Archives For beauty

I.

I am not like those Israelites in the wilderness, the ones who handed over their riches to make the likes of a golden calf. I clutch to my idols in their original form. I do not trust a maker of any sorts with my valuables, I trust only myself. I adorn myself in them.

II.

I wonder sometimes if all the Israelites gave Aaron their jewelry on that day, or if there were some who held back because an idol in their hands was better than one melded with a hundred thousand other idols.

III.

Remember when Rachel hid the idols of her father’s household in her satchel? She carried them with her just in case. Just in case God failed her, just in case He didn’t come through, just in case the unseen God wasn’t as dependable as the seen gods. Just in case He didn’t give her what she wanted.

IV.

Sometimes the only way you can spot an idol is to have it wrenched from your hands. Empty hands can reveal idolatry.

V.

Sometimes idols in the ancient Near East were the big kind you envision in temples, massive stone or golden statues with people prostrate around them in every form. But common ones were small ones, pocketed bits of clay and wood and rock—things they could pull from their pockets at a moments notice, to fill the void, cure boredom, feel validated, and seek answers from.

VI.

The message to the idol worshipper is the same as to the law worshipper, the same to the younger son as to the elder, the same to the Gentile as to the Jew: that idol and that law will only reveal your need for a Savior and a Father.

VII.

Underneath the gold and silver plated idols was the stuff of the earth: clay, wood, rock. All that glitters is not gold. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.

Then you will defile your carved idols overlaid with silver and your gold-plated metal images. You will scatter them as unclean things. You will say to them, “Be gone!”
Isaiah 30:22

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I added up the meetings this week and they valued in the too many for any introvert. They happened in prayer rooms and offices, across coffee tables and over coffee, on our couch late at night and on my bed early in the morning. Listening, talking, walking.

We are in the work of long-suffering, of listening when it seems better to speak, of obeying when the odds suggest we not. We are submitting and silencing, seeking counsel from the wiser and counseling the weaker. It is a lasting joy, but a long-suffering one too. It is hard fought for, but sweet when it comes. It is not popular.

It is easy to create copycats. To say to say as I say and do as I do. To teach to follow me as I follow Christ. But I am not an Apostle or Christ and I quake to tell anyone to follow me. I cannot even trust me, please do not trust me. We ask for the Holy Spirit and we keep on asking, more and more, a helper and comforter, a keeper.

. . .

Today is the two-year anniversary of a little girl on my doorstep. She had a few suitcases, some guitars, no money, no car.

I have known her since she was 14, but really I have known her my whole life. We are different in many ways, but the same questions wrest our souls and tempt our hearts. Two years is not a very long time, but it can feel like an eternity when you are walking with someone who hates God and sometimes hates you too.

Then one day she was crafting a wooden baby Jesus for a nativity scene present and the God she’d crafted in her own image all her life became real. We joke about her blood on the lamb, but four hours in an emergency room on Christmas Eve was no joke. God became flesh and dwelt among her, in her, and through her. And she was changed.

I won’t deny I have been holding my breath for weeks, afraid to let it out. But today is the two-year anniversary of her coming to Texas and the two month anniversary of the day that everything changed for her.

God saved her. I got to watch the change, but I was powerless to save.

She is so much like me in so many ways, and so much like others in so many ways, but she is more and more like Jesus and the Spirit inside of her than anyone else.

I tell someone the other day that she is my letter, like Paul said of the Corinthians, “You are our letter, written on our hearts, known by all.” But not my letter, written by me for others, but “a letter from Christ delivered by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.”

Her disciple-making is from and by Christ alone, I merely, as my pastor says, “got to play.”

Mini-me making is a passing fancy. Disciple making is a long-suffering joy.

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A few weeks back I sat across from one of my pastors while he delivered the news of my deficit. The words came in a halting tumble, the words of a messenger, not the accuser. “Do you see evidence of this in your life,” he asked. I let out my breath because no accuser is louder than the enemy in my own head. I am all those things and more, the list never stops, never ceases; pile on the claims and I will swallow every one.

“I have heard the claims,” I said, and I’ve been checking my heart and home and hearth to see if there is any wicked way in me.

He leaned in as I recounted the weeks leading up to this moment and when I finished he said, “Why didn’t you tell me?”

“I didn’t want to bother you,” I said, because it was the truth, but also because I was afraid.

. . .

