Abundance

After a few week hiatus, I met back up with one of the girls I’ve been walking closely with, excited to hear about how she has been, how her thanksgiving was, how she’s processing it all. She came to me discouraged, looking back at the mountain top she was on, wondering why she’s stuck in what feels like a valley. She’s fully aware of the many ways she continues to mess up, continues to sin, continues to struggle. What happened to the times when it was easy, when grace was quick to hold on to?

An awareness of our sinfulness can be absolutely devastating. Of course, left to ourselves, we would be right to despair. Yet, in the way that the gospel simply does, an awareness of even sin can be flipped on it’s head. As I am more and more aware of my sin, especially in light of a growing awareness of God’s holiness, I see a desperate need for Christ to be even greater. My sin can be changed from something so incredibly damning into something that draws me back into the loving arms of Jesus, His sacrifice ever on my mind as the only thing that saves this life. The chasm of our sinfulness in light of God's holiness is only filled by the totality of the gospel of Jesus Christ. 

There is a fountain filled with blood
drawn from Immanuel’s veins;
and sinners, plunged beneath that flood,
lose all their guilty stains.
— William Cowper
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All I have to offer Christ is my need, which is all of myself.

I’ve known need quite well these past few months. I have labored in prayer, sometimes simply begging the Spirit to intercede with His words as I felt mine lacking. In the words of a friend, I have put out many fleeces, wanting to not be inactive in discerning where He would have me go next. I’ve known the valley, I’ve known the wilderness, I’ve felt the heat of the desert sand on these bare feet. I am not silly enough to think that I won’t be back in that place in some time, and yet, here I look at what has felt like a long season of winding roads to finally a steady climb of simple trust.

My friend has just recently felt this sting of rejection from those he loves, from those he trusted, from those he thought would come through for him. It was all I could do to throw empathy out the window and with tears in my eyes shout how good the grace of Christ has been in this winter, this waiting, this longing.

He has truly been abundantly kind, even on the days I had scales locked on to these eyelids of mine, blinding me to his generosity that shines and blooms in the coldest of nights.

Grace grows best in winter.
— Samuel Rutherford

I’ve known need quite well these past few months. The Lord has met me in every single need. He has shown himself to be the meaning of abundance, the source and wellspring of life, the coverer of my guilt, shame, embarrassment, anger, sadness, and grief. This abundance has left me dripping in offering up gratitude, accepting each day and moment for what it is, and welcoming with open hands whatever may be knowing it is His good grace.

He is the abundant.

I couldn’t have planned what my life has looked like in this season, nor will I attempt to try in the next, but in all of this, Christ has and will meet every need of mine in His generous abundance, regardless of whether or not I have eyes to see.

With open hands, I pray, that we would all lean in to the beauty of the deaths of winter, the groanings of advent, and the meaning of true abundance in the life, death, and resurrection of our faithful and kind Savior. Give Him your need, He will meet you, and He will lift your head. 

Advent

And they heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden. But the LORD God called to the man and said to him, “Where are you?” And he said, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself.” He said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten of the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?” The man said, “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate.” Then the LORD God said to the woman, “What is this that you have done?” The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.”
The LORD God said to the serpent,
“Because you have done this,
cursed are you above all livestock
and above all beasts of the field;
on your belly you shall go,
and dust you shall eat
all the days of your life.
I will put enmity between you and the woman,
and between your offspring and her offspring;
he shall crush your head,
and you shall bruise his heel.”
— Genesis 3:8-15
After these things the word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision: “Fear not, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.” But Abram said, “O Lord GOD, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?” And Abram said, “Behold, you have given me no offspring, and a member of my household will be my heir.” And behold, the word of the LORD came to him: “This man shall not be your heir; your very own son shall be your heir.” And he brought him outside and said, “Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” And he believed the LORD, and he counted it to him as righteousness. And he said to him, “I am the LORD who brought you out from Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land to possess.” But he said, “O Lord GOD, how am I to know that I shall possess it?” He said to him, “Bring me a heifer three years old, a female goat three years old, a ram three years old, a turtledove, and a young pigeon.” And he brought him all these, cut them in half, and laid each half over against the other. But he did not cut the birds in half. And when birds of prey came down on the carcasses, Abram drove them away. As the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell on Abram. And behold, dreadful and great darkness fell upon him. Then the LORD said to Abram, “Know for certain that your offspring will be sojourners in a land that is not theirs and will be servants there, and they will be afflicted for four hundred years. But I will bring judgment on the nation that they serve, and afterward they shall come out with great possessions. As for you, you shall go to your fathers in peace; you shall be buried in a good old age. And they shall come back here in the fourth generation, for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete.”
— Genesis 15:1-16
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I feel the effects of the Fall, found in Genesis 3 and all over Scripture, every single day.

Today we gathered as staff, heavy, praying for the many who are looking at death, looking at broken relationships, looking at broken hearts. In that, we pray for those who are not only affected by the wreckage of the curse happening or being done to them, but also the sin that people have done themselves, scarring their lives and the lives of those around them.

I am keenly aware of the many ways I choose to believe the lie of the enemy over the sure word of God, then running to hide from my choices that have wreaked havoc in the world around me.

