I was an early Saturday monring cartoon watcher as a child. It was before there were channels devoted to children’s programming 24/7.  I memorized the catchy public service announcements like “You are what you eat from your head down to your feet.”  I’m a fan of catchy jingles because I can remember them, and if they happen to also carry something substantitive with them, all the better.  “You become what you worship” is another little saying I heard once, and it somewhat repeats that nutrition endorsement.  Whatever it is that we fill up on has a great deal of shaping power, figuratively and literally!

My eyes stay open through the watches of the night, that I may meditate on your promises. Ps. 119:148

Everyday I will praise you and extol your name forever and ever.  Ps. 145:2

There is a consistent connection made throughout all of Scripture between works and words.  God spoke creation into existence.  He explains the Gospel and works it out and provides words to declare His works.  His people declare His works to each other and to generations.  We do this too and all the time.  When we see something out of the ordinary, we want to tell people.  When something consumes my waking thoughts, it is hard for me not to share it.

I too meditate and speak.  The thing is, its not really a descriminating process.  I joke about the fact that I have no private thoughts, which can be both helpful and exhausting to my husband.  Its helpful because I am certainly not harboring any grievances, but the exhausting part is self-explanatory.  But either way, I am going to talk to whoever is in front of me about whatever is most on my mind, and whatever is most on my mind is going to shape the way I approach my days and my relationships too.

Even among Christians whose Christianity relies heavily upon their working “so that” God can work, there is still a strong belief that the goal of our lives is that others would “see Jesus” more prominently than me.  While Biblical meditation involves a rehearsing of all the wonders and glories of God, I do other mediation far more often: its called anxiety.  As Mark Davis from Park Cities Presbyterian Church said, the meditation of anxiety is the rehearsal over and over again of what might go wrong, how my greatest fears may become reality, what people might assume of me or say or think or do to me.  This meditation on my circumstances begins to shape my heart and even my view of God, so that not only do I become the center figure in my story rather than Jesus, but I effectively reverse the life-giving order God has provided in the person and work of Jesus.  Because of His completed work, Who He is begins to shape my heart and perspective on my circumstances.

For we do not preach ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. 2 Cor. 4:5

I have been preaching myself far more than Jesus lately because I have been meditating on my works, my ways, my plans and purposes far more than on His.  He is my Father, which is one of the many truths He repeats over and over in His word.  Until I meditate on His active Fatherhood, until I rehearse over and over His particular love for His children, His strength, His provision, His shelter and His intimacy, I don’t realize how deeply I need to repent of my self-reliance, self-protection and self-promotion.  Because of the completed work of Jesus, in person, on earth in real time, I can be certain of all the words He has spoken upon which I can meditate and find rest.  My safety, my provision and my very life have been given a home in the One who laid the foundations of the earth and apart from whom not a hair can fall from my head without His consent.  I have a bridegroom who is not waiting in a non-plussed way for me to come to Him down the aisle but who is running down the aisle to me!  Oh may I begin to meditate more on the glories of His works, the beauty of His heart and become absorbed with Him until there is room for nothing else, and therefore life for everything else.

Intended for Good/ Crafted Intentionally for Good News

I am headed to Nashville today for a week with the PCA’s General Assembly where I may run into some old friends, hear some of my favorite writers and teachers speak and in general be encouraged in my faith by those who are far wiser than I may ever be. For a lot of people, this sounds like an incredibly religious and excruciatingly boring way to spend a week.  I, however, am really excited.  It hit me just this morning, as I was picturing myself showing my children the Vanderbilt campus, that God was giving context to the story I now find myself in, even if not fully explaining it. 

The very place that started my trajectory of drinking up the Living Water of God’s grace in place of my white knuckled striving, where I was first introduced to the Gospel as it emphasizes the life of Jesus on my behalf as being just as important as His death on my behalf, the very place where I met the dear friends with whom I’ve shared our church planting adventure is where God is taking me this week in the midst of an otherwise confusing and seemingly forgotten story.  Seeing the details of this timing, the personal way this particular context speaks to my heart like no other, reminds me that God has not forgotten me, my current unpredictably and uncertain circumstances can be trusted as part of His larger life-giving story, and He is always so intentional and exceptional in the way He crafts His story.