I don’t remember when it was that I realized if God knit me together, with all my parts and pieces, then he knit me together with all my proclivities and purposes. That the same careful attention he gave to my shape and my size, he gave to my mind and my heart.

For the girl who had only ever known a deep and turning angst in her soul, this made a poem out of a pauper. I had always wrested with depression, anxiety, an unnerving panic at inopportune times. But I had also seen purpose and beauty and a haunting art to all of life too. The horrible badness about me cut me deep enough to let the piercing lightness all the way in.

Even the mundane moments, the 10,000 little moments, all of them little crosses, little funerals, the little concerns rising—these all turn me again and again to Him.

. . .

“There is an impulsivity to you,” he said. “It’s part of what makes you a treasure to us. You’re, what’s the word, bohemian? Never going to go with the flow, always on the fringe, an artist. As you submit your weaknesses to us, I don’t want you to lose the treasure of those perceived weaknesses. It’s what makes you you.”

. . .

It has taken me a very long time to learn—and I haven’t learned, but am learning—that the world is full of people to whom one way makes sense. Wrestle this way, no, not that way, this way. Be this way. Stand over here. Be this. Eat that. Don’t go there. Advice is a thousand times more common than real affirmation and real affirmation is so heavy laden with flattery we most times can’t see anything straight.

And this we know: in our weakness, He is glorified. In our weakness, He is made strong. In every way we cannot do, it is because He has done. In every “I don’t know,” or “I have failed,” He says, “Come to me all you who are heavy laden.” And in this we rejoice.

I did not rejoice, sitting there, across from a pastor who loves me, knows me, who is for me, and, which is more, who is for Christ formed in me. Who of us rejoices when we hear our accusation? But I rejoiced later and 10,000 times since. Every day a reminder that I have miles to go before I arrive at eternity’s door. Every day a reminder that God knew what He was doing when he knit me—just as I am and full of so much more.

As he passed by,
he saw a man blind from birth.
And his disciples asked him,
“Rabbi, who sinned,
this man or his parents,
that he was born blind?”

Jesus answered,
“It was not that this man sinned,
or his parents,
but that the works of God
might be displayed in him.
John 9:3

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When I was in high school I read the A.W. Tozer quote, “The most important thing about a man is what he thinks about when he thinks about God.” There’s no way I could have known that what I thought about God then, and would think about him for the next decade, would run my shred of faith straight into the ground.

I cannot begrudge my misunderstandings. Sometimes we have to subtract until we’ve reached negative space before we can add what is true and holy and right and good. I would dive back into the depths of darkness once again without a second thought if I knew I would surface with the riches I found in 2010. And those riches?

His character. Namely, what I thought about when I thought about God.

Since 2010 these attributes are my buoys, my buffers, my strong-tower, my defense, my comfort, and my control. When all around me is sinking sand, I know who my God is in His unchangeableness. He is immoveable, unshakeable, ever present, and always good.

Whenever what I think about God is incorrect and it informs how I think about everything else, I sink and quickly. But when my soul feasts on the truths of his character and his attributes, I am sustained. The most important thing about a man is what he thinks about when he thinks about the most important things about God.

Joe Thorn’s new book, Experiencing the Trinity: the grace of God for the people of God, does such a fine and succinct job of displaying God’s character and I hope you’ll consider grabbing one of these small books for yourself. Actually, what I hope you’ll do is what I’ve done with his small book, Note to Self, and buy fifteen copies to give away. So many of us are limping along in our faith, with our eyes set on circumstances or ourselves. How much better to forget ourselves and see Him, robed in truth and beauty, splendor and goodness?

Lift up your eyes to the hills,
where your help comes from,
the maker of heaven and earth!
Psalm 121:1

One of the reasons I’m grateful for my male friendships is because they press me in issues from different points of view. Paul Maxwell is one such guy and Christianity Today published some of the results of our conversations this week. We co-authored this piece on modesty and the yoga pants phenomenon that’s taken the female fashion trend by storm. I hope no matter where you land on the subject of female modesty and male lust, you’ll take a few minutes to read. Yes, we know there are far more important issues in the world, but we believe that global mindedness begins with being personally submitted in the small things. Enjoy! 

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She comes in the coffee shop like she does every day. In every shape and size and age. She just worked out, she just had a baby, she just got out of bed, she’s headed out for the night, she is running errands. She is every woman—she’s you and she’s me. And she’s wearing yoga pants.

