Thursday, December 23, 2010

Celebrate His death and rising.

"Therefore, my brethren, you also were made to die to the Law through the body of Christ, so that you might be joined to another, to Him who was raised from the dead, in order that we might bear fruit for God."

I hadn't read this passage in a long time. Romans is a rather intimidating book, but I've been working through it for the second time, hoping that my life experiences and openness to the Holy Spirit since the last reading will highlight new truths for me.

The bit above follows laws about marriage: A woman is only allowed to remarry if her husband has died. Any other circumstance is immoral. While that is interpreted a little differently these days (and is a sticky topic I'll sidestep right now), it's clearly a metaphor, too. Before we knew Christ, we were married to the Law. And it's not until the Law has died completely in us that we can "marry" our True Love. I think that happens instantaneously (the moment we accept Christ) and slowly (as we learn what it means to live under grace). We're mistake-prone and creatures of habit - a new life in Christ requires building new habits to override the old.

But that's where this one gets interesting: we cannot die to the Law on our own; we need the body and blood of Christ. And it is Him to whom we are married after we have been removed from the Law. And Christ is our perfect example: He Himself died to the Law, and raised Himself from the dead - abolishing the Law and establishing grace.

It's a mystery, really, and I know that I'll never fully understand until I stand face-to-face with my Father, Saviour, and Husband.

Input from the outside.

I was re-reading the Spiritual Klutz blog by Joshua Rogers this morning. He's a breath of fresh (honest) air these days. And I like his opinions on dating, marriage, and singles in the contemporary church. For instance, here's the end of his recent series on dating: Man Enough to Love a Real Woman. I found him after some reading on Don Miller's blog, and landed on Spiritual Klutz's Time for a Breakup page. It was a really convicting perspective on my single mindset and heart.

I'm weary lately of trying to prompt myself into new ideas. I've been reading Romans, and boy is that dense! So I'm switching it up a little. We're reading Blackaby's "Experiencing God" for small group. A friend gave me "The History of Grace" sermon by Tim Keller, and I'm going to listen to a couple Calvary messages I haven't heard in a while (or ever).

Song to end on: Lay 'Em Down, by Needtobreathe.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Tis the season and all that.

I'm struggling this year to find my holiday spirit. Maybe. Maybe I'm actually in the right spirit for Christmas. Here's the deal:

My littlest brother got married last week, and they won't be back from their cruise until after Christmas. Because of the timing, the grands and Aunt Ruth are not coming to Chattanooga for Christmas - for the first time in 23 years. For the first time in 26 years, I have a real and very wonderful boyfriend, and we won't be together for the holiday either. Middle brother planned his vacation time for last week and now has to work all around Christmas and thus won't be coming with us to the grands' for the weekend. And on top of all that, the grands have asked I not bring my puppy - so he's going with the boyfriend.

But what I'm beginning to think is that the holiday spirit isn't one of "everything's perfect - we're all together and getting exactly what we want." I think it's more of "Father! Everything's falling apart, so we lean on You and on the promise of Christmas - God with us."

That's a pretty radical approach, when you start to think about it. I have to be very aware of my own brokenness and incompetence to rely fully on God. And American consumerism tells us that the holidays are all about getting and giving [good things that make you look good] - we cover our dirty, useless selves in shiny paper and ribbons and huge price tags and pretend to not see what we really are.

But this idea of Emmanuel, of God with us, blows away all the tinsel and wrappings and glitz. It says that the most important part of the holiday is that I know who my Savior is, not that I get what's on my list.

Stick with me this weekend - I'm flinging myself into the Father's arms. I'm a little fuzzy right now (DayQuil will do that to a person), but I want to keep exploring this idea.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

We wait impatiently and with anticipation.

The boyfriend and I have been talking a lot lately about trusting God's perfect will in our lives, and stepping back out of the way to let Him do what He's got planned. And as we talk, those lessons I learned last year are bubbling to the surface again. My faith in God is increased by remembering how many giants He's killed in my past. And my joy is returning (I vaguely remember saying months ago that something just wasn't quite right in my heart). It's good to be reminded.

And then Oswald does it again. I've been praying a lot about getting myself out of the way in order to let God in (which is very hard to do on your own, you should know). He says the one thing that keeps us from God is us. But this last paragraph caught my heart in the anticipation of God's handiwork in my life:

"Any problem that comes between God and myself springs out of disobedience; any problem, and there are many, that is alongside me while I obey God, increases my ecstatic delight, because I know that my Father knows, and I am going to watch and see how He unravels this thing."

Friday, December 10, 2010

Forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward.

In my reading this morning, Paul grabbed me by the throat:

"Not that I have already obtained [resurrection from the dead] or have already become perfect, but I press on so that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus."

A bit of background: I've never liked Paul. He's smug, self-righteous, strict, and even a bit grandiose. In college, I purposely took a class on the writings of Paul, and announced to the group that I was there because I didn't like Paul. By the end of the class, I respected him, but I am still not a fan. There's something about him that doesn't make sense in my mind, and I can't really explain it.