Joseph (Genesis 37-50), a child favored by his father and resented by his jealous brothers, was sold into slavery by his brothers who faked his death to their father.  That alone would make for an intriguing and tragic story, but it was just the beginning of Joseph’s.  He grew from childhood into adulthood in captivity.  He went in and out of favor with his superiors, he was falsely accused and thrown in jail, he became an authority figure to the leaders based on the wisdom God gave him, and he ultimately was made second in command over the very country that enslaved him.  Those are the highlights, and they are much easier to hear because we can see the full story in just a few pages.  But for Joseph, living in this story for years, he must have felt lost, forsaken, lonely and quite confused many times over in the course of things.

But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. 1 Cor. 1:27-29

Joseph went from a home of privilege where he was cherished and honored and spoiled by his father to the life of a servant where he was not known,  not honored and suffered in multiple ways.  Sounds a little familiar…

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it.  John 1:1-5

Joseph was foreshadowing what Someone else would do generations later.  Joseph’s story helped explain with a little more detail what had first been promised in Genesis 3:15 and 20.  Someone would come in Adam’s place to complete the work that he had abandoned and bear the punishment that he deserved, and this wasn’t merely for the sake of that one account but for all of the offspring of the woman for generations to come.

But Joseph said to them, “Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God?  You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. Genesis 50:19-20
This man was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. Acts 2:23
Now, brothers, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did your leaders. But this is how God fulfilled what he had foretold through all the prophets, saying that his Christ would suffer. Acts 3:17-18
In both cases, men acted wickedly and out of ignorance but God was still writing the script.  What this means is that even my wickedness and ignorance, even other people’s wickedness and ignorance which negatively impacts me, doesn’t mess up God’s good plan for bringing life both to me and His entire kingdom.  This is the hope in the midst of heartache and disappointment, confusion and meaningless – that He is not confused or disappointed but is doing something far more beautiful than my limited perspective can grasp.  It gives meaning and value to my suffering because it is not wasted or shameful but part of a greater context than I may now comprehend.
As I return to Nashville this week, it will be a time of remembering what God has done and regaining a vision for what He will do.  Moments like this which provide a wide angle view of the bigger story in which we find ourselves are rare and need to be received as gracious gifts.  As they increase my faith that God is intentional in all the details, that not a hair falls from my head which is unknown to Him, and that He is good all the time and to be trusted, I am compelled to worship even in confusing chapters.
How long, O LORD ? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and every day have sorrow in my heart? How long will my enemy triumph over me?  Look on me and answer, O LORD my God. Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death; my enemy will say, “I have overcome him,” and my foes will rejoice when I fall.

But I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation.
I will sing to the LORD, for he has been good to me.  Psalm 13


“I have sometimes wondered, friend,” said Aslan (to Reepicheep) “whether you do not think too much about your hounour.” 

“I was wishing that I had come of a more honourable lineage.” (said Caspian)  “You come of the Lord Adam and the Lady Eve,” said Aslan.  “And that is both honour enough to erect the head of the poorest beggar, and shame enough to bow the shoulders of the greatest emperor in earth.  Be content.”

– from Prince Caspian

To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.  Col. 1:27

Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus…Romans 8:1

There is therefore now no condemnation for me in Jesus, even as there is limitless condemnation for me apart from Him.  They are compatible, even inseparable, in the person and work of Jesus.  My lack of condemnation, my honor and my hope are no longer in my perfections, but in His.  Though my deepest, darkest attitudes, thoughts, actions and words may be shameful enough to bring low the shoulders of emperors, His righteousness allows me to hold my head high.  Though what I lack (as Reepicheep had lost his crowning glory of a tail) or what I offer (the offensive appearance and smell or the seeming laziness and lack of contribution of a beggar) are my shame, I have been filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God. 1 Phil. 1:11

