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
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Waiting on wonder

“See the curiosity of the cosmos as Christ condescends to His most cherished creatures

See the astonishment of angels as the Almighty advances towards Earth

See the humility of the pre-existent King born of a virgin birth

The Infinite becomes infant, the Maker becomes man”

~Immanuel, Beautiful Eulogy

 

The dark night sky did not give up her secrets until we’d settled into the field and laid face up in the frosty air for close to half an hour without distractions.

In the still and quiet I blinked profusely, straining to see the glory.

The cold hurt my hands but the wool blankets and my massive, comforting husband kept me warm while we waited to be amazed.

Waiting 30 minutes these days—without a phone or television or satellite radio or any social media, I am afraid, has become unheard of, so it is no wonder that waiting on the wonder seemed so long.

Once our eyes adjusted and the dark sky became so black, glory appeared and it was more than worth the wait. The longer we focused and let go of distractions, the clearer they became.

What initially appeared to be our eyes playing tricks was now so clearly the streaking, glorious rocky and metallic bodies of meteors as they showered down all around the expanse overhead.

Every one of them spurred. Encouraged. Gave the desire for more.

We went to wait on wonder—and it did not disappoint.

Christmas always excites me and I think it is because it is exactly the same—waiting on wonder.

I’m that person who is shamed on social media for decorating as soon as I move my creepy animated butler back to the basement the day after Halloween.

From the days when I would fumble into my parents room in the middle of the night asking if it was time to get up to relaying to my own children that they have to wait for us to get them, the anticipation of Christmas’ arrival has always energized me.

It is the wonder of the One great God who has made himself known at this time in eternity. It is a cosmic birthday celebration like none other. Creator Jesus arrives in His creation.

Somehow, lately, be it age, or noise, or social everything, I have felt the wonder and awe slipping.

Since God does not change, I know that the wonder has not slipped or changed or lessened.

So the change must have happened here, in this small globe that becomes crowded in with bright lights and gift-giving and screens of all sizes everywhere I go. (I resent eating out with a screen blinking back at me on the edge of the table.)

This tiny computer screen that I carry everywhere I go takes the big and beautiful and indescribable glory of all that is creation and cuts it down to fit into my hand. A view that is posted, liked, favorited and retweeted.

This year, of all years, I have faltered in my excitement, that twinge that feels like nerves or unadulterated anticipation as I look to the arrival, the advent.

It is the arrival of the One that I want to wonder over.

The noise of the world and all that it is jumbles and distorts and gives me a particular lack of clarity and vision.

The longer we exist here in this cynical, distracted, self-absorbed place it is as if bits of it slip away.

My 12-year-old daughter brazenly told my wide-eyed, happy-go-lucky 7-year-old there was no Santa.

I know because he bravely slid up next to me a few nights back and casually dropped into conversation before bed that today he’d learned this fact. Staring up at me in the dimly-lit room, I could see him blinking fast to show he was old and wise and would not cry over the revelation.

While I do not care about the debate or even about the myth, I care about the joy and wonder and bits of it slipping away.

My insides sank as I realized what would most likely have been the last Christmas holding onto that little bit of fun would not be. The youngest of five and last “believer” bravely smiled a weak smile and hugged me before bed.

Perhaps this is the kind and gracious stripping away of distraction.

Perhaps this is where we see that what cannot be seen is the true wonder.

After seeing the shooting stars against the magnificent black backdrop, I admit I took out my phone in a vain attempt to capture the glory.

Frame after frame of just black screen–not a gloriously lit black night sky–reminded me that this is glory that will not be captured.

Is it still wonder when it’s been reduced to something held in my hand?

Only the great and glorious God of all creation can hold His creation in His hand.

There I am, tiny and frail, and in awe of His vastness. I can no more capture the Creator than hold His creation.

I was made to be held, to find rest in His hand and not the other way round.

My feelings do not mediate His vast, infinite and divine nature.

God does not fit—will not fit— in a box on the table at Chili’s or into my iPhone.

It is up to me to step away from the noise and into the dark to wait quietly, attentively for this arrival.

I need the focus of glory to restore my soul.

I am waiting on Wonder again and He will not disappoint.

learning how to die

“That’s the whole spiritual life, learning how to die.”

~Eugene Peterson

People say they want to die to self.

We, however, have an innate natural fear of death and dying to self is no easier a feat than regular death. Really death of any kind is something we all would like to avoid.

