As I get into the new school year, an analogy from Sandra McCracken has been sticking with me…I heard her speak and sing at our denomination’s national gathering this summer and have been pondering and expounding upon this example ever since.
I often say to other homeschool moms, and this truth goes for all humans, “stay in your lane” or “watch your end of the pool” or “stay on your yoga mat”. Sandra, however, eloquently used the analogy of a garden plot.
I like this because gardens grow and produce something…a lot of somethings! All different and equally necessary to life whether to bring beauty, health, or cleaner air.
We’ve got a garden plot – a time, a place, a spot, a calling – it’s very real and tangible, this spot where God has placed you at this moment in time. That garden plot looks different than my neighbors, or friends, or co-workers…growing different plants or crops, the size, shape, and growth is different. God is his daily new mercies is giving me a bucket filled to the brim to water MY garden plot. Just my spot – NOT the whole field. Not someone else’s garden plot. The raw materials are different, the fertilizer is different, because what God has called me to cultivate is a different fruit or vegetable or flower than the next person. (Side note: Am I saying not to help others? No! Of course not – that may be who God has given you to help grow for the day!)
Beautifully, we’re not robots! Thankfully, we’re not all growing cabbage! But, thankfully, someone is growing cabbage, right? And hopefully, that farmer is looking to what God has called them to do to grow and cultivate what He’s given to them.
My homeschooling/parenting example, which can be taken and shifted to your own calling is this: I didn’t choose my child’s gifting, strengths, or weaknesses, or learning style. I didn’t choose my family history or my own baggage or strengths and weakness and personality. I didn’t choose MS to be a factor in how I school and what I can physically do. And yet, it all plays a part in how I lead, love, and teach my unique kids with my unique self. And God gives grace, manna, for the day for this garden plot I’ve been given – not for someone else’s garden plot, and definitely not for the whole neighborhood’s gardens! Whew. But, I often forget, compare, and get distracted….
Gloria Furman, in writing about gifts, says this in her book, The Pastor’s Wife:
“Why did God gift us? How should we use our gifts?
‘As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace…”by the strength God supplies – in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To Him belong the glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen’ (1 Peter 4:10-11)
The first thing that stands out is that gifts are something we have received. Gifts are deliberately chosen by God and given by God, and our part is to receive. This is itself inspires enough courage to stop looking sideways at the gifts or other women (or men). Their gifts were not chosen by them anymore than your gifts were chosen by you. Regretting gifts, comparing gifts, and belittling gifts are an insult to the one who has given them.”
As a child of God, your gifts and your limitations, can give you more than they can take from you, because you are FILLED with the power of God in Christ – that same power that raised Jesus from the dead! (Eph. 1:19-23, Eph 3:14-21) Even our limitations are a gift from Him. (1 Cor. 15:10). Our boundaries have fallen in for us in pleasant places – the boundaries of our garden plots, our health, our gifts, our sin. I long to say this with David in Psalm 16,
The Lord is my chosen portion and my cup; you hold my lot. The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; indeed I have a beautiful inheritance…Therefore my heart is glad, and my whole being rejoices; my flesh also dwells secure.”
God is faithful and He will grow us and our garden plots in the perfect timing and season (Mark 4:27). His ways are higher and better than ours so we sometimes don’t see it when we think we should (Isaiah 55:8-9) . Grace upon glorious grace is available to us in Christ! (John 1:16)
Want to see more posts like this one? Here’s some of my favorites I’ve written about this:
planting seeds, burying treasure, and waiting…
grace for the day
you are here.
I can’t save my kids.
I can’t change their hearts.
This, at first, strikes fear in me…but then, relief. As it settles down and I think upon the promises of God, my sin nature, my limits, and His omnipotence, I remember that I cannot produce lasting change. But, I know the One who CAN. And I carry my children to Him in prayer and in conversation day by day. I can’t change their hearts; which is a relief, because honestly? If it were all up to me, I would either become too all important or I would sink into a pit of despair. And probably both within the same hour.
But what I can do is sow generously.
In what has become one of my favorite passages, Mark 4:26-27, Jesus says that the farmer works hard scattering and planting seed on the ground, and as he sleeps and rises night and day, the seed eventually sprouts and grows, and he knows not how. But when the harvest comes, he is ready then too. He doesn’t cause the rain or the sun – there are more things out of his control than in his control…So, he works, he waits, he trusts.
Can y’all relate here? I know I can. There are many variables over which I have no control over – so I work. I pray. I trust.
