Do not feed the flesh habits

“We can forget: God may not affirm our desires, but He will firmly nail those desires to the cross and affirm the rising of Christ through those desires. And the beauty of Christianity is—what dies will rise. When you’re called to a cross, God is always calling us to our greatest good—and to greater abundance.”
~Ann Voskamp, The Way of Abundance
We can forget God, but He will not forget us.
When the gracious God of love calls us to himself His plans are unlike anything we can imagine and as we begin to make our way further up and further in toward this glorious king, it becomes clear: this is not an easy road.
Over the years I have prayed what John the Baptist said about his own relationship to Jesus in John 3: He must increase, I must decrease. 
We are all too excited when God answers the prayers like please let me child make the team or please let my husband get that promotion, but a prayer like this one is of the dangerous variety.
A faithful God will answer this cry and the answer to this prayer is hard on our flesh. Actually it is the death of said flesh. For John the Baptist, there was imprisonment and beheading at the request of a conniving mother and dancing daughter.
Our faithful God answers prayer and in this one I have found what I ask for may not be what I want, or more pointedly, definitely not what my flesh wants. 
JP finished his two part sermon on Ephesians 4:17-24 and here Paul once again honestly calls us to a new life, something far different than the way we are accustomed to living. A cursory reading exempts me (I think) from the wicked sounding behavior: darkened understanding, alienated heart, callous, sensual, greedy.
But with this prayer I have begun to pray and the patient, gentle revealing from the precious Holy Spirit, it suddenly strikes me as an adequate description of a woman excusing herself in many ways subtle and not-so-subtle.
The heart holds desperately to these—as JP called them—“flesh habits.”
In a world that abundantly and freely feeds these flesh habits, they are prone to grow and loom large in life day in and day out. When left to themselves, they are comforting, delightful, enjoyable. 
We befriend them and invite them into our homes, even brag about them. They are like the big, cushy pillow easing us into a drowsy, dreamy sleep.
In much the same way that delightful dreams can turn in an instant to horrific and scary dreams, once the flesh habits are recognized for what they are, their presence can be far less than comforting. It is a growing understanding that danger lurks here. 
A mom at the end of a long day needs a break and decides its ok to cling to pleasures that will not feed the spirit. When I hold my phone for more hours than a child or use my real face time with a glowing screen rather than with a glowing and growing 7-year-old, that is darkened understanding without a doubt. 
Clinging fast to time for me, “my time,” morphs into an alienated existence. It is easier to live alone and avoid the messiness of real relationship. 
The callouses have come from holding so hard and fast to things I think I deserve. I am my own woman and these decisions, these earthly pleasures have developed into a heart callous of sorts. 
I have chosen the sensual and impure to entertain to try and make me feel better about—shocker—me.
The uncanny thing about that fat, flesh habit of greed? Of course, it is never enough. And apply it wherever, however you like. Whatever it is—clothes, food, homes, cars, money, attention, vanity, affection, it is absolutely, positively, never enough.
So there I am in the ugly part of the passage thinking of G.K. Chesterton’s quote, “The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult; and left untried.”
It is far easier to leave behind the Christian ideal than the deceitful desires of the former self. Those flesh habits, I am familiar with. 
Yet the harm and destruction that comes from bringing them along is far worse and as verse 20 vehemently exclaims: “But that is not the way you learned Christ!”
What have I learned Christ? That the only true victory comes like the one He won on my behalf—death to self. 
It is the ongoing call to die.
The right way is rarely the easy way and often doesn’t look victorious.
“The cross doesn’t look like it’s winning. More like it’s losing, pouring out, being given—to those who don’t love at all. It conquers everything, but it looks more broken than anything. Jesus’ cross proves it: Love may not seem self-fulfilling, but in actual fact, deepest love looks deeply broken. His cross nailed it down: Love wins when it looks broken. Broken and given and poured out,” Ann Voskamp wrote in The Way of Abundance.
This resonates. What the world likes to feed—the flesh habits—will lead to ruin, spiritual death, but the renewal of the mind will mean death to the flesh habits, death to the flesh. But, like Christ, resurrection follows.
Darkened understanding becomes an enlightened mind.
The alienated heart is welcomed in.
His calloused hands carry a cross, call me in and heal those of my own.
His death, on my behalf, gives me all the love I could ever need.
Greed is swallowed up in that lavish love.
That is why, this day, every day, requires renewal of the mind and I will hold fast trusting that I will be transformed and not conformed.
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An open letter to my adult children

For the second year in a row, one of our children is graduating from high school. The eldest just graduated from college and there are two still to go.