“There’s just not much left to the imagination,” thinks the guy sipping his coffee. “Not much extra room for the Holy Spirit.” He works hard to exercise discernment and accountability for the issues he had with porn in past years. He has a wife who isn’t getting younger. He has a fiancée with whom he is trying to maintain purity. He is inundated with flashy ads intended to wire male brains to think one thing about the female form. He is every man—he’s you and he’s me. And he’s surrounded by women in yoga pants.

The question of whether yoga pants are appropriate attire to wear in public has swirled online in recent years, following the garment’s rise in popularity as a casualwear staple. For millions of women, yoga pants are “the new jeans,” worn well beyond the yoga studio and gym.

Among Christians, these form-fitting pants get wrapped in the modesty debate, most recently with a viral post from a blogger sharing her conviction to stop wearing yoga pants and leggings. Then came responses with treatises on freedom and morality and lust and modesty culture. And defenses. And cynicism. And hysteria. And spite

And here we are, fighting about yoga pants.

Rather than taking sides and settling for boundaries or restrictions, we—as women and men—can talk about what it means to approach these conversations with a biblical ethic that respects the people involved, their bodies, and their sexuality, all of which were made by God and declared good. As a girl and guy following the back-and-forth, we see how parts of this debate aren’t actually up for debate.

Continue reading to hear our surprising take on the modesty discussion. 

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Our living room is dark. I have already done the nightly ritual of light-switches and locks. The blankets are folded in their corner basket and the kitchen is cleaned.

Every night we put our home to sleep and I pray over it. The kitchen that nourishes our bodies, the dining room that nourishes our souls, the front room that nourishes our friends, the living room that nourishes our minds, and our bedrooms that nourish our rest. We know the role of a home is not for us to serve, mastered by it and its demands for bigger and better, but a home is to serve us and the ministry before us.

These days the ministry before us is one another and we are not always faithful, but we love one another, love well and hard.

. . .

“Do you ever cry,” one of our honorary High Chapel House girls asks me yesterday. I think hard because the truth is she saw the tears in my eyes only moments before, where they rise every day without fail as she and the other girls come home one by one. “I cry,” I say. “But not for very long or very hard. I ask God that he would give me tears though. Sometimes I could use a good cry.”

This afternoon I pulled in our driveway, walked into our empty house, and I felt the tears welling up in my eyes. “Is this it?” I asked God. “All this time and you’re going to make me cry over a silly, impersonal exchange I had today? Something no one else thought anything of?”

But something about home stopped those tears and planted peace there instead.

. . .

There is nothing magical about our home and we are plenty flawed, trust me, each one. Yet in this home there is no onslaught toward us, we are for one another and for the hope the gospel offers today and the sanctification the gospel offers tomorrow. I am reckless in how much time I give to the girls in that way and some judge me for it. But I have seen nothing but good fruit in it, the steady, faithful work of the gospel taking root in all of our lives day by day, degree by degree.

There are no fast tracks to discipleship here, just a present peace and a palpable purpose, and today that peace and purpose disciplined me. Reminded me of who Christ is and how He saves and sanctifies and redeems within the hospitality of a home. And how the essence of the gospel is hospitality, and therefore home.

Tonight as I pray for our home and the bedded bodies in it, I pray that we would use our home to serve others and one another, but that our Father would use our home to serve us, his beloved children.

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Someone asked me how to fall out of love with her ex-boyfriend. “You don’t,” I said. “The problem is not that you love him too much, it’s that you love everything else too little.”

What sets marriage apart from every other relationship is not the love between a man and a woman (although that love is a mystery, who can comprehend it?), it is merely covenant. Love waxes and wanes, ebbs and flows, and there are some days when we barely love ourselves let alone love others. Covenant binds the man and woman together when love seems an impossible venture.

So how do you fall out of love? What if your heart has been broken, your boyfriend didn’t love you back, your girlfriend couldn’t make her ardor match yours? What if you’re the one standing there, empty hearted while they make off with both theirs and yours? In the absence of covenant, how do you fall out of love then?

You don’t.

Oh, there will be some sorting that needs to happen, some grasping and understanding. You will need to be able to discern what about your relationship was idolatrous or lustful and what was good and holy and right and true. You will need to be able to repent for loving the wrong things too much and the right things too little. But you will also need to be able to understand the nature of real love, biblical love, means you cannot stop loving another person, not ever.