That being said, I think that his contribution to Scripture was one of the most practical and nitty-gritty additions and that faith in Christ probably could not grow to a higher stage without Paul's teachings. Thus this morning, when he choked me out.

It was the "laid hold of" part. I'm familiar with the terminology on our end of things: we spend our entire lives reaching for that thing that we're promised, that's just beyond our fingertips. Should we ever encounter it, we would be certain to lay hold and never let go.

But the thought that Jesus Christ laid hold of me... and not at all because I was convenient or amusing or good. He laid hold of me for a purpose - His purpose. Which means I am valuable, I matter; He has me and will not let go because I am that thing He has been pursuing. And I am shaken.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Always on the tip of my tongue.

I think this is one of the hardest phases of spirituality that we ever go through: maintaining. It comes after I've learned a significant lesson about my Father (or in my case, several significant lessons - why do they always come in multiples?). And He is so kind and gracious - He walks me through the learning, holding my hand, encouraging me with each step.

But then this learning process reaches a point where I feel a little more confident in my self, and like a good Daddy, my Father steps back, releases my fingers from His hand. It's not that He's gone - He's near enough to catch me if I stumble - it's just that I need to learn to walk on my own a little.

This whole thing is a weird paradox: we are reminded throughout Scripture to be like little children, to depend fully on our Father, to lean into His arms and let Him carry us, but then we are encouraged, too, to be strong, stand firm, be ready to defend your faith, to work out your salvation... It seems like we can't be both.

But our faith is full of paradox. And I've found that most of the paradoxes unravel themselves when you start into them. For instance, as we set out to be more childlike, to lean on our Father, we become more confident - we are children secure in our Daddy's unconditional love for us. And even though we may appear to be strong and standing on our own, our strength comes in admitting our weakness.

Right now, I'm maintaining. I've come to understand so many new aspects of my Father and my faith in Him during the past year that my heart is overflowing with it all. (For the record, the learning never ends - I'm being taught how lovely I am to my Father, how to reflect His love to those around me.) And now a lot of what I'm being asked to do is be vigilant: remember the lessons, remember the pain, remember the joy of doing the right thing. Keep it always before your eyes. Walk in it every day.

And this part is the hardest, driest, least palatable part, I think. It's difficult to sustain emotions, and difficult to create desire. But right actions lead to right thinking, my dad says. And I believe he's right.

Friday, December 3, 2010

I tell no-one any story but his own.

It's frightening how desperately we crave acknowledgement, isn't it?

This deep-seated, very human need for recognition and validation has become more evident in the last decade (I think) thanks to Facebook, Twitter, MySpace - well, the advent of the Internet in general. There are billions of daily pleas that go out into that interstitial space, begging someone to respond.

Where does this craving come from? I think it stems less from a desire to be recognized and more from an emptiness. It's been called a "God-shaped hole." 

"Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like a mortal human being and birds and animals and reptiles...They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator." (Romans 1)

What if that human-shaped idol wasn't someone else, but ourselves? Idolatry meets narcissism.

Then we'd live in a world where everyone was out for Number One, was concerned with how they looked and how they felt and what they wanted, and was determined to satisfy themselves. A world where the other was tossed aside in favor of self, a world littered with "others"... oh, wait. We do live in that world.

Granted, there are kind souls and do-gooders and (dare I say it?) church people that bring a little light to such an oppressive picture. But they are (from what I can tell) spurred on by guilty consciences. And that motivation for helping others only effects limited change.

I always come back to C.S. Lewis: "If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world."

On an entirely separate tack: Re-reading the Chronicles of Narnia (after a 15 year absence), this time in chronological order. I'm brought to tears by how meaningful and dense the symbolism is in those books. I think I would never have been able to appreciate it as a child.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Strings around our fingers.

I was prompted into re-reading the Spiritual Klutz blog by Joshua Rogers this morning. He's a breath of fresh (honest) air these days. And I like his opinions on dating, marriage, and singles in the contemporary church. For instance, here's the end of his recent series on dating: Man Enough to Love a Real Woman. I found him after some reading on Don Miller's blog, and landed on Spiritual Klutz's Time for a Breakup page. It was a really convicting perspective on my single mindset and heart.

I'm weary lately of trying to prompt myself into new ideas. I've been reading Romans, and boy is that dense! So I'm switching it up a little. We're reading Blackaby's "Experiencing God" for small group. A friend gave me "The History of Grace" sermon by Tim Keller, and I'm going to listen to a couple Calvary messages I haven't heard in a while (or ever).

Song to end on: Lay 'Em Down, by Needtobreathe.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Oo, a shiny! What were you saying?

By the discipline of obedience I get to the place where Abraham was and I see Who God is. I never have a real God until I have come face to face with Him in Jesus Christ, then I know that "in all the world, my God, there is none but Thee, there is none but Thee." The promises of God are of no value to us until by obedience we understand the nature of God. We read some things in the Bible three hundred and sixty-five times and they mean nothing to us, then all of a sudden we see what God means, because in some particular we have obeyed God, and instantly His nature is opened up. (Oswald Chambers)

Then all of a sudden we get ourselves into a tighter mess than we could have imagined, and we throw our hands out, and we give up. That's a little more accurate than "all of a sudden we see what God means." And that act of surrender leads to obedience, and obedience gives us fuller access to God.