It is almost unfathomable the children I birthed are considered “adults.”

This is scary. 

I know so little and think I have showed them even less. 

Just yesterday, Noah was learning to ride a bike while Emma was learning to walk and Seth could barely hold his head up. 

Though they were and are all delightful human beings, that period almost now seems a blur of dirty clothes, diapers, tears, pink eye, stomach bugs, ear aches, spills, and the like. They were funny and adorable and a joy. My mom told me to treasure the time because it would be over in an instant and because this was the easy part. 

I could not fathom how either of those were true, but like almost all insight given by those who have gone ahead, it’s nearly impossible to grasp until you get there.

Seventeen years gone by proves my mother right once again. 

The issues of yesteryear are not the issues of today and while we have many restful nights and far less to clean up, the issues now are, well, life altering.

Then it was easy to know what to do, what to say.

Absolutely do not stick your fork in the outlet. You are not allowed to put your hands in toilet water. Stop pulling your sister’s hair. This is how you tie your shoe. You say thank you when someone gives you something. 

Many, if not all of our directions at that time, were straightforward, common sense that young children have not yet developed. The subtle and scary depths of parenting “adults” is a far different task. 

Just three week’s from Seth’s graduation, my mind will not let go of what I want them to know, what I pray for them every day…

 

To my adult (and soon to be adult) children wanting to make their way in the world:

There are only a handful of things I know that I know after 46 years of living and attempting to grow up myself. Despite foolish mistake after foolish mistake, God has graciously, mercifully pursued me and continued to reveal himself.

I have turned away, He has turned me back.

As you live your own life, I can guarantee yours will include some mistakes of your own. That’s part of it. I pray now though, you will grow through them and learn He wants so much more for you than you can even imagine. 

Remember this!

1. First and foremost, God loves you. 

This isn’t a passing fancy, an “I-like-the-way-you-make-me-feel-about-myself” kind of feeling. This is an unshakable, unchanging, unfathomable love like you have not know known from anyone at any time. As much as your dad and I adore you all and want the best in your life, our love looks like garbage next to this towering miracle of grace. 

I may have thought I was going to die giving birth, but this God died so that you could have new birth. He died to give you life. Whether or not you cling to that now, my prayer is that you will one day recognize and cling to it for eternity.

God loves you. 

God loves you Noah. God loves you Emma. God loves you Seth. God loves you Macy. God loves you David. 

2. We are all broken people. 

Even the best of the best—the top of the class, the star of the team, the CEO, the guy next door, we have things that have utterly broken us. There is no escaping this. Some of it is our own fault and some of it is inflicted upon us, but regardless of the circumstances, none of us get out of this place unscarred. 

Because of this, relationships are hard. We are the broken trying to find ways to piece ourselves back together. There is this somewhat humorous irony: I don’t know that we are supposed to be put together. It is in the brokenness we find the same God who was broken for us. He was broken to know us in our own hurting places and to eventually heal us there. 

It is in brokenness that we can begin to understand and connect with all the other broken people around us.

If we let Him, He is faithful to use the pieces in ways we never thought possible.

3. Life doesn’t get any easier. 

In fact, it is probably only harder from here on out. The living part is just hard.

There is a reason people want to re-live the glory days of high school, cling to the college days. There is also a reason they are always looking to the next best thing. Life will be so great once I just graduate high school, graduate college, find a job, find a spouse, have a kid, pay off bills…

From the moment the lie that God does not love us entered the world, things have only trended toward difficulty. 

It is hard to earn a living. It is hard to find someone to love you (and no one will do this perfectly). It is hard to get along with people. It is hard to see the suffering in the world. It is hard to do the right thing.

Despite a scary world and difficult circumstances, do not be discouraged.

