If you’ve ever had a very tiny child try to physically climb into you (picture feet on belly, hands digging in shoulders and head in chest) it is a wonderful image of taking shelter and of declaring to others in pursuit “Hands off!  I’m on base!”  Experiencing this recently, I thought of a place at Tybee Island that feels like climbing into this same kind of safe place with God, for me.  It is such a wonderful feeling to be enveloped by Him…by His power, His goodness, His strength, His kindness, His control, His compassion, His love and His arms.

Truly my soul finds rest in God; my salvation comes from him. Truly he is my rock and my salvation; he is my fortress, I will never be shaken.  Psalm 62.1-2

Little babies need touch to grow.  But they want more than a mere high five or poke.  They want to be enveloped in affectionate arms, pressed against a peaceful body, held tightly so as to know someone else is taking care of them.  An orphan does not have this certainty and there is no promise of that enveloping each day.  Survival and provision require a bit of a fight, some initiative and pursuit.  I live so many of my days, even as a Christian, assuming as my friends Anne and Walter said, “If it is to be, it depends on me.”  There is an orphan inclination inside my heart that regularly forgets I am enveloped by strong capable arms upon which everything depends.  I can climb His body digging my feet into His belly and my fingers into His shoulders. But, unlike an orphan, I do not have to be afraid or grip so tightly because He has me and has promised never to let me go, ever.

“I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go, and I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.”  When Jacob awoke from his sleep, he thought, “Surely the LORD is in this place, and I was not aware of it.”  Gen. 28:15-16

I can hide in Him, rest in Him, trust in Him and depend upon Him rather than myself.  Why do I functionally live as if I have been left alone, as if bringing His Kingdom to come were in my hands, as if the well being of others and myself were resting upon my initiative?  How grateful I am that it is not so.  Like the baby being held securely who looks up with a great big grin, may this be my posture in the arms of my Father today.

Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea,
even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast. Psalm 139:7-10

Damn Seriousness

Last week our friend Dan came into town and stayed with us for a couple of nights.  Ellie, Chad and I took him to the Y pool.  After wearing out the water slide and other fun games in the pool, an ashen faced lifeguard instructed everyone to get out of the pool, and it wasn’t adult swim.  As the lifeguards swiftly huddled with furrowed brows and anxious whispering, all the swimmers sat silently wondering what new disease we would wake up with the next morning from swimming in contaminated waters.  We leaned in to watch the net scoop up a tiny brown ball and with Dan, who shares Terrell’s and my sense of humor like few others, I was crying I was laughing so hard at this whole scene.  I truly could hardly breathe.  And there were two ways the scenario could have ended perfectly (for the humor, that is):  1) it turned out actually to be poop which just seems perfect for the one time we take Dan to the pool with us or 2) it turned out not to be poop and the lifeguard, knowing this before anyone else, would pop the acorn in her mouth and declare after a contemplative moment “Nope!  We’re good!”

Why in the world do I share this story?  Because most days have those kinds of moments that are truly hilarious “if you have eyes to see” them.  Sometimes you need a Dan there with you to see it more clearly, sometimes you need to be on vacation or with a large group of friends.  As a kid, I laughed so hard on a regular basis it became part of my M.O.  Adulthood somehow sucks us into seriousness, alarmist tendencies and general scowls.  Sadly, no pun intended, Christianity can do this too.  Everything suddenly becomes heavy with perfectionism, intent on sanctification and the eradication of all sin or sinful inclinations…and most everything can somehow slip under that umbrella…maybe even pool poop. (:

She is clothed with strength and dignity; she can laugh at the days to come. Prov. 31:25

Here is something I realized the other day:  laughter requires strength and confidence.  Fear sucks the laughter right out of the room.  In contrast, laughter makes a situation less scary…it is why Chris Rock is a great opponent to scary bad guys.  You actually feel safer in a threatening situation with someone who can find the humor in it.  Humor shrinks the threat and puts it in its place.

