Monday, August 18, 2014

an unexpected summer.

I just checked off another "to-do" from the stacks of post-it notes in my planner, stuck to this week's page. I crinkled it up, feeling accomplished. Even with something so very small: uploading the summer's pictures onto Facebook. Sure, not everyone wants to be updated on my not-so-fast-paced life, replete with recipes and selfies ("us-ies", really...I don't take many pictures alone). But it was a step for me, a good day of remembering how the Lord has worked this summer. It's been beautiful. peaceful. restful. blissful. Am I oversimplifying? sure. There were complications thrown into those "-ful" moments. But complications cannot displace Christ. And Christ is what has kept this summer so "-ful." 

I loved uploading all of those pictures because they tell a story. I even precariously worked the comments in such a way that told the story. "a summer of..." was the refrain. You can go to the album here to see the story. 

Here's what I didn't mention though. Only because I didn't capture the other moments of the summer. 

the moments of laughter. I'm not kidding when I say I have laughed/smiled more this summer than ever before. I cannot really explain it except by the word joy. the enemy wants to steal, kill, and destroy that joy. In the past two years I have felt that battle more than ever. But this summer has been a time of reprieve. Not that the battle has calmed. But the armor has been strengthened by the strength of His might, because I've been learning so much of how to let go of my own. Surrender: hands up, face lifted, heart enlightened with joy.

the moments of learning. I've been truly blessed to be a part of a church here, learning about the behind the scenes work that I have quickly become passionate about. As much as I love going, helping others to go has been so fulfilling, and I cannot wait to get back to it come January. I've also been able to have a lot of quiet, alone time in the Word. A few buzzwords of the summer? fellowship. returning. prayer. conviction. redemption. endurance. gospel. (more on a few of those topics reserved for a later post)

the moments of love. The best part of summer for me? easy. Leah & Matt's wedding. First of all, I have not cried so much in a very, very, very long time. But it was such a renewal of spirit to cry so much. And I don't just think that's a girl thing or a time of the month thing. I think it is a necessary thing. The gospel became a beautiful tangibility in their ceremony. And it was obvious. I learned so much about love that day, and it will impact me for the rest of my life. I pray I can experience the same thing soon. (again, perhaps a blog post will come from the wedding on my other blog)

I came into this summer with rapidly emptied hands. All my plans lay on the ground, seemingly ruined. Yet out of the ashes of sacrifice came such, such beauty. provision. joy. He is good. 

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

on leaving well

Arriving and leaving are two extremely essential points to a journey full of different seasons, places, and communities that we find ourselves called to. College was a vital season for me, and I ended up at a school I had never heard of a year earlier. I had to get there, and it was through one path crossed with another that the destination came into focus. It took obedience to follow through, and it took hard work to remain. But I’m approaching the end. As are many of my friends. Seasons come and seasons go, and a shift has to take place between them. Leaving always looks different than arriving, with so much change occurring in between. The problem is that we don’t know how to make that shift. We don’t know how to leave well.

What does leaving look like? What does a good transition from one season to another consist of?

As I wrote a letter to a friend about to leave her summer missions assignment, with these very questions in the back of her mind, as I had when I was in her very shoes several summers ago, my mind went back to a passage of scripture that meant a lot to me when I was there. It details Paul’s own transition from one season to another. Whether it’s transitioning home from a season of missions, going back to school after a life-changing summer, graduating, or moving out into "the real world,” the words Paul spoke in Acts 20.17-38 to church leaders who he had raised up during the years he spent with them apply to any transition we face.

1. He examined how he had lived and worked among the people he was ministering to and serving.

Paul looked back for a moment, even asking the leaders to also look with him, upon how he had lived among them. He was honest and vulnerable about what he faced and how he faced it among them.  Here are his words, in the voice paraphrase:

"We will have many memories of our time together in Ephesus; but of all the memories, most of all I want you to remember my way of life. From the first day I arrived in Asia, I served the Lord with humility and tears, patiently enduring the many trials that came my way through the plots of my Jewish opponents. I did everything I could to help you; I held nothing back."

