This week I have an audio for you (yay!). The was recorded at my church, New City during a congregational prayer time. But if you prefer to read, here’s a transcript, but I hope you’ll listen in here as well!
There’s this truth from Luke chapter 7 that’s been resounding in my heart and mind lately. It’s a time when a Pharisee, a teacher of the law, had Jesus over for dinner when a woman interrupts the dinner to anoint Jesus’ feet with her tears and perfume.
The people in the room knew who she was – she was a sinner of the more obvious kind. But the woman knows who she is too – and that’s why she came.
Jesus, knowing the Pharisee’s harsh thoughts about the woman, responds to the situation and his unspoken words by saying:
“He who is forgiven much loves much, but he who is forgiven little, loves little.”
The truth is, we all need to be forgiven much, but it’s our awareness of this that makes our love for Jesus either grow or shrink.
This makes me wonder where I minimize the cross.
Where do I shrink the cross by not admitting that my sin is as evil, and big, harmful, and horrible, as it is?
How often do I think someone else’s sin just couldn’t be forgiven, but mine, well, mine’s not so bad so it can be forgiven?
When we shrink the magnitude of our sin, we internally minimize our need for the cross and the power of Jesus’ blood over us.
When we minimize our wonder and awe at His love, we shrink His holiness and perfection and justice and in doing so, we shrink His unrestrained mercy, love, and grace.
We shrink the cross.
Because of His cross, I can be the biggest sinner in the room and admit it because his mercy, his grace, His cross is bigger than my sin.
I can repent because I know I am hidden in Christ. I know His blood on the cross was enough to cover me. I know He delights in freeing me to walk in the light of forgiveness as His child.
I can say, I’m worse than I thought I was at first, but it’s okay because I’m far more loved than I ever thought imaginable because His grace is bigger and the cross looms larger in my life.
Will we let these truth lead us – lead us straight to the cross? Lead us to admitting our sin and need for Jesus more freely? Repenting more often – even when it hurts?
Do you know, in Christ, that:
You are fully known.
You are dearly loved.
You are fully forgiven.
May the cross loom large in our hearts and minds and life, because we know we are desperate sinners, and even in our admitting it and fighting for repentance, we are loved more deeply that we ever dared imagined.
*I’m deeply indebted to many for the illustration of “the cross chart“, but specifically, my grace-filled and adoring husband (!!), Sonship, Parakaleo, and my friend, Kristy, whose husband who posted it in the link above!
“We must lay before God what is in us, not what ought to be in us.” (C.S. Lewis)
As we approach Christmas I’m reminded of a situation I was in a couple of months ago. Now, this situation as we will call it, is not for the faint of heart, it is going to make you squirm, so be forewarned and proceed with caution….
My daughter, Maggie, had lice crawling on her scalp several weeks ago. She woke up in the middle of the night crying and clawing at her scalp and a vague recollection of a student at preschool having lice the week before buzzed in my brain, so I courageously pulled out the flashlight and checked. Yep. There they were, as clear as could be.
I nearly dropped her.
Here’s the thing: Just a few hours before, I was blow drying her hair for the first time, and we were all “ohhh-ing and ahhhhh-ing” over her smooth, soft, golden, beautiful hair – truly, all 5 of us encouraging her in how pretty her hair looked since she let mommy fix it…and yet, crawling not so far below the surface of all that shine, were bugs. Bugs that were immune to normal shampoo because, I read, they hold their breath. If you’re not itching at your head by now, you’re stronger than I. The spiritual implications stung me immediately. I remember Jesus’ proclamation to the Pharisee’s:
“Woe to you! You clean the outside of the cup, but inside you are filthy – full of greed and self indulgence.” (Matt 23:25), or David crying out to God in Psalm 51:6, “you delight in truth in the inward being, and you teach me wisdom in the secret heart.”
How often do I ohhh and ahhh over my own outwardly apparent righteous works, or others outward works, or long for recognition and approval for my “righteous” acts? And yet, there are bugs crawling beneath the surface.