Man! That was a long time coming. I am a slow, slow learner. Literally traipsing, holding on to Daddy's hand and tripping over my feet and looking around and bending down to pick up shinies.

But I'm getting it. It's beginning to make sense. And more and more quickly, my instinct is to give up. I'm learning that if we keep even one finger on that thing - whatever it is - that we don't want to surrender, Dad's not going to force it out of our hands. He is infinitely patient; He will wait till we release it. But we are stubborn and do not realize how much we hurt ourselves by holding on. I can only imagine the tears in His eyes, the self-restraint that wants to remove the thorns and heal the wounds but waits until we are ready. What a tender, powerful love!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Look how humble I'm being! ...Oops...

In small group a couple weeks ago, we were talking about the irony of humility. We work and work for it, and we finally attain it only to realize that we're humble - and destroy the whole thing. I find it divinely humorous that we were created self-aware and then were asked to give up all awareness of self for others. But it's that striving, that process that shapes us - consciously or otherwise - into living channels of our Father's love.

Oswald (emphasis mine):
It is one thing to go through a crisis grandly, but another thing to go through every day glorifying God when there is no witness, no limelight, no one paying the remotest attention to us. If we do not want mediaeval haloes, we want something that will make people say - What a wonderful man of prayer he is! What a pious devoted woman she is! If you are rightly devoted to the Lord Jesus, you have reached the sublime height where no one ever thinks of noticing you, all that is noticed is that the power of God comes through you all the time...It takes Almighty God Incarnate in us to do the meanest duty to the glory of God. It takes God's Spirit in us to make us so absolutely humanly His that we are utterly unnoticeable.

I cannot fathom what that state of being might feel like, although I'm finding out quickly what it's like to truly want another's best. Now if the two - the selflessness and the power of God in me - can meld, perhaps then I'll understand a little.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

This smacks of fairy tale - and I love it.

Our story - as wandering into redeemed children of our Father God - is the best fairy tale story ever. Except that it's real. I think it's the story, the basis for all other stories, the heart of story.

And if my redemption story is a fairy tale - and Jesus is my Knight in shining armor, truly - then every love story is a dim reflection of the first love story.

It's funny, though - if I'm a princess, and my Knight in shining armor has already swept in and stolen my heart, why do I not live like a princess who is the center of her Knight's life? My life should reflect the grace and wealth and calm of a daughter of the King: I should be quick to love, quick to give and help, quick to soothe, quick to honor responsibility. And all this should flow out of the glorious knowledge that I am loved - truly and deeply and for every fiber of my being but especially for my heart.

As my every day life is beginning to change, I'm understanding more clearly how my Father sees me. And that tiny glimpse into His unfathomable heart has already undone me. Walls and reservations and fears that I didn't even know I was harboring are breaking up and drifting away. I'm also discovering just how deep the wounds of my past are, how jaggedly they have healed, how much pain they still manage to create in me.

As I follow You down this new and long-awaited path, I ask that Your heart beat within and around mine. Drench me in comprehension, compassion, and passion as Your Son's love drenched Him in blood. May those who look on at my life marvel at the difference in my love for them and for You. Father, though it hurts, continue bringing the unreachable places of my heart to the light. Heal them in Your perfect and gentle time. Assuage my fears; fight fiercely, Lord - save my heart and mind from the black darkness. Oh, my Rescuer, I owe You my life - take it; it is Yours.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

We serve a King who is able.

I'd forgotten how powerful the story Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego is. This morning I was listening to Shane & Shane and came to their song, "Burn Us Up." Watch this:

Burn Us Up - Shane & Shane (sorry for the chatting - best live recording I could find)

One line eats at my heart: "You have made us. Come and save us. We are Yours. But even if You don't... we will burn."

Daddy, I want faith unshakeable. I want to gladly lift my hands to heaven and say, "Burn me up."

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

O-bey. OOOO-bey. That's what they remember.

Bill Cosby reference in the title - sorry if it doesn't crack you up like it does me! Ok, I'm not sorry. Whatever.

