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Tears are a Language God Understands

March 31, 2018

It is Good Friday once again; one of the most memorable events on the calendar. Our people gather, we remember Jesus’ suffering with somber songs, and then we divide the men and women for sharing/testimony time. This is a unique and special part of our bi-annual Communion service, a rare opportunity to hear about the lessons learned and deeper struggles from the past few months of each one present. True to form, one of the ladies goes and grabs a box of Kleenex soon after we’ve begun the sharing time. It’s standard issue for these sorts of occasions.

But I’m afraid I have a deplorable confession to make…I’m ashamed at times of our tears.

Perhaps it’s because I’m not much of a crier; but maybe it is more than that. Maybe I’m ashamed of our femininity in these situations. Ashamed of the weakness it implies. I disdain the stereotype of women always being “overly emotional”. We are expected to not be able to keep our emotions in check like it is something we simply can’t control, though somehow men can (which I expect a man’s unchecked emotion shows up more in terms of anger/aggression). A woman’s emotional state is not a bottle of nitro waiting to blow (into a tissue) at the slightest gesture.

I am not a feminist by any means, but I do believe in strong women. Women who have taken their brokenness and weakness to the Lord and have been made strong in the power of His might. I believe the Bible reveals that God made women to reflect the gentle, nurturing, compassionate, and yes, even emotional aspects of His nature to the world; but that does not mean that He has intended for us to be weak-minded or irrational. Neither does it mean that we should try to prove our “strength” by striving to be equal to or better than men. A woman’s God-ordained strength lies in her ability to stand with her feet firmly anchored in the Word and the Lord Jesus. To be immovable in the face of devilish opposition and encouraging others to do the same, as well as having the strength to admit when we need others to hold us up as well.

The sharing time continues and the Kleenex box goes around the circle. The tears of these sisters are honorable. They reveal lives that desperately want more of God to the exclusion of all else. Thus far I’m doing alright, just soaking in the details and making mental notes of prayer requests; but then the young mother spills her burden of an aching heart as she bounces her contented little one in her arms. Something of her hurt beats a pulse across my heart and I spill over too. She is not ashamed of her tears. She is beautiful in her brokenness; and we have the great privilege of sharing with her in this moment of strength found through weakness. This is when we are strong−both men and women. When we humble ourselves and trust in the Lord in those rocky places that hurt and don’t make sense. We shed salt water right along with her and they bind us that much closer together. We “rejoice with those that do rejoice, and weep with those that weep” in sweet, communal abandon.

Neither a woman’s nor a man’s tears were meant to imply weakness (King David was a man well aquainted with tears and was no less honorable because of it). Indeed, in a redeemed life, they can display the strength that comes from a surrendered and humble heart. As redeemed women, we should begin asking the Lord to temper our emotional responses so that we may honor and glorify Him through them, instead of being known as “emotionally unstable”. May our tears be yet another opportunity to bring glory back to God.

***

Thou tellest my wanderings: put thou my tears into thy bottle: are they not in thy book?

-Psalm 56:8

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Enormous Smallness

March 19, 2018

God is immense.

He spread the universe with one wave of His hand; billions of galaxies spanning light years, completely unseen and unreachable by man. This same God created the intricacies of our bodies that are complex to an extent that we can’t even grasp the science of it. If we haven’t figured out the mysteries and complexities of nature (what we can see) then how can we expect to even begin to comprehend the magnitude of Almighty God?

This same spectacular, Holy God who did all these things and veils Himself from our eyes lest we die from exposure to His awesome presence; this same God made His immeasurable self to be contained with the skin of mortal man. Even lower yet, He was formed and grew through the cellular process of the womb and birth. How could it even be possible? And why would He do such a thing for this one little speck in the vast universe, one in which we are individually even more infinitesimal. Like the village of Who’s living on a speck that rested on a flower, we have not a true concept of how fragile and small our existence really is.

But He goes lower still. Jesus was heir to an eternal throne established at the beginning of time. He would reign from a throne of glory with unchallengable power. No one would be higher or more glorious than He; yet His birth was missed almost entirely by the world at large. The world that He had made with a simple exhalation of His breath did not have room for Him in the city He Himself had established. The world hadn’t even seen Him yet and it refused Him a place. The only available space for Him was in a dirty, smelly barn. The only place He had to lay His head was a bed of hay from which farm animals would feed. Was this the means of entrance for a King?