I know right now I need to confess the things that I have held back this summer. But we must also remember that the victory was won two-thousand years ago, and that God has made a way of victory through this season, no matter the outcome, statistics, or mislaid plans. What's on paper does not reflect what's in the heart. Of God. Of you. Of the people you've worked among. Lay down the defeats at His feet--the feet that rest upon the earth in victory. Take His victory upon you, and learn from Him. For He is gentle and lowly of heart. (matthew 11). Remember who He is. Mighty Victor & Gentle Shepherd: leading you through each season in victory, teaching you along the way in gentleness. Not condemnation! praise be.

2. He reflected on how God had changed and used him in this season.

Paul saw a journey before and behind him, and he knew he wasn't the same person going into this new season that he was when he first arrived in Ephesus. These leaders had been a part of that change, which was why he called them together to see him off in this moment. He had been working, proclaiming the gospel, remaining true to a lifestyle worthy of the gospel, and building up these men. It had prepared him for the next season, and it had simultaneously prepared these leaders for their next season, which would be without him.

How has gone been at work around you this summer? What about within you?

3. He looked forward to the next season that he was being called to.

Paul was hopeful and expectant, even in the midst of the trouble, affliction, even pain that he would face, which was affirmed to him by the Spirit of God. He said (the voice, vv. 22-24): "My future is uncertain, but I know--the Holy Spirit has told me--that everywhere I go from now on, I will find imprisonment and persecution waiting for me. But that's OK. That's no tragedy for me because I don't cling to my life for my own sake." He clings to his life for the sake of others alone. Elsewhere he reminds us that that kind of life, "the life that echoes everyday the words of Jesus Christ our King" (v. 35 the voice), is a life "lived by faith in the son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me" (galatians 2.20). 

And it is this faith, this self-emptying faith, that enables him & us to look ahead. To see the next step of God's purposes. To hear the Holy Spirit's guidance in our hearts. And to trust His voice, even if it means imprisonment, persecution, trials. He is the sovereign king who never lets us out of His sight. Even if we are to be put in the fire, He will be there. And He will use even the fire for His purposes. Paul knew he was called to Rome, to preach the gospel, and to Rome he was taken via persecution and imprisonment, shipwrecks and chains. God will fulfill His purpose for us. Look forward always in hope.

4. He resolved his life to one purpose and plan: God’s.

"My life is nothing." This is what Paul committed himself to as He committed himself to God and his plan. This life, this mortal flesh, is a mere vessel for the ultimate plan of God. It doesn't matter what happens with it. It only matters what happens through it. And as long as there is breath in this body, it will be for finishing the task of His great fame: "to testify to the gospel of the grace of God." 

The fact that seasons change does not (should not) affect the call of God on our life. The trajectory of God's plan never wavers. Locations, circumstances, and specifics merely carry us along His way, as much as we submit to Him--and not to them. If we root ourselves in Him, in His love, first, and then into the soils of the lands and peoples his plants us--"we will not be greatly shaken" (psalm 62). Moved? Tossed? Hurt? Confused? YES. Shaken? Even so. But greatly shaken--uprooted from Him? separated from His love? cut off from His plan? Never. 

5. He charged those he had nurtured in the faith with what they were to continue to do even in his absence.

Paul recognized that the work did not begin and end with him but was constant with God’s ever-present Spirit. 

When I was in Oklahoma, my pride took a turn for the worst, as I worried about what would happen when I left. Who would continue to love these girls? Who would speak truth? How would relationships continue? How would they grow? My teammate and I quickly rallied around this truth, that His plan is utterly independent of us. Yes, He graciously chooses to use us, fragile jars of clay that we are. Yet His will stands steadfast; His purposes prevail. We cannot hinder Him, limit Him, or cut off His work in any way, shape or form. Not by going. Not by leaving. Not by taking a day off. But we must be Spirit-sensitive as we do all these things. He has very specific things for us to do as we go, as we leave, as we rest. 