4. There is a plan for you. 

Though there are so many times we feel alone and abandoned. We know and can trust there is a plan in place, in motion more like it. It was established before the foundations of this world and your part, you participation is essential. It doesn’t happen without you moving forward, making choices, finding your way. 

It requires some trust on your part to know you are not forsaken. He will not leave you. He will call you by name and beckon you to Himself. To understand your role, you will need to hear His voice. 

Often we just want to know what to do. We say we would do it if we could see clearly what it is we are supposed to do. I have learned though, this is like cheating on a test. It is being given the answers when we are really here to learn. We learn from the hard stuff, taking one step at a time.

5. To find the plan for our lives and understand it requires communication with God. 

This comes through the written word, spoken word and living Word of God. He is literally the communication and all too pleased to do it with you as much as possible. He delights in it in fact. It is in this communication (communion), you will find Him and find yourself. 

Relish your down time, away from the noise, the social media madness that has swallowed us all. Look for places to find Him. He isn’t hiding from you. He is the one pursuing and there is great comfort in this. 

His written word will encourage every single day. No time in prayer is ever a mistake. Through these, you will know the Living Word Himself.

6. Pursue Him, pursue that plan for your life knowing that He is in it with you and will absolutely never leave or forsake you. 

When you have discovered His call, discerned the sound of His voice, you can wholly, completely, unabashedly follow Him. You will find so much grace you will be overwhelmed by it. If it were possible, you would drown in it. 

Freedom is the gift of this grace. This freedom will give you the joy and peace to pursue His plan, the glorious vision He has for you.

In the pursuit, know you will fail and fall and stumble along the way. It is inevitable. This, however, in no way disrupts the process. It is part of it. Thank God for it and keep on moving toward Him and all that He intends for you.

7. Lastly, when some seasons seem particularly difficult or seem out of control, or even if you doubt any of these reminders, be sure you never forget the first thing.  

God loves you. 

rooted and grounded

“For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.

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 glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.”

Ephesians 3:14-21

From the first moment I can remember, I loved that feeling of living among my mother’s branches. I could see for miles and see the sunshine and listen to the birds that would rest there. I had friends and siblings nearby and there was nothing to do but soak up sunshine and watch as clouds rolled by.

The Sun he always gave my mom what she needed to grow and survive and provide for those around her.

We relished that time.

We didn’t know what was to come, what, ultimately, we were waiting for.

One cool, sunny morning, the unimaginable happened to me.

My mother shook in a gentle wind and I was torn away and fell. It felt as though I would keep falling in terror that would not end.

When I hit hard on the ground, I cried out, looking up at her beauty and wondering how she could have let me go. I was completely exposed and alone and knew this is where squirrels would come and take others like me.

I was terrified.

Before I could even cry out, I was overwhelmed with that good dirt smell as I found myself atop a moist, dark heap of soil. The Sun enveloped me and I had a glimpse of clear sky.

I thanked him for the comfort and the moment soothed my fear, but it was not to last. Covered and pressed below the surface, I was stepped on. Pressed beneath the dirt I choked and sobbed.

The most difficult time of my life began. That subtle claustrophobia became full blown and I thought I would surely suffocate. Would the Sun leave me here?

Gasping beneath the dirt, I initially sputtered and struggled and resisted. It was as if I was being strangled. As the dirt swallowed me I thought this was the end of all that I am.

The darkness and void of being buried sapped my hope and in the soil I was desolate.

I cried out. Maybe the Sun above could hear me, maybe my mom.

I didn’t even know how to ask for help, but within me there was an urgent pleading. Where once I was surrounded by what I knew and now know that I loved, loneliness devastated me.

What seemed like days went by and I tried to maintain sanity thinking this was all there would ever be—darkness, solitude, nothing but pressure, separation and the feeling of death.

After what seemed like days, the faintest warm bit of moisture reached me there in the tomb I inhabited. It’s warmth was comforting.

Multiple droplets would reach me over the next days and weeks and I began to realize I was finding nourishment in this water that had come from above the surface. I’d even thought I detected radiant heat from above.

My hard outer shell seemed less hard, maybe even soft in a spot or two.

I cherished the nourishment I was receiving as I called out in gratitude for what was given. I took in all that I could eagerly.

The nourishment encouraged me to live, to think that there could be more.