But He goes lower still. The intrigue and mystery surrounding His miraculous conception did not go over well with a world whose eyes were blind to the touches of heaven around them. His whole life He would be condemned by many as an illegitimate child. His brothers and sisters would question Him and His purpose. He would lose the support of community and family.

But He goes lower still. All throughout His ministry His disciples would question Him, His methods, and His teachings. It was coming slowly, but they still didn’t understand. In the end, His three closest friends would sleep while He sweat drops of blood. When He needed them the most, they nodded off. Then came the soldiers. And all those who swore to never leave Him had fled. He was left alone to face the false charges of a biased judge and jury driven by a self-righteous induced rage. They couldn’t stand the sight of Him. Little did they know that this same man was the embodiment of the God whom no one could stand before without being condemned to death themselves. They didn’t realize that they had looked on the face of God and had lived to tell about it. In a cataclysmic shift, God Himself would die instead.

But He goes lower still. The God who uses the world for His footstool, who measures the skies with the length of His hand, who could dip His finger in the ocean and touch the deepest sea vents at the bottom; this same God couldn’t even carry a beam of wood up a hill. He was weak and wounded, bloody, dirty, and sweaty. The roughness of the wood scraped abrasions into His already open wounds. He stumbled. His breath heaved heavy over dry lips. The sun bore down into red, tired eyes. So tired. Eyes full of determination and understanding and forgiveness…and dread.

But He goes lower still. But first He must be raised, and raised high. Not on the regal throne for which He was born, but dangling in the air, held up by nails in hands and feet. He is crowned as King, but not with nobility. Thorns encircle His temples and drive deep into His skin. The crown glitters, not with precious jewels, but with hot drops of blood running red into His tired eyes; His body, bared in shame to the mocking, angry masses who gathered around His aching feet.

But He goes lower still. The burden of sin heaves itself onto His shoulders. Nailed to a beam of wood, He still has the choice of removing Himself from this place of unimaginable pain. All He need do is call on the hosts of Heaven and His liberation would be swift accomplished. He was not a prisoner to the nails. As the weight of sin on a sinless man reaches completion, His perfection can bear no more and He cries with exhausted triumph, “It is finished!” The world so blind to glory is turned black as Satanic forces revel in their victory. Little did they know that Jesus had entered the temple, had grabbed the veil that kept us divided from Him in knuckled strength, and ripped the tapestry top to bottom with one swift jerk.

But He goes lower still. All the way to hell. While Satan celebrates in front of a limp and lifeless body, Jesus brandishes the keys to hell and sets the captives free. Death could not hold Him. Nothing will ever hold Him.

He went low. He made Himself small. He gave it all away to gain all and become everything.

By making Himself low and small, He is highly exalted and glorious. Perfected and eternal.

Jesus is King.

Selah.

Crazy Love

March 1, 2018

“If we have got the true love of God shed abroad in our hearts, we will show it in our lives. We will not have to go up and down the earth proclaiming it. We will show it in everything we say or do.” –Dwight L. Moody

***

Two books that have passed through my hands recently were Sarah Hagerty’s newest release “Unseen: The Gift of Being Hidden in a World That Loves to be Noticed” and Francis Chan’s “Crazy Love”. The most profound insight I have gained from both of these books is how God perceives me on a day-to-day level. I quickly began realizing how easy it is for me to forget God’s solid love for me. He doesn’t love me because of what I do, but because He has placed value on me and wants me for Himself, simply because He delights in me. All I can keep asking myself is, “Why? Why would God love me, or any of us, that much? It doesn’t make sense.” But, as Kate Dicamillo affirms in The Tale of Despereaux, “The answer is…yes…Love is ridiculous. But it is also wonderful. And powerful.”

Love does. I’ve heard this several times over the years and have always equated it to the idea of “good works”; but I begin to understand…love does because love is active. Love does not simply look on adoringly, it jumps up to stand alongside, it takes out the trash because it needs doing, it reaches out to touch the leper left alone on the outskirts of Jerusalem, it returns love for hate, it goes to the Cross in our place.