Daily, friends, yes daily.
And yet, as we celebrate Advent, this is exactly why Jesus came.
He came to cleanse us from the filth inside, from the “bugs” that are immune to all our forms of self-denial, discipline, and good works.
I’m reminded that God made a covenant with Abraham, swearing by Himself, that He would be His God. And God did this, while Abraham was asleep. Abraham was doing nothing to add to the promise of God.
No works on His own to add to the covenant.
And like that, Jesus comes – to a sin ridden, lice infested, broken world.
Emmanuel! God with us!
He comes to us, like He did all those He encountered in Israel who were broken over their sin, to clean us, to pick out the bugs. Here’s the thing – Maggie couldn’t get the lice out by herself. She was completely dependent on me. If she hadn’t sat still for 3 hours while I washed her hair with the special shampoo and divided her hair into way-too-many-to-count half inch sections using the tiny comb to scour through every millimeter of her hair, we couldn’t have gotten rid of the lice, and they could have infected the rest of us.
I’ll be honest, I squirmed and pushed her away at the first sight of the infestation. I was scared for myself. But Jesus! Jesus, who comes to us in our sin, our greed, our self-righteousness, our selfishness, never winces, doesn’t leave us, and constantly moves toward us. The gospels remind me that Jesus is constantly moving towards sinners, not away from them. Because He must get close – yes, that close – to destroy what seeks to kill us.
And often we try to hide behind our shinning beautiful hair of good works, self-discipline, and comparison to those who are “worse”, not acknowledging that like Paul, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners – of whom I am the worst.” (1 Timothy 1:15). Paul must have known the secret in acknowledging his need and dependence on Jesus, which brings us back to our C.S. Lewis quote – “we must lay before God what is in us, not what ought be in us.”
Young kids are honest, painfully so at times. Maggie will still tell you she had bugs in her hair with no shame or thought that you would scurry away from her. She knows Mom will take care of it if it happens again. She knows she needed a source outside of herself, and has no shame admitting it.
What would it look like to confess our weakness and need that freely? And embrace those who do? Now, I know my analogy isn’t perfect and does break down, but I can’t help but see it spiritually. I’m reminded of what James, the brother of Jesus tells us: “confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.” (James 5:16) And we can, we can because Jesus came to “forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9), and wash us whiter than snow even though are sins are like scarlet (Isaiah 1:18). And not just for me, but for my kids! But how often am I repelled by their sin? And others’ sin? Offended by their greed, selfishness, discontentment, and anger? ALL things that I’m actually the bigger sinner in and am on equal footing at the cross with. What if I walked towards them in love in their sin? What if I could give the grace to let others’ be where they are, knowing that it is GOD who completes EVERY work the HE begins.
Let’s take to Jesus what is actually in us, not hiding in our works because we are already hidden in Him.
Let’s walk our hearts and our kids to the edge of the manger and the foot of the cross to gaze in wonder and gratitude at the One who came, who comes, and who will come again.
Let’s run towards Him and towards the sinners He came to rescue – proclaiming His light in the darkness, His healing in the parts we didn’t know were infected, and His life abundant – all for sinners, even the chief.
After all, that’s why He came.
*photo credit: Jenna Simmons, Evan and Jenna Creative
I love Autumn. I love it for many reasons, but this year in particular, I’ve identified with the dying that autumn shows us in a way I hadn’t recognized in the past. The beauty of autumn is literally in it’s dying. A woman at the library today stopped her car in middle of the road to get out and take photos of the splendor of yellow, orange, and red the trees held in their dying. No one was mad at her for stopping in the middle of the road, we all smiled and stared in wonder as well.
I hope I can die like the trees in Autumn. You’d be hard pressed to find someone who would argue the beauty of the leaves as they “change color”. I delved a little deeper into what’s happening with the leaves in the Fall to make sure I wasn’t leading my kids astray with my simple knowledge, and learned that as chlorophyll stops being produced because of the lack of sunlight, the green color that usually COVERS UP the true color of the leaves lessens so that you eventually see what was underneath all along (gardeningknowhow.com). I was amazed at the simple and profound statement.