I’ve decided people don’t really know what they are really saying.

This, like any difficulty I know about or encounter, is something I choose to run from and not to.

A spiritual life by death is daunting and I’m fully aware that I am not capable. I have demonstrated that I always choose self. Even when I think I’m not, the motives are frightening.

However, I have children.

As it turns out, that it is an excellent method for learning to die.

Having kids is the single hardest thing I have ever done.

Giving birth on its own is like a death of sorts. The physical pain and exhaustion and opening of your body in a way never thought possible feels like you may be dying.

Literally ripped apart, the body is broken and gives up to another life.

The pain, the fear, the sheer exhaustion of birth may have actually been the easy part.

When a child reaches maturity and you consider all you have poured in and that nothing is how you thought it would be, this too is a kind of death. The death of a desire or a dream.

Let me just give birth every day to not have to see, to feel, to endure these kinds of things now.

When the freshman in college says he doesn’t believe any more what he has professed to believe all his life.

When they slide up next to you to tell you they love you only to follow up with the story of how they are in dire trouble for foolish actions or what they would like you to buy them.

When they invite you to lunch with a friend and you realize it’s only because they need you to foot the bill.

When the embarrassment of “mom” being nearby is enough to make them take two steps away, pretend they don’t know you.

When it’s mother’s day and they hem and haw and shuffle feet anxiously waiting until they are free to go.

When you hold fast and they only pull away.

Motherhood does not look like this—at least not in the movies, not on television, not next door, not on Instagram or Pinterest.

This is where it feels broken, given up, swept under, less than.

To be at the middle of life and have nothing to show, no achievement to point to. There is no stellar career. This is not a neat and orderly home. There is not a beacon of spiritual leadership here.

There is the dry ache of eyes that have no tears remaining. Dryness all over, that sense that you’ve nothing left to pour out.

These people are just looking for a way out even though you have given up everything you had to bring them in. It is a hurt like none I’ve ever known.

I can’t figure out if I am dying to self or if they are killing me.

I look for any kind of evidence that there is love and only when I look up and away from me and the mess and disappointments do I find truth.

When I think that my kids are forcing my own spiritual death, I remember this is the calling. The Savior led me this way.

Looking up to him on that cross, enduring far beyond all I can imagine, I know as awful as it is to behold, it is life coming from death. His journey to the cross did not end with death.

It is in remembering this that we find life: And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. {Phillipians 2}

Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. {John 12}

How must He feel when I say I don’t believe, when I always ask and never thank, when I am embarrassed to say I am with Him, when I try to escape our time alone.

We are called to this same death that brings life, but we have to remember in the midst that we are loved, not alone.

For Christmas last year my dad made a decorative guitar for me. He has taken up woodworking and cherishes the time and effort he puts into the work.

He searches barns and roadsides and specialty shops for unusual and unique pieces that he can transform into something beautiful. And he does.

The guitar he made has several different types woods and is pieced together in a glorious design. When he gave it to me, he included a wooden nameplate that he had burned with the name of the piece.

We hung it immediately I and I kept the label nearby on the windowsill.

I admire the work daily.

Somehow it is easy to miss the life in the midst of death. It is easy when the focus is on all that looks awry. The noise, the failures of life tend to draw our attention away from the finished work.

As awful as giving birth—the process—can be, the resulting life is like nothing else. The mere fact that life comes of that brokenness is astonishing.

When I had my fifth child, I was in the final throes of childbirth, baring down and pushing with all I had. My head was down and eyes closed focused only on the pain.

Then I realized the doctor was speaking to me, “Amy, look up.”

I opened my eyes and there, half out of me was my precious David screaming like, well, he was dying.

He was coming to life in this world and it was as if my broken pain was instantly gone. My focus changed and I was renewed by life.

While battling feelings of loneliness, I recently stared hard at my dad’s creation hanging on the wall. I know it is a symbol, a reflection of his love. I looked at it and yearned to know my cries are heard, difficulties understood.

I asked my Father to show me again.

I reached for the nameplate, picked it up and turned it over.

There I found something I’d not seen before. My dad had written on the back side of the wood. His signature was there, the artist signing his work. He had also written a note to me:

You are greatly loved by me Amy

-Dad

Undone, tears came again.

I am no longer dry when I fix my eyes on the finished work.

vigorous resistance

Killing me is hard.