Oswald is a butt-kicker, man. I've been fighting these last couple weeks to find motivation to empathy, to activity, and to engaging. Let me break that down a little bit:
Empathy - as followers of Christ, we're asked to have the same attitude as He did: He humbled Himself, but He also had compassion on the crowds. I hate how many times I walk away from a crowded place (whether it be work, church, or even the Sunday market) and want to kick myself for pretending to be an island. Who knows? Rather than a sliding glance, a direct smile may do more to soften someone's heart than preaching or tracts ever will. And I'm not afraid of interaction. I don't understand my recent troglodyte inclinations!
Activity - Being tired isn't an excuse, because I'm not. I have enough energy to split pallets and burn marshmallows. I hiked two hours Saturday, and I've cleaned my house. Plus I workout at the gym several times a week - I've got the energy to do what I want. It's lining up what I want with what my Father is doing. Someone explained it this way one time: Remember that verse in Psalms? "Delight yourself in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart." If your desires are His desires, how on earth could He deny you anything? But there's the trick - the delighting yourself in Him, the aligning your heart with the Heart of God.
Engaging - Kind of goes with empathy. If I want to touch people's lives, I have to step forward and talk to people, I have to love them the way Jesus loves me, I have to remember we really are all ragamuffins...but then I have to act out of that knowledge. Which means I've gotta get it lodged (wadged?) in my head first. And then - once I'm sure of all this - how do I do it?!

Back to Oswald and O-bey. I'll let him finish (he pierces my heart... truth'll do that, won't it?):
The Lord does not give me rules, He makes His standard very clear, and if my relationship to Him is that of love, I will do what He says without any hesitation. If I hesitate, it is because I love some one else in competition with Him, viz., myself. Jesus Christ will not help me to obey Him, I must obey Him; and when I do obey Him, I fulfil my spiritual destiny. My personal life may be crowded with small petty incidents, altogether unnoticeable and mean; but if I obey Jesus Christ in the haphazard circumstances, they become pinholes through which I see the face of God, and when I stand face to face with God I will discover that through my obedience thousands were blessed. When once God's Redemption comes to the point of obedience in a human soul, it always creates. If I obey Jesus Christ, the Redemption of God will rush through me to other lives, because behind the deed of obedience is the Reality of Almighty God.
(My Utmost for His Highest, Oswald Chambers, 1935, from

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Our story is the tale of a fool made wise.

This paragraph from Oswald Chambers caught my attention this morning:

When looking back on the lives of men and women of God the tendency is to say - What wonderfully astute wisdom they had! How perfectly they understood all God wanted! The astute mind behind is the Mind of God, not human wisdom at all. We give credit to human wisdom when we should give credit to the Divine guidance of God through childlike people who were foolish enough to trust God's wisdom and the supernatural equipment of God. (My Utmost for His Highest, Oswald Chambers (1935), 26 October; emphasis mine)

I can't explain to you how much I long for that phrase to describe my life: "Do you know Jess?"
"Yes, she's one of the most childlike fools I've ever met, but her trust in God's wisdom is unshakeable."

Granted, to the world, that's a very unflattering picture. But I've spent enough of my life (all of it) struggling to be independent, responsible, self-sufficient. And by the world's standards I was. But because I was measuring myself by those around me rather than by the One who made me, everything I got was hard-won and empty. I lived for four years in near-poverty (legally, I was in the absolute lowest tax bracket). And it took four years of misery, frustration, and self-loathing before I threw up my hands and said, "God, what You're asking me to do doesn't make any sense, but I'm choosing to trust You. I believe; help my unbelief."

I also can't explain to you how quickly my life reversed itself. It wasn't overnight (and believe you me, I still have to be responsible, independent, self-sufficient - just never alone, and never beyond help). It took over a year for the commitment to root itself in my heart. I often grew in leaps and then baby-stepped my way through months at a time.
And now I am in a place of remembering - keeping ever before me the long, long list of what Dad did for me, the things I learned. It's a place of trying daily to apply the lessons. That's the hardest part - the day-to-day. But every time I come to my senses and throw my voice heavenward and drag my eyes away from the rocky path in front of me, my Father is relentlessly merciful and overflowing in grace - He picks me up in His arms and carries me a ways so I can rest, and He can soothe my heart.

This all reminds me of 1 Corinthians 1: 

Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?
For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not come to know God, God was well-pleased through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe.
Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.
For consider your calling, brethren, that there were not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble;
but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong,
and the base things of the world and the despised God has chosen, the things that are not, so that He may nullify the things that are,
so that no man may boast before God.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Grow up into Him in all things.

Spurgeon's morning devotion was on Ephesians 4:15: Grow up into Him in all things. While Spurgeon is rather wordy and grandiloquent in his exemplification of this verse, his point is solid: a life hidden in Christ should not look the same from year to year.
I love his suggestion: curl up in Jesus' arms, rest your head on His chest, and soak in His grace. Reminds me of one of my favorite Shane & Shane songs:

He's the only one strong enough to lean
My heaviness against, the weight of all my sin.
Falling on a rock, leaning on a fortress -
Oh the wall of God, Jesus, He won't move.

On God I rest my salvation.
My fortress shall not be shaken.
My mighty rock and my glorious -
I lay my head upon His chest. On God I rest.

Monday, October 18, 2010

I cannot teach you how to pray in words.

