Hope Amidst Fears

Found poetry from Charles Anderson’s sermon on Mark 12:18-27.

We have fears
when we face death.
We know what the Bible says
yet they linger.

What can God say
that gives hope
amidst fears?

I AM who I am.
The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
The God of the living
not the dead.

The God of Founding Fathers
is the God of story,
the God of relationship.

The God who makes
and keeps His promises.

Transformation.
God doing something new.
Demonstrating His power
to change whatever you find yourself in.
Not just now, but at the end.

The love of a husband and wife
merely a symbol
for something new,
something better.
Christ loving the church.

When you have reality
you don’t need the picture.

Not just His power.
Not just His promise.
His very own person
committed to resurrection.

The best and surest
deepest hope we have
in the midst of death.

This is my name.
This is who I am.

An empty tomb
reminds us:
“If not here
than on the other
side of the Jordan.”

Not absent from struggle
but interlocked
and meshed together.
We hold onto God
and cry out,
“Lord, I believe.
Help my unbelief.”

Wipe away every tear from our eyes.
Death will be no more.

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Eucharisteo

For someone who struggles with change as much as I do, I’ve always loved the days and weeks where the season’s change from one to the next is the most evident.  Fall in particular has always been the favorite.  Oppressive heat gives way to something much more bearable.  Trees lose clothing as we add to our own.  Impending holidays remind me of the importance of intentionality, something that is quite often lost in the busyness of daily living.  That’s what today has been about; intentionally pondering this word so interconnected with November–thanksgiving.

In his book, Future Grace, John Piper shares the important connection between gratitude and faith.

“Past grace is glorified by intense and joyful gratitude.  Future grace is glorified by intense and joyful confidence.  This faith is what empowers us for venturesome obedience in the cause of Christ…There is a sense in which gratitude and faith are interwoven joys that strengthen each other.  As gratitude joyfully revels in the benefits of past grace, so faith joyfully relies on the benefits of future grace.  Therefore when gratitude for God’s past grace is strong, the message is sent that God is supremely trustworthy in the future because of what he has done in the past.  In this way faith is strengthened by a lively gratitude for God’s past trustworthiness.” 

I need help with that bolded line, not just today, but every day.  I need help knowing and remembering the ways that He has been faithful even when I’ve been faithless.  I need help knowing and remembering those things because recalling His past faithfulness helps me to believe in His future trustworthiness.  I’ve wanted a tangible way to do this for some time.  An ebeneezer, a way to physically recall and remember and celebrate and thank God for the way He’s provided and taken care of me both big and small.

I’ve been rereading Ann Voskamp’s book A Thousand Gifts that speaks to the idea and importance of naming these gifts.  She shares the word “Eucharisteo” that appears in Greek throughout scripture.  Eucharisteo–where deep chara (joy) is found because of charis (grace.)  Thanksgiving for all things.  For things of beauty, but also for things of pain.  For unusual things of great importance, but also for everyday occurances that we perceive to be mundane.  And so Ann Voskamp keeps a list and later as her November yielded a desire for an intentional ebeneezer, a Thanksgiving Tree.

And so I created my own.  A tree of thanks.  An ebeneezer that reminds me of past grace both big and small that fuels my faith in future grace.  A tree that speaks of common grace (pomegranate seeds and mango, for example) but also what He specifically promises and gives to those who believe.  I gathered dead branches and gave them new life in my living room.  A smaller picture of how He takes dead broken things, and raises them to new life to an even greater degree for an even greater purpose.

Give thanks to the Lord for He is good, His steadfast love endures forever.  Psalm 118:1

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Hurry Destroys Souls

I sat across from a sweet friend the other day, sharing life between mug sips she asked, “What are you learning?” In this friendship, such a question, and other equally piercing and intentional ones like it, are not uncommon. Yet, as soon as the words left her tongue, I felt myself clinch and wince. For all my to do lists, busyness, and productivity an immediate response was far from my lips. I breathed deeply, scanned the room as I surveyed my thoughts, and tried to formulate something honest that at the same time, preserved my pride and didn’t sound quite so convicting and flawed.

A few days later I sat with my small group and listened to Matt Chandler teach from Philippians 3. As our group began to discuss the text and the accompanying commentary, I couldn’t help but find myself convicted by similar questions. ”Why are we so easily satisfied?” ”What stirs your affections for Christ?” ”What robs you of those same affections?”

