Kneeling on Needy Knees

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Neither this picture nor the one below is the one I remember from my childhood, but I found these interesting!

The work set before me

—Before all of us, I imagine—

Is that of kneeling down.

The picture in the old copy of Pilgrim’s Progress I read as a child comes to my mind

(an illustrated, much-shorter-than-the original copy!):

Christian, stumbling all the way, has finally gotten to the cross

And dropped to his knees.

And that big old lumpy pack he’d been carrying on his back

Is rolling off.

Seems to me this is not a one-time occurrence in the Christian life.

imagesI used to think it was.

One bow, real low,

And then I had to be off,

Standing tall,

Pulling on my own bootstraps and

Figuring out how to be a “little Christ” all on my own.

I think all this because I was reading Second Peter,

and I got to this verse:

“His divine power has given us everything needed for life and godliness,

through the knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness.”

I’ve spent a lot of time pursuing godliness in my own power

And all it’s reaped me is a bitter, narrow spirit focused on myself.

But when I bend myself to the work of humility,

To the acknowledgment of my own inexhaustible bent toward self

And my inability to do a darned thing about it.

When I embrace my constant need for pardon, for help,

Oh, this confession is so wonderfully good for my soul!

Still danger lurks,

In the very act of kneeling I begin to compare my sins with another’s—

Particularly those sins I see as being against ME!—

and in doing this I unconsciously pick up the pack and stand up,

laden with its weight, knees locked against the strain.

“Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”

I’m learning it’s not a conditional statement so much as a necessity.

If I don’t forgive, I cannot humble myself,

And the burden cannot roll off my back.

My Lord will not wrestle me to the ground;

I must do this part myself,

Bend my stubborn legs,

Bow my head,

Sink low.

And let Him lift the load, lift me.

Life and godliness gifted to me

Through and by the Glory and Goodness,

The One I know best from my needy, dependent knees.

 

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Kingdom Vision

My last post was seen by a few as being somewhat divisive. Division is not my hope for my blog, for my voice, for my life. One of my deepest desires is for unity in the Church, for us to look more and more like the kingdom, where people from every nation and tongue and people stand shoulder to shoulder and worship God together, where we see ourselves as one people—God’s people—together, and THAT is our primary identity, where there are no poor, no mentally ill, no addictions (other than the supreme, life-giving one of being addicted to our God!), no wars…

All right—clearly, the Church can’t do all of that now. That’s a beautiful, Revelation picture of the future when the KING is visibly reigning, but that vision of the Kingdom should drive us now. If that’s what God’s love fulfilled in all our lives looks like, then that should dominate much of the work of the Church. Think of what a picture that would give to the world—to those in our communities who have no eternal hope, who have no community, who recognize a longing deep in their soul.

I think the division in my last blog post came because I was lamenting the election of our new president, and some reading it concluded that I would not have been writing it had Hilary Clinton been elected.

They’re right. I wouldn’t have. But nor would I have rejoiced. She wasn’t my candidate either. I didn’t have one. I don’t think either of them gets us closer to the Kingdom of God vision.

Truth is, they’re not supposed to.

That’s the vision for the CHURCH, not America. The Church is supposed to look different, is supposed to BE different and winsome and beautiful (though messy).

So why did I “rant” about Trump if I wouldn’t have about Clinton?

My answer follows, but, please, before/if you read any further, please know that what I write next comes from years of the Lord moving in my heart, comes from a place of personal repentance and not finger-pointing. It comes from a growing-ever-deeper love for the Church—and from the understanding that I, too, have recognition and continual repenting to do following this election.

So why did I “rant” about Trump?

Because the white church in America (of which I am part) hasn’t done a good job of working with all its might for the Kingdom vision. It hasn’t crossed racial and ethnic divides; it hasn’t encouraged humility and lament for past sins; it hasn’t stayed in the places of greatest need; it hasn’t continually welcomed the stranger and shabby and needy ones.