Prayer again. 
I'm going to try and learn to do it by sheer dint of determination. My Dear Roommate suggested praying together in the mornings before work, and I jumped. I want to also start reading at night before I go to bed. It's just the in-between-times that I struggle with.
Dad has been sweet - He's given me music (which is a form of prayer, as long as it doesn't become background noise). The song "Oh How He Loves" has been a kind of anthem for me lately (and a lot of other people, it would seem). And this morning, first thing on Pandora was Relient K (I heart Relient K... could explain, but I'll save it for later):

Cause I’ve been housing all this doubt and insecurity,
and I’ve been locked inside this house - all the while You hold the key.
And I’ve been dying to get out and that might be the death of me.
And even though there’s no way of knowing where to go, I promise I’m going because
I gotta get outta here.
Cause I’m afraid that this complacency is something I can’t shake.
I gotta get outta here, 
And I’m begging You, I’m begging You, I’m begging You to be my escape.

That's the feeling I've had for weeks - I'm stuck inside myself, and there's nothing there but desert sand, a bound-less sea of nothing. I haven't cried in ages, and the image that comes to mind is a heart of stone. I've been afraid - afraid that this complacency is something I can't shake. And fear (wait, this is sounding familiar) has kept me from asking the One Who can help. *Sigh... we're slow learners, aren't we?

Kahlil Gibran, On Prayer:
You pray in your distress and in your need; would that you might pray also in the fullness of your joy and in your days of abundance.
I cannot teach you how to pray in words.
But you who are born of the mountains and the forests and the seas can find their prayer in your heart,
And if you but listen in the stillness of the night you shall hear them saying in silence,
"Our God, who art our winged self, it is thy will in us that willeth.
It is thy desire in us that desireth.
It is thy urge in us that would turn our nights, which are thine, into days which are thine also.
We cannot ask thee for aught, for thou knowest our needs before they are born in us:
Thou art our need; and in giving us more of thyself thou givest us all."

Monday, October 11, 2010

Swim 'til you drown; Know that we all fall down.

Prayer sucks.

But only because I'm not good at it, because it's a struggle.

In reality, prayer is "more powerful than any force of nature." And like all disciplines, it takes practice, dedication.

If my hunch is right, it's something like painting: you wander around, prepping canvases and arranging paint tubes and making fussy little charcoal sketches and shifting the lighting and selecting the right background music. You hesitantly mix a color or two, touch brush to canvas, mix another color, steel yourself against walking away, and continue to touch the canvas. And suddenly, it's five hours later and your canvas is bursting with color and your heart is so involved that you don't realize the music went off, the sun went down, and you missed dinner.

When I pray, I pray for this and that, mention all my family members, bring up my singleness, and remind myself of God's sovereignty and grace, then wander into another list of little things. I know that if I were to paint every day for hours at a time, not only would it get easier to pick up the brush and touch it to canvas, but my paintings would become more structured, more inviting, more artistic. And I get the feeling that if I could just learn to pray more often, every day for hours at a time even, prayer would be less like a visit to a nursing home patient and more like painting, or making love, or a white water kayaking trip.

I don't know this for sure, but this is what I hear some people saying, and a voice in my heart says, "That is true."

Friday, October 8, 2010

What saves a man is to take a step. Then another step.

I keep finding myself face-to-face with my failings lately.  I know things should change, and I try to change them, but I have not been asking for help from my Back Up like I used to.  I haven't been talking to Dad as often as I want to - it's like Frank said once, "We stop praying because things are kind of ok, and then when we think about praying it's scary and we don't want to so we put it off some more."

It's like being an artist: I have an idea - a beautiful, new idea - and I want desperately to start working on it, so desperately that I arrange all my tools and the bits that I'm going to use and set up the workspace and make the time in my calendar and then...Then I can't touch knife to paper, I can't properly mix the colors, I can't choose the bits that are most important.  And the thing that holds me back is fear.

I'm like that in relationships, too.  I spend time with someone, I like them and they like me, and we talk about being more serious.  And I want - I ache for - that.  But then it comes right down to it, and I start thinking about all the ways that I could hurt them or they could hurt me and how we'd be much safer if we waited or just didn't... Fear.

Since my last relationship ended, Dad's taught me a lot about fear.  Mostly in financial and job situations.  I am terrified of money - I loathe it.  But it's entirely necessary.  And I'm scared to interview, to start a new job, but new jobs mean pay raises, and pay raises mean more money, and more money means less fear (supposedly).  We worked through all that, He and I.  Now I have a new job and a good salary and more than I could have asked for.  And you'd think I could apply those lessons to relationships, to art, to life.  But I can't - at least not fully or well.

I'm taking steps at least - in a couple areas.  I'm working on hiring an illustrator for one of my shorter pieces.  And I'm going to try the NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) - it's November (and there are no penalties for failing - only good can come of that one).  And we're moving forward on house buying talks.  *Sigh.  Hi, my name's Jess, and I'm a chicken.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Unveiling more layers: Psalm 103.

I love Psalm 103.  I always find myself back there when I'm confused or tired or frustrated, reading it again and again.  I've been sick for days with no real signs of improvement, and I had a few minutes to myself this morning, so I turned to 103 (out of weariness and frustration).  I love how my Father follows up on what I'm learning!

