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Archive for September, 2011

From rags to robes

I remember the rags I wore when he first found me. I sat on the street in my own blood and sweat. I didn’t have enough hope to ask for help. People looked the other way wherever I went, and I couldn’t blame them. I was ashamed of myself. I was too filthy for anyone to recognize my face, but at first sight he called my name.

I don’t understand what he saw, but he looked at me like I was lovely. I was pitiful, but he made me feel beautiful. He held my dirty hand, and I wept. For the first time I knew how it felt to have a friend.

His eyes were so kind they brought my heart to life. He made my soul smile and my spirit fly. I couldn’t remember the last time I breathed life like that, even while I was dying inside.

I was lost, but he loved me like I was something he’d been searching for all his life. He cherished me like treasure he’d keep forever. He called me his daughter though I was an orphan, and he took me in like I was his own. For a moment his love made me forget how desperate I was. My hunger was so deep it defined me. I was a slave to my need and so afraid that I’d never have enough to be free. Yet in his company I believed.

Despite my mess he helped me up. As pale and frail as I was, his strength was enough. I stumbled even as he supported me. When I couldn’t carry on, he carried me completely. He set a place for me at his table and every day that is where I eat. He said I could call his kingdom my home. He gave me his robes for my rags and every good thing I’ve ever had. But most of all, his presence always makes my heart glad and brings my soul to life at last.

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A better end

It is always tempting to find something or someone else to blame for the state of our discontentment. It is safe, even comforting, to believe it’s not our fault. But there are times we stop to consider all the ways we’ve fought for our happiness and failed. Times we gain more control over a certain situation, yet feel even more hopelessly discontent than before. The last thing we can bear to do is blame ourselves, but there are moments we run out of reasons to blame anyone else.

‘There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death.’
(Proverbs 14:13)

Feelings of grief, despair, and even panic flood in as we become our own worst enemy. The one person we believed we could depend on when all else failed, has failed us most of all. Either we learn to cope through denial (and make ourselves and the people around us miserable), or we admit that ultimately we are the ones ruining our own lives. We realize we need someone else to save us from ourselves. At that point, we can know the hope of the gospel.

The gospel is confessing that left to our own devices we’ve already ruined our lives forever. The gospel is coming to terms with the fact that yes, we probably could have saved that relationship had we not been so selfish, and we probably could have moved that mountain if we weren’t so doubtful, and we probably could have stayed faithful if we knew how to be prayerful. Yes, we probably could be happy if we knew how to be holy. But our defeat is not the end of our story.

The end of our lives is not determined by the fact that we’ve failed ourselves unto death, but defined by the truth that our lives are dependent upon a power greater than death itself. To die is to live like we can save ourselves; to live is to die and find we’re saved from death. That is the power of the gospel.

The only one in the history of humanity who could save his own skin was God himself. No man was strong enough to hold God to a cross and no nail was long enough to pierce through him. Yet Jesus failed to save himself and was overcome by our death. The consequences of our lifestyle killed him. In return, he restored the life we ruined. He reconciled the relationship we broke. He moved the mountain that remained because of our little faith. He cried out our name while we were too foolish to pray. And then he rose from our death and walked out of our grave.

‘For the LORD Almighty has purposed, and who can thwart him? His hand is stretched out, and who can turn it back?’
(Isaiah 14:27)

Before him, we had every reason to be afraid. But because of him we have every reason for faith. You and I cannot save our own lives, and now neither can we ruin them even if we tried! Our lives were never ours to write, but we have the Author of life on our side.

The disciples grieved as blood was dripping down their Savior’s feet, yet his defeat was not the end of the story. Looking back we read it as the beginning of his victory. Even when our lives feel as if they are being written with our own blood, we can trust that we’ve been written in a story line of love.

The red letters have a better end to tell. If Jesus failed to save himself yet in the end overcame the power of death, our defeat is not the end of the story but more likely the beginning of the victory.