Then came that day.

It was the day when I learned the worst had not yet come. It was a crack that made it’s way from the base of me to the tip top. I was torn and the hurt was unimaginable. I didn’t know I could feel like this.

Broken open I knew I would not ever last beyond this moment. I cried again for help.

The pain enveloped me as the crack spread wider, slowly. It was beyond a deep ache. It was stabbing and throbbing and burning as my outer self was torn away from my tender inner self.

My only covering and protection began to be stripped away. I had relied so heavily on this hard outer covering to protect me and keep me locked away from pain.

Initially those drops that had been a comfort stung so deeply as they found me without my outer covering. They helped separate me from it.

This could not be right. It just couldn’t. Why would the Sun send comfort and nourishment that only eliminated what I most needed—that protective layer?

As I wrestled and struggled trying to find relief and comfort, the warm gentle drops would again eventually become salve to me. They became so sweet and so treasured as I existed in the dark.

My exposed and now fully soft self would bend towards their warmth and the moisture even transformed the dirt around me. It was now soft and almost welcoming. I found it meeting my needs. Maybe I would survive without my exterior.

I also slowly realized as time went by that with my hard shell now removed, I was growing.

Gradually I was getting longer and stronger and could even feel myself moving. Whenever I could I chose to move toward the surface, to where I had last seen sky and sunshine and my mother.

Nourishment came as I focused on gratitude for these gifts of life. One day I realized that it was in fact, day. I was so near the surface and had begun to sprout a leaf. That moment I again felt sunshine on my transformed body made me delirious.

The warmth embraced my tiny leaf atop my single stem as I pushed through the earth.

Breaking through the surface, I was amazed to think that my life was not over but perhaps had just begun. I praised the Sun.

Weeks and months and years would come and go as I grew and strengthened. Now my branches reach far and wide as I work to continue to soak up the Sun.

I have a new covering beyond all I could have asked or imagined. It is strong and powerful and protects me from all that could harm.

Just as when I was a cracked open shell beneath the surface, He was calling to me, sending me what I needed and growing me. He continues to do that within my new covering. 

I could never of imagined what He wanted me to be and now my faith has become sight.

Now I am providing shelter for others and producing offspring of my own. I know what it is to be loved.

who is to blame?

