No true risk

“Jesus is greater than we have yet learned, more able than we have yet seen, more willing than we have yet dreamed, and infinitely worthier than we have yet risked.”

The above quote is from “Unrolling the Scroll of Freedom” by Beth Moore, published in the March 2015 issue of Christianity Today. (The entire article is a valuable read; the link above is to the one-page, reader-friendly version of it).

One particular part of that quote is leaping, arms waving, for my attention. “Jesus…is infinitely worthier than we have yet risked.” It makes me ask myself, What areas of comfort or safety or self-control am I holding onto because I’m not willing to completely trust that Jesus is worthy and great and able and willing?

Isaiah 30 is a message to the people of Israel about their trust in Egypt. They consulted and counseled each other and made a plan, but God tells them their plans are not His. They looked to Egypt to be their strength and protection and didn’t listen to the Spirit of God. In verse 20, God tells them they have experienced adversity and trouble because they have not trusted in Him, but He longs to reveal Himself to them.

Verse 21 reads, “…your Teacher will not hide Himself any more, but your eyes will constantly behold your Teacher. And your ears will hear a word behind you, saying, ‘This is the way; walk in it, when you turn to the right hand and when you turn to the left.'”

And what is the result of this close listening, this devoted obedience?

“Then you will defile your carved images overlaid with silver and your molten images plated with gold; you will cast them away as a filthy bloodstained cloth, and you will say to them, ‘Be gone!'”

The Israelites would see the comfort, safety, security, and self-control as worthless compared to intimate relationship with their Teacher.

“Jesus is greater than we have yet learned, more able than we have yet seen, more willing than we have yet dreamed, and infinitely worthier than we have yet risked.”

Holy Spirit, be my Teacher. I want to learn more of the greatness of Jesus; I want to see His ability more clearly; I want to understand and dream about His willingness to work in and through me; I want to know He is infinitely worthy, and I want to throw away all else I am holding onto for security, comfort, or safety. I want to walk, wholeheartedly, in His ways. 

There is no true risk in trusting Jesus.

Reading Psalm 3 with new eyes

I wish there were a tie-in to today's post, but I simply thought these grasses were gorgeous.

I wish there were a tie-in to today’s post, but I simply thought these grasses were gorgeous.

Psalm 3 is an affliction psalm, with some vindication thrown in. It’s not one I readily identify with. I don’t have hordes of human adversaries rising up against me (verse 1) nor are multitudes plotting to overthrow me (verse 6). These things were literal for King David when he wrote this psalm, so his plea, “O my God; surely, you will strike all my enemies across the face, you will break the teeth of the wicked,” seems understandable.

But for me, a middle-class mom working part-time from home in a safe neighborhood, it doesn’t seem to fit.
Or does it?
Today, as I read the first verse of Psalm 3, an image rose in my head. I was under attack, not by human enemies but by the many, many things that want to drag and keep my attention off the Lord. Fatigue, materialism, pride, doubt, self-focus, hard-heartedness, security/safety, comfort, control, fear. Some of these enemies were directly in front of me; a few hovered around my head like giant bees; some lurked in the shadows.
grasses with backgroundIn the first chapter of James, sin is described like this kind of enemy; verse 14 speaks of sin enticing me, dragging me away, killing me. In I Peter, Satan is also described as an enemy—specifically, a lion—who longs to devour me, a wily antagonist who uses all those other forces and sins against me in some very creative ways.
Suddenly the image in my head wasn’t so far off from the psalm!
Psalm 3
*Lord, how many adversaries I have! How many there are who rise up against me! My selfishness and hard heart keep me from loving You and others. My fear keeps me from believing You are working in and through me. My sin attacks me from all sides. It never gives up.
So it is understandable that Satan tempts me with doubt and says to me, “There is no help for (you) in (your) God.”
But I refuse to believe that lie because you, O Lord, are a shield about me; you are my glory, the one who lifts my head.
This gives me the confidence to call aloud upon the Lord, and You answer me… I lie down and go to sleep; I wake again, because (You) sustain me.
I do not fear the multitudes … who set themselves against me all around. No matter what sin attacks me, whether it is from within or without, I do not have to fear.
Rise up, O LORD; set me free, O my God; surely You will strike all my enemies across the face, you will break the teeth of the wicked. Yes! This is what I need. You tell me to lay aside the sin that so easily ensnares me. You tell me to put it to death, but YOU then provide the power and will and weapons to do that.
Deliverance belongs to the Lord. Your blessing be upon your people. Bless us now, Lord, to stay strong in this battle, covered in Your armor. And thank You for this sure knowledge: we will not have to battle sin for eternity. You will break the teeth of the roaring lion. You will stomp Your heel on the sharp-toothed head of the enemy. You will deliver!
Amen!
*The italicized phrases are from Psalm 3. Every verse is included.