The color was technically there all along, just unseen until circumstance of growing darkness brought it out for us to witness.
And my heart cries out, “oh the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God!” (romans 11:33) as this perfectly parallels our human existence. How do we die? And not just physically. How do we die every day to ourselves? How do we die when circumstances are really hard and feel unbearable? How do we die to ourselves as we trust the Creator more than our wayward feelings about what’s happening in the moment? As Elizabeth Elliot always reminds me,
“The secret is Christ in me, not me in a different set of circumstances.”
Maybe this has been so poignant to me because I have felt the season of death the past few months. Nothing happened really; nothing changed in my diagnosis or physical or cognitive ability because of multiple sclerosis, but it’s felt more like dying to self than that diagnosis did. A friend asked several weeks ago about what fruitfulness I saw in my life or around me and I just had to answer with an honest, “I don’t know. It just feels like death right now. I see no fruit.” Now, it wasn’t totally true that I saw no fruit anywhere around me, but my over arching emotion and spiritual place at the time felt like death, or maybe I could call it pruning, or even Autumn. And instead of running away, like I’m hard-wired to do (ask my mom about all those times I attempted to run away as a kid), I’ve slowly, and painfully, made the shift to abide – to stay, to dig in .…
Dig in to the multitude of times I have had to repent and humbly acknowledge my haste in word or emotion; dig in and reconcile on many different occasions, be it for myself or my child with her friends; dig in and come to terms with my limitations in things I thought I had control over or was good at; dig in and admit that I do not have the right answer, or the words to pray, or even strength to lead where I think I’m called to lead; dig in and admit my weakness. It’s a slow dying to self.
But Autumn! The gift God gives of Autumn gives me hope!
Autumn is a paradox of death and planting. Of true colors being revealed as the cover up is no longer produced. Silently, seeds are being sown. Like Jesus tell us, “…unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” (John 12:24) And I declare with Pete Scazerro,
“Lord, forgive me for fighting the ‘deaths’ you send into my life in order to plant something new.”
You may or may not be spiritually, mentally, emotionally in the season of autumn. I agree with Scazerro who says that the seasons happen to us – we can’t control them. They have much to teach us. But regardless of where you are, may you, as well as I, abide in the Source, sending out our roots to steams of living water – Jesus; not the dry streams of our own making. May we die well, wait well, and grow well, knowing that there is beauty and purpose in each season.
No season is ever a waste for a child of the Most High King.
Something has rocked my world this summer, in God’s mercy, He’s led me from a state of apathy to an awe-inspired wonder at Jesus’ care for people. It may sound simple, but aren’t the simplest things the most profound? And the hardest to believe?
While there’s many examples in the gospels, I’ve been struck lately, at Jesus’ care for his mom. As I’ve been studying John’s gospel, it hit me that Mary is mentioned twice, and both times Jesus is honoring his earthly, fleshly, sinful momma. She’s at the wedding in Cana when He turns water into wine (John 2). The author of the study I’m doing asks the question “why does Jesus turn the water into wine?”, and as I read and re-read the text, I was astounded to see that He turns the water into wine because she asks Him to. She asks Him to. Now, I get there’s a lot of theological things happening in this text with purification rites and all that, but sometimes we MISS the simple, the obvious, the human trying to fill our heads with the theological.
Sometimes we miss that Jesus cared about the physical.
Jesus cared about the celebration.
And maybe, mostly? He cared about His mom. Oh moms, may our fragile, tired, beaten down hearts rejoice with that! And not only moms, but all of us – because –
Not only does the water become the best wine, but He begins to usher in the Kingdom of God with that request.
The next time, the only other time, we see Mary is at the foot of the cross, standing beside John when Jesus says to John, “behold your mother” and to Mary, “behold your son” (John 19). As Jesus draws His final breaths on the cross, in the moments of ultimate pain and humiliation, dying for our sin, for His mommas sin, he makes sure Mary is going to be cared for.
