressed in a white robe, and they were alarmed. And he said to them, “Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen; He is not here. See the place where they laid Him. But go, tell His disciples and Peter that He is going before you to Galilee. There you will see Him, just as He told you.
I think perhaps that is why He gave us Jesus. To show us what the end will be even when the middle seems to be crushing the life out of us.
Character is vital to our society. It is important to people as individuals and it is important to society in its entirety. I wrote long ago about how we form character and why character matters, and I re-post this particular essay today because of the lack of character that I see all around us these days.
When we can cheat and lie “just a little bit” and still think highly of ourselves, when we show our kids that it’s okay to do little wrong things to get by, when it is more wrong to judge evil than to do evil, then we are in trouble. For our society to function, we need people of character in leadership positions from teachers and managers to mayors and governors.
Why has this happened? Why do ordinary people care so little about acting in moral ways?
Much of this dearth of character, this dearth of virtue, comes from the rejection of the idea of truth.
If truth is, at best, all relative and just a matter of perspective and, at worst, a social construct and simply whatever we make it to be, then why should anyone work hard to develop a character that may or may not be valid to those around us?
If there is no truth that we can deliberate and discover together as a society (whatever that truth may be and wherever it may come from), we are left with “power and propaganda and grievance and anger and caucuses and anti-caucuses and special interest groups and victims and vengeance.” ~ Richard John Neuhaus, a Christian cleric and writer
There is an assumption in much of society, in many of our universities especially, that we cannot keep society and relationships moving forward if we talk about truth because truth brings only conflict. Truth has gained a negative connotation, one that assumes that anything so divisive has no appropriate role in public life.
How did this happen? How did truth get hijacked and associated with the negative? How did truth become linked with religious totalitarianism and Osama bin Laden? How did it become shameful to declare a belief in truth, even simply the idea of truth, regardless of what that truth is?
Part of the answer, I’m afraid, is due to the Church. We have a history of wielding the truth as divisively as possible, of tearing down and even destroying rather than creating and building up. We have used truth as an excuse for starting wars and we have used truth as an excuse to look down on our neighbor.
Richard John Neuhaus says that it is now the Church’s task to learn how to assert truth in public “persuasively and winsomely and in a manner that does not violate but strengthens the bonds of civility”. He challenges that it is our duty not to just tolerate those with whom we disagree but to eagerly engage them in love.
How? How do we declare truth without being divisive and unpleasant, causing strife, conflict and wars?
By remembering grace.
By remembering that we can’t even live up to our own standards and yet we are loved.
When we despise anyone or feel superior to anyone, we are living by moral performance rather than grace. And living by moral performance is what brings divisiveness to the truth.
By the way we live, by living a life of loving and caring for others, we can show truth and speak truth with no divisiveness at all.
This is what the early Christians did when they loved the poor, empowered women, and brought together the races and classes. This is how the early Church overran the Roman Empire when it wasn’t even attempting to gain political power.
This. This is the truth we need.
Because this truth is
a God Who became weak, Who loved and died for the people Who opposed Him, forgiving them. ~ Tim Keller
Will you speak and live this kind of truth to your world? Our world desperately needs Him.
That there can be ugliness in this life is not questioned by anyone. No one would argue with the idea that we all go through times of darkness, times of weeping, times of where in the world, where in all of this hurting world are You, God?
If the question then is not will I suffer, then the question must be what will I choose when I suffer.
When I hurt, will I believe that God works for the best in everything or will I wonder whether God is working at all? When I ache, will I believe that God is most present when I am at the end of myself or will I wonder whether God is really in anything at all? When I don’t know how long I can hold on, will I believe in God when I cannot see Him through the dark or will I wonder if the darkness is all that there is?
What do we do when we are sinking, when we are drowning, when we are at the end of ourselves and are pleading for relief?
Paul pleaded with God to remove his thorn. He begged God three times for release. The first two times? Heaven was silent. The third time? God said no.
Jesus asked if there was any other way but the Cross. God’s answer? No.
Why do we think it should be different for us? Why do we think that we should be exempt?
If God is most present and works most powerfully when we are at the end of our own limits, then shouldn’t we want to lean into our suffering rather than try to escape it?
Paul chose to boast of his weakness, to be content with his hardship. He chose to immerse himself in his thorn in order to gain more of Christ.
We don’t have a choice about whether we will hurt.
Our choice is in how we will respond.
Will we spend our time begging for respite? Will we beg God to take it away and then curse Him when He does not?
Or will we receive our suffering as a gift? A gift with a purpose, even though we may never know the purpose. A gift with a promise, a promise of grace and God’s presence.
When God says no, when God says My grace is sufficient for you, instead of arguing with Him about it, instead of fighting Him with all of your strength, ask Him to help you get to the place where you can receive your adversity as a gift from a loving Father.
A gift that brings you more of His grace. A gift that brings you more of Him.
I have learned to kiss the waves that dash me against the Rock of Ages. ~ Charles Spurgeon