“For while we were still weak, at the right time, Christ died for the ungodly.
For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, CHRIST DIED FOR US. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whole we have now received reconciliation.”
Romans 5:6-11
When my mother called to tell me a jumbled story through tears that my brother was dead, I was driving our minivan with my family on a hot August afternoon. 
It was the minivan I was reluctant to get in the first place, the same one that this same brother had told me was cool, that he liked it. That had made it easier for me to drive.
The back was full of my four kids eager to go see a movie. My husband in the passenger seat immediately knew that this normal Saturday was no longer that.
He pointed, as I talked loud and out of control, for me to pull over.
Nearly 11 years later I can’t drive past that spot without recalling the moment.
He got in the driver’s seat and I reeled as I processed what she’d told me.
I told him through irrational cries and screams that Jed had been killed in a wreck.
The rest of the way home left my children disappointed and confused in what was the closest I have come to an out-of-body experience.
Nothing made sense.
I screamed and cried and flailed my arms, scaring everyone in the van I’m sure.
I remember thinking what is wrong with me? Why am I out of control like this? This isn’t even how I cry.
It was unfair, illogical and I could barely understand how it was late in the afternoon and my mom heard from a brother three states away before we knew just down the road that my brother had died in the wee hours of that same morning.
My brother was dead.
All I could think now was that I had to get to my mom and dad. Someone could make this make sense but it was not me.
We would later all slowly assemble the pieces from people there.
A late night with buddies, outside of a bar, resulted in a joy ride in an empty parking lot in a God-forsaken Jeep.
The suspected high and intoxicated driver would walk away barely scratched asking the other passenger from the back seat to lie with him and blame the dying man for the wreck.
When the awful realization hit the driver that not only had he wrecked his car, but that one of his friends would not get up, fear and overwhelming guilt must have wracked his body and mind.
Let’s blame the guy that is dying. The frantic need for escape from consequences, from instant guilt. It was only fitting. He had to hide, to find a cover for this awful mess leading to death.
Suddenly like the Adam of old, in a garden far away, a finger pointed to someone else.
We have all been there.
That moment before sin is extraordinarily tasty and desirable—the excitement, the rush. Letting go of inhibitions for that wild moment of self-gratification. 
We don’t want to admit it, but it’s so pleasurable we go back again and again.
Let’s feel the air as we go little faster and take this speed bump.
Taste this juicy, dripping, ripe fruit with me.
Just one more shot.
Send that message to someone that doesn’t belong to you.
Tell that story that was to remain untold.
Watch those images of uncovered people, filling the mind with sin again.
The moment is so delectable.
That instant after, however, is unnerving like nothing else.
Pain, despair, guilt and fear is like hitting the pavement hard. 
When I let grieving subside for the moment and I want to point and blame I think of this modern day Adam and what he has done to my brother. He was seeking a story that would cover him and free of him of shame and certain death.
Adam of old pointed to Eve who pointed to a serpent cunningly wrapped around a tree.
That serpent began it all by pointing to, questioning God. 
A serpent on a tree blamed the Creator. 
The same Creator who would go on a tree and take the blame.
In sadness and desire to find peace, I want someone to blame. I point to Adam and guilt and sin and realize suddenly that I too am a guilty woman looking for covering and pointing to a dying man. 
When I am looking for someone to blame, I am just trying to cover my own shame.
I want hurt to subside, the kind caused by others, the kind caused by me.
I think of pieces of gravel from the hard ground in a lonely parking lot where lies are told.
It calls to mind a body torn by shards of gravel, rock glass embedded in a whip. A body that was beaten bare. It was the body of the only, truly innocent One and I was there pointing and blaming Him.
When my heart strays so far away and I think thoughts I shouldn’t think, I watch things I shouldn’t watch, I say things I shouldn’t say and do things I shouldn’t do, deep down I am aching in the aftermath for covering. 
So I point.
I make up stories.
I blame. 
I blame Him. 
The only one who doesn’t deserve the rotten end of a made up story still takes it.
He died on the tree for me while I was still a sinner.
He hung there struggling to breathe in a body He created using final breaths to say I forgive You.
As we approach Easter and I go back in my mind over JP’s sermons approaching the cross, I once again see this is all there is.
This is where forgiveness is given and received.
This is where we are exposed and at the same time covered.
This is where blame is given and taken. 
This is where death is swallowed up in victory.
Three guys in a Jeep and Jed was the only one who knew Jesus and the only one who would not survive. 
Someone finally made this make sense.
And yet, Jed did survive. He survived because his own guilt and shame were covered by the One who truly took the blame. 
Jesus took it and when He died, it died with Him. 
And because He rose again, we will also rise.

Do not lose heart

Running is the worst.

I get it if there is a specific purpose in mind—a child is headed for the road and a life has to be saved, a fast break in basketball and you just want to score.

I ran somewhat unintentionally two days ago and I’m still hurting, the good kind of sore they say.

Running just to run is not my thing.

My brain apparently loves running and not the kind that’s good for you.

It’s the kind that starts the moment the light in the bedroom goes off and a weary, worn body is just ready for rest. It is that kind that begins when all else is ready to drift away and find some type of restoration before another day starts.

You might even call it racing.

It is when I purposely try to slow the onslaught of thought, of worry. Every thing that seemed manageable—though perhaps barely—during clear-eyed, daylight hours is suddenly an insurmountable obstacle or an event that will cause my demise or perhaps my offspring’s demise.

In the dark hours be they night or early morning, it is as if my mind cannot see the light, any clear way out. Logical, thoughtful response has scattered and left me groping and fearful in the mystery of all that could be.

I will attempt to focus and quote scripture to myself, particularly that part about renewing my mind. I will pray and grasp for God’s peace. Yet it seems so very far.

My child is not yet home and it is storming and roads are slick. What if there is a wreck? What if she injured? 

My mouth is sore and achy. What if that tooth is infected and I wake to swollen jaw and excruciating pain? What if the antibiotic doesn’t work? What if it has to be removed?

