A Mid-summer Day’s Confession

Mid-summer checkpoint: We have done the beach and the bay and the lazy mornings. We have stayed up late and eaten more popsicles. On the outside, all is well, but my soul has not been well.

Through self-pity and comparison, which have been on a low, silent simmer for a few weeks now, I have allowed sin to insidiously seep into our summer.

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Rather than be filled with joy for my friends, I have envied them their exotic vacations and neighborhood pools. I have bought the lies of picture perfection yet again without realizing it, imagining that there are no sibling spats and errant attitudes in your homes. As such, I have felt ashamed at my own irritability with my dear but far-from-perfect children. Rather than confess it quickly, I have heaped on “What’s wrong with me and them?” shame.

I have allowed the combination of lower structure and higher time with my crew to distort my vision of my children. Rather than seeing their strengths and wise choices, I have had a magnifying glass on their weaknesses. This distorted vision starts with the way I wrongly imagine God views me.

Somehow this summer, I have slowly forgotten that Our Heavenly Father doesn’t wear sin-magnifying shades, but looks upon us through the lenses of love He has for His perfect Son.

In the midst of trying to find a perfect formula for lowering screen time and raising reading, decreasing grumpiness and heightening fun, I have minimized His grace and maximized my contribution. As such, by mid-summer, I have come to the end of my own small storerooms of patience, peace and joy. Thankfully, He has silos upon silos of these commodities to offer me when I come to Him in repentance and rest.

In the likely event that there exists another introverted momma who craves structure and alone time and has wearied herself trying to create a memorable summer for her chilren on a tight budget without air conditioning, I would love to lead us through Psalm 32.

Psalm 32 is a well-worn trail through the narrow places confession to the broad spaces of comfort and consolation at the Cross. David deeply loved God but was not immune to seasonal sin patterns; throughout his life, he got tripped up in the same way, as seen in the repeated introduction to his slippery slopes, “In the spring when the kings went off to war, David…” (2 Samuel 11:1; 1 Chronicles 20:1).

David’s feet knew ruts of unrighteousness but they also learned ruts of righteousness through repentance, Psalm 32 being one of those paths that lead us to Christ.

Blessed is the one whose trangression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Blessed is the man against whom the Lord counts no iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit. …I acknowledged my sin to you and I did not cover my iniquity; I said, “I will confess my transgression to the Lord and you forgave the iniquity of my sin.”….Therefore let everyone who is godly offer prayer to you at a time when you may be found.
Psalm 32:1 & 5-6.

It is not a lack of sin that separates the godly from the ungodly; rather, it is the acknowledgement, uncovering and confession of sin that delineate the two. Both groups struggle with a chronic sin-sickness, but only the godly drag that struggle into the shadow of the Cross.

I am not surprised by my sin, but I am continually shocked at how long it takes me to honestly call it sin and bring myself exposed to God through Christ. When I come to Him in such naked vulnerability, He quickly covers me in His abundant blankets of forgiveness and grace.

When, and only when, I am warmed by His grace, I am able to offer forgiveness and warmth to my children and those in my flock.

After dumping the slow buildup of summer’s sin at the Cross, I am ready to face the rest of the summer in His strength rather than my own. While cirucmstances may not have changed and our scenery will likely not change, my heart is changed and renewed by a fresh reapplication of His grace. We mommas know sunscreen has to be reapplied double-time in the summer; may we know that the same is true of God’s undeserved grace.

A Profound Simplicity

IMG_6086 Shadrach, Meshach, Abednego.

Aiding in children’s church today, the story of these three brave boys was on the docket. The teacher was asking thoughtful questions to get the children engaged, and the children offered their best Sunday School answers.

“Was it an easy choice for them to not bow down to the statue?”

A handful of arms shot up from eager children. “It was easy. We shouldn’t love idols,” and “We are supposed to only love God.”

The teacher handled the responses beautifully, aided by a gospel-centered curriculum that seeks to bring everything back to the Cross. Yet, my eyes pooled with tears then and are doing so again now as I type.