Think about it. It means a great deal when someone says “I love you”, but how can you be sure that the statement is true if actions are never present to back it up? Would you not begin to question the truth of that declaration? If your friend says they love you, but then never comes through for you when you need them, or never takes the time to invest in the relationship, do they really mean it? How many children of divorced parents have heard a parent say “I love you” but then they want nothing to do with the child?

Love is more than a declaration. It is action. This is one of the reasons why Scripture says, “By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have [demonstrate] love for one another.” (John 13:35) It is the tangible, visible expression of our love for our brothers and sisters in Christ that reveal our true heart and affections. And again, James reiterates,

What use is it, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but he has no works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and be filled,” and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that? Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself. But someone may well say, “You have faith and I have works; show me your faith without the works, and I will show you my faith by my works.” –James 2:14-18

To paraphrase, “You say you have love, but I can prove it through my consistent actions. Show me your love without your actions, and I will show you my love by my actions.”

God does not love us because of what we do for Him. We have value because He has placed His love on us and chosen us for His own. It is grace, not our own merit. But after we surrender to His incredible love, the natural outflow is to love in return. And love always does. It is not stagnant. Because we are filled with love for Jesus, we will begin to love the things He loves. Our works will flow out of our love for Him, not because we need to earn or repay it, but simply because we are looking for ways to serve Him so as to reciprocate to Him our love. Even if that means just sitting alone with Jesus and enjoying Him for no other reason than to delight in the presence of one another.

“The fact is, I need God to help me love God. And if I need His help to love Him, a perfect being, then I certainly need His help to love other, fault-filled humans…Our prayers for love result in love, which naturally causes us to pray more, which results in more love…” –Francis Chan, Crazy Love

We take hold of Jesus’ hand and His love seeps into us. Then we take hold of another hand and ripple that holy love to them. Once they experience it, they too will be drawn to the wellspring of our love. It isn’t something for which we must work, it is something we simply are by having a firm anchor in the Source. If our love is real, we won’t have to make it happen. It will be the natural effect of being wrapped in the perfect love of God.

***

If I speak with human eloquence and angelic ecstasy but don’t love, I’m nothing but the creaking of a rusty gate.

If I speak God’s Word with power, revealing all his mysteries and making everything plain as day, and if I have faith that says to a mountain, “Jump,” and it jumps, but I don’t love, I’m nothing.

If I give everything I own to the poor and even go to the stake to be burned as a martyr, but I don’t love, I’ve gotten nowhere. So, no matter what I say, what I believe, and what I do, I’m bankrupt without love.

−1 Corinthians 13:1-7 (The Message)

What Do You Believe About Stress?

February 2, 2018

“Stress is not what causes heart problems and death. What you believe about stress is what kills.”

–Prof. Matthew Tolbert

*

The week had been anything but structured. Work was towering, there was a trip to prepare for soon, and we took in a little girl for a few days while her mom checked herself into a mental ward for having suicidal thoughts. Now it was Sunday…and we had survived. I expected to stride into the peaceful sanctuary of the church building and be refreshed and replenished as usual. Running tight on time as usual, I grabbed a pew in the back and exhaled deep.

It didn’t work this time though.

The weight that had been pushed back during the week bore down and I suddenly realized how raw it had left me. I didn’t need to sing or hear a sermon. I needed someone to lean hard on. Someone I could draw new strength from. Someone who would speak the Truths striving for utterance within my spirit. I needed a lifeguard! I needed her.

Wasting no time after dismissal, I practically ran to my mentor. All I wanted to do was hold her tight and somehow absorb her happy demeanor, which stood in such stark contrast to the hollow ache I felt.

“How are you?” she asked smiling.

“Stressed…” and the words had hardly lurched their way out before collapsing in voiceless tears. I didn’t care who saw them. That salt water was the medicine which released the pressure and they felt so good! Being a fellow woman, she completely understood. Taking my hand tight in hers, she prayed and waited patiently for the first rush to subside. For the next little while, I spilled my guts and she cleaned up the mess. She replenished my malnourishment with the Truth of God’s Word, gave perspective where things had started to get narrow, and reminded me that I was not alone.