If Jesus can take care of Mary this way, in a place of total physical weakness, then how much more, beloved daughter or son, now that He is seated at the right hand of God full of glory, riches, and power will he care for YOU?
He is no longer contained by a limited, human body. He is uncontainable, immeasurable, always present and always knowing. Always carrying you, as His beloved child, close to His heart.
Many years before, in the same breath that Isaiah declares His unfathamable power, He announces His tender intimacy –
“Behold, the Lord God comes with might, and his arm rules for Him…He will tend His flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms; he will carry them in his bossom, and gently lead those that are with young. Who has measured the waters in the hollow of his hand and marked off the heavens with a span, enclosed the dust of the earth in a measure and weighted the mountains in scales and the hills in a balance?”
None is stronger than Jesus. None is more tender than Jesus.
Jesus sees. Jesus knows. Jesus cares.
May we rest in that, and fall more in love with Him each day.
This is a continuation of a previous blog post, where I talk about my tendency to make my own way, and light my own fires. Maybe you, along with me, can acknowledge where we’ve tried to light our own fire and make our own way apart from the Lord. In His mercy, he reveals to us where we live in unbelief, act like our circumstances didn’t first pass through His hands, and we try to save ourselves. It is a deep, slow work, this adventure of Him putting out the fires we make, watching for His light, and letting it shine through our brokenness.
You know by now that we don’t always sit in the sunshine with the birds singing gracefully around us. There’s a purpose in this. There’s a purpose in the darkness – it’s never wasted. Sometimes we sit in the dark because God’s mercy has let the flames of our own self sufficiency burn out, but often times we may find ourselves sitting in the darkness and don’t know why.
D. Martin Lloyd Jones reminds me that often times a child of God is called to keep journeying forward although it is dark:
“the child of light is sometimes found walking in darkness but he goes on walking. He does not sit down and commiserate with himself – that is the thing – the child of light walking in darkness. He does not see the face of the Lord at this point, but He knows that He is there; so he goes on.” (Spiritual Depression)
Nevertheless, He calls us to treasures in the darkness – in not knowing the perfect answer, in not at all understanding why this is happening, in not being able to see or fix the future, or fix today for all our apparent hard work, planning, and control.
And yet, there’s a treasure here, as Isaiah says,
“I will give you treasures of darkness and the hoards in the secret places, that you may know that it is I, the Lord, the God of Israel, who call you by your name.” (Is. 45:3)
Treasure. My heart thrills at that word. And I wonder, “what is the treasure?” And then I see Isaiah 42:16-18,
“And I will lead the blind in a way they do not know, in paths that they have not known I will guide them. I will turn the darkness before them into light, the rough places into level ground. These are things I do, and I do not forsake them.”
Maybe the treasure is the closeness of the Guide. Maybe it’s seeing Him more clearly working miracles in our own hearts and around us. Maybe it’s the unshakable knowledge that even in the darkness we’re not forsaken.
My friend told me once she took her kids into a dark closet and tried to cover up any places where light could come in. She told them although it seemed scary, they were going to sit in complete darkness to wait and watch…and then slowly it happened, the slightest glimmers of light peaking through the crevices of the door. Their eyes sought out the light, and as they watched and waited, slowly they began to see it.
There’s always a glimmer of light if you are really looking. Jesus is light and He never will leave us or forsake us. Listen to what the prophet Micah declares in foretelling the promise of Christ:
“Rejoice not over me, O my enemy; when I fall, I shall rise; when I sit in darkness, the Lord will be a light unto me.” (micah 7:8)
Because, the darkness isn’t dark to Him.
The darkness didn’t overcome Him.
The darkness will not overcome His light.