Three young boys who had been carried off to a foreign country and were under great pressure to conform. Away from their parents, away from the structures that had been used to establish them soundly in a certain worldview, stripped even of their given names. Under a powerful ruler seeking to strip them of their identity and supplant their convictions. Faced with countless choices carrying grave consequences.

The little ones I sat with today did not and could not realize that our lesson was about little ones like them. I longed for these children to not simply get the answer right but to understand the profound complexity of the choice those boys made in Babylon.

The choice was simple. They knew what to do. They had been raised to honor and worship the One true God; their parents had likely told them the historical national tragedies that had occured when God’s people went against the grain of the universe. They had bravely stood up for truth by refusing to eat the king’s food; as such, they had experienced personally that the God their parents had pointed them to was indeed present and powerful even to them. Simple, but not easy.

I imagine those three boys huddled up, eyes darting about in fear as they heard the edict. Whispering and confering with one another as they saw the huge statue being erected, in turns waivering and then gathering courage to defy the King and their peers. I imagine they had nightmares as they heard rumors about the furnace.

As an adult listening to the simple answers of the children in Church, my heart became heavy. These children have no idea how difficult discipleship will be; they cannot imagine cancer diagnoses or difficult marriages, nor should they.  They don’t know yet how strongly the world, the flesh and the Devil will seek to check their convictions.

They rightly cheered with the brave phrase, “Our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace,and he will deliver us out of your hand.” Yet, they did not understand the even braver beauty of the second phrase those boys uttered: “But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods.” Daniel 3:17 & 18. 

As quickly as my heart became heavy,  my heart filled with hope and worship.

Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego probably didn’t realize the gravity of their theology when they were learning lessons from their parents and elders. They likely squirmed and giggled their way through sessions, as the children were doing today.

Yet, when the time came, these boys were upheld and infused with a God-enabled strength to obey despite dire consequences. The simple truths they had come to know and believe about the character of God upheld them in an incredibly complex situation.

The Scripture that these boys bravely proclaimed, “Our God is able,” was the very truth I was wrestling to believe in that moment.

Indeed, our God is able. He is able to do what neither I nor any human teacher can do for our children. He alone can convince them of the profoundly simple and simply profound truths of the gospel.

For now, they need to learn the foundational truths that are being stored up in their little tender hearts. They need not know right now the millions of strata that make up the gospel they see as so simple. Lord-willing, the Holy Spirit will spend the rest of their lives stretching their understanding of the simple, yet profoudly complex gospel.

In leading their tiny hearts to worship, my own tired heart was led to worship.

The Squeeze and the Savior

While I have never been diagnosed with textbook claustrophobia, I hate tight places. Elevators, tunnels and all other small spaces make my heart race and my palms sweat. I can rescue a child from the Chick-fil-A playplace blackhole like the best of them, but other than that, I try my hardest to avoid squishy, smushy places in the external world.

Similarly, my soul hates tight, restricting places and situations. With the exception of contortionists, I believe that most humans share my sentiments to varying degrees of intensity. Humans try to avoid being squeezed.

However, the imagery of tight places, of constriction, runs as a theme throughout the Hebrew Scriptures. The word tsar, often translated as distress or adversary, is used prolificly throughout the Old Testament.  Its root word more literally means narrow places or straits and conjures images and feelings of crowding, anguish and constriction.  Perhaps the modern idiom “Stuck between a rock and a hard place” captures its original connotation to the modern mind.

When Balaam was headed where he ought not have gone and God condescended to use his donkey to get his attention, we see the word tsar show up.

Then the angel of the Lord went ahead and stood in a narrow place, where there was no way to turn either to the right or to the left. Numbers 22:26.

Here the word is used to describe a literal tight place; however, the same concept is often transferred to the soul’s situation, emotionally or spiritually, particularly in the Psalms.

O Lord, how many are my foes. Many are rising against me. Many are saying of my soul, there is no salvation for him in God. Psalm 3:1-2. 

Answer me when I call, O God of my righteousness! You have given me relief when I was in distress. Be gracious to me and hear my prayer! Psalm 4: 1.