And because that is the history of the white church in America, and the current white church (I hate that it’s still so divided that this adjective still very much applies) hasn’t made serious steps to heal that history, we must take some ownership in this very divided America, an America in which a lot of marginalized people are seen as “other” by the white majority, an American in which a lot of marginalized people feel they are seen as second-class and not completely welcome among the white majority, not as equals at least.

But, white church, we must go beyond this because this is true inside the Church as well. Inside Jesus’ church here in America, our brothers and sisters who have a skin color other than white often do not feel that the white church at large sees them as equals—they do not feel that the white church fully welcomes them—particularly not in leadership positions. Many see our separateness as a way for us to continue to have our own worlds. Many feel they are welcome to visit or even be in our worlds, as long as it’s not in such large numbers that they affect our culture or have some element of authority. Many have deep wounds of mistrust caused by centuries of supremacy and oppression both outside the Church as well as within it.

With these feelings and this viewpoint, can we understand, have we tried to understand, what it must have felt like when the white church turned out in large numbers and voted for a candidate whose rhetoric and proposed policies support a form of white supremacy? Have we tried to understand why some of our brothers and sisters feel so hurt and so threatened by his election? I understand that many of us voted for Trump for totally unrelated reasons, but now it is time–in the humility Christ calls us to–to look at the other side of it, at another’s view.

We have not progressed beyond separate-but-equal thinking in the white church (there are times I’m not sure we’ve progressed that far). And if you’re reading this and you’re part of the white church and you find yourself thinking that separate-but-equal church sounds okay, if you think, What’s wrong with that? Or if you can say, Well, we have some minorities in our church, and I think that’s great—but no person of color is in a position of leadership in your church and it would be a little surprising to have a person of color in leadership… well, I would say there is work to do, vision-casting work—and acknowledging there is work to do is a wonderful first step.

I know the last few days have put many white evangelicals on the defensive, that they’ve been accused of racism and sexism, and that’s hard. But it’s nothing—nothing!—compared to what our brothers and sisters of color collectively have endured—for centuries—and are enduring even now. As followers of Christ, we must not go on the defensive; we MUST empathize; we MUST try to understand; we MUST listen and learn. We must practice stillness before God and allow the Holy Spirit to give us supernatural insight into the pain of others.

I am not saying this is easy. I am not saying there are any quick solutions (far from it, in fact), but we must remember that we will not be segregated in the kingdom.

And we are called to start practicing the kingdom now.

Working through poopy

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Em’s lettering–and Em’s photography (I think she’s amazing!)

My friend B calls it “working through poopy.” I think it’s a very accurate description. I worked through a little bit of my own poopy this morning: some jealousy, the desire to be noticed more/sought out more, some self-pity and fear and insecurity…

I’ll stop there.

After I spilled it all out in my journal, I felt better: ready to pray, ready to confess, ready to be grateful for the oh-so-much that has been gifted to me.

But God had one more step, one more gift.

I got up from the bench in the park where I’d been writing (so Chai [dog] could be outside) and noticed another woman entering the gate. She, too, had a dog. We exchanged pet names and then our own. In the chitchat that followed, we discovered we are both writers and the chitchat became conversation, with the shared language that comes with a shared vocation and shared concerns/frustrations/struggles/fears.

It was time for both of us to go, and as I walked toward the gate, I remembered, again, that we all—not just my fellow writer and I—are working through poopy. We’re all wondering about our purpose. We all want to be seen/known. We all struggle with identity. We all have very deep fears.

The second half of the St. Francis* prayer came to mind (another gift, that St. Francis!): Grant that we may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love. For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.

Amen.

 

*Technically this poem is “attributed to St. Francis.” Here is the full text (also seen in the picture above):

“Lord, make us instruments of your peace. Where there is hatred, let us sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is discord, union; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy. Grant that we may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love. For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.”

Moving grief–and greed

I wrote this piece a week or so before we closed on our house, but Dave (husband) told me I couldn’t post it till after we were completely out of the house! 🙂 Seriously, though, despite my awful thoughts during the selling process (which you’ll read about later in this post), we do hope and pray the very best for the new owners of our old home. 