Vs. 9-10: "He will not always strive with us, nor will He keep His anger forever.  He has not dealt with us according to our sins, nor rewarded us according to our iniquities."

Peace with God, abundant grace.  A reiteration of the things I learned Sunday.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

What's in your wallet? Not CapitalOne!

Sunday we had the privilege of hearing Dan Hickling speak at Calvary.  He's a pastor at Calvary Fort Lauderdale, and he's Frank's mentor.  I don't know why, but I always become apprehensive when he speaks, but at the end find myself completely taken with his message.

First, Dan asked us to write down the one nagging, sits-in-the-back-of-your-mind thing that we wrestle with when we're lying in bed at night. Then he asked, "What's in your spiritual wallet?"

Walking through Romans 5:1-5, he gave us five things to remember - things in our wallet to pull out when we need, when we fear, when we lag.

1. Peace with God.  There are two ideas working here: absence of conflict (we are no longer struggling against God); and being "face-to-face" (no issues, no fear, no dread - looking one another in the eye takes peace).

2. Access to Grace.  Again, two ideas: there's grace that saves us from our sins; and there's access to God's power in our moments of need - it is instantaneous, freely given, divine enablement.  Dan said (so appropriately), "I love that the thing which we need most is the thing we have most access to."

3. Hope in what's ahead.  "The glory of God" talks about heaven, the immediate presence of God (face-to-face!).  Compare: worldly hope has a degree of uncertainty to it; biblical hope is "an assurance that sees beyond the present conditions and circumstances!"

4. Transcendant perspective on trials.  Trials bring perseverance; perseverance develops character; character builds hope.  So those of us who believe that God is in control know that the trials eventually work for us, not against us.  "We're not dominated by what happens because we're dominated by Who is controlling it all."

5. The Holy Spirit.  I am not alone.  We are never alone!  God lives in us in the form of the Holy Spirit - he is our constant companion.  The worst punishment our prison systems use is solitary confinement - we cannot live alone.  But when we believe in Jesus, we are given a living, serving, internal friend, a help-meet.

I can't tell you how amazing this message was to me.  The word I wrote, the one that I am conscious of when I'm going to sleep, when I wake up, every few moments of my day, is "alone."  My fear of being alone affects the way I interact with my friends - I find myself peering into their reactions, searching for a guarantee that they will be my friend forever.  Every man I meet, I examine as a potential life companion - I don't want to be alone!  It filters into every aspect of my life, and I hate it, and I fear it.  Because what if I'm intended to be alone - to rely on God for everything?  That's a scary place to be, too.  Almost more scary than trying to make a broken, earthly relationship work for the rest of my life.

I don't have any profound revelations to add: Dan did a good job stating things clearly.  But I want to assure you - from my own personal experiences - no matter what skin your beliefs wear, what stage of life you are in, how big your fears or your sins, or how far from God you are, He is faithful to meet us.  Right there, in the middle of our mess, in our hopelessness, He comes and He touches our faces, and He reminds us of how unfathomable His love is for us.

For another perspective on God's wild love for us, check out the Spiritual Klutz's recent blog.

Monday, September 27, 2010

He's more than the Buddy-Jesus we'd sip coffee with.

Listened to Kenny Engles' message online this morning (I was camping all weekend and missed church).  Kenny is the family pastor at Calvary Chapel Chattanooga - his heart is incredibly sensitive, and his faith has been inspiring to all of us as we've watched him lead his family through his wife's struggle with cancer.  Anyway, I'll see if I can accurately convey the one idea that took me off-guard in his message.  And if it catches your attention, you can listen to the original here: Calvary Chapel Chattanooga.

Being in James 5, Kenny asked us to stop and take a heart test: when you read verse 8, what is your immediate, emotional reaction?

You too be patient; strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is near.

He tells a great story about his emotional reaction (listen to the sermon - haha!).  But then he outlines the difference between how we prefer to think of Jesus and how He is often described in Scripture, particularly in His return.  Jump to Revelation 19:

And I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse, and He who sat on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness He judges and wages war.
His eyes are a flame of fire, and on His head are many diadems; and He has a name written on Him which no one knows except Himself.
He is clothed with a robe dipped in blood, and His name is called The Word of God.
And the armies which are in heaven, clothed in fine linen, white and clean, were following Him on white horses.
From His mouth comes a sharp sword, so that with it He may strike down the nations, and He will rule them with a rod of iron; and He treads the wine press of the fierce wrath of God, the Almighty.
And on His robe and on His thigh He has a name written, "KING OF KINGS, AND LORD OF LORDS."

This is not the Jesus we picture!  James calls Him the Lord of Sabaoth - He is the Warrior King.  And the power He holds is beyond what our minds can even fathom.  Jump to Hebrews 1:3:

And He is the radiance of [God's] glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power.

Here's where my mind started to lose its grip on this idea: Jesus was with God in the beginning - He spoke all things into being, by the power of His word.  He has upheld everything in creation from that first moment of creation through this very moment by the same power - His word.