In my distress I called upon the Lord; to my God I cried for help. Psalm 18: 6.

You are a hiding place for me; you preserve me from trouble; you surround me with shouts of deliverance. Psalm 32:7

The list goes on and on, but you get the idea. Scripturally and historically, God’s people have been well-acquainted with tight places emotionally, phsyically and spiritually. In their squeezing places, situations, seasons and relationships, they cry out to God for deliverance.  It would not be too much of a stretch to say that tight and constricting places were the rule, not the exception, of their seeking earnestly after God.

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What was true of them back then remains true of us today. As much as we hate tight places, the Lord often uses them more than any other thing to point us to our Saviour.

When we are in tight situations financially, when the budget feels tighter than skinny jeans, we look to the Lord and wait and watch for His freeing provision. When we are in the tight hallway of depression or anxiety, we learn to appreciate the feelings of spaciousness and emotional freedom that we may have formerly taken for granted. When the pressure is on at work and we feel conorted and twisted by demands on every side, we regonize our innate limitations and neediness.

Interestingly enough, when the Scriptures talk about freedom another spatial term is often employed: rachab which means spaciousness and broadness, breadth.

Circling back to Psalm 18, one of the references used regarding tsar and those tight places,  we find the juxtaposition of tight places and fields of freedom.

They confronted me in the day of my calamity, but the Lord was my support. He brought me out into a broad place; He rescued me because He delighted in me. Psalm 18: 18-19.

In Psalm 31, we see both words, tsar and rachab, as the Psalmist looks back upon the Lord’s deliverance from tightness to broadness.

I will rejoice and be glad in your steadfast love, because you have seen my affliction; you have known the distress of my soul; and you have not delivered me into the hand of the enemy; you have set my feet in a broad place. Psalm 31:7-8.

Even if our tight places seem to be tightening and our restrictions seem to be on the rise, we can find great hope in this:  our Savior left the spaciousness, the broadness of Heaven and eternity to come to this tight globe. His lungs literally had the breath squeezed out of them on the Cross so that we could breath the spaciousness of life in right standing before God.  His risen steps out of a tight tomb assure us that we, too, will walk out of tight spaces to be on eternally broad places with Him.

In the midst of the squeeze, we have a Saviour.

 

Courting Change

We crave stability, but constantly face change.

Instead of cowering at change, we must learn to court change, using it as a catalyst for more of Christ.

Moses moved more than a military brat. His life was one marked by continually change, changing family, changing locations, changing identities. Born a Hebrew son sentenced to an infant death, placed in papyrus reeds, adopted by Pharaoh’s daughter, nursed by his poor Hebrew momma, raised in a palace. Life was complicated for Moses, Hebrew by nature, Egyptian by nurture. The pressures of a prince watching the abuse of his own people.

Until He fled to Midian. There, we can imagine, He found relief beside a sea of sameness.  The same sheep, the same mountains, the same routine. Life was simple, steady, sure. With his wife to come home to and son Gershom to tickle and chase, Moses finally found a healing home. For all it lacked in excitement and adventure, life in Midian was predictable and peaceful.

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But a burning bush changed everything. In an entirely unexpected and unnatural turn of events, God came to Moses, bidding him back into the complicated life of the unknown.

I am so thankful for Moses’ weakness. I am thankful that fear and self-doubt filled his Hebrew heart. I am thankful that he resisted change, because in his resistance and in God’s gracious response, I learn how to court change.

By inviting us into a pivotal, private moment between Himself and the man Moses, God provides a primer on trusting Him in the midst of the chaos of change.

Painful honesty. Personal interaction. Processing. Promises. A powerful push into the unknown.

We court change by courting the unchanging character of God. We don’t grow to believe the promises by simply repeating them like mantras or staring at them; rather, we grow to believe the promises by further knowing and trusting the Promiser. Even in the midst of doubts that won’t leave and mocking inadequacies, we choose to trust in His faithfulness and adequacy.