I wouldn’t normally consider greed as one of my besetting sins.

But when we decide to move, and we begin the process of selling our home…

the green-eyed nasty comes out.

I get insulted by offers that are lower than the asking price; I want to quibble (I don’t actually do it, but the impulse is there) over the inspection results; I begin to think of the homebuyers as “those people.”

Case in point: Two weeks ago, when we got an offer on the house—and it was a good one and such an answer to prayer—my first response was greedy.

Dave, very excited, got off the phone with our realtor and turned to me. “We’ve got an offer!”

He was ready to rejoice, but I wanted to know the amount. He told me.

My first words?

“That low?”

Dave wasn’t even mildly surprised. He laughed and called me out. “You get so greedy when we sell a house.”

Yes, I do.

And even though I try to fight it, it’s a constant all through the process. When the home inspection report from the city comes back, I say things like, “Shouldn’t the inspection report from when we bought the house have revealed this?” (What I’m leaving unsaid are these words: “…so the previous homeowners could have paid for the repair?”) When, during this current home-selling process, we got the request from the owners to provide two working garage door remotes, I said, only partly joking (I’m embarrassed to even admit this), “Someone told me that if an automatic garage door opener isn’t on the house listing, you can just unplug it and say it’s a manual.” Dave just stared at me after that one.

Every time this greed rises up like bile in my mind or actually vomits out my mouth, I’m appalled, and I try to figure out where it’s coming from (as if it simply can’t be a part of ME!); I pray about it; I try to talk myself out of it; I remind myself how really awful it is. After all, in this current sale, our home was on the market only two weeks—incredible!; the offer was good to begin with; when our realtor countered, the homebuyers accepted it; and their “fix-it” requests have been minimal. Knowing all this, I ask myself, “Jen, what is wrong with you?”

About a week after we sold our house, I was reading the novel Gilead by Marilynne Robinson (fantastic book, by the way) and I came to a line that was so good, so applicable, it made me stop and put the book down. The narrator of the book, John Ames, a pastor, is reflecting on the long, lonely years following the death of his young wife and their only child. In particular, he is remembering when, during that time of singleness, he christened his best friend’s child. He said the correct words, he blessed the child, but his inward thoughts were quite different.

“…my heart froze in me,” he wrote, “and I thought, This is not my child…”

The line that follows that statement is the one that made me set the book down.

“I don’t know exactly what covetise is, but in my experience it is not so much desiring someone else’s virtue or happiness as rejecting it, taking offense at the beauty of it.”

Oh.

Yes.

There is a grief in moving. I am leaving behind friends whom I love, neighbors whose stories I’ve learned, a house which has been a home, memories of Dave and I and our four children and our two international girls becoming a family…

…and there is a part of me that is flat-out jealous of the new homeowners. This right here is so good, I think, and what is ahead for us is so unknown that I’m simmer-level jealous of these people who are moving into what we are sorrowfully—though willingly—leaving behind.

I am, in John Ames’ words, taking offense at someone else moving into the happiness I’ve experienced here.

To be honest, I think there’s a good dose of penny-pinching, old-fashioned, straight-up greed involved as well.

So confession is in order; repentance is in order; but also in order is acceptance of the forgiveness of God.

Because it is in times like this–when I see some of the twisted nature of sin, its stem reaching deep into self-focus, its branches weaving through hurt and fear–that I remember I need absolution from Another, that there is no way I can ever pluck something like this from out of my heart.

A few days after I read the passage in Gilead, I read a section of Accidental Saints by Nadia Bolz Weber, a Lutheran pastor, in which she was writing about this very thing. Forgiveness, she said, is not like a dry erase board that we are frantically trying to keep clean so God will be happy with us. Rather, it is freedom from the bondage of self, wrought for us by Christ, who is fully aware of our deep sinfulness, more aware than we ourselves are.