Joy

window ScotlandThough I want joy—unceasing,

I experience only moments of it

Much between is grit-my-teeth “showing up.”

None of it is horrible;

I can always make the comparison—

To parents of children with cancer

To those suffering persecution or

being abused

To orphans, single moms, trafficking victims,

Others who have lost loved ones…

The juxtaposition brings guilt,

Which coils in my gut,

A python heavy, growing heavier.

Ach, guilt is no answer.

Joy requires realization,

That though life is often cruel because of heartbreak,

It more often is simply hard because of paradox:

who we are is not who we want to be,

the grand beauty we dream of

is not actualized in the day–to-day—

and the movie screen is an insufficient substitute.

If we settle, give up the longing, and live half-lives,

No joy.

But when we plumb beyond the temporal shallows,

Shoving past the “too weak” desires

To the eternal depths beneath,

We discover Joy has a Name,

A Face, a Person—

Whom we are invited to Know.

Inspired in part by C.S. Lewis’ opening words in “The Weight of Glory”:

If we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased. (26)

Confessional Living: beneath the symptoms

mads 11th bday cake

This has NOTHING to do with this post but is a pic of Maddie blowing out the candles on the birthday cake made for her by her older sister, Emily.

In the last “Confessional Living” post, I wrote about the joy that comes through confession.

I suggested it is possible for this joy to be a constant state if we live in continual recognition/confession of sin–Martin Luther’s “life of repentance.” To do this, though, we must understand the concept of “sin” more deeply–beyond its obvious symptoms to its core, where we always put “self” ahead of God and/or others. A few weeks back I was at a morning retreat run by our church (Church of the Resurrection), and Bishop Stewart Ruch spoke about the chronic disease of sin and the different ways it reveals or presents itself in our lives. I found his list very helpful, particularly in relation to the studying/thinking I’ve done for the Confessional Living series, so I am sharing it here.

1. the disease to meet our own needs–no matter what; ahead of others’ more pressing needs; for being flattered, noticed, taken care of, pampered, etc. Stewart suggested that people struggling with this particular sin disease are often magnetic or subtly manipulative personalities; they have figured out how to get others to want to meet their needs.

2. the disease of self-deception–living as if we have no sin/not seeing our own sin. This is why it is very, very dangerous to live outside any spiritual authority. It is too easy to ignore and become blind to our own sin.

3. the disease of introspection–This is not reflection but is a constant consciousness of ourselves, of how we are presenting ourselves to others, of how others are perceiving us. A continual awareness of SELF.

4. the disease of unbelief–of doubting the truth of God’s Word, of HIM. Of doubting the Gospel. Of ALWAYS questioning/pushing off acceptance.

5. the disease of perfectionism–In this, we have an illusion of the possibility of self-goodness and being completely RIGHT. It leads to brutal self-standards and terrible judgment of both self and others. Perfectionists are exhausted themselves and tiring to be around.

6. the disease of non-acceptance–We do not accept what God has given us to do or be. We don’t embrace it and instead long for something else.

