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.