The problem is not that we love them too much, but that we love others too little. We do not extend to them the same grace or walk with the same long-suffering. We are perhaps guilty of objectifying or only loving the way someone made us feel—and this is not love, but a cheap counterfeit, flimsy and fleeting, and we ought to fall out of that.

Falling out of love is an anti-Christian idea. Christians must love all the more—even and especially the ones who deserve it the least.

If you are standing somewhere, nursing a broken and bleeding heart, know this: God is willing and working His goodness in that brokenness. But also know this, the way through this is to love others with the same fervor and intensity and selflessness that you brought to your relationship. Nurture them, encourage them, delight in them, enjoy them. As your capacity to love grows, you will find that former flame no longer burning higher than all the others, but a mere light along the path that brought you into the most full and robust love there is. The love of God.

“I think God wants us to love Him more, not to love creatures (even animals) less. We love everything in one way too much (i.e. at the expense of our love for Him) but in another way we love everything too little….No person, animal, flower, or even pebble, has ever been loved too much—i.e. more than every one of God’s works deserve.” C.S. Lewis

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The muse used to keep me awake at night, pestering me with sentences too lovely to ignore, ideas too undeveloped to leave alone. Every conversation was his food, every challenge his dessert. He was relentless in my ear and eye, every “common bush was aflame” with possibility, every pedestrian thought was flint for his fire. I couldn’t not write. To not write was to not breathe.

The muse bedded himself a year or more ago. He comes out sometimes, when the moon is too lovely to ignore or my breath catches at the end of a poem, but mostly he hides. He is petulant and I want to drag him out, but a muse cannot be dragged.

Anne Lamott says the main work of writing is “butt in chair,” and that is the truest thing I know about writing, but I wonder sometimes if it is not so much the discipline of being still as much as it is the muse can find me better when I am still.

I am so easily distracted, like the Lewis quote everyone always mentions, “playing with mud pies,” ignorant of the offered holiday at sea. The mudpies feel more my style, the distractions, the things I know I can fill my time and energy with, but they mostly steal my time and suck my energy. They are not givers, not like my muse was once a giver. He was generous with his giving.

The muse comes most often when I listen for him and then give him permission to speak and then obey his words, no matter the cost. I have fit myself into a mold of writing because I listen more to the reader than the muse, and everyone says this is what we must do: to be writers we must write to the readers. I love my readers—I love you—but I loved my muse more, selfish as that sounds. I trusted him because I knew him and he knew me and we knew how to make beauty together. I have missed the beauty he knew how to knit and spin and bring, the poetry he made of everything.

“I have this against you,” Jesus said, “that you have forgotten your first love.” He was speaking to the church at Ephesus and speaking of the things they had loved once more than they loved themselves, namely the Holy Spirit. I have not forgotten my first love but I have forgotten how he roams in quiet places and times and is a giver and lover and comforter and helper. And how he helps with even the small things like writing and keeping my butt in my chair and seeing beauty in every thread of this steady, monotonous, straight line of a life.

Once a painting professor assigned me a project in which I could only use two colors for the piece. He told me, “Constraints are good. They teach you to use your imagination.” As in art, so in life.

Today is one of those days where from the blare of the alarm until this present second I feel the demand of living. It’s nothing unusual, it’s just life and the pressing of it. Demands, needs, hopes, tears, fears—some mine, most not, but belonging to those I love and therefore still mine. I don’t know how to use my imagination when what’s in front of me just seems to be so mundane and monochromatic, constraining and constricting. I feel kept and caught, and I’m questioning the great Artist for giving me this palette with which to paint my canvas of life.

David knew what I feel, and maybe what you feel too,

“Oh, that I had wings like a dove!
I would fly away and be at rest;
yes, I would wander far away;
I would lodge in the wilderness;
I would hurry to find a shelter
from the raging wind and tempest.”

David felt a very real constraint—the threat of death on his life—and maybe my constraints today aren’t of equal kind, but I think they’re similar.

Living within constraints means dying to myself and my desires, my demands and my mood. It means the temptation to run away, to live outside the boundaries God has given me and put me in, will be pressing and constant. Psalm 16 says the boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places. That means God has designed this day perfectly within His bounds and it is a delight—I only need to trust the artist who made it so.