Advent. A season in our Church calendar where we can actively take time to reflect upon the coming of Christ, something we know has happened, but something we too long to come again. This isn’t esoteric or far off, but something we hold tangibly in our hands every single day. The curse and its many fruits bleed into every moment of our lives, and we writhe and groan, waiting for what is wrong to be made right.

Even in the curses found in the Fall, we find the whisper of a promise of hope, that although the serpent slithers and makes his way into every life, someone would come, and that someone would crush him.

Fast forward a bit to Abraham, a man in relationship with God in this world full of darkness. Even in his relationship, he questions God and what God’s plans are in relation to what he sees his circumstances to be. God is making some pretty big promises and with what Abraham can see, it doesn’t really add up. Yet, Abraham, still Abram at this time, does something that only few before him had done: he believes.

His belief leads him to act upon what God tells him to do and something beautiful happens in that place. The finishing act of this chapter ends in a miraculous and glorious event, a covenant sealed by God and God alone.

Advent. A season in our Church calendar where we recall and remind ourselves of the promises God made, the covenant that He made with His people. Although the full fruition of Jesus Christ in flesh, God with us, wasn’t what Abraham would have known, we live into this covenant, these promises, and similarly, a future hope. This belief in what God has done, what God did, should lead us to act and live different lives, something beautiful happening in the places here and now because of what happened then and there.

Advent. A season in our Church calendar calling us to fully be the people of the covenant, a covenant made and given as a gift. This means exactly what Abraham was also promised, doing this as a family, as a community, as the bride and body of Christ Jesus; even we are grafted in. This both/and season of longing and living into Jesus is not just for these short weeks, but a receiving of His grace each and every day.

As we look at the world around us, it is all too easy to stop believing and start questioning what God said to be true. Most days, it really does feel as if the serpent is winning, our relationships wanting, our health failing, our heel being bruised. Friends, do not forget the promises He has made. Hope is found in Who is coming and Who has come.

Years passed and things didn’t get any better. People were still just as cruel and mean to one another. They still got sick and died. God’s world was still full of tears. It was never meant to be like this.
But God was getting ready to do something about it. He was going to make all the wrong things right, and he was going to do it through… a family.
— Sally Lloyd-Jones

So I keep coming back to this simple prayer: I believe, help my unbelief. Look to what He has done Himself, what He invites us into, and believe. You don’t have to hide.

Happening

We fall into our lives much more often than we decide them.
— Jen Pollock Michel

My favorite times of this season have been the ones with my husband and I sitting at our table, or like last night, at the counter sitting on our bar stools, taking a piece of bread and a sip of wine and knowing full well that it is the gospel that has kept us not only together, but growing and moving forward.

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We share together, giving thanks as we take this communion for the many ways that we have seen God’s hand in our week. I think of Ruth once more, in the many ways the author uses the language of things happening to allude to God’s plan, to God on the move, to God at work in the story.

Even when we don’t have the eyes to see it, God is always working. The scales that need to fall are many when it comes to observing how sweet the daily bread tastes, how gracious the simplicity of nourishment and provision.

Although this is short, I am finding this to be also quite sweet. In the middle of what has felt like a never-ending season, time is not wasted. He has spent a long couple of months pruning, molding, shaping, and slowly opening these two hands of mine in ways that I thought were beyond words painful. As I have prayed time and time again for God to move, He has in the hidden, in my darkness, even as I in my feeble humanity have said otherwise.

Things around us will be always and ever happening. With open hands, with gladness, let us run. Our God is at work.

Now I have had most of the life I am going to have, and I can see what it has been. I can remember those early years when it seemed to me I was cut completely adrift, and times when, looking back at earlier times, it seemed I had been wandering in the dark woods of error. But now it looks to me as though I was following a path that was laid out for me, unbroken, and maybe even as straight as possible, from one end to the other, and I have this feeling, which never leaves me anymore, that I have been led.
— Wendell Berry, Jayber Crow

My Idol, Approval

We must not have human approval as a primary or even major aim. We must lovingly allow people to think whatever they will.
— Dallas Willard
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I wrote this down a long time ago when I first saw it pop into my feed, knowing I would need it sometime soon, and also being wildly convicted. Then, it was yesterday that I got the email, the email that made me question things about myself, the email that made me momentarily reconsider why I do what I do.

I’d like to say that it was just and only yesterday when I needed the reminder of the quote.

It’s been a pattern, a quiet one nonetheless, like most idols that need to find a way to slowly but surely eat at the heart of your soul and your belief in the gospel. I’ve spoken much about the season I’m in, wrestling with God to see truly what He is doing in the midst of what seems to be dark. I’ve swayed back and forth with my emotions slamming around like a pinball machine, not realizing that the changes would happen most typically when I would receive differing opinions on what my seeming worth was, teetering back and forth, up and down.

Thankfully, God hears and answers prayer. Thankfully, God is committed to changing us from one degree of glory to another. Thankfully, God moves in spite of me.