What made my response in the first setting elusive was the answer to the last question. What robs my affections for Christ? In one word, simply, busyness.

My guess is you’re not immune to that bolded black word either. It’s the cultural air we breathe. More often than not, it’s celebrated. Instead of asking, “What are you learning?” most of us are used to the question, “How are you?” to which we proudly reply, “Busy.” Well meaning times with others are delayed until, “things aren’t so busy,” yet I find myself using this tired phrase in winter, spring, summer, and fall. You see, even when things slow down to a more even pace, I find myself still struggling with its aftertaste. When I come up for air, I find myself gasping for breath. Gasping and gulping for rest in sometimes gluttonous ways, trying to catch up for what was elusive during those tumultuous over-scheduled seasons. At those times, I find myself continuing to struggle to rest in healthy ways. My mind and body find it foreign. Sometimes I crash and burn while other times I struggle to know what exactly to do with this new found space that makes me feel guilty for not being, you guessed it, busy.

Ironically, I found myself reading Luke 10:38-42–the story of Mary and Martha the other day. Once again I was confronted by what more often than anything else keeps me from Christ. I found myself on the page characterized not by the woman sitting at Jesus’ feet, but by the other sister who was worried and upset about many things. She had Jesus in her home, but failed to recognize and treasure the moment because there was far too much to be done.

A while back Keith preached a sermon on this same text. At that time, I used to take sermon notes and some additional time piecing them back together as found poetry. In many ways this exercise helped me to process and internalize Sunday morning’s truth in a deeper way. I’ve included my reflections from that morning below. They were good for me to read, but also caused me to recognize something important about the spiritual season I’m currently in. I don’t make time to do that anymore. My mind and heart, as of late, have been somewhat distracted each sabbath to the point where note taking hasn’t happened. As a result, taking the time to reprocess those words doesn’t either. I don’t mean this in a chastising, legalistic way that screams, “To be a better Christian you need to take sermon notes and write poetry from them.” That’s not the point for me and it’s for sure not the point for other people who quite often process information the best in other ways. For me, though, this distraction, busyness, and frenetic pace is robbing my affections in part because I’m not doing the opposite. You see, for me, writing quite often is what stirs my affections for Christ.

Thankfully, Jesus’ words to Martha and to me aren’t just filled with truth, but genuine love and grace. In fact, despite the busyness of her heart and mine, he gently extends a tender invitation.

But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary.”

Only one thing is necessary. How thankful I am for that qualifying number–just one. He doesn’t give me a laundry list or 12 step program to work through. He simply reminds me that He alone is the refuge for weary souls. Only one thing is necessary and that one thing simply is Him.

Hurry Destroys Souls
Found Poetry from January 8, 2012

An obstacle
more common
than
hardship,
suffering,
renouncing,
or doubt.

Busyness.

Cluttered minds.
Distracted hearts.
Lives sprinting.

Settling for a
mediocre version
of faith.

Worried and upset
about many things.

A picture of who we are
and who we want to be.

Choose what is better
and it will not
be taken away.

The things of most importance
can’t be left
to the mercy
of the things of least.

Yet we feed
souls created for more
with busyness.
Kept from the greatest treasure
we could ever know.
Neglecting the ultimate
for the lesser.

Life doesn’t just fall in place
without
deliberate,
intentionality.
Neither does transformation
happen apart from
grace.

Jesus isn’t yelling,
but inviting.
Few things needed,
indeed only one.

My soul finds rest
in God alone.

Be still and know
the one exalted
among the
nations.
The one who prefers
our company
to our service.

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The precious things of the earth…

“These words show us that contentment is not a natural propensity of man. Weeds grow easily. Covetousness, discontent, and murmuring are as natural to man as thorns are to the soil. We do not need to sow thistles and brambles; they come up naturally enough, because they are indigenous to earth. And so we do not need to teach men to complain; they complain fast enough without any education.

But the precious things of the earth must be cultivated. In order to have wheat, we must plow and sow; if we want flowers, there must be the garden, and all the gardener’s care.

Now, contentment is one of the flowers of heaven, and if we would have it, it must be cultivated; it will not grow in us by nature. It is the new nature alone that can produce it, and even then we must be specially careful and watchful that we maintain and cultivate the grace that God has sown in us.”

-Charles Spurgeon-

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Abide…

When I think of challenging verbs, my mind automatically jumps to those that require strenuous activity—run, work, think, fix.  Whatever obstacles those individual words present, I’m learning that in reality, they are no match for action words of a different, more subtle type.  Words like rest, surrender, wait, listen.