Where are you finding yourself stretching at the boundary lines today? Where are you frustrated with the lot you’ve been given? The lack of finances? The lack of marriage prospects? The lack of children? The presence of children? The office building? Instead of running away or standing on the edge, stretching for more, why not live within today’s constraints and trust the Maker of heaven and earth?

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In recent months I’ve been convicted about the little foxes that ruin the vineyard of my heart. I have a bit of a tender constitution to some things I see on media, or hear about from others, but I realized my propensity to mindlessly watch popular shows containing nudity was growing in the past year. I wasn’t watching them for the nudity, but I was still complicit in their popularity. I like smart writing and good character development and there are a few movies I enjoyed this year that contained brief scenes that would be better left out of both the film and and my heart.

In my singleness I have let my heart grow cold in this area, telling myself that because I didn’t have a man’s heart to protect while viewing, it was okay to just gloss over the scenes. I was watching it for the story after all.

Like those who read Playboy for the articles?

Recently I heard John Piper speak on watching nudity of any kind in any media. He gives twelve reasons why we should be “radically bold, sacrificially loving, God-besotted freaks, aliens—saying no to the world for the sake of the world.” The world doesn’t need more copies of itself.

I’m sharing his twelve points here and I hope you’ll take a few minutes to listen to him and commit to not watch nudity of any kind. It’s nearly impossible if you watch any popular show or movie, but it’s a sacrifice our hearts desperately need and one Christ asks for.

1. Jesus died to purify me and his people. It is a travesty of the cross to think he only forgave us for the sin of watching nudity, but did not purify us for the power not to watch it. Titus 2:14

2. There is in the bible a radical call for holiness of mind and heart and life. Nudity in photos and movies is not holy and does not advance our holiness. I Peter 1:15, II Corinthians 7:1

3. Jesus said everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with his heart. Seeing naked women and men causes men and women to sin with their minds and desires, and often with their bodies. If Jesus told us to guard our hearts by gouging out our eyes to prevent sin, how much more would he say “Don’t watch it.”

4. Life in Christ is not mainly the avoidance of evil, but mainly the passionate to pursue good. My life is not a constrained life, it is a free life. We were called to freedom, don’t use freedom as opportunity for flesh. Philippians 4

5. I want to see and know God as fully as possible. Watching nudity is a huge hinderance to that pursuit. Matthew 5:8 says, “Blessed are the pure in heart, they shall see God.” The defilement of the mind by watching nudity dulls the heart’s ability to enjoy God

6. God calls women to adorn themselves to adorn themselves with modesty. When we pursue, receive, or embrace nudity, we are implicitly endorsing the men and women who sell themselves this way. I Timothy 2:9

7. Most Christians are hypocrites in watching nudity because they say watching it okay, but they know deep down they wouldn’t want daughter or wife to be playing this role.

8. Nudity is not like murder and violence on the screen, that’s make-believe, nobody gets killed, but nudity is not make-believe. These actors are really naked in front of the camera and millions of people.

9. Sexual relations is a beautiful thing; God created it and called it good. It is not a spectator sport. It is a holy joy, sacred, in its secure place. Men and women who want to be watched in their nudity are in the category with exhibitionists.

10. There is no great film that needs nudity to add to its greatness. There are creative ways to be true to the story without turning sex into a spectator sport and putting people in morally compromising situations on the set. It’s not art that puts nudity in, it’s the appeal of what sells.

11. Christians do not watch nudity with a view to maximize holiness. What keeps Christians coming back is the fear that if they took Christ at his word, and made holiness as seriously as I’m saying it is, they would be viewed as freakish.

12. There is one biblical guideline that makes life simple: Roman 14:23. “But whoever has doubts is condemned if he eats, because the eating is not from faith. For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.” If you doubt, don’t. This would alter the viewing habits of millions and oh how sweetly they would sleep with their conscience at rest.

Note: if you struggle with a pornography habit and are actively seeking freedom from that, I pray this post doesn’t condemn you further, but that it lessens the appeal of porn and gives you greater things to look toward. The way to fight sin is to replace it with what is better, holier, and far more satisfying. Christ is better. He is.

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When the Lord saw that Leah was hated, he opened her womb, but Rachel was barren. And Leah conceived and bore a son, and she called his name Reuben, for she said, “Because the Lord has looked upon my affliction; for now my husband will love me.”  