I sow gospel seeds and treasures.
I sow in prayer. I sow in discipline and consistency. I sow in laughter and giggles and fun messes. I sow in scripture and catechism memory. I sow in one more hug and kiss at bedtime. I sow in repenting often to them, in front of them, and to my husband. I sow in receiving new morning mercies for each day for these kids God has given me.
But, the accuser of the brethren will accuse me. He will remind me how I didn’t read an extra story last night and induce guilt. He will remind me that I’m just not enough for my kids – not doing enough, not repenting enough, not fun enough… and on it goes. And yet – how often do I take on his voice in my mind? How often to I, a child of THE King, actually agree with the accuser of the saints and accuse myself, being pushed by fear and shame, rather than led by love?
I was with a group of parents recently and the conversation turned with a downward and guilty tone (as it often can) to “I should have done more of ____” or “I guess I should be doing ____ better.” And my mind started shouting, “no! stop! This doesn’t sound like Jesus, this sounds like Satan!” So, I bravely said so.
Do we need to repent often? Absolutely.
Do we need to teach our kids the Word and be consistent in discipline? Definitely.
Do we need help from parents who are farther along than us and make changes as our kids grow and as we learn too? Of course.
But, here, the question is: are we being led by love into true self-reflection and genuine repentance, OR guilted into trying to do better in and of ourselves – not trusting that God will use ALL things for our good (and our kids good) and HIS glory. No, all things are not good; we do mess up. But God IS good. And He wastes nothing – not even our mistakes or sin. He is fully and completely good and powerful beyond comparison.
And so, we keep speaking the truth as we read the bible to and with them. We keep pointing them to the truth in our conversations. We keep abiding in the Word of God ourselves that we may know and speak the truth to ourselves and to our kids.
As we do, we plant seeds and we know not when they will produce a harvest, and so God sanctifies us in our waiting and active trusting.
We bury treasures of gospel truths and scripture memory and catechisms because when the Spirit awakens them to the truth, our children will have a treasure trove of His Word stored up within them in their minds.
Sow generously with your life; bury gospel treasure within your kids’ minds; pray, trust, and wait for the Spirit of God to open their hearts and minds, and continue the work He’s beginning in them, through you. You are His chosen vessel to work in these kiddos that He has graciously given to YOU.
May He lead you in love as you abide in Him.
Today I have an audio for you again! This is exciting for me because I know some of you prefer to listen. The audio comes from a prayer time at my church, as we paused as a congregation to quiet and examine our hearts.
I’ve been reading through the gospel of Mark with my discipleship group, and I am loving it. I’m reading slowly, with intention and re-reading chapters over and over. And as I’ve read, I’ve noticed I’m worshiping and loving Jesus in fresh ways, and am convicted freshly of my own sin…the Word does that to us right? It convicts BEFORE it can truly comfort.
A major theme I’ve noticed is the crowd that follows Jesus, literally, everywhere, day and night, constantly pressing in with their needs. I’ve noticed that Jesus responds quite differently than I tend to – He has pity, He shows compassion, and mostly, He stays at peace.
Even their constant need, and I mean constant need, check out Mark chapter 1, doesn’t disturb His inner peace, and His abiding in the Father’s love. Anybody have a posse of little kids? You can relate to the constant following and never-ending need, and even franticness when they think the need will not be met.
And yet, Jesus.
Sometimes I think it’s easy to forget that Jesus was not only fully God,but also fully man. The author of Hebrews reminds us that Jesus was made like us, in every respect:
“For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” (Hebrews 4:15-16; also see: Hebrews 1:10-18!)
His mighty outer works flowed from an inner place of deep and constant abiding with God.
He had to seek His Father for grace for the day, every day. He sought desolate places to pray and be alone regardless of what those around Him thought.
I’m convicted at what that means for me. If Jesus needed time and space to draw near to God, and abide with the Father – truly remain and sink His roots down deep into the Father’s love so that no outward circumstance could control him, how much more do I? Do we? As Elizabeth Elliot wisely said,
“The secret (to keeping a quiet heart) is Christ in us, not us in a different set of circumstances.”
Striving to enter His rest, like Hebrews 4:11 says, is an active endeavor. How actively do we strive to abide in the Father’s love, VERSUS our own good works, knowledge, self-sufficiency, or even fears?