We need to know this truth about forgiveness, she says, and then she writes about the Maundy Thursday practice of individual absolution. In it she lays her hands on each congregant’s head and pronounces, “In obedience to the command of our Lord Jesus Christ, I proclaim to you the entire forgiveness of all your sins, Amen.”

Jesus—not my efforts or repentance—sets me free from my sins, so that I may, as the prayer of confession says, “delight in (his) will, and walk in (his) ways, to the glory of His name.“

Amen!

Marks of ash and tears

iron cross at WestminsterMidpoint of the Ash Wednesday service. We have listened to the Word; the crosses have already been marked on foreheads; and we are waiting to receive the Sacrament of the Eucharist. The father of the young family seated in front of us leaves to get his smallest one from the children’s service. When he returns, his little boy runs ahead, right into his mother’s arms. She lifts him to her lap, and he settles, content, his chin nuzzled into her neck. I am seated behind them. His eyes meet mine, and we smile at each other, but then his eyes widen.
He has seen the dark cross on my forehead. He looks past me at my children, each marked with a cross of ash. He pulls back and looks up at his mother’s face. He cannot see her forehead, so he places his small hands on her cheeks and pulls her face down until her ashes, too, are visible to him. In wonder he gently touches his small finger to her forehead, tracing the dark lines there. He pulls his hand away and looks at the dark smudge on his fingertip. “A cross?” he asks. She nods. He looks past her again, at me, my children, the friends next to us. We are all marked with ashes. He pulls aside the hair on his own forehead. “Where’s my cross, Mommy? I want a cross, too.”
She tries to hush him, but he asks again—and again. Soon he is weeping. He is quiet, but tears stream down his cheeks.
After the service, his mother stands, holding him in her arms, and turns to my husband, still wearing the purple and white robes that signify him as one who marked others with ash this night.
“Can you put a cross on his forehead?” she asks.
“I would, but I don’t have the ash anymore,” he answers.
“It’s all right. He just wants someone to mark him with the sign of the cross, and you…” She gestures at the robes.
My husband stands and smiles at the small child. He lifts one hand to the boy’s head and brushes his soft hair to the side. With the thumb of his other hand, he gently rubs the child’s forehead, down and then across.
In my mind I hear, again, the two lines said over each person who received a cross of ashes this day:
“Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”
“Repent and believe the Gospel.”
My husband’s thumb leaves no smudge, but the boy smiles and something glistens on his rounded cheek, a silver line that almost glows when the light hits it just right. It is the trail of his tears, his mark this night, his ash cross, the sign that he has accepted his humanity, his frailty, his need.
May we all accept.
May we all remember.
That we may repent.
That we may believe.
Rend your heart
    and not your garments.
Return to the Lord your God,
for he is gracious and compassionate,
slow to anger and abounding in love,
Joel 2:13a

Held, always

daveandpj hands

My husband’s and youngest child’s hands–in an incredible shot taken by my oldest

“Mom, how do you know you’re a Christian?”

My child who has never seen shades of grey—least of all in herself—has begun wrestling with some of the hard questions of faith. Tonight she is struggling with a question I remember from my own growing-up years.

How do I know I’m saved? I don’t feel saved. I’m not doing a very good job as a Christian right now. I’m not loving God much—others either. I feel distant, and God seems vague—or worse. What if it was all fake—and I’m not really saved?

Oh, yes, I remember.

I also remember what I did in response: said the sinner’s prayer again (and again, and again), just to be sure, just to “seal the deal.”

But that’s not what I suggested to my troubled child. Instead I used a metaphor.

Do you remember when you were little and I would carry both you and your brother on my hips from the car into the store?

A nod.

Did you always hold onto me?

Head shake.

Sometimes you did. Sometimes you clutched tight, arms and legs. I could have let go completely, and you would have still hung there like a little monkey.

But much of the time you were like a sack of potatoes—you left it all up to me—and other times you actually struggled to get down. You pushed against me. I had to hold on tight.

I looked into her eyes.