He came into the world and He extinguishes the flames of our own making and tells us that He is with us. (John 1)
The light of the world, who is all sufficient in love and strength and power is the One who enlightens the eyes of our hearts to the hope He has called us to. (Ephesians 1)
If you’re sitting in darkness, for whatever the reason, keep looking, watching, waiting, and walking. There is a treasure hidden there.
I’ll leave you with a favorite quote from Vaneetha Risner:
“I see that God has answered some prayers with a resounding yes in jaw dropping, inexplicable ways. I remember those answers with gratitude and awe. But the answers of ‘wait’ and ‘no’ have done a far deeper work in my soul. They have kept me connected to the Giver and not his gifts. They have forced me to seek Him. And in seeking Him, I have found a supernatural joy beyond all comparison. A joy not based on my circumstances. Not based on my deliverance. Simply based on His tender presence.”
I’ve noticed a tendency in myself lately to try and light my own fires – to make my own way, to serve, lead, love in my own strength. Fires that burn out quickly like a match. I don’t think it’s a new thing for me, but I think the Lord is letting me become more aware of it, his kindness leading me to repentance. And yet, it’s really hard to see how I trust in my own flesh instead of trusting in the Lord and essentially put myself above God. Yikes. That’s hard to write, but maybe you can relate. My friends at Parakaleo have worked through this truth for years, but I think its finally smacking me in the face. Listen to this:
Psalm 18:28 says,
“For it is You who light my lamp; the Lord my God lightens my darkness.”
Oh, how this is my desire and longing and hope! However, I am convicted by the stark contrast, and often my reality, that looks like what the prophet Isaiah warns of:
“Behold, all you who kindle a fire, who equip yourselves with burning torches! Walk by the light of your fire, and by the torches you have kindled! This you have from my hand: you shall lie down in torment.” (Isaiah 50:11)
Ouch. I have to let that sink in….and when I let it sink down deep into the crevices of my heart and get the confidence and humility to ask God to reveal to me where I’m lighting my own fires, I stand convicted.
I’m convicted that I often try to change my day according to what I think is best, without prayer, without living like a daughter of God, and without trusting in His goodness and sovereignty over the day – filled to the brim with expectations unmet.
I’m convicted that I more often than not, listen to myself instead of preach to myself. As Martin Lloyd Jones poignantly reminds us – someone is always talking to us – are we listening to the play back tape of the fears, mistakes, sins, and worries or are we preaching to the truth of the Gospel to our hearts? I’m often found listening to the lies and trying to fix my “problems” by lighting my own fires.
I’m convicted that I let fear rule inwardly as I work outwardly, in my flesh, trying to “tame” the fear it but it nevertheless comes spewing out in a conversation with Ryan, leaving me and him wondering: am I lighting my own path of self reliance in complete gospel amnesia?
There I go again, lighting my own fires in my darkness: trying to fix what’s not up to me to fix, despairing over what seems impossible, or praying impishly as if it’s all up to me.
I, ironically, wail about my kids wailing, fear getting older, think too hard how I came across in the text I just sent, the conversation I just had, or what others’ thought of me and how I just parented, how good a friend I was, what kind of pastors wife/church planter/leader I am.
And yet, I know that the light I try to light myself will never be strong enough to keep me from lying down in torment; just how Jeremiah reminds me that “cursed is the man who trusts in man and makes flesh his strength” (17:5) and David declares, “the sorrows of those who run after another god shall multiply” (psalm 16:4)
And, strangely, that’s a good thing. What a grace it is that He lets my sorrows multiply as I chase after false promises or don’t believe in the truths of scripture. My light is like a match that burns bright and quick, but for a moment, and then I’m burned if I don’t blow it out quickly enough. If I felt blessed doing life in my own strength, I would never depend on Him, or get the promises of Ephesians 3 which put God in His rightful place:
“Now to HIM who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to HIM be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever, Amen.”
And I go back to praying and repenting and preaching over and over again …
it is God who lights my path, the LORD my God lightens my darkness.
*I’m going to follow up this post with a continuation in a few days about the treasures hidden in the darkness, so stay tuned and check back in!!