I’m going to share with you a prayer that’s burned in my heart and that I prayed with our congregation, because maybe, amidst my words, you’ll find your own. After all, the Psalms are prayers that we take and pray and they become our own…So here’s mine for the taking. Maybe we can silence our hearts together, free from the distractions that are often of our own making, and confess where we don’t abide in His perfect love and peace…where we don’t believe He gives enough manna – daily bread – for today…
Jesus – thank you that you remained perfectly in loving union with God. It’s amazing to think about you becoming human as we are, being made like us, being tempted and suffering so that you could be our faithful high priest, who sympathizes with our weaknesses. Yet, sympathizing as One who remained perfectly sinless, fighting hard a battle that we often stop fighting. Thank you that you were sinless – even as the crowds pushed around giving you little rest, even as you were misunderstood and jeered at, and even rejected by some of your closest followers – you remained rooted and abiding in the Father’s love, not allowing the outward circumstances to change your inner peace and your identity. I thank you that as believers we are hidden in you and clothed in your righteousness, and even in your perfect abiding.
But I confess my lack of abiding in you – my forgetfulness to live out of my union with you. Show me where I unite myself more with my outward circumstances than with you, where I let go of your peace and enter the striving of productivity, self-righteousness, or my fears and insecurities.
I repent of not thinking you are enough. I repent of not believing your grace will be enough for the future. I repent of not making time alone with you a priority – filling my minds and hearts and souls with the Words of life – your Word that sustains life.
Thank you that your mercy is more than I could ever imagine. Thank you that your kindness leads me to repentance, and for your overwhelming grace and forgiveness for me in Christ.
I trust He is enough.
Your grace is sufficient.
May we abide well, being rooted and strengthened in your love, not striving to enter a rest of our own making, but always striving to keep a quiet heart and enter your rest that you secured for us.
I promised in an earlier post, here, that I would write more extensively about the concept of a “mountain prayer” later, so here it is, and it begins with this:
Stop chasing what’s easy and be brave.
Big words, right? Maybe I should start by defining what “easy” is…but I think that’d be too simplistic and doing you a disservice. Instead, I invite you to take a moment of self-reflection and see what floats to the surface. What’s easy? What’s a mountain?
This has become a subtle mantra for me lately. I’ve been asked to do things that scare me – like speak to a private school to students, faculty and parents about prayer. I’ve chosen to do things that scare me – rock climb a little higher than my mind thinks is possible. I’ve been led in prayer to mountains that I didn’t know existed in my heart and mind – andlet others in on the mountains asking them to journey alongside me.
It is scary. And it is exhilarating and transforming. When I do what’s easy, I’m still in control. When I stop and make a decision that takes bravery and courage, I am no longer in control of the results. What if I fail? What if I fall? What if people get mad at me or think less of me? What if I pray a big prayer and God doesn’t answer like I think He will?
But then again –
What if I make it to the top of a rock wall and back down just fine, teeming with adrenaline?
What if God’s light shines more brightly in and around me?
What if truth is heard and known and loved more?
What if others are invited to be brave too?
What if my failure does more in me than a success ever could?
What if God does more than all I ask or imagine?
What if I get to invite others into the brokenness and beauty of being a disciple?
Well, there is that possibility too.
Here’s where the “mountain prayer” comes in. It’s praying for 40 or 45 straight days that God will move a mountain in your life or around you. (Based on Matthew 21:21) Now, it’s not the only thing you’re praying about, but it’s a simple and consistent one sentence type prayer that you are asking God for daily. Asking, not telling, Him how to do it or what you think this should look like, just simply depending, trusting, and asking consistently. Then waiting, and seeing what happens.
It’s a little scary, right? Because, what if He doesn’t….what if nothing happens…? I think we ask those questions in our finite understanding of an infinite God.
Because really? The point in prayer is about getting someone, more than it is about something.
What do the promises of scripture say?
“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened.Or what man is there among you who, when his son asks for a loaf, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, he will not give him a snake, will he? If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give what is good to those who ask Him!” (Matt. 7:8-11)
“He is able to do far more abundantly that all we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations!” (Ephesians 3:20-21)
Stop chasing what’s easy and be brave. Find a friend or mentor or small group to do this with. Pray a mountain prayer with them. Ask a friend to pray for and with you. Don’t be surprised if the mountain is unveiled as something else underneath or it’s not what you expect, or if God does a harder and deeper work than what you actually asked for. It won’t look how you expect anyways because you aren’t God – He is infinite, you are finite. He is also trustworthy.