For Paul, in his moments of leaving, it meant giving a charge to these elders. It meant telling them what they should do, what they should continue to do, as he left them to their churches and their people. Is there someone we can speak life into in the last moments we have with them? One more chance to share the gospel? One more letter to write? One more hug to give? 

6. He let them go, entrusting them into the hands of God and to the word of His grace.

Paul knew and affirmed that it was only God’s Word that could keep them and build them up on their own journey of sanctification. And it was that truth that enabled him to let them go

This is the most important thing we can do in leaving well. There are people that will stay with us, of course. Teammates. People we can stay in touch with. But inevitably, there are some who are kept in seasons away from us. Paul knew that he would never see these leaders again. Yet, whether we are leaving them behind or not, we still must let them go. We must put them in God's hands. We cannot control their destiny (vv. 26-27). Again, this is where my own worrying must be stifled. And it is this truth, this stronghold of hope (which I find myself repeating over friends and family constantly), that enables me to do just that:

"I entrust you to the message of God's grace, a message that has the power to build you up and to give you rich heritage among all who are set apart for God's holy purposes." (v. 32).

Paul recognized that it wasn't his power, words, or conduct among them that could build them up or uphold them in the truth. And it was this word that enabled him to leave well--knowing that it was God and the Word of God they had been taught that would keep them growing in maturity of faith. So he left them with that. 

7. And He didn’t neglect saying goodbye, with prayer, weeping, and worship.


Paul was unafraid and unashamed of the sorrow leaving caused, but he was also willing to keep moving forward despite it. Leaving hurts, and I think this example of leaving well probably hurts more. I'm not good at leaving well. I want to just GO already! I neglect goodbyes easily and make them quick and seamless, shoving down all the   tears & hard thoughts that accompany them. For my own next-season-departure, I have been given more time. 6-7 months, to be exact, post-December graduation. More time to say goodbye; less time to neglect the thoughts behind it. So, I'm taking a cue from Paul. I'm going to take every opportunity I can to leave this season, when it ends, well. We need help in this and we need people in this. We need to come alongside each other, as these men did here, kneel on some beaches, worship our God, trust His ways and timing, allow ourselves to weep and to mourn over an ending. But we must also allow ourselves to rejoice, because a new beginning has come. Full of life, hope, promise--even if the promises seem for harm. God has an amazing way of turning what is meant for evil into so much good. 

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

hope vs. suffering

This morning, Romans 8 continues to work its way into my bones, a chapter full of hope, but only because of the chapters that surround it. Especially the previous chapter, with its vulnerability and honesty (see previous post). The words of chapter 8 keep freedom front and center, with hope surrounding it as we realize what we've been set free from & what we have been set free for. Today's word is hope. 

"For I claim that the present season's sufferings are not worthy to be compared to the coming glory, about to be revealed to us. (8.18)
"Also, we ourselves, having the first fruits of the spirit, even we are groaning within ourselves, eagerly awaiting adoption, the redemption of our bodies. For in hope we stand saved. But hope which is seen in not hope; for who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we eagerly await it with steadfastness." (8.23-25)

The basis of our hope, even creation's hope (vs. 19 following), is an unseen reality that has not been seen or known since the entrance of Sin into the world. In fact, all that we do know or have seen is flawed by sin's effects. Creation knows this better than us, but we are a part of creation and therefore know it as well. Yet, Paul asserts, in order to fully be found in the hope that is coming--glory, and in order to remain hopeful and expectant for its coming, we must be found in these present sufferings (8.17). 

Yet they are not worth dwelling on or comparing to that which is coming. That doesn't mean we aren't suffering, or that we should stop groaning (note: the word in the passage is not synonymous with "complaining") along with creation; even the spirit groans with us (vs. 26). But even suffering can be full of hope if we search it out. Subject, even to suffering and decay, is only a precursor to freedom. That is why even God's curse on the earth in genesis 3 was made full of hope, because God knew that freedom--true freedom--would come. We are still living in the midst of the "would come." But we've been given a downpayment of redemption--the self-sacrifice of Christ and the forgiveness of sins, the removal of the old self in favor of the new self, and the Holy Spirit of God who has been loosed within us to bring victory in the here and now of the "would come."