Long, busy days flow over into time reserved for community and grace. I grow tired and angry and resist the opportunities to meet with others to show love, to be loved.

Without exception, doing battle with me is treacherous. It always seems most dangerous and inevitable after periods of peace and calm before the Lord. Seemingly out of nowhere the self wells in rebellion. That this follows such precious moments feels counterintuitive and yet perhaps that is the root, the logical initiation of the cycle: Growing up and in knowledge of this good and gracious King will only bring about change. We cannot help but be changed by time spent in His presence.

“All human nature vigorously resists grace because grace changes us and the change is painful,” Flannery O’Connor poignantly observed.

I know (head knowledge know) that Psalm 22, He has done it! He has accomplished His ultimate saving purpose and it is my day-to-day dealing with, well, me that undermines that knowledge. It is that painful change.

My daughter and my husband like to catch snakes. I have seen it many times. It most often involves a long stick or pole for pinning the animal’s head to the ground so they can carefully move in to grasp it and avoid a bite.

My sin nature that lies beneath looks a lot like that writhing snake body resisting capture, resisting being held, resisting being beheld. I am liable to bite. As a redeemed creation, how can that be? Perhaps because if I am fully seen, fully known, there is no hiding the ugly, slithering side of self.

Paul says something along those lines in 1 Corinthians 13. We have dim, not fully developed view of ourselves. Seeing Him face to face will reveal full knowledge. And “then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.”

I am already fully known despite my resistance, my lack of ability to trust His all-knowing love, His grace. I am already beheld and He has not turned away. And there that verse is smack in the middle of yes, love. It is the love chapter that soars with descriptions that most certainly look unattainable. Does any one really love without envy or arrogance or irritability or resentfulness? Does anyone really endure all things?

I do not.

This forces me to that dim mirror and to the killing of self. The hard and painful ache of change.

Reading through that entire chapter, I find joy in verse 9. “For we know in part and prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away.”

WHEN THE PERFECT COMES.

I could stop there and look fully, contentedly.

The answer is yes. It has to be. Yes, someone really loves without envy or arrogance or irritability or resentfulness. Someone has endured it all. That would be Him—the Perfect.

He has come and in His coming there was a treacherous battle. It was on a cross and the writhing, slithering snake of self was destroyed.

It wasn’t me that was killed. It was Him.

This makes my painful change not so painful anymore.

It makes learning to be beheld possible. It makes my resistance futile.

I am able to move back to peace and calm before God. I am able to behold Him who is perfect love. I am able to trust His gaze and the change it brings.

lifted up

Wrestling and writhing uncomfortably in the night, he had no ability to be still. Something about this Man in this place was simply undoing this leader of the Jews. His education in the rabbinical law should have dispelled the discomfort. His knowledge should have been enough but there was something about this Man he could not avoid and he knew it.

So in the dark he went searching and for what he was not completely sure. Hid did however know there was only One place to go for the answers he needed.

Nicodemus approached Jesus in the night. His timidity was overshadowed by his restless heart. He knew his own education would likely be ridiculed if he were seen turning to the Man who was not appropriately educated. This expert among the Jews was seeking deeper truth and this Man might be able to reveal it in the dark. What Nicodemus did not yet know was that this truth can not be hidden. This truth is the Light of the world and cannot be covered by the dark.

Jesus cut to the heart and plainly revealed the need of Nicodemus who struggled to follow the teaching.

“How can these things be?” Nicodemus rebutted.

Patiently, the true Rabbi led this searching one where he had to go. Carefully the Light of the world cut through the clouded reasoning with an example Nicodemus would fully comprehend. Jesus used Nicodemus’ OT knowledge (Numbers 21) to give a glimpse of himself.

Moses in the wilderness with the Israelites who have once again forgotten their rescue, their faithful God. Relieved of their slavery, led out on the way to a promised place, they grow impatient and cry out “why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die?” These people insinuate that God is not good. It is the lie that leads us to doubt, fear, lack of gratitude. It is sin. So the fiery serpents slither in and the poison of doubt takes hold. Some die, and again, the cry for help rises. Again gracious God relents in love.

Moses was instructed to put the fiery serpent on the pole.
Moses lifted it up.
People looked and lived.

Now Jesus calls Nicodemus to look to Him and live. Jesus tells him that He, the Son of Man, must also be lifted up.