“One day at a time, that’s all you can do.” she insisted. “I stop trusting God sometimes and it’s just stupid! He’s always been faithful, so why don’t I keep trusting Him?” And she’s right. To be blunt, it is simply stupid to not trust God when He has already proven Himself faithful. Why should I doubt Him now?

I’m still learning, so today was another day of beating back the stressors. I feel everything slipping through my fingers, we’re battling sickness, deadlines are choking my joy to death, and I’m struggling to understand faith and hope and love in so many ways. I don’t even know how to pray.

Then I remember a song that has pulled me out of the mire on more than one occasion. Closing the bedroom door, exiting out of emails and design programs, securing on the headphones to temporarily shut out the world, and the weight starts to lift like glittering fairy dust, as if it was all a mere fantasy to begin with. Hands go up and pull down grace like a lifeline thrown in the storm.

So what do I believe about stress? I believe it can be an incredible motivator and I’ve experienced it as such to great benefit; but it can also be a crouching predator that lunges at your bare neck and suffocates the life out of you. But you know what happens over and over in Scripture? A problem, then stress, then inadequacy…then Jesus…and then miracles. When we come to God, God moves. Will the stressors go away? Most likely not. We have responsibilities and life happens. But they don’t have to be the things that kill us anymore. Instead they can be the very things that drive us to a richer spiritual life. Lean hard on Jesus this week, and breathe in life.

Truth and Dare

November 14, 2017

Has the Lord ever dared you to do something? I’m not talking about the macho, test your nerve, spin-the-bottle kind of dare, but an honest, “Let’s see what we can do!” A bad friend will tell you to do something “brave” just because they want to see if you will crash in the process. A good friend will urge you to test the edge because they know you need to if you’re going to reach the next step, and they will be there to help.

 

I faced a longtime fear last week. You see, I don’t like airports. Especially big ones. I’ve never flown in a commercial airliner (I don’t count the 3yr. old experience that I only remember as being bad), let alone by myself and through three different airports. Not excited. Needless to say, I am alive and well and never missed getting to the gate (well, one was cutting it kinda close. Those security lines in New York are huge!) Did I enjoy the flight? Yes! Did I meet new people? Yes (a nuclear physicist at that). Was it worth the stress? Yes. I like a challenge. I like being stretched because I know that, once it is finished, it won’t look so big and scary the next time. There is such a thing as “good stress”. But sometimes the challenges we come up against aren’t the jumping-off-the-cliff kind. Sometimes the challenge is much less dramatic, but no less impactful.

 

During that trip to New York, I read an article by Gideon Yutzy about his year of going “offline”. With a new little girl, he began to question how he was investing his time as he watched her rapid growth into toddlerhood. “We now have far more time and energy available than any of our ancestors did. Of course the question is: What will we do with that time and energy?” -Gideon Yutzy (Daughters of Promise, Fall 2017 Issue)

 

It has often confused me how it is that our society is so blamed busy with all of the “servants” we have at our disposal. We have washing machines and dryers, microwaves, dishwashers, rapid transportation, fast food, Google, overnight shipping, instant…everything. How is it that we are still so crammed full when all of these techno helpers are supposed to be saving us time? How is it that our not-so-ancient ancestors (we’re talking my great grandma’s generation) were making lye soap, hand washing dishes, cooking real meals, and still had time for picnics, letter writing, and afternoon porch chats. Sorry Millennials, but the issue here is not the tech or tasks, it is the individualism and lack of focus. In an instant society of task focused people, we don’t have the patience for the kinds of things that make for real life and solid relationships. No, it isn’t a time issue. We still have 24 hours, 7 days a week. It’s a matter of how we look at that time and how we choose to use it.

 

And I am guilty of all of it;

 

So God has dared me to take the offline challenge for the next 6 months. I can’t cut off completely because I work from home, but social media and this blog will be dormant for that duration of time. (Whether or not this blog will continue after the sabbatical is yet to be prayerfully determined.)

 

Will you take His challenge to swim out of the shallows and into the waves?