The first child brought Leah vindication: God saw her pain and would perhaps legitimize her to her husband.

She conceived again and bore a son, and said, “Because the Lord has heard that I am hated, he has given me this son also.” And she called his name Simeon.

The second child brought Leah comfort: God heard her cry and acknowledged that she was hated.

Again she conceived and bore a son, and said, “Now this time my husband will be attached to me, because I have borne him three sons.” Therefore his name was called Levi.

The third child brought Leah a bargaining chip: God seemed to be vacant, so she fought for his attention.

And she conceived again and bore a son, and said, “This time I will praise the Lord.” Therefore she called his name Judah. (Genesis 29:31-35)

The fourth child was Leah’s praise: All the vindication, comfort, and bargaining in the world can’t bring the gospel to earth. She named him Judah, of the lineage of Jesus.

Rachel was loved, Leah was hated, but God brought the Lion of Judah through the loins of Leah. God doesn’t waste your suffering.

 

Like the amputee who still feels pain in his phantom limb, I feel the trepidation of misdirection and mis-decision. I made so many poor decisions in the past year and a half that the choice-making part of my brain feels incapable of going straight in any direction.

On January 1st I will sit with my journal and Bible and ask myself the list of questions I ask every January 1st. I will take stock and inventory of 2014 and look toward 2015 with a hope-filled eye. (God, make it so.)

A friend sat across from me the other day and asked why I can’t just get excited about this new season. Life is about to grow crammed with a new job and classes, plus the things already cramming it full and brimming it over. Yet I feel the phantom pains of the missing limbs: the marriage that didn’t happen, the move that didn’t happen, the date that didn’t happen, the conversation that didn’t happen. I have no regrets and I know the gangrene growing on those limbs would have eaten the whole of my body alive. But I feel the loss of them still.

To say those words, right out loud, feels shameful and sinful.

The things for which I am grateful are overwhelming, but they all came at great cost this year. This is perhaps the first time I can look systematically at good and see how it was brought about by death first.

. . .

This morning I read in Isaiah 11, “There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse.” Tears fill my eyes and I can’t keep reading because I see the stump legs and stump arms protruding from my person. All I see is cut off limbs, life interrupted, and it wasn’t supposed to be like this.

From that stump, though, comes a shoot. And from that shoot comes fruit.

All week I have been meditating on what it means to be cut from and pruned. I have done the work of pruning before, cutting branches that do not bear fruit so they will bear more and better fruit. I know the difficult work of taking what is live and making it live better. But I cannot bring life from a stump, I cannot make a dead and severed thing live again. This is the work of the Spirit alone.

On that fruit the Spirit of the Lord will rest,

The fruit that is borne in me through Him will be wholly His, not mine.

the Spirit of wisdom and understanding,

He has ultimate wisdom for every path in my life, and full understanding of the details.

the Spirit of counsel and might,

He is the one with words of comfort and strength. His advice directs me, and his power carries me.

the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.

He knows all and is King over all.

He shall not judge by what his eyes see

He will not fret on January 1st at the year to come.

or decide disputes by what his ears hear.

He does not hold the past year against me. He keeps no record of my wrongs.

. . .

I once had a dream in which I arrived at Heaven with no arms and legs. When Christ asked me, “Child, what made you like this?” I answered, “You said, ‘If our hand offends you, cut it off.’ Every time I looked at my arms and legs, all I could think of was the harm they’ve done to myself and others, so I either cut them off or served with them until they fell off.” I do not know what Christ looks like, but I will never forget the care I saw in his eyes in that dream. It was perhaps the first time I felt the love of a Father. He touched the stumps of my arms and legs and gave to me new ones, but they were not mine and this was clear to me. They were wholly un-of me and wholly of Him.

This is the shoot that comes forth from death. Christ.

God, make it so.

design (7)

“What would take you away from Texas?” he asked and I paused. It’s a good question, but it isn’t the right question. “The real question,” I said, “is what would make me stay?”

And I can’t answer that.

Planes, trains, and automobiles have been my home the past four months. I have traveled thousands of miles, had my affections stirred by mountains on the east coast, the southwest, far countries, and from airplane window seats. I have laughed hard, lived well, come home for short spurts of time, and it has been good. But tomorrow I go home for a long time and I cannot wait.