We’re all like that with God. There are times we cling, times we know our desperate need for God, and we hang on for dear life. But that’s not all the time; it’s not most of the time. Most of the time we sit like a disinterested sack of potatoes. We’re not really concerned with our relationship with God. We’re not working on it. Sometimes we actually push him away. We don’t want anything to do with Him.

Her look changes from worried to thoughtful.

Did I ever just drop you when you acted like that?

No.

Neither does He. He’s still holding you, no matter what.

And because I have learned much lately about the Body of Christ and our deep responsibilities as members of it, I told her this.

Darling, I see the evidence of God’s work in you. I’ve seen it for years. I remember the first moment you said you really wanted to follow Christ, and I saw transformation even then. It’s still happening now. I am testifying to you of God’s work in you, of His faithfulness to continue His work in you.

Not long after this conversation, I read a book about us Christians being invited into a community of atonement, and I remembered a story someone once told me about a man, a Christian, who was in deep distress. He’d lost a dear loved one and his grief was overwhelming him. A fellow Christian encouraged him to continue coming to church, and the man responded, “I can’t participate. I can’t pray. I can’t even recite the Lord’s Prayer or sing the Doxology. I can’t do any of it.”

His friend told him, “That doesn’t matter. We will do it for you, on your right, on your left, in front of and behind you. We will praise and confess and worship around you, for you, in a sense. It will carry you along, and when you are ready, you can join in again.”

I have long loved the prayer cried out by the father who asked Jesus to heal his child: Lord, I believe; help my unbelief. I have prayed it many, many times myself. And I am beginning to understand that not only does the Lord personally help—with the Father’s strong, gentle hand, with the whisper and comfort of the Holy Spirit, with the active Gospel accomplished by and in the Son—but He also helps through His Body, His Church.

Hebrews 10:23-25 (RSV)~ Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful; 24 and let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.

Hebrews 10: 19-25 (Message)~ So, friends, we can now—without hesitation—walk right up to God, into “the Holy Place.” Jesus has cleared the way by the blood of his sacrifice, acting as our priest before God. The “curtain” into God’s presence is his body. 22-25 So let’s do it—full of belief, confident that we’re presentable inside and out. Let’s keep a firm grip on the promises that keep us going. He always keeps his word. Let’s see how inventive we can be in encouraging love and helping out, not avoiding worshiping together as some do but spurring each other on, especially as we see the big Day approaching.

A sermon and thoughts on Generosity

Two days after my sister sent me the Matthew 6 commentary on generosity and giving that I shared in my last post, I opened up my podcast library on my phone to listen to the latest Tim Keller Sermon and found that it is titled “Blessed Are the Poor.” It so closely relates to the Matthew 6 commentary that I am blown away. Clearly this is something the Lord wants me to meditate on and pray about more–and, of course, DO! Click on the link above to listen to this sermon via Podbay. Keller doesn’t pull any punches, but he ends by drawing our attention back to grace. He reminds us that “generosity” that is based on guilt is simply religion; it’s not founded in the Gospel.

One image from the Matthew 6 commentary that I keep thinking about is the “single eye.” Here’s a quote from that section: Jesus’ illustration about the “single” (NIV good) eye and the evil eye would immediately make sense to his hearers: a “good” eye was literally a healthy eye, but figuratively also an eye that looked on others generously (Sirach 32:8). In the Greek text of the Gospels, Jesus literally calls the eye a “single” eye, which is a wordplay: the Greek version of the Hebrew Bible also uses this word for “single” to translate the Hebrew term for “perfect”-thus “single-minded” devotion to God, with one’s heart set on God alone. An “evil eye,” conversely, was a stingy, jealous or greedy eye; yet it also signifies here a bad eye (Mt 6:23), one that cannot see properly. Jesus uses the “single” eye as a transition to his next point, for the “single” eye is literally undivided, having the whole picture: thus one is not divided between two masters, as the text goes on to explain (v. 24).

mads eye

I’ve posted this picture (shot by my older daughter [the subject is my younger daughter]) before, but I felt it was very appropriate for this post.