We were with family members when I made the horrible mistake of checking my email, only to receive harsh words based on misunderstanding. My anxious heart moved quickly, jumping from one thought to the next, leaving me wanting and desperate for this person’s fixed approval of me.

I will not be free until I allow what God says about me to be what I hold on to as fixed truth. Anything less than that tarnishes what the Cross means for my life, especially if I have to continue to still seek and pine after the approval of those around me. The idol was no longer something too quiet for me to hear. This idol was asking for all of my heart.

Define yourself radically as one beloved by God. This is the true self. Every other identity is illusion.
— Brennan Manning

One of my favorite plants, my monstera adansonii, got attacked with some gnats a few months ago. It was growing still, so I didn’t think it was a huge issue, and just treated the top layer of soil to fend off the horrible insect. I continued to care for my plant the same way I had since, not thinking too much of the leaves that had some yellowing in them. However, yellowing and gnats are two big red warning flags of overwatering. Although the plant is still doing wonderfully, the leaves closest to the soil have been pruned and plucked off, one by one, dead. If I would have paid closer attention, I could have repotted and cared for the plant at the root issue, instead of covering up nasty outside signs like gnats in my home.

This is true of my wandering heart. Silly metaphor aside, what is happening due to circumstances around me does affect me, but not as much as what is inside, what I believe. All of this has been a root issue, not allowing God and what Jesus Christ has done in his life, death, and resurrection to be the foundation of every single part of my life. I can lament circumstances, but the roots need to be firmly placed in firm foundation, not soaked in the opinions of others.

Lead me in your truth and teach me,
for you are the God of my salvation;
for you I wait all the day long.
— Psalm 25:5

I am continually thankful for the conjunction that separates my continuous failings from the only One who brings life: but God. His blood will be what paints my worth, not words that may change tomorrow.

Seek Out Strangers This Sunday

This post was published by Desiring God on November 4, 2017. I am indebted to them for the gracious way they edit and inform their writers. 

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I still remember moving to a new city and the ordeal of “church shopping”: in and out every week, feeling the pangs of not having consistent community, displacement from a body of believers, desperate to settle. Now, I work with people who want to connect with our church. Some of these people complain that they show up to our gathering for weeks and no one says a single word to them. My heart breaks when I hear that.

When I consider the relational distance many of us feel when we enter corporate worship, I wonder if we might experience a greater sense of connectedness if we rethink how we welcome others on Sunday morning — regardless of whether we’re brand new or have been around for decades.

Let me use two terms — strangers and members — to describe how this might look. Whether you are a stranger at a church, or a resident member, the call to seek out relationships and do the hard work of community is an invitation into joy for everyone involved.

In Search of Community

Strangers — Christians who do not yet belong to a local body of believers — often leave a church feeling painfully disconnected. Many of us point the finger and say that no one tried or even bothered to see us. But beneath this accusation is often a consumerist mindset, a mindset that looks to church as an opportunity to satisfy a personal need, rather than as an opportunity to serve the needs of others.

Strangers are not wrong to desire inclusion. But as strangers, we should grow to see how our participation in worship can help create the experience we desire. Take the risk to seek community, and do your best to play your part in Romans 12:13: “Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.”

Pray that God will use this Sunday to fold you deeper into this particular body. And look for opportunities to strike up a conversation with someone you don’t know. You might meet someone who needs to remember that new people like you are in their midst. Alternatively, you might end up meeting another stranger like yourself — someone yearning for the same kind of connection you are.

Love the Stranger

If you are a member, someone planted and firmly rooted in a church family, remember that you were once a stranger. Even those who were born and raised in the church they attend must recall that we were once aliens, separated from God’s family (Colossians 1:21).

The Bible calls God’s people to love strangers. Moses wrote that God’s people must “Love the sojourner . . . for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt” (Deuteronomy 10:19). Peter reminds his readers, “Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy” (1 Peter 2:10).

Like unbelieving Israel, many of us struggle to welcome those who don’t look and act like us. But our mission of outreach calls us to bring light to the darkness, and that includes bringing strangers into our church body. This call includes strangers who are Jesus’s disciples as well as strangers who do not know Jesus.

When Christ’s body extends Christ’s love to strangers, it is a gospel miracle, a small but real reflection of Jesus’s own welcome to us: “Welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you” (Romans 15:7). Our hearts can rejoice to follow such commands when we view our gatherings as an opportunity to serve others rather than be served. This Sunday, be the hands of Jesus by reaching out and welcoming others. Pray and ask God for eyes to see whom you might welcome at church, whom you might linger with in conversation, and whom you might invite over to your home for a meal.

A Different Liturgy

Stranger, it is a great gift to be welcomed into a community. But that invitation only points us to the greatest gift: an invitation into God’s own family through the blood of Jesus. Member, extend the costly mercy you have been given so freely. It is costly to be a part of this beautiful, diverse body of Christ: a free gift, but one that calls us to come and die and be raised. 

Corporate worship — coming together on a Sunday morning — is not about you. It’s about Jesus. Reject the cultural liturgy of consumerism, and see your act of worship this Sunday as one where even the smallest parts of the service become ways to obey the two greatest commandments: love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind, and love your neighbor as yourself (Mark 12:29–31).