I’ve been continually confronted by one such word not just while reading through the Book of John, but living every day life.

If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.  John 8:31-32

Abide in me, and I in you.  As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me.  I am the vine; you are the branches.  Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.  John 15:4

As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you.  Abide in my love.  John 15:9

Each time I encounter this one word, seemingly simple command, I feel my heart struggle.  Abide.  Stay.  Continue.  Dwell.  The difficulty comes not because it initially sounds rigorous, but because it’s a word that endures.  It’s hard because it’s not a one time, instant solution or decision.  It’s weighty because it means transformation continues over time, and that is not easy.

Truth be told, I’ve been struggling to abide.  I’m in the midst of a season that in ways feels more like going through the motions.  There have been moments where my heart has felt indifferent at best and hardened at worst.   It didn’t happen dramatically all at once, but gradually over time.  Again and again I’m reminded that my heart is a fickle place, prone to wander.  I hate the way seasons like this feel.  I’m tempted to err in extremes—trying to work harder, do better, and fix myself by my own efforts OR embrace complacency, ignore what’s going on, and coast.  Neither of these options involves abiding—it’s both an action word and call for complete dependence on the vine.  Jesus Himself reminds me, that apart from abiding in Him I can do nothing, even and especially pulling myself out of this spiritual haze.

Fruit only comes through abiding—a verb that is ongoing.  A verb that requires moment by moment surrender.  A verb that requires endurance.  A verb that requires an honest understanding of how helpless I am apart from Christ.

Last night, the words of an old hymn redone by Page CXVI became not just a reminder of this, but a prayer.  Apart from Him I can do no good thing.  I need Him even to abide.  Perhaps if you find yourself struggling with this as well, these words will help you too.

Abide with me; fast falls the eventide;
The darkness deepens; Lord, with me abide;
When other helpers fail and comforts flee,
Help of the helpless, abide with me.

Swift to its close ebbs out life’s little day;
Earth’s joys grow dim, its glories pass away;
Change and decay in all around I see—
O Thou who changest not, abide with me

I need Thy presence every passing hour;
What but Thy grace can foil the tempter’s power?
Who, like Thyself, my guide and stay can be?
Through cloud and sunshine, abide with me.

Hold Thou Thy cross before my closing eyes;
Shine through the gloom and point me to the skies;
As heaven’s morning breaks, heaven’s morning breaks.
In life, in death, abide with me.
In life, in death, abide with me.
In life, in death, Oh Lord, abide with me. 

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Joy

“This is the meaning of self-denial.  Renounce everything on earth in order that you might have Jesus.  Sell all, so that you might have the kingdom.  C.S. Lewis captures the spirit of Jesus’ demand for self-denial when he says:

The New Testament has lots to say about self-denial, but not about self-denial as an end in itself.  We are told to deny ourselves and to take up our crosses in order that we may follow Christ; and nearly every description of what we shall ultimately find if we do so contains an appeal to desire.
 
In other words, we deny ourselves because beyond self-denial is great reward.  Jonathan Edwards goes even deeper in his analysis of how Jesus’ demand for self-denial relates to his demand for joy.
 
Self-denial will also be reckoned amongst the troubles of the godly…But whoever has tried self-denial can give in his testimony that they never experience greater pleasure and joys than after great act of self-denial.  Self-denial destroys the very root and foundation of sorrow, and nothing else but the lancing of a grevious and painful sore that effects a cure and brings abundance of health as a recompense for the pain of the operation.
 
If this is true, then Jesus’ demand for self-denial is another way of calling us to radically pursue our deepest and most lasting joy.  They are not competing commands.  They are like the command to be cancer-free and the command to have surgery.”
John Piper, What Jesus Demands of the World
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Love: A Thatch Roof

I think Ann Voskamp is an incredible writer.  Typically there is always a line or two that hit a chord.  Today was no exception.  You can read the entire post here.

“But this is what I do:  I get caught up in tone and semantics, when I could just catch hearts…

How can the unlovable bear to be loved?

He looks up, smiles.

I close my eyes, hardly bearing.

But this is what love does. Love bears all things: stego in the Greek — it literally means a thatch roof.

Love is a roof that absorbs the storms. 

Love bears all things – like a roof bears the wind and the rain. Love willingly carries one another’s burdens – like a roof bears the burden of the snow and the beating sun…”

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