I want the generous, single eye Jesus speaks of. I want to see more and more clearly God’s great, incredible, beautiful love for me–until my eye is filled up with Love-Light so that my view of every other person is filtered with Love. This morning I was reminded that this not only applies to those in physical or social need when I realized I was viewing an interaction with a neighbor without a bit of Love in my gaze. There was no generosity in my view of her. I was thinking of her only in relation to myself, of how she had inconvenienced me. God had to remind me that the generosity He calls us to is a way of life that impacts how we see EVERYONE!

This prayer is adapted from the Message version of Matthew 6.

Lord, help us to open our eyes wide in wonder at your amazing love. Help us to believe and trust that you love us more than we can ever understand. Fill up our eyes with the light of your love so that we don’t squint our eyes in greed and distrust but look instead with generosity on others. May we deny and abandon the self-worship we are so drawn to and worship you alone. This single worship will fill our entire lives with Light!

 

Suggested Read

My sister just sent me a commentary on Matthew 6 that she found on Bible Gateway. She
called it “challenging.” She wasn’t kidding! It’s incredible–and, in my view, very, very necessary for American Christians. PLEASE read! It’s titled “Do Not Value Possessions Enough to Seek Them.”

max looking out to sea

I think the way of living described in the commentary might feel like a lonely choice AT FIRST. So I picked this picture to go with the post. But Max–the guy standing out on the rock while I stayed on the dry ground and took the picture–would have no regrets about his choice to venture out.

 

Confession from the foot of the Cross

NOTE: For those readers who’ve read the confessional living series I wrote earlier in the year, this may feel a bit repetitive. It’s an essay I wrote for a recent contest, and it summarizes and builds on that series. 

The electrical pole in the foreground reminded me of the Cross. I took this last week during our vacation in Michigan--what a great time!

The electrical pole in the foreground reminded me of the Cross. I took this last week during our vacation in Michigan–what a great time!

“Liturgical prayer” was an oxymoron in the churches in which I grew up. I’d barely even heard of the Book of Common Prayer, much less seen one, until I was 43.

That was when, by choice, I visited a church where the bulletin was more like a small book, and the congregation recited, all together, the Apostles’ Creed, the Nicene Creed, the Lord’s Prayer…

And the Confession of Sin.

When the kneelers were pulled out, almost simultaneously, my inner cynic stood up. I thought, “This will be rote, a mere formality.” But then I spoke the words: “…we have sinned against you in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done …and left undone. We have not loved you with our whole heart; …not loved our neighbors as ourselves.”

I spoke them not alone, but in chorus, for my own lack of love and for the lack we all share.

From that morning forward, this prayer of confession began changing me. I gained a fuller sense of sin; I understood corporate sin in a way I never had before; I began to ask more regularly for hidden sin to be revealed in myself and in the Church so we might “delight in (God’s) will and walk in (His) ways to the glory of (His) Name.”

A year into my journey with this prayer, I went to a party. I, like everyone else there, had been invited to the hostess’s house to buy jewelry made by women rescued from sex trafficking.

Finished with shopping, I joined a group of chatting women. I knew all of them, knew the churches they attended. These women would be considered core members of churches described as “solid, Bible-believing, sound.”

One woman mentioned a Bible study she’d recently led. “We studied James, and the most surprising part of it for me was the emphasis on confession,” she shared. “We don’t do much of that as churches now. I don’t do a lot of confessing personally. I mean, I do when I’ve said something sharp to one of my kids or my husband, but other than sins like that, I’m not sure what to confess.”

I’m not sure what to confess. We don’t do much confessing in our evangelical churches now.

Why is this? Scripture lists many sins specifically, and American evangelical Christianity clearly has its finger on sexual and violent sins. Beyond this, books abound today reminding us of a wide range of ills caused by our common and individual sins. Pastor-writer Jerry Bridges pulled the rug on “respectable” sins such as gossip, selfishness, pride, and anger; Ron Sider exposed the sin of materialism in a world where devastating poverty and injustice abound, with organizations like World Vision and the IJM making that poverty and injustice very visible; and activists like Shane Claiborne, Dr. John Perkins, and Eugene Cho decry the American church’s historic and current lack of involvement in racial and social injustice.