Mad's 11th bday cakeThese were very helpful for me. A friend who also attended the retreat went with me on a long walk, and we discussed the realities of these diseases in our lives. We recognized many of them! They bring theoretical sin into the nitty-gritty and allow me to see the wrong in very subtle attitudes, actions, or thoughts. When I am in a group, and I find myself slightly amending a statement or story just before I say it so that I will appear more likable/knowledgable/competent–I can see that this springs from a sin disease and needs to be brought to the Lord. When I fuss at two of my children for squabbling in a store, it allows me to see that underneath the good desire for these children to care for each other is a sliver of hurt pride at having others’ perceptions of my parenting tainted by my children’s actions.

And when I become conscious of these things, I am more in awe of Christ–who didn’t exalt Himself but instead humbled Himself to the cross, –who loved and died for us while we were still dead and rotten in our sins.

With great gratitude I remember that for our sake “God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ.”

Confessional Living: the joy of humility

The psalmist said, “When I refused to confess my sin, my body wasted away, and I groaned all day long. Day and night your hand of discipline was heavy on me. My strength evaporated like water in the summer heat.” Psalm 32:3-4 NLT
God went to great lengths to draw the psalmist into confession. The Message paraphrases the above verses like this: “When I kept it all inside, my bones turned to powder, my words became daylong groans. The pressure never let up; all the juices of my life dried up.”
Why was God so hard on him? We learn the answer to this question later in the same psalm (32) when the psalmist can no longer stand his misery. “Finally, I confessed all my sins to you and stopped trying to hide my guilt. I said to myself, ‘I will confess my rebellion to the Lord.’ And you forgave me! All my guilt is gone.”
The relief was so great the psalmist said: “Oh, what joy for those whose disobedience is forgiven, whose sin is put out of sight! Yes, what joy for those whose record the Lord has cleared of guilt, whose lives are lived in complete honesty!” The Amplified puts the second part this way: “Blessed is he who has forgiveness of his transgression continually exercised upon him, whose sin is covered.”
God knows this kind of joy results when we honestly confess and experience His beautiful forgiveness. He doesn’t want this joy to be something we only experience after committing “big” sins; He wants us to live in this kind of joy all the time. This simply isn’t possible when we think we’re “doing okay.” When we think of our sinfulness merely in terms of “big” sins and only engage in confession when we’ve “really messed up,” we become flat and joy-less. Confessional living requires that we walk daily in the light of God’s truth, allowing it to continually reveal our own selfishness, our hidden sins, and our lack of trust—those ongoing sins that are at our very core. I John 1:9 tells us, If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.”
Confessional living requires humility, and we humans don’t generally like humility. We think it will make us unsure, sad, and weak. But that’s not true. When we walk in humility with the Lord, regularly asking the Holy Spirit to convict us and taking all that is revealed to the Lord, He continually purifies and heals us, and we live strong and free and joyously in Him.
Gideon is a perfect example of this (Judges 6-8). After Gideon turned from his “big” sin of idolatry, he still struggled with doubt and fear. He could have hidden this, but instead he regularly admitted it to God. He told God he simply couldn’t do the task God had called him to. He asked for first one sign, then another, then another.
You’d think God would have gotten tired of Gideon’s lack of faith and progress.
But no.
Not once does God rebuke Gideon for being fearful or for admitting his fear. Not once does God express frustration. Instead He shows his acceptance of Gideon just as he is. He reassures him again and again. He meets him in his fear. After God has answered all Gideon’s requests, He tells him, “If you’re afraid (and I know you are), I’ve arranged yet another sign for you down in the enemy camp. You can sneak down there at night. Just stay outside their tents. You’ll hear all you need to know. Oh, and, by the way, take your servant with you if you need a partner to bolster your courage.” (my paraphrase)
Gideon doesn’t protest. He follows God’s directions–and then he worships!
Gideon’s willingness to acknowledge his own faults makes him more aware of God’s greatness.
Then he is able to accept God’s power and peace and joy and go out to do battle in the Lord’s strength.
If we [freely] admit that we have sinned and confess our sins, He is faithful and just (true to His own nature and promises) and will forgive our sins [dismiss our lawlessness] and [continuously] cleanse us from all unrighteousness [everything not in conformity to His will in purpose, thought, and action]. I John 1:9 Amplified

Living Confessionally, Part 4: Inviting the Holy Spirit’s Conviction

I’ve had two recent conversations about confession. In both the other person told me they are often not sure what to confess. They want a specific recognition of sin in their lives beyond the “we have not loved (God) with our whole heart/We have not loved our neighbor as ourselves.” The prayer of confession* also refers to sinning against God in “thoughts, words, and deeds” and by “what we have done” and “left undone.” What, in particular, are these—and how do we become more aware of them in our lives?