As one deeply resistant to change, studying the interaction between Moses and the Lord in Exodus 4 gives me great courage and comfort. If He bids us leave places of safety and security, seasons that feel like home, He promises to hold our hands and fill us with more of His palpable nearness.

Leaving Home for His Hand

Once a forced, foreign land,
Midian had become familiar.
What began a post of exile
Had proven a place of peace. 

I came here a damaged man,
Felling in confusion and fear.
The passing years healed me,
With my wife and son to cheer. 

I cannot believe it myself;
This land became my home.
Now, of all times, You call,
Bidding me far to roam?

My gypsy heart had settled
But a bush burned my plan.
You called, “Moses, Moses,”
I looked for another man. 

A borage of buts later,
You excused all excuse.
The unknowns ubiquitous,
But the promises profuse. 

Your “But I will go with you,”
Trumps each fluttering fear.
So, leaving flock and field,
To Egypt my feet you steer. 

My steps are even heavier
Than my stammering tongue,
Yet You lead and lift me,
As we move rung by rung. 

May we become people who court our Christ, who become so deeply familiar with His faithfulness that change no longer scares us, but steers us more deeply into the lap and love of Christ. May we be willing to leave home holding His hand, trusting He will lead closer to a deepening home in Him.

A Radical Approach to Racism

image Black Kettle. Red Cloud. Sitting Bull. These Native American tribal leaders have been my company for the past few weeks as I have been reading Dee Brown’s seminal book (no pun intended) Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee.

While this account is not light reading, it is enlightening. Enlightening not just to the hidden history of the way the West was truly won, but even more so to the insidious nature of racism.

I found myself reading about the gross injustices committed against a multitude of Native American tribes just days after the Philando Castile verdict. Clearly, racism is not a problem of a past century or a premature way of thinking chased away by the advancement of science.

With tears in my eyes and disgust in my heart, I read and reread the story of Black Kettle and his Cheyenne people.

Black Kettle and Lean Bear, another Cheyenne chief, had taken a trip to Washington meet the Great Father of the white man. “President Lincoln gave them medals to wear on their breasts, and Colonel Greenwood presented Black Kettle with a United States flag, a huge garrison flag with white stars for the thirty-four states bigger than glittering stars in the sky on a clear night. Colonel Greenwood had told him that as long as that flag flew above him no soldiers would ever fire upon him. Black Kettle was very proud of his flag and when in permanent camp, always mounted it on a pole above his tepee.”

Many years and honest attempts at keeping shifting and shady peace treaties later, Black Kettle and his diminishing people were camped at Sand Creek, with his tent at the center of the village. “So confident were the Indians of absolute safety, they kept no night watch except of the pony herd which was corralled below the creek. The first warning they had of an attack was about sunrise- the drumming of hooves on the sand flats.”

According to George Bent, a white man who had become an honorary Cheyenne, “From down the creek, a large body of troops was advancing at a rapid trot….men, women and children, rushing out of the lodges partly dressed; women and children screaming at the sight of the troops…I looked toward the chief’s lodge and saw that Black Kettle had a large American flag tied to the end of a long lodgepole and was standing in front of his lodge, holding the pole with the flag fluttering in the gray light of the winter dawn. I heard him call to the people not to be afraid, that the soldiers would not hurt them; then the troops fired from two sides of the camp.”

To spare you the gruesome details, the horrific situation which followed, known as the Sand Creek Massacre, took the lives of 105 Indian women and children and 28 men.

According to Brown, “In a public speech made in Denver not long before this massacre, Colonel Chivington advocated the killing and scalping of all Indians, including infants, saying “Nits make lice!”

Racist actions are bred from racist thoughts which begin in our very broken human hearts. As easy as it would be to point fingers and call those people racists, we must take an even more radical approach to dealing with racism.

In the words of Solzhenitsyn, one personally familiar with evil, “If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being.”

Racism is a radical heart issue, one that begins at the root of every human heart. As such, it must be dealt with radically, not only on the surface.

There are two different ways to weed my garden, as my children can tell you. The quick, painless way to weed is to pull the leaves off the intrusive guests that push their way through the gravel outside our garden. With little effort, the garden looks well kept…until the next week.