This power is evident in the scientific world, but scientists don't have a clear understanding of it - they call it the "strong force."  Inside every atom in the universe are clusters of positive neutrons.  Picture batteries: put two positives in near proximity and they literally resist each other, right?  On a nuclear level (inside an atom), the same thing is happening: the positive neutrons are in close proximity and their natural inclination is to explode away from each other.  However, there is a force at work inside every atom that holds these intensely opposed elements together.  This is the strong force - about 10/39th power times as strong as the power of gravity.  If that force were to diminish or somehow stop, every atom in the world would explode apart - we would literally be obliterated.  Kenny called it "a built-in self-destruct button."

But the amazing thing is, we don't self-destruct.  Every day, moment to moment, we are supported, we are upheld - our elemental structures are maintained.  Our Warrior King - by the power of His word - upholds creation.  How great is His love and mercy, 'cause Lord knows we all deserve to self-destruct...

But I will not tell you how long or short the way will be...

I'm struggling with grace this week - grace for myself (because I am such a mess, and Someone has shown me enormous grace), grace for those around me (because I am such a mess, and Someone has shown me enormous grace, and I am training my heart's response to also show that grace to others).

But we've been talking in our small group on Wednesday nights about love and what love looks like and where it comes from.  We've concluded (as, I think, my father so wisely pointed out several years ago) that if you act lovingly toward someone, eventually you will feel lovingly toward them.  It's not easy, and it's certainly not fun.  And the battle I have to fight against the bitter little voices in my head - I am only weary.

To finish the headline quote: "But I will not tell you how long or short the way will be, only that it lies across a river.  But do not fear that, for I am the great Bridge Builder."  I'm going to start re-reading the Chronicles of Narnia this week.  When we read them as children, they were a story.  But I'm realizing they are a story about Someone, and I want to taste Him.  

Thursday, September 23, 2010

And they are asking this of someone who finds it endlessly mysterious.

I spent my lunch hour perched on a rock by the river, a book open in my lap.  But I alternated between the lazy scrolling of words on the page and the black butterflies drifting through the kudzu.  Leaf-shaped, silver-sided fish glinted along the fallen logs in the shallows below me.  Three turtles scrambled up on a half-submerged tree, and I spent a lot of time watching their backs dry in the sun.  A secretive rustling in the leaves at my feet eventually materialized into a long, blue-tailed lizard who clawed delicately over a neighboring rock.

I was struck by how still everything was - almost as if the river absorbed unnecessary sounds and swirled them off downstream.  Even the traffic up the hill from me was hushed.  It was a beautiful christening of the first day of autumn, a cool drink of the peace I crave, a tree-filtered sunshine afternoon.

**Headline taken from Ann Beattie's essay, "Melancholy and the Muse" in Unholy Ghosts: Writers on Depression, by Nell Casey (2003).

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Master and Lord have little place in our vocabulary...

...we prefer the words Saviour, Sanctifier, Healer.  (Oswald)

It's true.  This month has been significant for me: birthday, and two anniversaries of sorts.
Anniversary One: September 1st of 2009 I embarked on a commitment to myself to do new things, to live a bolder and less fearful life, to step it up a bit.  September 1st I went alone to get my first tattoo.  And that was just the beginning.
Anniversary Two: My birthday weekend marks the one-year of a relationship - it began that weekend and ended (rather abruptly) three months later.  And somehow, in the space of a weekend, I gladly gave him a piece of my heart.

Here's the irony in all this: the tattoo - on my ribcage, over my heart - is an Old English word meaning "bound, fettered, captive" (hæftling).  At the beginning of September, I physically and permanently turned my heart over into the care and keeping of my Father.  I offered myself up to be mastered by Him.  And two weeks later, I took part of my heart back and gave it to a man.  He is a good man and deserves all the love and respect of a good woman, but it was not my place to give my heart away any longer.  I'd trusted it to Dad; taking it back only said I didn't trust Him.

It's been a long year.  God presented me with Abraham and Isaac's story over and over during those three months, asking, "Do you trust Me? Do you believe that I have better for you? Will you let Me be the One who makes decisions with your heart?"  I obeyed Him (with all the pieces of my broken heart).  It cost me sleep, energy, ten pounds (that I couldn't really afford to lose), passion, creativity - everything I was proud of in my life.  It cost me a friend.

But our Father never asks us for obedience only to pat us on the head and say, "Tha'll do."  He lavishes His love on us, slowly healing the self-inflicted wounds, reassuring us over and over that He is proud of us.  And His reassurances have not stopped: I finally have the job I've been asking for; enough money to live comfortably and maybe buy my own home; I have sweet, supportive friends; I have resources to help others.

But my Father didn't stop at blessing me - He still speaks directly to my heart, telling me He is indeed the Master.  Saturday morning, birthday weekend 2010, I spent at a community service project organized by our church.  The Trail of Tears motorcycle ride was kicking off as we got started, and my heart was heavy (a year ago I had been falling in love with a man who rode motorcycles, and loved puppies and sunsets, and whose laugh made my heart feel too big for my chest).  I had been praying for him all week and that morning in particular.  As our missions pastor kicked off our day in prayer, he added (almost as an afterthought), "And God, we ask that You protect these motorcycles and their riders, that You keep them safe and bless their efforts.  And God?  I ask that You would save each and every one of them."  Erik didn't know - how could he? - but my Master was telling me He heard my heart's cry.