It’s generally not too difficult to recognize when we commit one of the “big” sins: an outright lie; a lustful thought; an outburst of anger; blatant, hurtful gossip, etc.** But the less obvious ones, the ones that pop up like weeds from our inherent self-focus/self-love, are often overlooked. Our bishop at Church of the Resurrection, Stewart Ruch, calls self-love/focus the “seed of sin.” It’s a very prolific seed, and the “small” sins it sprouts are harmful, no less harmful than the “big” ones. But they are also insidious (I love that word—it actually sounds evil!), working subtly and gradually. Many of them can even disguise themselves as something culture sees as good (like selfish ambition). How can we recognize these in our lives?

A couple of verses from the Psalms have been a great help for me as I’ve thought about this problem. Psalm 139 opens with these lines: “You have searched me, LORD, and you know me.” It goes on to show how intimate this knowledge is and the section ends with this statement: “Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain.” This “knowledge” is about me—ME! God’s knowledge of me is far, far greater than my own knowledge of myself. He knows me in ways I am completely unable to know myself. That can seem terrifying—but it’s actually very, very helpful. Each of us has major blind spots in our lives; we can point out faults in others but remain unable to see the very same sins in ourselves. Psalm 19:12 says, “…who can discern their own errors? Forgive my hidden faults.” The last two verses in Psalm 139 say, “Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” In the New Living Translation that last verse reads, “Point out anything in me that offends you”; the Message paraphrases it “Investigate my life, O God, find out everything about me; cross-examine and test me, get a clear picture of what I’m about;”.

I’ve discovered the Holy Spirit really does answer that prayer and does so in very gracious, gentle ways—in exactly the ways that make me recognize and face my sin without completely crushing me. The Spirit is also incredibly creative in this process: I’ve become aware of insidious sin in my life through a particular word that keeps popping up in my mind, through sermons I’ve listened to, books I’ve read (even fiction), my children’s struggles…

Almighty God, to you all hearts are open, all desires known, and from you no secrets are hid: Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of your Holy Spirit, that we may perfectly love you, and worthily magnify your holy Name; through Christ our Lord.***

*The first blog post in this series has the prayer of confession in its entirety.

**It can be helpful to simply read some of the lists of sins in Scripture and ask the Spirit to reveal those in our lives. Here are links to some of them: Galatians 5:19-21, Colossians 3:5-6, Proverbs 6:16-19.