Yet this kind of specific-sin confession, though necessary, is not enough, and often, at least for myself, I’ve found specific-sin confession alone leads to attempts at self-justification and to pride. If it’s an item on a list, then I can “work” on it till it’s crossed off, and if I whittle that list down, I’m getting “better.” This viewpoint naturally leads to a superficial view of sin. Did I make it through my day without raising my voice? Then anger’s off the list! Yes!

This is not the case when I confess my sinfulness rather than simply the sins I see, when I acknowledge that I live in violation of the greatest commandment—loving God with my entirety and my neighbor as myself. In this kind of confession I am reminded I am incapable of that kind of love, and I see God as Other, as Holy, as Good.

As my understanding of this grows, I realize anew that only at the foot of the cross is my great need met. I put down roots in the bloodstained earth, and regular, genuine confession of my sinfulness helps me stay there. Washed by the flow from above and drawing from the infinite depths beneath, my heart is softened for the Spirit’s work of conviction, for the revelation of specific sins, even those hidden from myself.

At the foot of the cross, distinctions of all kinds fade away, and I pray not as the Pharisee did in Luke 18 but as the tax collector, for I see myself on even ground, made equal with all humanity by the most-important, common sin of a lack of love for God and neighbor. This leads to my understanding the confessions of the Old Testament prophets, who often repented in the first person plural: “We have sinned; we have acted unjustly; we have not loved You.” The Holy Spirit enables me to acknowledge my complicity in sins of national and global injustice, to see how my own materialism, selfishness, and silence contribute to them.

So confession leads to a deeper understanding of our sinfulness, but its greater purpose is to lead us beyond that as well. The cross is where mercy and grace triumph over our sin, where the same Holy Spirit who convicts also compels us to share the abundant love we’ve received. The Confession of Sin ends with these words: “For the sake of your Son Jesus Christ, have mercy on us and forgive us; that we may delight in your will, and walk in your ways, to the glory of your Name. Amen.”

I long for “(God’s) will and ways” for the churches in my area: I pray for greater racial reconciliation and harmony; less materialism; more significant roles for women in the church; deep, life-impacting passions for all kinds of injustice…

Yet efforts for these are shortsighted, selfish, and temporary unless they begin at the foot of the cross.

Authentic confession takes and keeps us there.

Being loved well

Chai dog enjoying the pond

Chai dog enjoying the pond

The dog needed a walk. I needed… something.

Turns out we both needed some time in the woods.

As I walked, I began praying the Confession, bit by bit. I’d only gotten to “I have not loved You with my whole heart; I have not loved my neighbor as myself,” when words from the devotional I’d flowerread with the kids earlier this morning came to my mind: “Your love is human and limited. It can easily get tangled up with your weaknesses and selfishness.” (Jesus Calling, kid version, p. 139)

It’s so true, I thought. Even in my best efforts to love others, my selfishness is mixed in.

dandelion clock“I don’t know how to love,” I confessed to God. “I am incapable of truly loving.”

The devotional I’d read with the kids had progressed beyond this idea, reminding its readers to “(t)ake time to rest in My Presence, and let Me fill you up with My Love.” As I walked down the forest path, I thought, “You know how to love me. You know how to love me well. This is precisely what I needed this morning, and every blade of grass, every dandelion clock, every red-winged blackbird I see is a bit of Your perfect love for me.”

pondOne morning last week, as I dropped my younger children off at school, I told each one, “_______, you are loved.” The last one to get out of the car was worried about an upcoming test and had studied the entire way to school—was still studying! “_______, you are loved,” I said.

So very, very green!

So very, very green!

“Okay.” And the child hurried off.

I laughed a little as I drove away, but then I thought, How often does God say, “Jen, you are loved,” and I respond, “Okay”?

Each of us has love notes from our Father scattered throughout this day.

Lord, help us to notice them.