So, we wait with hope for something yet to be revealed. But because it is such a great and unseen hope, steadfastness fills our bones, steadies our hearts, and firms our feet, and we eagerly and patiently await. Eager with expectation but patient with the sufferings that must come first. For even this is how Christ lived, and the Spirit comes to help us follow after Him, living the same path He walked for us. Let us do the same for others who are seeking Him. Let our lives, even our sufferings, be catalysts of change and hope. Let it be. 

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

digging into the trenches

Powering (drudging) through a hefty work of translation in Romans 7 today, I was reminded of this great battle we are all in. It is such an encouraging, open confession that Paul pours out over this church in Rome, most of whom he has never met face to face. But he is so convinced of their faith, so willing to entrust such powerful words concerning the work of God in Christ, that he knows that they understand the war that exists between what we want to do and what we do not want to do, between our flesh and our spirit, and that, just maybe, they need to be reminded of the victory that exists even within the trenches of that battle.

In the same breath (vs. 25), Paul confesses that God is worthy of all the praise through Jesus Christ who is our Lord, and that he finds himself in the midst of serving two masters--the law of God and the law of Sin. He can do this, because the praise exalts the finished work of Christ--already spelled out over and over again before this chapter. And because the confession following it acknowledges that the work is not yet finished, and we must never forget that the fight is real, the war is strong, and the problem is sin. not the law (which is good and holy and just--vs 12). not us (vs 17, 20). the problem is sin: this power that has taken up the sword against us and has taken us captive (vs 23). 

Sin is trying to overtake us completely. But so is grace, which overwhelms even the abundance of sin that comes against us (5.20-21). The victory on our behalf has already been won by grace. Though we face this war, it is not without faith that came to us in Christ and not without hope that brings endurance. The bookends of this very chapter highlight this--Paul is not confessing just to confess the difficulty of life in Christ, but the reality of a battle that he has already brought up and the assurance of previous & current victories in the fight. In Abraham's faith that came against outward circumstances (ch. 4). In the need to rest in the peace justification brings (ch. 5). In the need to consider ourselves as dead to sin, but alive to God (ch. 6). And in the fight to live in step with the spirit as we groan in expectation for something that is greater (ch. 8).

We are called to fight. It takes grit to do this. Grit to praise the One who has rescued us, while crying out, "Who will rescue me?" Grit to confess the struggle. Grit to be vulnerable. Grit to join others in the trenches. Grit to dig deeper into them, knowing and trusting that these trenches are the very places where He meets us.

Friday, July 11, 2014

snippets of study

I've been studying through Romans for the past few weeks, revisiting the ebb and flow of Paul's great words of the gospel that has changed everything. Today was chapter 6. The movement of God's work was the imagery I couldn't let go of, so I wanted to let others in to see it. So here are a few words on verses 15-23, first my translation of a few of them, then some of my own raw words, lifted from the lined pages of my journal:

"Do you not know that the one to whom who yield yourselves to as servants poised for obediences, you are slaves to that one who you obey--either sin resulting in death or obedience resulting in righteousness? But praise be to God! you were slaves of sin...but, having been set free, you have been made slaves to righteousness. 
For just as you yielded your members as slaves to unrighteousness and to lawlessness resulting in more lawlessness, thus now yield your members as slaves to righteousness with a view toward sanctification.
For when you were [yet] slaves of sin...what fruit did you have then?"

Oh this free gift that has changed everything! May that always be a truth that grows harder and harder to forget or neglect. I'm just caught up this morning in the imagery of movement seen in verse 19. There was none before. One more of the same thing, more of the same slavery ("lawlessness unto lawlessness," literally).