‘What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!’
(Romans 7:24-25)

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Confessions: this part

I feel the tears I’ve just cried drying on my face right now. I don’t want to wash them off yet because I’m still upset. There’s something strangely relieving, every once in a while, about looking in the mirror with your hair undone, your eyeliner smudged, and your mascara running… instead of your hair brushed and face made up. Because every once in a while you are so done with every bit of pretense that you are just fine with looking as unkempt as you feel.

Usually I write entries AFTER this part. This part where I’m hungry yet can’t taste the food in front of me because I’m distressed about meeting deeper needs. This part where I know no one else can reach down far enough to pull me up. Where I can’t even help myself (because if I could have, I would have by now).

After this part – right after Jesus lifts me up – that’s when I usually write what I call devotionals. But this part is called a confession.

I don’t expect confessions to help people, including myself, as much as devotionals… They focus more on the sinner than the Savior. They focus more on the problem than the solution. But to be optimistic even in this place, every once in a while you do need to be convinced of an impossibility.. because the bigger the problem is, the better it proves the solution must be. Like me being so weak proves that when I am strong, it is Christ’s strength in me.

Well, right now I’d love to blame this anxiety on a person or circumstance. But really… I’m simply convinced of impossibilities and my faith is too weak to believe. The waves are all I can see, so I’m sinking. Even though I know God is my only option, I don’t particularly feel like praying because He doesn’t always answer like I want Him to. At the same time, I’d be foolish to be a Christian so long and still think He should.

OK, I think I’m ready for this part to be over.. but before I end this confession I want to make a profession. Jesus loves me like this, and it’s something I’ll never get. When I am humbled by my own skin, He is still my friend. Though I question Him falsely, He never doubts His love for me. And when I feel ugly, He loves me like I’m lovely.

And He just found me before I found my knees.

“Instead of hunting for the perfect spiritual state to lift you above the chaos, pray in the chaos.”

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Our need for need


Let’s just admit it, we are in over our heads. Our church is full of broken people. Our family is deeply flawed if not dysfunctional. We work but rarely feel accomplished. Sometimes we’re not even sure who our true friends are.

Our lives may look fine on the outside. On paper we seem like we have it together. And maybe we can fool everyone else, but who are we fooling more than ourselves?

We have problems we can’t solve. Circumstances we can’t change. Dreams we can’t reach. Desires we can’t satisfy. And needs we can’t meet. Usually we will only admit it when we are at our wit’s end, but severe trials reveal that we are a mess, and leave us feeling helpless.

We tend to think that if we just change this person or that situation or ourselves, everything would be better. Deep down we know the answer is not that simple. One person, one problem, is revealing THE problem. The circumstance does not need to change as much as the problem does. That is the good news and the bad news – good news because we don’t have to be controlled by circumstances, and bad news because our biggest problem is deeper.

How often do we wake up hungry and go to bed empty? How many of us want to change the world but can’t even change ourselves? How soon after having things figured out do we find ourselves lost in doubt?

I remember learning when I was little that pain had a good purpose in our lives – to actually keep us alive. If we couldn’t feel it, how could we know we need healing? Though we learn to cover it up, all of us bleed internally. If it were happening physically, we would seek help immediately. There is another kind of internal bleeding that we try to keep hidden. Heartbreak, grief, deep disappointment, loneliness, rejection, and insecurity. Our pride keeps it secret instead of seeking help. We learn to pretend because we’re so resistant to feeling needy and dependent.

But when the pain goes so deep that we find it hard to breathe, we are forced to see the reality of our condition. We feel crushed by the weight of our poverty, yet we are only under God’s hand of mercy. If given the luxury, we would always overlook our dependency. We would never admit we’re desperate.

We could probably go without many things, but to think of losing a certain few leaves us desperate. Which person, possession, position, or passion is most crucial to our existence? Those are the ones God will bring into question to get our attention. Ultimately, their outcome is not the problem, or the solution. Our sense of dependency may be caused by a few different problems, but the answer they point to and cause us to cry out to from the depths of our soul is only one and always the same. If we never knew the pain, we’d never call Jesus’ name, and never experience His power to save.