Be brave. Be honest. And, mostly? Don’t journey alone.
Check out this more in depth article on “the 45 day mountain prayer”.
P.S. – my discipleship group has loved these songs as we’ve prayed this together, so check these out: “Do It Again” by Elevation Worship and “Stand in Your Love” by Bethel Music
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!
What if we saw our needs as opportunities to trust, grow, and learn. Have you ever tried to replace words like trial, frustration, difficulty, or fear with words like opportunity or invitation? I do this with my kids a lot now, for instance, “this is an opportunity to grow in character and persistence as you love your brother who just put peanut butter in your hair” or “what a great invitation to serve Jesus by cleaning up a mess you didn’t make!” Ok, they are starting to roll their eyes, but I trust it will sink in one day…but not just in them, mostly ME too, if I’m honest with you! For example, “what an opportunity to trust God through this seemingly impossible task (of raising kids! ha!)”, or even, “I have an opportunity to invite someone else into my sin and hold me accountable”. All those are still scary, BUT opportunity and invitation encourage wonder, change, growth, and maybe a little excitement. They draw me out of myself and into something grander.
Embracing a limitation, be it physical, emotional, time, or place, is an invitationto simply be where you are; a freedom to see more clearly what is in front of you – a time, space, and physical limitation that invitesme to abide more deeply. To be connected to a real place and time. To stay in my lane. To remain connected to the Vine right where I’m planted.
In a fantastic podcast I am listening to, Emily Freeman asks the question, “what if your limits aren’t holding you back, but pointing you forward?” If you’ve been around me awhile you might know that this resonates with me deeply – I may have been know to ask, what if your limits are actually gifts?
Do you know the story in John 6 – with the boy who had 5 loaves of bread and 2 fish that Jesus fed over 5,000 people with? The boy who offered his lunch to Jesus? He gives what he has, and gives generously. Maybe he knew what Jesus would do – but that’s unlikely considering God always does far more than we could ask or imagine (Ephesians 3)!
He just came with what he had. He came with what looked like a limited supply of food.
Not knowing if he was giving up his food for the day and would walk away hungry, or if he would walk away full.
But here’s the thing: he was honest about what he had and at the same time he didn’t hold back. He didn’t shrink from the service because the need was so great. He took the need as an opportunity to trust, and trust isn’t a passive thing. Trust is incredibly active.
When we come with open hands, bringing what we have, even knowing it won’t be enough, something miraculous happens. We know it’s never been enough, nor could it ever be.
He invitesus to be a part of the miraculous. The mundane bread and fish. The ordinary PB&J. The constant questions. The fear of the future. The sin we can’t forget. The anxiety deep and hidden within. The gifts, talents, and abilities we’ve forgotten we have.
Why not ask? Why not admit the need, the want, the hope, the desire, the dream, or the anxiety?
Why not come to Him with an open hand, where you are, with what you have?
Even in our needs, in our limitations, we have something. What are your limits pointing you forward to? Or maybe the better question – are they pointing you to Jesus? Allowing you to point others to Jesus?
We have something to offer a watching world, our kids, our friends, our spouse, our church. If we belong to Jesus, we’ve been placed in a specific place, at a specific time, with specific gifts and yes,even specific limits – for the glory of God.
Let’s give it to God first and see what He does with it. How will He multiply it? If we’re bold enough to ask, honest about both our gifts, our weaknesses, and our needs, then we open up our awareness to the answer and the miracle He is doing right in our midst.
We are invited to walk into an opportunity to be where we are, offer what we have, and actively trust and wait to see what God will do.
Somehow, I imagine it will feed hungry people, it will break chains of sin, it will offer someone hope, it will meet a need, and it will transform us.
Somehow, I imagine these opportunities will be beyond our wildest dreams.
Can you really be satisfied in Christ?
A friend recently asked me this question. A friend who knows the Word, prays, memorizes scripture, is involved in discipleship groups, leads groups, and gives to others, without asking for anything in return. She wonders about satisfaction in Jesus putting into words what many of us feel or have felt, saying, “So that is real? More than just reading the verses and enjoying the nice idea of it? I don’t by any means expect to live in a constant state of contentment or “spiritual high”, but should I at least be acquainted with a sense of spiritual satisfaction at this point?”
What beautiful honesty for a question many of us are too scared to ask. I mean, I wasn’t going to ask it. But maybe asking it is part of the answer. Maybe its an awareness that there’s something more, a creation longing that can’t be satisfied on earth, an awareness that things aren’t quite as they should be in our own idol-factory hearts.