What does this mean practically?  Well, as Aslan urged Reepicheep the proud mouse, I can spend a little less time worrying about my dignity, my reputation before others, my honor, my “place” in this community or that group…and more time loving others out of the oh so very ever so secure position of being His beloved and being found in Christ.
You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.  Gal. 3:26-28
As Scotty wrote about a week ago in his daily prayer, “It means I can love people and not expect them to give me what you alone can supply. It means I can serve people and not hold them hostage to my selfish ambition and vain conceit. It means I can become more intrigued than irritated with others… more restful than rigid in their presence… more caring than criticizing of them.”
Christ in me, not the evaluations or opinions of others, is my hope of glory.  Christ in me: the law fulfilling, exact representation of the Father, living and working of Jesus which is growing and maturing in me, is my hope of glory.  I walk as a beggar with a head raised to the world not because I am prideful or arrogant or in denial of what others can plainly see but because, as a variation of what Jack Miller once said, I am actually so much worse than can be plainly seen!  And the righteousness of Jesus credited to me is so much bigger!
If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.  Phil. 2:1-4
How much of my energy, time, thoughts, emotions, plans, worries, fears are but thinly veiled hunts for my name to be honored, for the satisfaction of my own interests and the pursuit of my own selfish ambition all swimming in vain conceit?  How much of these same resourcess are spent in pursuit of the interests of others (and not so they will like me more or even serve my vain conceit in their approval of me!)?  He left His seat of honor, His home in Glory, to be made low that I may be clothed in His forever solidified honor.  What if I began to enjoy His honor more and need my own less?  That would be Good News indeed.

Wonderful Counselor

I’ve had two days in a row where I heard my own sharp, cutting comments made about other people and other situations which were never mine to evaluate in the first place.  What an ugly, life-sucking, divisive way to engage with community and address the struggles of fellow family members in the Body.

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.  Is.9:6

A very close friend, who is a masterful counselor, is just so, so very good at hearing the heart underneath the comments a person makes.  When off the wall statements are thrown her way, she tunes in to the story of the person’s life out of which the declarations have come.  I, on the other hand, just say, “Well that’s an idiotic thing to say!”  Oh, I am so glad that our Wonderful Counselor does not treat me the way I have been responding to others this week.

We are not trying to commend ourselves to you again, but are giving you an opportunity to take pride in us, so that you can answer those who take pride in what is seen rather than in what is in the heart. 2 Cor. 5:12

But the things that come out of the mouth come from the heart, and these make a man ‘unclean.’ Matt. 15:18

I am so distracted and preoccupied by what is seen that I rarely consider the heart which is where all the actions, attitudes and words originate.  My agitated words express the agitation in my heart – not simply about the comment to which I am responding, but pre-existing agitation.  Both the comment I am hearing and the comment I am making are coming from hearts which believe certain things about God, self, redemption and hope.  My heart is not an exact representation of the heart of Jesus, yet, and so my sin and unbelief are exposed just as my hopes and growing faith are revealed.

This then is how we know that we belong to the truth, and how we set our hearts at rest in his presence whenever our hearts condemn us. For God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything. 1 John 3:19-20

There is hope for my ugly, agitated heart because God (not my new resolve) is greater than my heart!  And there is hope for the person with the bad attitude or confounding perspective because God is greater than his or her heart also.  He is not agitated nor is He confounded by our words because He hears the heart behind them, understands the story by which the heart has been shaped and is the One shaping that heart to image His own – in His time by His strength for His glory.

Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.  Eph. 4:2
Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves. Rom. 12:10
This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as the one who would turn aside his wrath, taking away our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 1 John 4:10-11

My sharp judgments or critical unloving statements simply reflect a heart that needs Jesus, and this is not a shameful reality but the beginning of the most beautiful one.  Why should I feel feel contempt toward others who express (even if unconsciously) their equal need for a redeemer when we should both rejoice that we have One!  It is not my job, nor remotely within my power, to change anyone’s heart, including my own.  But perhaps I can start listening more to hearts than simply words and be encouraged that there is a story there which is pointing to Jesus.  As I begin to hear that story, my responses may change from irritated judgments to interested questions, digging with joy into the redemptive tale of a heart of unbelief (or false beliefs) which is being transformed into one of greater faith and hope in the person and work of Jesus.