One who knows me well, who has survived my transient feet and wandering heart, said to me recently, “Lo, sometimes I think the thing that would make being in Texas okay is for you to just decide you’re going to be here for a long time.” Those words, and the question above, have been constants in my mind the past few weeks.

Zack Eswine, in his book, Sensing Jesus (which you should buy right now and buy for everyone you know), says, “The quickest way to get home is to stay there.” Zack isn’t making a case for staying when God says “Go,” but he is making a case for staying still in a world full of reasons to leave.

The past five months, since the signing of the lease, I have been begging God for a reason to leave. The list is long and the opportunities many, but the longer the list grew, the more my love for here grew. I told a friend yesterday that I thought it was sweet of God to give me that love as a going-away present. “You’re terrible at putting things where they belong,” she said while laughing at me. What if that love is God’s call to stay?

I can’t ask that question without feeling an overwhelming sense God’s love for me. It has been a long, long time since I’ve felt His love—I can mark the date and time when it started to unravel for me and it hasn’t stopped. Lesser loves, golden calves, little foxes, and craven images: these crept in with aggressive and deceptive stealth. Always seeming to be good and always falling short.

For a long time I have felt the withholding of good things in my life, feeling as though God would give me a fish or bread only when I could not be sustained without them. That he would only give me necessary gifts, but not just-because gifts.

Charles Spurgeon said, in this morning’s Morning & Evening,

If all these things are to be had by merely knocking at mercy’s door, O my soul, knock hard this morning, and ask large things of thy generous Lord. Leave not the throne of grace till all thy wants have been spread before the Lord, and until by faith thou hast a comfortable prospect that they shall be all supplied. No bashfulness need retard when Jesus invites. No unbelief should hinder when Jesus promises. No cold-heartedness should restrain when such blessings are to be obtained.

Generous Lord, I’m knocking. I’m knocking for a great many things, but I’m knocking most of all for the belief that you are not only a God who gives what is necessary for life, but a God who gives what is abundantly beyond what is necessary.

Tomorrow I get on a plane to fly home from these New Mexico hills. I am homesick for my home in Texas—and that is a miracle, a secreted blessing I’m thanking Him for. But even more, I am homesick for Texas, for the people I love there, the church I can’t believe calls me to it, the coffee-shop where I belong, the small pockets of joy, the conversations that bring me life and the life I can bring in return. That is abundantly beyond my expectations from late July when I only resented Him for making me stay.

I am learning the beauty of stilled feet.

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Look right at me, my pastor says in every sermon at least once. Look right at me.

. . .

Here is what I know about looking:

When I was young, rebellious and caustic, rolling my eyes at my parents at age 10 and sneering at them by age 15, they would say, “Look at me when I’m talking to you,” and I felt seen, exposed.

I knew I was already seen and exposed, but I felt it. I felt it when I saw their disappointment or disapproval or anger at me. When I saw it in their eyes. I felt that. I felt every weight and every sin and every bit of my flesh rolled up and held in their parental gaze. And I looked away. I could not hold that look for long, my sin was too great, their anger too heavy.

. . .

When I meet someone, I am desperate for them to know I come in peace, a white flag flown above my head, no judgement, no notions, just me, simple, honest. I am not correcting their grammar or parsing their theology. I am not gathering ammunition for a future war. I look them in the eye, hold their gaze.

Once a week, sometimes more, someone tells me my eyes are intense, piercing into their soul. I feel ashamed of my eyes in those moments, not grateful for them. They are so blue, people say, and I can’t know my own eyes, but so blue eyes in others seem to see straight through—and I see nothing straight through.

I love that you look me in the eye, a friend said. So many people, they look away, but you don’t. You look.

But that’s when I look down, because the truth is I will look at you until you speak something beautiful and true, or difficult and true, and then the beauty is too much for my eyes to hold.

. . .

I am thinking about God today and how He keeps watch. He looks. He holds our gaze when we cannot because we are ashamed or fear-filled or angry. He looks when we are sad or tired or frustrated. He looks.

And more than that, and I am just getting this, He wants us to look right at Him too. The fullness of us looking right at the fullness of Him.

Do you know what I feel when my pastor says, “Look right at me?”

I feel loved. I feel seen. I feel known. I feel like he’s saying, “Hey, look at me and let’s look at the Father together.”

God, help me look at people today, not so that they look back at me, but so that we look at You.

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