There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. John 4:18

I lose the humor in my children’s crazy behavior sometimes because I fear it is an underlying sign of anarchy and disrespect.  Seriously.  Seriously?  When I’m white knuckled in my day, I am fearing the consequences of not accomplishing something or failing to reach a certain goal.  I’ll be in trouble.  I’ll be excluded.  I’ll be ruled out.  I’ll be at the other end of someone’s disappointment.  All this seriousness comes from a sense of walking through a mine field where the wrong step could be fatally explosive.  Take precautions.  Be on the lookout.  Be scared.  Be aware.  Be careful.  

Yet I stand clothed in Christ where there is no condemnation, no fatal mistake I can make, no irreversible moment or unredeemable heart.  The weight of becoming holy, of reflecting Jesus, of being involved in His redeeming work does not rest on my shoulders!  The victory of God’s Kingdom over all evil, selfishness and injury is in His hands, which are quite capable and reliable.  So, I can laugh and quit taking things so darn seriously.  I can stand confidently in His righteousness and therefore laugh, heartily.  I am no longer condemned, no longer damned literally, and that should make me celebrate, smile and maybe even respond with delighted laughter!  And after all, what might point others to the glory of the person and work of Jesus, the abundant life of the One who controls all things, more?  Deep, belly laughter or white knuckled scowls?  Seriously, not a tough one.  It turns out, better than Dan or vacation or a group of friends, it might be I just need Jesus there with me to give me eyes to see the light hearted side in each day.

See, I will create new heavens and a new earth. The former things will not be remembered, nor will they come to mind.  But be glad and rejoice forever in what I will create, for I will create Jerusalem to be a delight and its people a joy.  I will rejoice over Jerusalem and take delight in my people; the sound of weeping and of crying will be heard in it no more.  Is. 65:17-19

What I Want Most

Whatever we want most controls us.  I like to think otherwise, that my sense of “the good” or the noble is what I would always choose or go with because I am just that good and noble, but it is not so.  If I am tired, all I want to do is go to sleep no matter what responsibilities linger.  If it is the end of the day and I feel entitled to be “off duty”, the desire to be “off duty” absolutely trumps any call to speak gently, extend mercy or offer gracious patience to those small people in my house who choose that time of day to be the least compliant.

What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you?  You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight. You do not have because you do not ask God.  When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.  James 4:1-3

We’ve been going trough The Young Peacemaker with Ellie and Chad and are beginning to discuss how “it starts in the heart”.  When we were discussing yesterday how our desires control our heart, they both had lots of examples showing how they understood this concept.  Ellie brought up the leaves outside on our new tree, which clearly have been nibbled on by some insect.  We haven’t seen the culprit, but the nibbled leaf is evidence.  Similarly, we discussed that all of our words, attitudes and actions have their roots in our hearts.  When we punch or kick or scream (which we’ve only heard of other families doing, of course) those things are like the nibbled leaves that tell us, in the case of our hearts, that something is wrong in our heart.

The crucible for silver and the furnace for gold, but the LORD tests the heart. Proverbs 17:3

God’s test isn’t to see if we can pass, because of course we can’t.  His test is more like that which determines blood iron levels, showing us we need more iron.  In my case, I need more of the person and work of Jesus.  The crucible refines the silver and the furnace purifies the gold, pulling up the impurities so that they can be removed.  God shows me my impatience, my greed, my distrust and fear, my hatred, my arrogance, and so on…not to shame or humiliate me but to confirm what I have said I believed all along!  I claim to believe that I need Him, but live functionally each day as if I don’t.  I go to Him for stuff I want or as a means to an end but He graciously determines to convince me that He is the end…and the beginning of all things good.

Thomas Chalmer wrote of “the expulsive power of a new affection” and that only God can fully and powerfully replace and expel our lesser desires, my selfish desires and my ego on the throne of my heart.  But He is faithful and He will do it.  Only He can work His love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, faithfulness and self-control through me and extend them generously and unreasonably to others.  Only He can remove toxic affections from my grip and replace them with the living water that I most need.  And the disappointing news and very good news is that only He can provide this new affection.  