The basis for the question came from a recent sermon from my husband focused on our union with Christ – that the fullness of deity – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, dwells within us. (Colossians 2) We often forget our union and let our reality frame our union with Him instead of letting our union frame and shapeour reality. This led her to a discussion of satisfaction in Christ alone with her husband. It’s a good conversation – a conversation, if we’re honest, we should all have aloud with someone we trust.
I think for people who are as introspective as me, it’s easy to let “the barbarians roaming the streets of your mind” ( I love this phrase from the book, Think Again) condemn and even may be more prone to let Satan, the ultimate accuser, tell us we aren’t satisfied enough in Christ so we must not really have pure or real union with him. This is a lie from the pit of hell used by our enemy to torment us. I can almost hear the enemy’s filthy whisper of “you’re not satisfied enough. It’s not good enough for this God who you claim to be your king and savior and friend. You. are. not. enough.” When Satan can’t get us to sin loudly, he makes us quietly question the truths that have been proclaimed in the Bible, too scared to those questions to others who will remind of the truth. He makes us question the perfect blood of Jesus that has covered us.
What happens when you’re not believing the truth?
The more inward focused I am, the more dissatisfied I am. The more I lean into morbid introspection, the more hopeless I feel. The lies from the enemy get watered and begin to grow. I forget that the Spirit of God is LIVING inside of me. He is POWERFUL inside of me. If I don’t fight for satisfaction in Christ, for knowing Him more, then I walk in weakness, from a place of my own supposed, yet empty, power – not from His.
And yet –
He who SPOKE the world into being. He brings dead wombs, and people, and desires to life. He finishes what He starts. I am HIS.
When He gives me this desire to be more satisfied in Him alone and not in myself, I begin to see where I look for self-gratification more, so it appears I’m getting worse…but the truth is, I’m just becoming more aware of what’s been there. And this awareness leads me to ask the question – is satisfaction in Christ real? If it is then why am I not? Is it more that a nice thought?
So, I lean in. I lean in to the questions without feeling condemned. The Spirit leads me to the truth; he convicts to bring healing. The enemy accuses to bring hopelessness and death. But I lean into the One who has the answers. The One who holds me.(Isaiah 42:6 ) I lean into His mighty arms and ask Him to give me what He alone can give. I lean into telling my heart the truth and not listening to the wavering emotions of my heart.(Jer.17:9)
For me, most often, a deep, inexplainable satisfaction in Jesus comes most when I see my overwhelming need for Him and am desperate. It’s either in a season of suffering when my senses are heightened to His presence, and I’m clinging to His promises and Word more dearly; or, when I’m looking at the vastness of my sin and feeling the heavy weight of it and know without question that I have no ability to rescue myself, change myself, and even forgive myself, and I begin to understand the truth of His unrestrained mercy, love, grace, and power more clearly. I know who He is most in those times because I am leaning into Him and His promises more. It may be that I’m so easily led astray to being satisfied on my own that I need these more desperate measures. Either way, I’ll choose to see it as a grace.
If you want to dive more into this, here’s some questions that you could ask yourself and see how the Spirit leads you:
1 – Are there any areas of unconfessed sin in my life I need to confess, repent of? (Psalm 139:23-24, James 5:16)
2 – Could this be a mountain prayer you could pray for 40 days? For example, “God, satisfy me in you alone”, or “Reframe my desires”, praying the same very simple prayer, without telling God how to answer it for 40-45 days (Matt. 17:20). (I’m going to write more extensively about this in a later post, but for now, know that praying for 40 straight days for a mountain in your life to be moved is transformative!)
3 – Am I looking for Him and aware of His presence around me in the ordinary?
Maybe these questions prick something in your spirit, but, also, maybe they are something you can be encouraged in. Maybe Satan is accusing you and leading you to find less joy in Christ and you need to take your thoughts captive and put the enemy in his place, and put your thoughts and emotions in their rightful place. Or maybe, the Spirit is convicting you and leading you into something deeper…maybe He’s leading you to ask the question to lead you to roots of unbelief or unconfessed sin so you can walk in more freedom.
The truth is: you can walk in freedom, you can lean into the questions without fear of the answer, you can be satisfied in Christ and fully live out your union in Him day by day as He continues the work He’s begun in you.
After all, the fullness of the deity dwells bodily IN you; you a son of the King, you, a daughter of the King. (Colossians 2)
“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.