***This is the Collect for Purity from the Book of Common Prayer.

the truth that keeps me out of the cave of despair

My body returned from Scotland last Thursday night. It has taken my mind longer to return. It was ready right away to be with my kids, to celebrate PJ’s 9th birthday (how is it possible that my YOUNGEST is in his last year of single digits?), and ease back into the cycle of cooking/washing/straightening. My grey matter was clearly not up for all the other parts of my normal life—i.e. meetings/appointments/a packed schedule—because I didn’t even realize I’d missed a significant meeting at church on Monday evening till I checked my email later that night and saw a note from the team leader wondering about my absence.
My mind moved—in one short minute—from gradual re-entry to high alert.
And into guilt, too, of course.
How? How could I have so completely forgotten a meeting I’d been very excited about only a month before? How could I have gone an entire weekend without checking my full schedule for this week?
So complete was my plunge into alert mode that I was unable to sleep. At 2 a.m. I finally slipped from bed to read in the bathroom, hoping my mind would shut off. It didn’t work. I returned to bed, but no sleep came. I prayed, working my way through the phrases of the Lord’s Prayer, but I kept circling around to guilt and then to the busy-ness of the week ahead.
“Oh, Lord, help me to get past this and rest,” I asked, and my understanding of my guilt and frustration began to shift. I realized what was really eating at me was concern for how I would be perceived by the other members of the team, was embarrassment, was shame at having to admit I’d simply forgotten. This self-preservation and focus was what was keeping me awake.
Still, even though I could name my issue, sleep never came. I finally got up, went upstairs, and found my younger three already awake in the living room. “Can you pray for me?” I asked them. I explained my missing the meeting, my lack of sleep.
“Of course,” they said. Maddie prayed that I would have peace and strength for the day; Jake—who is quite familiar with guilt—prayed I would not be “down in the dumps, would not live in the cave of despair.” (I’m not being imaginative; those were his exact words!)
It was such a good wake-up call (pardon the pun!). As the day went on, I found myself grateful for two seemingly paradoxical reminders: 1. I am NOT as free as I sometimes think I am from guilt, perfectionism, and people pleasing. I am still in the process of being set free and that’s okay; and 2. In Christ, I AM free. He accomplished my freedom, and He is at work in me—and HE is greater than my sin! He will triumph!
I am grateful the second truth is far deeper.
“And I am convinced and sure of this very thing, that He Who began a good work in you will continue until the day of Jesus Christ [right up to the time of His return], developing [that good work] and perfecting and bringing it to full completion in you. Philippians 1:6, Amplified Bible

Thy light and Thy truth

DSC_0882They give me an unlit candle when I enter the service. We sing “Our darkness is never darkness in your sight: the deepest night is clear as the day,” but the candle, still unlit, dangles from my fingers. Then we sing “Wait for the Lord, whose day is near. Wait for the Lord: be strong, take heart,” and down the aisle I see a small child, no more than four, carrying in her tiny hand a shining taper, its flame high and bright. Her mother, hunched over her, helps her hold the candle steady as the end person in each row bends their candle sideways and brings the wicks together till the flame is shared.

When the child nears my row, I watch her beautiful little face. She is old enough to be frightened of strangers, but though these unknown adults bend over her, one after another, she looks at nothing other than the bright flame. It is mirrored in her dark eyes.

The symbolism overwhelms me. She, too, began with an unlit candle. She, too, held it sideways, a picture for me of bowing down, of worship. Now she is captivated by the light. She has lost sight of herself and can share the flame with others without self-consciousness.

The mother shuffles, crouched over, keeping pace with her daughter’s short steps, aiding her in this beautiful work. This, too, makes me draw a sudden breath. For don’t we all share this responsibility as well at times: to slow our pace to match the faltering steps of another, to steady others’ hands so they can see the light, to bend our backs if that is what they need?

It is my turn. I tip my candle and receive the light. I hold it straight so my friend can do the same. The director sings the lines of Psalm 43, pausing at the end of each so we can respond with “Alleluia.” We lift our candles high as we sing, and my eyes follow the light. The flames from the individual candles, held above our selves, blaze as one.

“Oh, send out thy light and thy truth: let them lead me,” the director sings.

Thy light and Thy truth, Lord. Let them lead.

Odds and Ends

This is a purposely random post. It includes further thoughts on a recent post; one quote; and one Scripture passage (in three versions) that I found beautiful.

Last weekend, as I was walking just after our first snowfall, I saw this bud lying on the ground. I brought it home, set it in the snow on our patio, and shot a picture. I changed my header picture to this shot because it certainly describes this strange transition of weather we are in. Down to 12 degrees one night, and then five days later it's back up to 50!

Last weekend, as I was walking just after our first snowfall, I saw this bud lying on the ground. I brought it home, set it in the snow on our patio, and shot a picture. I changed my header picture to this shot because it certainly describes this strange transition of weather we are in. Down to 12 degrees one night, and then five days later it’s back up to 50!