The second more painful yet more lasting option is to bloody one’s knuckles twisting, pulling and yanking at the deep root systems whose lengths far the exceed the visible problem.

When addressing racism, I must begin in my heart, recognizing that the capacity to judge and mistreat others is indeed my problem. As much as I rightly want to rightly call Colonel Chivington and his miserable remarks evil, the gospel tells me that I must call my own evil what it is before God.

From Racism to Redemption

Racism: a certain road from pride
to genocide.

Potent. Present. Palpable
In every human heart,
Must be suffocated,
Lest it rip lives apart.

Repent. Resist. Run from
This evil in every form,
Lest we be engulfed
In its hatred storm.

Marches. Pamphlets. Protests
Help but cannot cure.
Rooting out racism
Requires more.

Holy. Human. Hope.
He is full of grace of truth.
Jesus, slain on a cross,
Halts a tooth for a tooth.

Redemption: a road from death
to borrowed breath.

Hollowed or Hallowed?

Are we hollowed or hallowed? One letter makes a world of difference.

Hollowed. Empty, having a hole or empty space inside. Void, unfilled, vacant. Without significance.

Hallowed. To make or have been made holy and sacred. Filled with meaning and significance.

Every human has hollows that he or she desperately seeks to deny, avoid or backfill with whatever can be found or purchased. This life is so often hollowing, scooping out our insides the way a spoon guts the pulp from the center of a honeydew.

Yet, humanity has the half-formed memory of its hallowed place in creation. Somewhere,  buried deep in our souls is a little sliver of the remembrance that we were made for deeper significance than we dare imagine. The gaping hollows that tend to deepen over time mock us, chiding that we are so far from where we began and are meant to be.

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T. S. Eliot, in his poem The Hollow Men, captured the hollowness of humanity honestly in his poetry.

We are the hollow men
We are the stuffed men
Leaning together 
Headpiece filled with straw. Alas! …

Shape without form, shade without colour,
Paralysed force, gesture without motion;

Those who have crossed
With direct eyes, to death’s other Kingdom
Remember us – if at all- not as lost
Violent souls, but only
As the hollow men
The stuffed men. 

Cities of scarecrows stuffed with straw is not a complementary, pleasant image; however, anyone who has spent considerable time people watching at shopping malls or even in churches, sadly enough, can agree that the image is far closer to reality than we care to admit.

We keep stuffing ourselves with the newest straw, the latest blend of hay and barley, designer grass and scientifically-improved dried reeds, but we cannot escape our hollowness.

Ironically, the first step to moving from hollowed to hallowed requires us to stop stuffing and admit our void. Even in the best marriages in the best neighborhoods with the newest gadgets, we have hidden hollow places. To own our hollowness is to move toward the hallowed.

Empty things are meant to be filled, grace flows to the lowest places. God, the infinite, the most substantial, the most pregnant and prior being, loves to fill empty spaces, places and people. The ex nihilo (creation out of nothing) acts of God in Genesis and the fact that empty wombs become literally pregnant with life are a few physical patterns of this spiritual law.

The Law given by God to Israel was never meant to substantiate them or be the latest straw to fill the hollows. The Law was yet another pointer to the hollow emptiness of humanity. We cannot, even through moral or religious performance, fill the hollows. We try; oh, how we try. But the hollowness of these motions is evident to those outside the pews.

We move from hollow to hallowed by presenting our physical, moral, emotional, relational and spiritual emptiness to the One who is Fullness and out of His fullness created all things, visible and invisible.

When we come with gaping emptiness, He points us to the insertion of His fullness into the human hollows. He reminds us that out of His eternal fullness and in His eternal love, He sent His Substantial Son to live in the shadowlands with us. This Son, the one who was ever-being flooded with the fullness of the Father, literally emptied Himself (see Philippians 2) and took on the nature of a servant. His servanthood went beyond that of a household maid or an indentured servant. He literally emptied himself of His good that He could be the divine recipient of human punishment.