What if the lady from the car wreck decides to sue?What if he doesn’t get this job?What if she’s pregnant? What if he does get that job? What if someone hurts him? What if a dictator attacks with nuclear weapons? What if someone brings a gun to my kid’s school?

I could never win a marathon but my mind will out run the best of them. It is absurdly fast and veers off the tracks of the rational with the flip of the light switch.

Scary hypotheticals abound and my mind won’t stop running.

I want peace. I am asking for it, for just a piece of His grace in that moment. He tells us that He will not give more than we can handle. He will never leave us or forsake us. Why do I feel forsaken?

Last week my brother preached on Ephesians 3.

Paul expounded on God’s mysteries.

I thought of Paul’s joy and grace and love for those he’s ministering to, writing to. He talks of the unsearchable riches of Christ, hidden in God.

I do not want them hidden! Please reveal them to me in the dark moments.

Paul was encouraging, revealing, worshipping. Then I read and remember in verse 1 that he was doing all of this FROM PRISON.

He was there in the midst of tribulations telling everyone else to not lose heart. This is the peace I am looking for. This is the piece of His presence that I need in dark hours.

Not only am I not in prison.

My child was not in a wreck.

My tooth is not infected.

No one brought a gun to my child’s school today.

Fully reliant on God’s presence, he was not sitting somewhere quietly writing about what would happen if he got thrown in prison or if he got snake bit or if he got shipwrecked.

He did. And God was enough, more than enough.

That is how, that is why Paul could write words like these while he sat in a prison cell:

“To me, who am less than the least of all the saints, this grace was given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to make all see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the ages has been hidden in God who created all things through Jesus Christ;  to the intent that now the manifold wisdom of God might be made known by the church to the principalities and powers in the heavenly places, according to the eternal purpose which He accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord,  in whom we have boldness and access with confidence through faith in Him. Therefore I ask that you do not lose heart at my tribulations for you, which is your glory.”

He is asking that his brothers and sisters not lose heart while he suffers.

I am losing heart while not actually suffering, putting myself in the middle of every imaginable scenario.

Oh heart ache.

There it is again. Me, in the middle. A place I frequent so much you’d think it’d be recognizable by now.

One of my favorite quotes springs to mind: “The most difficult lie I have ever contended with is this: life is a story about me.” ~Donald Miller

What a whopper it is. It is the lie I battle every single day.

This is not my story.

It is all His story.

This is not about me. Putting ‘me’ into every circumstance that I am not actually in is actually pride, vanity.

This does not mean those things could not or will not come. We are in fact promised that the suffering will come. The moments of life that I was in true trouble, God graciously stripped away every earthly solution. When it wasn’t a ‘what if’ scenario, it was the real heartbreak, God was absolutely, unshakably faithful. This is the mystery of what is.

I could bear the moment because I was in it and He was as well. There was no more searching for solution elsewhere, no more self-reliance.

It is the complete removal of me.With that was freedom to focus solely on Him and He has endured it all and then more.

Roman lawyer and orator Cicero said: “There is no fitting word that can possibly describe so horrible a deed.” He was talking about crucifixion.

Jesus did not imagine that things were bad. They were. As he approached death, He even asked if there was another way. Stripped, beaten, nailed, butchered mercilessly with forgiveness on his very lips. And His story did not end with death and defeat.

Thank God this is His story and not my own. That He is faithful in the moment. That when it comes time to rely on Him He has endured it all and more.

Paul was free from himself, focused on bringing that same relief to all those who would follow in the faith.

I read on to the final verses of chapter 3 relinquishing the what ifs and holding fast to what is:

For this reason I bow my knees to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, from whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named, that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with might through His Spirit in the inner man, that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and depth and height— to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge; that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.

Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us,  to Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.”

Bringing the far near

Grover from Sesame Street made me laugh out loud when he explained the difference between near and far.

There was a skit where he would stand close to the camera and tell the kids “this is near” and then run, huffing and puffing, far away, until he looked small and yell from a place nearly off screen “this is far.”

This went on more comically each time as he would make the trip back and forth, out of breath, clarifying for watchers the difference between the two.

Life operates oddly within these realms. Sometimes things seem far away and like they cannot affect me, in the here and now, in the closeness of near.