1. A couple days after posting the Meanderings on Being piece, I heard a radio interview with James Bryan Smith about his book The Good and Beautiful God. He shared this wonderful illustration from his book: A 19th century Russian Orthodox priest named John of Kronstadt was terribly bothered by the alcoholics he saw passed out in the gutters on his way to the church where he served. Unlike the other priests, he could not simply walk by them. Compelled by love, John would lift up the “hungover, foul-smelling people from the gutter, cradle them in his arms, and say to them, ‘This is beneath your dignity. You were meant to house the fullness of God.'” When I heard that amazing story, my mind jumped to my thoughts about the “God-blank” I wrote about in the Meanderings piece. Hmmm. “You were meant to house the fullness of God.” Oh, I like that.

2. If you live in the U.S. and used Google today, you saw the funky artwork at the top with a quote in it from Corita Kent. Here’s the quote:

“To understand is to stand under

which is to look up

which is a good way to understand.”

I like that, too. When I read the Google blurb on Kent (1918-1986), I learned she was a nun, a teacher, and an artist known for contrasting the idea of consumerism with spiritual concepts drawn from her religious background. I found one article on her in which a friend described her as “a Boston lady who understands friendship and ‘who quietly waits for the gentle inner voice to whisper’ where it will take her next.” An artist whose friend described her first in terms of FRIENDSHIP–and then referred to her as a thoughtful artist: that’s a good model!

3. Here are the verses: Psalms 16:5-7. I’m pasting it in here in the Amplified version (of course), but the reference link will take you to a Bible Gateway page with the ESV, Amp, and New Living translation side by side. (I love that tool!). This verse, too, informs my “meanderings on being.”

The Lord is my chosen and assigned portion, my cup; You hold and maintain my lot.

The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; yes, I have a good heritage.

I will bless the Lord, Who has given me counsel; yes, my heart instructs me in the night seasons.

Thanks for reading.

Jen

Discontent disguised as “spiritual” longing

A few weeks ago “Do not grow weary in well doing” literally jumped into my mind. It was unexpected, both out of place and time. I was NOT engaged in what I thought of as “well doing” at that moment. Nor was I in a particularly “spiritual” frame of mind. In fact, after the verse jumped in—surprising me—I retorted back at, I assumed, the Holy Spirit. “What if I’m just simply ‘weary’ without there being any ‘well doing’ going on at all? That’s rather depressing, don’t you think? It means I am weary simply spinning my wheels, simply being ‘busy’ with suburban mom ‘stuff.’”
I waited for a moment, wondering if another verse would “pop up.” Nothing came, but I was left with a slightly unsettled feeling, as if the conversation were not yet finished.
A week later it continued, this time a bit more forcefully. I was driving (no surprise there–a literal spinning of the wheels), vaguely longing for “otherness”—a more focused ministry that involved our entire family (or at least my husband and I together), a centralized location that would involve much less “in the car” time for me…
This time it wasn’t a verse, just three words, but they cut across my mind, stark, black on a white background.
“You are discontent.”
What? Discontent? That didn’t describe me! I was simply longing for something “better,” right? A more spiritual life, one that stood out as “different.” One that could serve as a good example for others…
Ooh—pride as well as discontent.
Yuck!
Really, Lord? I asked. This—what I so often see as a “small” life—is what You want for me? This here? This now?
Yes.
It was confirmed by a conversation with my mother-in-law. “Let me tell you what I’ve been praying for you lately,” she said. (What a blessing to have not one but two sets of parents who pray for me!) “I’m praying that you will see the goodness and purpose in all the running around, the cooking, the organizing of schedules, the ‘mothering stage’ you are now in, with kids who need you in very different ways than they did when they were younger. I’m praying that you will understand that all this, though it seems small, is BIG. In all this, you are loving your children. This is your good work.”
Good work. Well doing.
Oh, Lord, I prayed, help me to see this—to keep on seeing this.
And help me not to grow weary.
*Here’s a link to a Tim Keller sermon titled “Everyone with a Gift” in which he talks about this very kind of discontent. I’ve listened to it twice now–and I probably need to listen to it again.