“As for me, since I am poor and needy, let the Lord keep me in his thoughts. You are my helper and my savior. O my God, do not delay.” (Ps. 40:17)

We often forget the beauty of dependency. The way it teaches us humility. The way it keeps our hearts tender. The way it leads us to surrender. The way it opens our eyes to others and enables us to empathize. Through dependency we learn vulnerability, transparency, and intimacy. While fighting it and hiding it keeps us busy, pride is our real enemy. In truth, we will find healing on our knees and as we live in honesty.

“Dependency is the heartbeat of prayer…” (Paul Miller, A Praying Life)

Though we may feel close to death in moments of utter helplessness, God’s work in our lives is always redemptive. It is not punishment. There’s no punishment left for His friends. All these things we think we need, He uses to reveal our need. He allows the blood to open our eyes and devastate our pride. Otherwise we’d feel just fine while dying inside. Thank God for His mercy that reveals the depth of our dependency. Thank God for how He exposes our poverty.

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5:3).

All of our desires, pains, and needs are supposed to lead us to the end of ourselves and the beginning of Him. The fact that He’s my Savior doesn’t matter until I see that He can save me. The fact that He’s mighty doesn’t matter until I feel weak. The fact that He’s the answer doesn’t matter until I see my problem. The fact that He’s God doesn’t matter until I know I’m not.

There has always been a plan past the pain. There has always been grace greater than our mistakes. Freedom comes when we cry out for help and learn to trust Jesus more than ourselves. We need Jesus so much more than we believe. We can’t do life on our own, and there’s no need to pretend to. We’re either too much, or never enough. We’re not great people, not even OK, but it is by grace that we are saved. We can leave the burden of our lives at the door because it’s not ours to carry anymore. That is the gift of the gospel. “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners” (Mark 2:17).

“The gospel, God’s free gift of grace in Jesus, only works when we realize we don’t have it all together. The same is true for prayer. The very thing we are allergic to – our helplessness – is what makes prayer work. It works because we are helpless. We can’t do life on our own.”
Paul Miller, A Praying Life

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Though he sleeps

‘Without warning, a furious storm came up on the lake, so that the waves swept over the boat. But Jesus was sleeping’ (Matt. 8:24).

This is absolutely the story of our lives. We are drifting along life and feeling fine when all of the sudden our little boat is rocked from side to side, and in no time being tossed by the waves like it’s made of paper. Our walls are not high enough to protect us from the wind and waves. The storm outside rushes in and we feel overcome. Overwhelmed. Desperate for help. All the while, we know Jesus is close by, but apparently He is resting like everything’s fine. As if we are not about to die.

It doesn’t usually cross our mind that He might know something we don’t. That just like we have our reasons to panic, He has His reasons to rest. So we assume He is either unaware, or that He doesn’t care. Yet He is our anchor, our only prayer. If He doesn’t wake up and change our circumstance, then we won’t even have a chance.

So we worry and stress and imagine the worst. We wonder what we’ve done and why we’ve been cursed. We figure we’re finally going to get what’s deserved. Yet with our last bit of faith we cry out for grace, desperate for God to finally wake.

But if only we could stop and see through His eyes as He sleeps, as He dreams of what we call impossibilities. We see ourselves drowning with no one to save us, while He sees us walking upon the water. We see every reason to be afraid, while He sees every reason for faith. We see an obstacle to escape from, while He sees an opportunity to overcome.

Jesus believes so much more than we believe. He did not pursue you to the cross only to lose you now. He did not remember your face with His last breath only to forget you exist. He came to be with you in Spirit. If you are lacking faith, let Him lift up your face and ask, “Why are you so afraid?” (Matt. 8:26) The same Spirit of power that walked upon the water and calmed the sea is still as strong in you and me. In your cowardice He is confident. In your dread He claims promises. In your panic He offers rest. Remember that though He sleeps, He dreams. Though His eyes seem closed, He sees. And though you have little faith, He believes. For God does not truly sleep, but is giving faith its opportunity.