This is disappointing to those of us who feel proud of all our un-nibbled leaves and critical of others, because we like to feel that the credit for our righteousness belongs to us.  But it is good news for those like me who have come to see that left to my own ability or will, I would prefer to yell at my children without restraint, to criticize the strangers on the street, to horde all the money and “stuff” I can get my hands on, to withhold generosity from those who don’t deserve it, to attach to my name only the coolest and most elite associations and the list only grows.

So, after my children used bedtime as a great example of desires taking control so that inside the battle is between doing what is right (obeying) and what you want most (not going to sleep), we had about an hour of crying, disciplining, arguing and aggravation that followed the time my children should have had the lights out and a quiet room.  Knowledge is not power.  Knowing what is right does not make us do what is right.  (Ask anyone who wants to lose weight or quit smoking, for example.)  I need the Spirit to be powerfully at work within me.  I need to grow in my understanding that I am beloved, cherished and secure in Jesus so that I quit living to earn that from Him and from others and instead begin to freely live out of that position.  It is His kindness that leads me to repentance. May it one day be His life in me that becomes what I want most and the root of all my words, attitudes and actions.

I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being,  so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love,  may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.  Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generation, for ever and ever!

Amen.  Eph. 3:16-21

Following Bread Crumbs

I’m pretty keyed up these days.  The bags under my eyes are growing and the brain cells behind those eyes are slowing down like molecular activity on ice.  (Not being a scientist or having high brain function these days, that might have been a totally inaccurate analogy.)  As I sat in church yesterday trying to identify my emotions, I realized the process of “working out my faith” is quite similar to a treasure hunt or following a bread crumb trail.  You notice the beginning of the trail, which for me is usually a sense of emotional fragility or physical exhaustion and begin the journey.

For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.  Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account. Hebrews 4:12-13

What I started to discover was that fear, not surprisingly, was to blame for my inability to relax or nap or stay asleep in the early morning when my brain kicks into gear even though my alarm is giving me another hour to sleep.  As I dig below the acknowledgment of fear (sorry for the mixed metaphors, just refer back to sentences 2-3), the focus of my fear is something like “what if we run out of cash in a country that only accepts cash” or “what if I get really sick and am bed ridden with children who need my strength and leadership and direction in a foreign country?” and so on.  So, returning to the bread crumb trail, I see that this is not the end of the discovery process.  The crumbs don’t stop there but lead me to see next that if I can’t find an ATM or our debit or credit cards don’t work and we are actually totally out of money, God is still on His throne and He is still intimately with us.  He is still cherishing and loving me and He is still in absolute control of every detail of my days, my going out and coming in and lying down, even in a high fever.  He is trustworthy.

The bread crumb trail does not stop there at those theological facts, as if knowledge was the solution.  Instead, God invites me to see that functionally, I do not live as if I truly believed that He is living and active and at work in my circumstances to make me look more like Him and to persuade my heart that He is present, working, trustworthy and good.  The bread crumbs have taken me far enough along the trail to show me that my intellectual ascent to certain biblical facts about God does not mean that I actually believe them.  My fears reveal that I actually believe myself to be the one in control of the successful outcome of my circumstances.  They also reveal that I believe the desired outcome of the events is the make or break ultimate goal and determination of my well being.  I can see by my fears that my end goal isn’t resting in God but getting what I want.  