Death is one of those things. It seems so far removed, a future reality that’s out there somewhere though not affecting this moment. Until it does.

And the nearness can be nearly suffocating.

Then a week like last week happens. A beautiful high school senior named Grace dies on a winding Georgia road, a faithful servant named Ralph quietly crosses over from the arms of his beautiful bride to the very presence of Jesus and children in a school are brutally assaulted in a place where they should only be safe.

The far comes near.

The outward, physical reality succumbs to every worst inward fear.

Life is swallowed by death and what we want near seems oh-so-far.

These are the times that it looks like grace is gone and we are alienated, strangers in a hostile world.

It is a world that is hard and unbending and unwilling to dwell on grace and truth.

Social media, regular media, have only magnified the underlying ruin of sin that erodes communities, society, the world at large.

When the now becomes engulfed in the nearness of hostility, of death, it is easy to feel crushed and defeated.

We fight back and defend and know that something is missing. There has to be a solution, answers.

The natural inclination is to fix it.

Let’s find the problem and eliminate it by changing some things. We have this power, we think.

There must be some blame for a crash—the road is too dangerous, the speed limit too high.

A doctor can run some more tests, find a new treatment, prescribe a new medicine.

There must be some kind of law to put in place that will stop people from shooting kids, shooting each other. Take away guns, work on mental health issues.

There has to be something we can change that will keep hostility, even death, at bay, far away.

Even in the solution-seeking, we cannot escape the hostility because everyone has an answer. Laws and arguments are convoluted at best.

Solution-seeking devolves to conflict and we seem to thrive on the ‘us’ and ‘them’ mentality.

People pick sides and not one another. We are desperate and we know our way is the way and the result is heavy, sad and not what anyone really longs for.

At the very core, we want life.

It has eluded us since we chose to live apart from the Creator of all life.

So when JP talks more about Ephesians 2 and reads: “Remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility” hope wells again within.

I only have one sermon my brother says. It is always only Jesus, he says.

Not long before the betrayal and arrest of Jesus, Mary anointed him with nard, or spikenard. It was an expensive oil used traditionally to prepare someone for burial.

At the time Jesus was very much alive in this world and the disciples were indignant over the waste of something so valuable and the death of their leader seemed only a distant, far off notion.

They protested and insisted it would’ve been better spent on the poor somewhere far, not near and now, on this lowly king.

Spikenard is made from a flowering plant that grows in places like Nepal and Kumaon in the Himalayas. To extract the oil, the underground stems are crushed and made into the powerful, aromatic oil. It is expensive.

This King made man was also crushed so we no longer have to be.

I realize that Mary was giving away more than oil of significant value in John 12. She was worshipping by pouring out, giving away what was costly to her. Could she have known that He would be crushed and the sacrifice would be the one pleasing aroma to God?

Then I think this is what is required to heal hurt, bring strangers near, to even conquer death.

We must follow Mary’s lead which is Jesus’ lead and pour ourselves out for one another.

It is a costly venture, but we have the single most valuable gift to share that will help prepare others for burial.

Grace is not gone.

There is life still and it comes only when we’ve poured out the one true gift, revealed it through love for others to see, to understand.

At the end of a week full of earthly death, I was grocery shopping. Nothing enticing, not a what I’d call a good time. But that particular Friday, there was no school and two of my boys went along.

On the frozen aisle of Walmart, my 7-year-old stopped me to say that he asked Jesus to save him that morning.

We’d been discussing this gift of eternal life for the last several days over The Chronicles of Narnia and the approach of Easter.

Holding my hand with a wide smile, he stared up at me.

My brother has it right.

There is the only one sermon worth preaching, every day and with all of our lives.

It is the one sermon that will bring the far near without fear, without worry.

It is the sermon that brings all of us who were far near to the cross.

It is the one sermon that will kill hostility for it crushed a King and it doesn’t end with a burial but with a resurrection and reconciliation.