How quick we are to doubt the good Master!

Monday, September 20, 2010

Who says reflection is only for New Years?

Calvary Chapel Chattanooga's sermon, from September 19, 2010: How to Live with No Regrets.  I hope you like Frank as much as we do!

I had a few minutes to myself last night when all my friends had left, the party had been cleaned up, the dishwasher was running, and a very tired puppy was curled in my lap.  And I was able to relax, to drink the stillness of my house, and to thank my Father for the day - and my life.

I have lived among you all for 26 years.  And looking back, one regret overwhelms the others: I wish that I had made up my mind earlier in my life, that looking back now, I would see a blazing trail of certainty and love instead of a shadowy, moonlit meander.

But it's a bittersweet regret: if I had been more firm, more decisive and sure, I would have missed so many relationships, so many opportunities to learn and grow.  And while the ache of those broken, hurtful relationships lingers in my heart, I wouldn't opt for a "do-over."  I love and miss each of them and am better for having known and loved them.  I can't imagine my life without their addition to the story.

You'll find I quote Kahlil Gibran more often than probably necessary.  But I cannot help myself.

"Your joy is your sorrow unmasked.
And the selfsame well from which your laughter rises was oftentimes filled with your tears.
And how else can it be?
The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain.
Is not the cup that holds your wine the very cup that was burned in the potter's oven?
And is not the lute that soothes your spirit, the very wood that was hollowed with knives?
When you are joyous, look deep into your heart and you shall find it is only that which has given you sorrow that is giving you joy.
When you are sorrowful look again in your heart, and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight."

-On Joy and Sorrow, from The Prophet, by Kahlil Gibran

Friday, September 17, 2010

Toward what I understand as good...

Oh, Oswald.  He's the most relevant dead guy I know.  Today:

Temptation is a short cut to good things we want.  It's a false short cut - we never get what we want (good things) in the form that we desire them (pure, worthy, and pleasurable).  God promises us good things beyond what we can imagine, and temptation says, "I can get them for you quicker."  But we end up with a twisted or tainted version of what we truly desired.  We all experience temptation; it's a characteristic of being human!  But we have a High Priest who has been through "every temptation as is common to man" (Hebrews 2:13-18).  We are free to run and fall at His feet, begging His help.  He is the only one who can help us.

"Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession.  For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin.  Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need."  (Hebrews 4:14-16)

If I thought I had to say it better than anybody else, I'd never start.

“If we try to overcome self-consciousness by any common-sense method, we will develop it tremendously. Jesus says, "Come unto Me and I will give you rest," i.e., Christ-consciousness will take the place of self-consciousness. Wherever Jesus comes He establishes rest, the rest of the perfection of activity that is never conscious of itself.”  (Oswald Chambers, My Utmost, August 20, via

…the perfection of activity that is never conscious of itself… that’s painting, or writing, or doing what I was created to do – creating, itself.  Like Madeleine L’Engle said – we were created for nothing other than to create, like our Master.  And Chambers describes that self-conscious-less state when a painter forgets himself and opens up to the creation, when a writer is so overcome by the words that she loses her grasp on her present time and place, when a sculptor thrills to the touch of his tools so much that sleep and food are unnecessary.

You know me better than you think, you know, and you shall know me better yet.

We are apt to forget that a man is not only committed to Jesus Christ for salvation; he is committed to Jesus Christ's view of God, of the world, of sin and of the devil, and this will mean that he must recognize the responsibility of being transformed by the renewing of his mind. (Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest, Sept. 9, via

Oswald says a lot of times Christians look on other Christians and criticize them for being slow or inactive when in reality the slow ones have taken every thought, every action captive and move only in the will of God.  If our impulsive desire is to serve God, that’s good, but it’s to be caught and questioned – since when has human nature instinctively turned to God?  No, that’s the beauty of Christianity – we use our strong human nature to bend itself to a pattern of seeking God first; by the spiritual, we overcome the natural.

The tendency to-day is to put the emphasis on service. Beware of the people who make usefulness their ground of appeal. If you make usefulness the test, then Jesus Christ was the greatest failure that ever lived. The lodestar of the saint is God Him self, not estimated usefulness. It is the work that God does through us that counts, not what we do for Him. All that Our Lord heeds in a man's life is the relationship of worth to His Father. Jesus is bringing many sons to glory.  (Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest, Aug. 30)

How often am I distracted by the call to action in Scripture and find that I’ve overlooked the relationship?  And again, I am more concerned with what Jesus did for me than for the standing of my relationship with Him – I see “bringing” and “glory” and miss “sons.”  In our minds, it is somehow easier to earn our way to heaven (and to God’s heart) by acts of service than it is to exist in relationship with Him.