There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; for anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from their works, just as God did from his.  Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will perish by following their example of disobedience. Hebrews 4:9-11

Scotty referred to this glorious paradox, “make every effort to enter that rest”, which is the bread crumb treasure hunt.  He offers me rest.  In Him I find my rest.  But my unrest reveals that I am not with Him, at rest in Him, as I like to think I am by my theological knowledge.  I am not trusting His care, His provision or His plans, ways and purposes at work through my circumstances which He has carefully designed and is implementing.  I am not actually living in relationship with a living and active God but living as if I’ve found old letters from an ancient culture from which I can glean helpful ideas on how to make my life better.  The bread crumb trail leads me to Him.  He gives me the energy and courage and endurance to travel the bread crumb trail from my unbelief to clearer sight of Him.  He takes this orphan, so set on self-reliance for survival, and will use any circumstance to impress upon my heart that I am His beloved forever child and that nothing can separate me from His love.  He uses my greatest fears or my mundane circumstances to take His word and promises and love from being something I post on my refrigerator to the very oxygen I need and must have to live.

Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess.  For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin.  Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.  Hebrews 4:14-16

Therefore Do Not Worry

What if I can’t get it all done in time?  What if I forget to pack the one medicine we end up most needing in a country without a corner CVS or WalMart?  What if our ATM cards don’t work?  What if I forget to pay a bill before we leave?  What if I haven’t really considered the implications of what we are doing and it changes our lives in a destructive way?  What if she has attachment issues?  What if my skirts are not long enough?  What if I have forgotten how to dance or be silly and simply play?  What if I fret more than I giggle?  What if we run out of money?  What if I can’t figure out how to convert dollars to shillings?  What if something happens to someone in my family while we’re gone?  What am I neglecting?  What am I overlooking?  How am I wasting the hours we have now, these last hours as it has always been and never will be, exactly the same, again?

No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money. Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. 
Are you not much more valuable than they?  
Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?
And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin.  Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these.  If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith?  So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them.  But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.  Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. 
Matt. 6:24-34

I am concerned about my kingdom, and I suppose, I should be.  My kingdom is perishing, is going out of business, is going bankrupt and is guaranteed to be overpowered by a better one.  His kingdom has no end.  My kingdom is wide eyed in horror at the possibility of discomfort – what if I forget to pack the kitchen sink and really wish I had my own kitchen sink in a foreign land?  Is not His life, this everlasting life, this abundant life in and through the person and work of Jesus more than peanut butter and bug spray (which I hope I don’t forget to pack!)?  Aren’t dignity and beauty and honor products which overflow from the heart and not the perfect combination of flattering, practical and modest attire in another culture?  Will blisters from new shoes interfere with His kingdom?  Will my inability to cover possessive pronouns, cursive or the “scientific principles in simple machinery” thwart God’s progress in training up my children in the way He intends them to go?

Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus,  because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death.  For what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the flesh, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering.  And so he condemned sin in the flesh,  in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. Those who live according to the flesh have their minds set on what the flesh desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace. Romans 8:1-6

Hovering over, around and in all of this anxiety and fear of regret is a real sense of condemnation and looming condemnation.  With just the slightest wrong step, I am doomed…it tells me.  With just one wrong word, day, or season, irreparable damage will be done. Get it just right, right now, or else.  And or else will be really, really bad.  The worst kind of weeping and gnashing of teeth.

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, 
who have been called according to his purpose.  
For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, 
that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters.  And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.
What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?  He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?  
Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. 
Who then is the one who condemns? No one. 
Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us.  Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written:

   “For your sake we face death all day long; 

   we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.  
For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God 
that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. 
Romans 8:28-39

Even my regrettable moments (or seasons or even packing list), it seems, are part of conforming me to the image of His Son.  There is no season or danger or discomfort or even vestiges of wickedness in my heart that can separate me from His love and His life.  The no condemnation promise isn’t based on some new perfection that I am supposed to have attained but on His perfection in which He covers me.  I can trust Him to preserve and encourage His life in my children even when my sin attempts to crush it out of them.  I can trust Him to be present with us when the Pepto Bismal runs out.  I can trust Him to be loving us and embracing us when the geographical distance between us and all that is familiar feels tangible and heavy.  It turns out that nothing is irreparable in Jesus.  In fact, in His economy, all forms of death are what lead to abundant life and to Him.  What or whom then shall I fear?