But God

I love to floss.
My husband often says that I do it too much and when I visit a dentist I like to mention that. 
“You can’t floss too much,” the hygienist will counter and I will nod in arrogant agreement.
This latest checkup, however, reveals what a clean, white exterior will not.
There is decay beneath the pretty sheen of a crowned tooth.
Somehow the rot got in, under, beneath the pleasant exterior. The x-ray unveiled the sham, it acknowledged what was lurking below.
That tooth may need a root canal. 
The underlying decay will eventually cause pain, an unrelenting kind, as the nerve warns of a tooth that is headed for death unless there is intervention.
I was taken back by the revelation and gravely disappointed.
My brother stands at the front of our church building during worship service and tells us all that sin has gotten into everything. 
All of the world is affected, infected.
I think of my tooth.
It is something I know and firmly believe and even more so the older I grow and this is only one more depressing reminder.
There is no escaping in this lifetime the awful effects of sin. And sin, like the underlying decay, hastens death be it physical, or worse, spiritual.
Those who do not know that they know this, still actually do. 
There may be no conscious acknowledgement, but when a Super Bowl commercial for a pickup truck has to tell people we are created equal and can accomplish great things, it is blatantly obvious that something here is broken.
We have lost our way.
Lost because we do not understand this place, our place.
When early astronomers did not yet understand the proper orbit of the planets or that the planets rotated around the sun, not the earth, the numbers simply did not add up.
Johannes Kepler set straight the idea of planetary motion when he discovered the course was elliptical not round just as Nicolaus Copernicus had done when recognizing the sun was the center, not the earth. Scientific observations of planets in motion did not make sense until these basics were established and acknowledged.
The sin that infects and invades can be traced to that moment we took our lives out of their proper orbit.
When God gave Adam and Eve a choice, they—we—did not choose well.
Their choice removed creator God, Center of the universe, from His proper place. 
When we chose self, we subverted the design. As each generation ignores this reality, we make the sinner the center and the numbers do not add up.
Now nothing moves or operates in the way in which it was designed. 
God created, designed, loved and allowed a choice. The moment that choice meant redefining the proper course of all bodies, all of the universe tilted away from the Son.
To accommodate that shift, the world grows weary with propping itself upon the visible, the instant glory and gratification.
There is a grasping at any and all to tilt, to shift things back to a way that they make sense, to a way to balance the weight.
We know things are off-kilter, we sense that the weight is unbearable, but to straighten things out, to bear things up?
As long as the sinner is in the center, there is no possible way. 
After Copernicus and Kepler, Sir Isaac Newton would again enlighten minds.
Newton’s  first law of motion: Every body perseveres in its state of rest, or of uniform motion in a right line, unless it is compelled to change that state by forces impressed theron.
In and of ourselves, we will continue in the way that we are going—even when we know it isn’t right. 
After the poor choice of a gardener and his wife, depravity became the norm.
The misalignment throws the weight off and balance is lost. Wickedness prevails as bodies continue in uniform motion.
“The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts o this heart was only evil continually,” Genesis 6:5.
“And you were dead in the responses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.” Ephesians 2:1-3.
That is the sheer horror of sin. There is no way to break out of the pattern of this continual uniform motion.
Death is inevitable.
Then two of the greatest gospel words offer that glimmer of hope, the hope of an outside force in a sin-wracked, lost, decaying world: But God.
Verses 4-6 of Ephesians 2 is the force that compels the change by impressing upon us.
But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages hie might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.”
When God saw that every thought was evil and began again with Noah and a flood, Genesis 8:1tells us: “But God remembered Noah and all of the beasts and all of the livestock that were with him in the ark.”
When depravity was the norm, “For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5).
When the rot and decay have reached the sinner at the center, there is death. 
When the Son inhabits His rightful place at the center, His own death will lift the unbearable weight and the sinner will not be crushed.
The weight that is too much for the sinner at the center, the nerve that cries out in pain—these are the mercy of God at work in our lives. 
The disappointment comes.
The flood destroys.
The flaming sword protects the way back to the tree of life.
The wrath, the death, the struggle all actually point to the way of life.
Before a tooth dies, there is a lot of pain, warning cries. There is a reminder that grows day by day as it is ignored until finally it is unbearable.
When the decay reaches the center, it brings death. And while we may prop it up and even wear a crown of our own, there is no relief until an outside force unveils and restores the decay.
Relief is restored when the weary sinner sets down that weighty burden of the center.
“But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies.” 2 Corinthians 4:7-10