Psalm 121
1I lift up my eyes to the hills.
From where does my help come?
2 My help comes from the LORD,
who made heaven and earth.

3He will not let your foot be moved;
he who keeps you will not slumber.
4Behold, he who keeps Israel
will neither slumber nor sleep.

5The LORD is your keeper;
the LORD is your shade on your right hand.
6 The sun shall not strike you by day,
nor the moon by night.

7The LORD will keep you from all evil;
he will keep your life.
8The LORD will keep
your going out and your coming in
from this time forth and forevermore.

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When you think of God, what images come to mind? When you think of the person of Jesus, who do you think of? When you think of being in His presence, where do you see yourself?

We tend to associate Jesus with pictures and people and places because all of creation reflects Him. We can’t see Him with our eyes, yet we see Him everywhere, in everything. From a snowflake to the stars, His name is engraved and we can see His face. But when one picture or person or place takes precedence as the lens through which we need to see Him, Jesus tends to take it away because it becomes a disgrace.

Have you been losing what once was your greatest connection to God? Is your clearest picture of Him missing? Has the person who led you closer to Christ feeling further away? Have you lost your way to the place He could always be found?

Though you are tempted to grieve His absence, maybe He is drawing you deeper into His presence. Maybe He is not hiding His face from you at all, but proving He is much more visible than you’ve ever thought.

Maybe Jesus is setting Himself apart in your heart. He is tearing away all you’ve attached to Him and breaking out of the box you’ve imagined Him in. He is demolishing the high places and revealing all things as equally sacred where He is reflected. When we fall into believing we must experience Him through this or that, in him or her, only here or there, He makes it painfully clear how high above He lives. He is holy, and wholly set apart. He is experienced through His creation, yet He will not be contained and cannot be compared.

‘But will God really dwell on earth? The heavens, even the highest heaven, cannot contain you. How much less this temple I have built!’ (1 Kings 8:27). When we glimpse God in creation, He is so good we want to capture and keep Him there. Yet He is everywhere. Fixing our gaze on one place only limits our sight of the light of His face.

No matter where we go or who we know or what we lose, God will always be so close. If we lose our hearing, we will still hear Him speaking. If we lose our sight, we will still see His light. We could lose all things and yet possess everything in Christ. He is our best picture, our closest person, our highest place, and the clearest face of God. Though we behold God in dim reflections, Christ is the lens of precedence. We must lift our eyes higher than the places we’ve tried to contain Him, because in truth He is higher than even the skies of heaven. He was required to empty Himself to descend to earth. Even heaven is a humble place for Him to dwell – how much more these places we have built!

‘Who can be compared with the LORD our God, who is enthroned on high? Who humbles Himself to behold the things that are in heaven, and in the earth! ‘ (Ps. 113:5-6)

‘Thus says the LORD, “Heaven is My throne and the earth is My footstool. Where then is a house you could build for Me?”‘ (Is. 66:1)

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Morning light


We can go to sleep full and with clear sight, yet every morning we wake up hungry and blinded by the light. The night before, all could have been right, but something goes missing with the morning light. Physically, we need bread and for our eyes to adjust to the light. Spiritually, we need the Bread of Life and for our eyes to open to the Light of Christ.

From the Psalm of David, ‘I lay down and slept; I woke again, for the LORD sustained me’ (Ps. 3:5). David knew that if the Lord had not sustained him while he slept, he would be as good as dead and would not wake up again. Yet the LORD sustained him in sleeping and in waking.

Even if we go to bed dancing, we awake as cripples. And we can’t get up and walk before rolling out of bed onto our knees. And always so faithfully, Jesus will lift us up.

If He could raise a man from the grave who couldn’t even say His name, He can cause our spirits to rise like the sun at dawn and our hearts to burn with love like fire. God is ever glorious, yet we must be awakened to stand in awe. Our bodies cannot live on yesterday’s bread and our souls are not sustained by yesterday’s praise. Every new day we need His name, and with every dawn we can sing a new song.

Because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed,
for his compassions never fail.
They are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
Lamentations 3:22-23

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