But God reached down into the very midst of the old chains and pulled us out by grace--something we never could have done on our own, try as we might. And He brought us to a different bondage--bondage to Himself, to grace that moves us forward--closer to Him. "Slaves now of righteousness that looks toward sanctification." Righteousness that looks not to what we can do, but to what He will do. This is what we have been set free for!

So why, then, do we still so often act like slaves that are not set free? Like only the first half of verse 23 is gospel truth for us today? No! We have a new master--"Jesus Christ our Lord"--a personal, intimate, relationship of freedom has been freely gifted to us and we get so caught up in the defeats of the day that we miss it. We miss Him. We miss what He can do by focusing instead on what we cannot. 

Our position has been changed--from sin to righteousness.
But now we need a change of perspective--from sin to righteousness "with a view towards sanctification."

Father, change our perspectives. Our focus gets fuzzy by the defeats of the day instead of sharpened by your great victory over the worst defeat--death itself. So also we have been raised! So may we also raise our hands today, yielding no longer to sin or self, but to the victory of your son & our Lord, Jesus Christ, who is blessed forever by our words and by our deeds. Amen.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

vulnerability

I wrote this earlier this spring, in my personal devotion time. The story at the onset of John 8 has been in my mind this week, so I read it this morning and decided to look up where I had studied and journaled on it. Just knew I needed to share it. Thanks for reading!


This is one of my favorite stories of Jesus' ministry. Though perhaps not really an episode of the evangelists, I do not think it has survived for nothing. In fact, it almost didn't. But evidence against it's truth is small. It even fits with the current storyline of John, in my opinion, with the attitudes of the Pharisees overwhelming their sensibilities so it is not surprising that they would conduct this accusation scene to aggravate the people and to trap Jesus. If he said to stone her, he would have gone against everything He had been teaching. If He had merely said "Don't stone her," the Pharisees would have had great cause to accuse him of blasphemy. 

But something he does here makes it better for them to just walk away. He really doesn't even say anything life-shattering. His presence, his nearness to this woman, and his simple, honest, even vulnerable words--that could even put him in the same group with the Pharisees, risking His honor in the process--are enough. 

And isn't that true of Jesus' whole ministry? Simplicity. Vulnerability. Risking His honor, putting it all on the line to give life, to restore worth to someone else. That is what He is about. Even His words come down to our level in the same way, just as they did here. They do not cut this woman down--neither do they condemn or give her lofty orders. No, they build her back up and enable her to be transformed and walk away new

In the same way He has spoken to us, enabled us to, and called us to. It takes great humility, an unassuming nature, and a soft voice, just as Jesus had. Who would we kneel down before today? 

Now, I'm gonna get closer to home for myself, as a writer (if I have the right to claim such a term). It's a big, metaphorical leap. Just be prepared. Or stop reading. I hope you're willing to come along with me. 

In the same way, this is what writing does to me. I end up on the ground like this woman. Vulnerable, stripped down. Condemnation surrounds me with stones in hand. But Jesus walks up. Jesus meets us in the middle of our dreams, no matter how messed up they seem. Jesus kneels down into the mess of manuscripts and legal pads and journals and scribbles on scraps. And He writes with us. The stones fall heavy around us--but never on us. He redirects our gaze to the empty scene in which we sit; He says with strength, "Where are they, those whose stones were aimed at you? Has no one condemned you?" And we respond with shaky tenor, disbelief dotting our wet eyelashes, "No one, sir." 

And He asks us, He is asking me, to keep going. Jesus doesn't condemn us. He enables us to keep going. I'm praying for the humility and strength that He exemplifies more than I ever could to overwhelm my spirit and enable me to keep going. 

Again the question begs to be asked: Who will we kneel down beside today?

Monday, June 2, 2014

when the enemy doesn't seem disarmed.

There is this verse that I quote a lot. Colossians 2.15:

"He [Jesus] disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them by it [the cross]. "  

I quoted it last night for a friend. Texted it to her as soon as it came to mind. Claimed it over her as I prayed for her. I turned over to go to sleep, when tears flooded my tired eyes. Painfully aware of the battle raging not just over my friend miles away, but even in my own body, my broken voice whispered: 

"They don't feel disarmed, father." 