How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace,
who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation, who say to Zion, “Your God reigns!” Is. 52:7

Growth of a Mustard Seed

When I pray, other than the all too brief moments of thankfulness or praise or occasional repentance, I mostly pray for something to happen.  Sometimes the something is on behalf of someone else who I care about, but whose circumstance doesn’t really effect my days.  The rest of the “somethings” are a tangle of “God, if what I believe about you is true, you should work this situation out this way…” and “God, I am helpless to do anything about this particular circumstance so I beg you to do this!”  Both have at their hearts, as Adam Young spoke* so eloquently at Atlanta Westside on Sunday, a deeper desire:  to be certain that God exists, that He cares about me personally with affection, and that He is involved in the details of my life to a beautiful end.

As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God.
My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God?
My tears have been my food day and night, while men say to me all day long, “Where is your God?”
Psalm 42:1-3

What my heart and my soul are thirsting for is God…not in some ethereal way, but to tangibly know that He is with me, that He loves me even when I am a fool or cranky or clueless or lazy and to know that He will never leave me nor forsake me.  I am beginning to think that this is why He calls me into prayer…to pray until I am certain of these things for which I hope.

Instead of this as the reason to continually pour my heart to Him, I call prayer pointless if it seems it will not bring about the thing I want…the reconciliation of loved ones, the healing of cancer, or perhaps the rescue of a job or lost child.  In that framework, the point of prayer is to acquire a particular outcome of circumstance.  I try to force God’s hand by employing greater number of “prayer warriors”, designating a certain time frame for focused and disciplined prayer, and crying out with all my emotions (“see God, I am now genuinely empty and at my end!”) as a final arm twist.  My thinking is that there is a code God is wanting me to crack to get what it is I want, and once I put together the specific combination of sincerity, volume, emotion and numbers, He can then do whatever I am most wanting.

Are they servants of Christ? (I am out of my mind to talk like this.) I am more. I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my own countrymen, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false brothers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches. Who is weak, and I do not feel weak? Who is led into sin, and I do not inwardly burn? 2 Cor. 11:23-29

To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong. 2 Cor. 12:7-10

What Paul realized, and I what I need to begin to grasp, is that God’s love and involvement isn’t calling me to a stoic denial of my desires but a panting after the Living Water that will be satisfied in Him alone.  This actually requires that I not deny my deepest longings because it is only in that honest spilling of my guts (as Adam Young also shared) that my faith can most honestly be birthed.  It is only as I trust God with my weakness (rather than trying to overcompensate with spiritual fig leaves), trust Him with my confusion (rather than trying to sort it out myself), trust Him with my blindness (rather than trying to strain and see by myself) that I begin to really know Him as the Lover my very soul and not merely the Sugar Daddy for my every whim.

To pour out my desires and heartache and impossible dreams to the Lord, over and over, for decades if necessary, requires that I keep hoping in His earthly presence rather than dismissing Him as far off, removed, or perhaps not even there at all.  When I stop praying because to face my desire hurts too much, and the disappointment of not receiving what I ask for cuts too deeply, I also stop abiding in the only One in which life is to be found.  When I stop pouring out my heart to the Lord, I stop being honest in my relationship with Him and settle for artificial pleasantries which begin to turn my heart cold.  When I only pray if I think He will do what I ask, I have traded in genuine faith in the dynamic, Living God for something toxic and lifeless.

In bitterness of soul Hannah wept much and prayed to the LORD. 1 Sam. 1:10

Oh may I begin to pray like Hannah, for years and years resisting cynicism and resignation – not to manipulate God into serving me or to only get what I want, but as an act of intimacy by which my own heart may be reminded of it’s only true, safe and life-giving home.  I desperately need to know that He is near, that He cares and that He is involved in my daily-ness.  May this hope be made certain as I persist in facing my unmet longings and bringing them to Him today, tomorrow and for decades to come.

*As of this posting, his sermon about Hannah has not been posted to the Atlanta Westside site yet.  But I ever so highly recommend listening once it is.