 

I dare you.

*

Awake, sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you. Therefore be careful how you walk, not as unwise men but as wise, making the most of your time, because the days are evil. So then do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.

–Ephesians 5:14-17  NASB

Am I a Soldier of the Cross?

September 13, 2017

The motto of every missionary, whether preacher, printer, or schoolmaster, ought to be:

“Devoted for life.”

−Adoniram Judson

*

Am I a soldier of the Cross—

A follower of the Lamb?

And shall I fear to own His cause,

Or blush to speak His name?

Must I be carried to the skies

On flowery beds of ease,

While others fought to win the prize

And sailed through bloody seas?

Are there no foes for me to face?

Must I not stem the flood?

Is this vile world a friend to grace,

To help me on to God?

Since I must fight if I would reign,

Increase my courage, Lord!

I’ll bear the toil, endure the pain,

Supported by Thy Word.

−Isaac Watts

 

Weak Kneed

September 8, 2017

“I like you when you’re weak.”

 

It was in between Composition 2 and Spanish 101 that I decided I needed a break from the monotony of college textbook labor. Finding one of the cushy chairs in a quieter spot of the library, I pulled out “Unseen” by Sara Hagerty. She was describing an afternoon in her laundry room when she suddenly felt overwhelmed, incapable, and unsuccessful in her attempts to attain her goals. In the muddle of her swirling, negative thoughts, the voice of the Lord broke in and said, “I like you when you’re weak.” That phrase jumped right off the page and followed me down the hall to class.

Later, as I sat at my desk, the Lord whispered, “I showed you the Truth of that statement earlier today.” And I recalled a dream from earlier that morning…

 

The busy highway was icy and covered up in snow. Driving was dangerous…and I was at the wheel. The wind blew harder and vision was becoming alarming limited. Cautious, scared, I pulled off into the emergency lane. Through the blur of swirling snow, I saw a friend walking along the road, right in the midst of the storm, so I signaled him with a road flare to come help. Upon reaching the vehicle, I told him I couldn’t drive anymore. I was too hard for me…too much. Without a word, he motioned for me to slide over, jumped in next to me, and took the wheel. Easing out into traffic again, he put his strong arm around my shoulders and held me close. I could rest. I was safe.

 

This is who Jesus wants to be for each of us. He wants to be the One who jumps in the seat alongside us and takes the wheel when we can’t navigate the road on our own power, intellect, or reasoning. He shows up striding through the storms, walking on the water, and becomes our strength when we are crumbling from human weakness. Not only does He take control of the situation, but He puts His arm of security and protection gently, yet firmly around us and we can lean hard on Him in perfect peace and rest, trusting in His ability to guide us straight and true; even when we can’t see the way ourselves.

A loving father enjoys being able to help his children. My Dad loves when we come to him asking for his expertise or assistance on something that is new to us, but old hat to him. It gives him an opportunity to teach, take part, and pass down valuable skills. Or, think of a lover who delights in having opportunities to “be a knight” for his “fair lady”. Men are the protectors and appreciate their lady’s “weakness” so as to show/prove to her how he can care for and protect her. Women can be strong for their men as well as we stand by them. Sometimes our men will be battered and beaten from toil and cares; women step in to sooth, to comfort, and to encourage them to get back up when they fall.

 

In thinking of their child, the parent says, “Ah, I like it when you are weak. That’s when you ask questions and want my help.”

The lover says, “I like you when you’re weak; because then you make me want to be strong.”

God says of us, “I like you when you’re weak, because it is only then that you obtain true strength that can only come from leaning hard on Me.”

 

Our society and culture declares that weakness is detestable, to never show the soft underbelly, or the vulnerable parts of yourself. Yielding control, practicing humility, admitting defeat is considered an act of yellow-bellied surrender. That’s why the Kingdom of God was called “upside down”. It is contrary to the thinking patterns of the world. It is the least who will be great, the tender who will be the strongest. It is the weak kneed, those who fall to their knees in prayer, who will shake the whole world and ultimately win a victory over Hell itself.

***

And He has said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me.10 Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong.

−2 Corinthians 12:9-11 (NASB)