I'm the one who feels disarmed. 

Struck down with whips, disrobed and mocked, chained, halfway driven to death, then placed on an instrument of torture to die--this is how disarmed feels. 

But rewind those images of self-centered romanticism concerning my own pain, my own cross.

See Jesus kneeling over me, shielding the blows from my skin in exchange for his own. See him allowing his robe to be taken, and placing it on me in exchange for nothing. Hear him mocked, humiliated in exchange for my chains being broken, silenced in exchange for my freedom song rising over his groanings as death drew nearer and nearer. See him nailed to the cross--in exchange for me walking away unscathed. 

But not unchanged. 

Because three days later, he overcame those exchanges for his own exchange: death for life, sin for forgiveness, wrath for mercy, condemnation for grace. To defeat my self-sufficiency with a love too strong to resist. To arise from the dead, the first but not the last eternal resurrection, victory at last won.

Disarming comes with defeat. When an army overtakes another force, the first thing those who are overcome drop to the ground are their weapons: that their hands may fly up into the air, that their knees may hit the ground hard, that their heads may hang low in submission. The cross of Jesus defeats the enemy's tactics and powers; the resurrection exalts Him over their supposed sovereignty.

Speaking of Jesus, the author of Hebrews writes: 

"He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of His nature, and He upholds the universe by the Word of His power (He is in control). After making purification for sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high..." (1.3)

and God echoes the exaltation of Jesus, saying,

"Sit down at my right hand, until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet."
(1.13)

We are waiting for that to happen. Jesus' feet aren't propped up just yet. I picture His feet behind Him at times, behind His bent knees...as He now "lives to make intercession for the saints." (7.25)

But at the exact same time, we're told that it has happened. That He has "disarmed" the enemies. And He has. The resurrection is the proof. The worst of their tactics--death--couldn't overcome our Savior and Lord. They are "put to open shame" because of this blunder. They thought they had won. Turns out their victory was reversed by the resurrection. God pulled a "trump card" in the resurrection, as my greek professor always said, and "triumphed over them."

They are disarmed. Ultimately, their tactics won't work. But right now, all evidence points to the contrary. Friends experience their minds attacked every night with horrible nightmares. My body sometimes still feels so weak. A train hits a car full of kids. Thousands of children die in acid attacks. Humans are trafficked as slaves. While the world looks on, the majority ignorant and unmoved. 

We who know the victory have to stand in the victory, even when we cannot see it. That is what faith is all about anyway: being certain of what we do not see; hoping for what is unassured by circumstances (11.1). 

The good news is that God doesn't ask us to stand rigidly, making rote repetitions of words we cannot feel. He welcomes words like I whispered in the dark last night. He wants vulnerable, intimate, honest admissions from our hearts. He already knows each one, and He already knows the ways in which He will answer us in those words we offer to Him, the ways in which He will tell us to take our stand.

For me, it was a solid reply: write it down; listen to me and write it down. I turned back over in the dark, grabbed my phone again and wrote out a couple of paragraphs, which begin this post. He asked me to be vulnerable not just with Him, but with others. He flashed images in my mind of the victory already won over the pain I imagined being measured blow-for-blow over my own defeated self. He redeemed those images by His own. He told me to keep writing. 

The bottom line is this: both parties stand defeated at the cross.

Our enemies are not yet to their knees, under the feet of Jesus. 
Oh but I am. Hands up, knees bent, guns down, head hung low: submitted to the True Victor. 
Self-sufficiency ruined by the self-humiliation of Jesus. Self-dependence cut off by the perfect obedience of the Son. For at the end of me--there He stands...

"For in Him the whole fulness of deity dwells bodily, and you have been filled in Him, who is the head of all rule and authority. In Him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, having been buried with Him in baptism, in which you were also raised with Him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised Him from the dead. And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This He set aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them by it."
(Col. 2.9-15)