His mangled, lifeless body was carried and laid in an empty, hollowed cave. Fullness was emptiness was three days until Christ was raised. Christ, ascending back to His proper place of fullness with the Father, literally poured out His Holy Spirit to hallow such hollow people as would believe upon Him, lean into Him.

The hallowed was hollowed that we might be hallowed.  This is our hope.

His Spirit does what straw cannot do, filling us to become people of true substance in a hollow world.

We are to bring our emptiness to the Full one not merely once, but on an ongoing basis. We won’t be afraid of or apathetic to our hollow places; rather, we will own our hollows as such and invite others to do the same. We will see the straw around as for the straw it is and hunger for the filling of the substance that comes only from the One made us and knows our hollows.

As we do, we will remembered not as the hollow men, but as the hallowed men.

 

 

Share Your Scary

“If you deny the bizarre and the grotesque in yourself, you’ll never accept it in others. To the extent that you shrink from the disorderliness of people, love will scare the daylights out of you.”

In these two sentences from his book Practicing the Presence of People, Mike Mason perfectly captures some thoughts I have been chewing on of late.

The things that I think, feel and do are sometimes nothing short of scary.  My ability to be calloused to the thoughts and feelings of even those who live under my roof and my watch can be alarming. My ability to numb myself to the tragedies of the world by drinking a cup of coffee or scrolling through a shiny newsfeed shocks me when it shows itself. My tendency to want to buy comfort in the form of a new shirt or a new toy for my kids makes me nervous.

To be certain, the beauty and grace and forgiveness that sometimes flows out of me shock me equally. It’s just that we are more often more comfortable with sharing our beautiful than our scary.  I am more likely to share with you the awards that my children have won, the well-written poem or my recently cleaned home than I am the tendencies toward trouble, the unfinished rough draft or the mid-Saturday disaster that is my house. If this is my tendency in small and surface issues, how much more than is my tendency to hide the scariest places of my soul.

You share this tendency with me; we inherited it from our forebears Adam and Eve who clothed themselves in fig leaves and had a penchant for hiding.

Name, Don’t Shame

The problem with our cover up is that shame seeps into our lives in the hiding. When we don’t clearly name the grotesque that we see in ourselves or others, when we soften sin with euphemisms, we dangerously expose ourselves to the decaying power of shame. We cannot receive real forgiveness for what we haven’t named or accepted.

Often instead of naming our scary and confessing it, first to God and then to a trusted confident, we hide and seek to fix it on our own. While initially this seems the safer mode of operation, this avoidance and hiding merely shellacks another layer of shame on our already complex humanity.

David, who was both brazen in his sinning and bold in his confession of such sin, beautifully depicts his sin nature, his scary side, in Psalm 73:21-22.

When my heart was embittered, And I was pierced within, then I was senseless and ignorant; I was like a beast before You.

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What did David do with his scary, dragon-like tendencies in his life and heart? Rather than softening them with sugary phrases or cleaning them up, he names them and brings them to the God whose character he has come to trust.

Share Your Scary

Nevertheless I am continually with You; You have taken hold of my right hand. With Your counsel You will guide me, And afterward receive me to glory. Psalm 73:23-24. 

The most beautiful and human moments of my life happen when someone shares their scary with me or when I share my scary with a deeply trusted friend. In those moments shaking vulnerability, deeply human and yet incredibly divine exchanges of God’s grace and the gospel happen.

When someone shares their scary with me, I feel deeply honored that they would let me into those sacred and disordered places. Likewise, when I get up the gumption to let someone into the dragon-like parts of me, I only do so with those know and practice the gospel deeply.

I am consistently shocked that my trusted advisors aren’t shocked by the dragons that dwell deep within me. They are unshakable because they have done the brave work of naming their own sin what it is and bringing it to the Cross of Christ, where Christ the valiant became the dragon of sin so we could be freed. They know and commune with a God who knows their scary far more deeply than they ever will yet welcomes them as His children; thus, they are enabled to administer that same gospel to my dragon-like heart.

Sharing your scary with another gospel-saturated soul slays the dragons with the gospel of grace.