Serpents spouting poison was not a new story. Nicodemus knew it full well. That story went even further back. The lie could be traced to Genesis. “Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the LORD God had made.” (Genesis 3:1)

It began with the serpent in the garden casting doubt, insinuating God is not good. In their moment of weakness, a man and a woman believed that lie was true. They took the poison lie and ingested it. This fall they took for us all. The Israelites couldn’t stomach it. We now still sputter and choke and gag on the lie.

When Adam and Eve recognized they were bare before God, exposed, they took to hiding from His presence in the trees. That deep and wide chasm ached and the poison instilled fear and insecurity where once was rest and trust.

Mighty God was not through with them, with us, when by all standards He should be. Refusing to send them out exposed, He took the life of an animal to cover them, cover shame. Driven from the garden for their own protection, they fled to a dark world–one that now still writhes and groans for relief, redemption, and rescue.

So greater rescue was coming and Jesus wanted Nicodemus to catch the vision.

Like Nicodemus in the dark, we look for answers. We are drawn to the Light. When we draw near, we are able to see. And if we get close enough, we see the Son of Man lifted up. If we dare to look upon the dreaded tree, we will find our rescue. For it is on that tree that Jesus became the ugly insinuations and held fast while the evil one writhed and fought.

He dispels the lie.
It was crucified there.
He was willing to take on the lie, the insinuations, the sin as He remained there suffering on our behalf. There is no way to miss the truth when you look at the Son of Man lifted up: 
God is good. God loves us.

And the Son of Man was again lifted up, lifted in life. He rose from the fall, from the death that overshadowed us all. The night is gone. The lie is not true. He has purchased the rescue we all need. Our lack has been supplied. Our nakedness has been covered.

This year’s art show theme is “lifted up.” We are seeking entries that reflect this idea that can be traced from the garden, to the Israelites wandering, to the death, and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. If you would like to participate, please visit cotachurch.com for details on how to enter. The deadline for entry is March 4.

Waiting on Shrinky Dinks

Staring hard through the dirty oven window I watch mesmerized as the cut out shapes begin to curl and bend. I am instantly transported to second grade and the absolute marvel of the Shrinky Dink. Coloring hard on that rough side of the paper with stunted colored pencils I could never fully get the desired finish.

Watching the transformation, however, always amazed me as I tried to wrap my brain around the concept. There seemed to be so much danger and mystery in that paper, that miracle in the oven.

This piece of flimsy paper in the oven just shrunk down to a charm for my necklace! It is now strong and unbreakable and something to cherish.

Recently I discovered that Shrinky Dink makes plain, pages of this magic material for creating your own designs—whatever you want! Gleefully, I purchased two sets excited to return to second grade splendor. Surely my kids would delight along with me. We eagerly followed directions and feverishly drew delicate designs ranging from Darth Vader to Wes Anderson characters.

We carefully followed instructions, step by step, to Shrinky Dink glory.

I watched my kids watch the transformation. As their designs contorted and writhed on the cookie sheet, I reassured them that the directions said this would happen. Confidently I told them not to worry. The pieces will right themselves, flatten back out and they would be pleased with the results.

Success and relief followed and they marched on merry ways. Once their interest waned, I continued experimenting with other ideas of my own. Watching oh-so-intently my last experiment began to curl over upon itself as none of the other designs had done. Though I’d read and re-read the directions, worry slipped in. I frantically looked over the directions again:

“Bake approximately 1 to 3 minutes. After piece lies flat, allow an additional 30 seconds of baking time to complete the process. Occasionally, a piece may stick to itself. If this happens, cautiously reach into your oven and pull pieces apart. Allow piece to complete the baking process.”

I was anxiously trying to determine if this was one of those “occasional” moments that required my intervention. I am notorious for burning myself. Going in to the oven was not ideal. I kept telling myself to trust the process as I could not take my eyes off of this curled up sheet.

Do I open the oven? If I try to pull it apart, do I do it bare-handed? Will I make it worse? Can I remove the whole tray to repair it and put it back? Will it just uncurl on its own? This doesn’t look right!

As I watched the timer on the oven nervously and felt it wasn’t going to recover I began to open the oven to intervene. I reached for the hot tray and could not determine if the piece was on the way to retracting and unfurling. I pulled out the tray and set it on the counter only to see that it was immediately beginning to harden in the greatly undesired position. So I put it back into the oven and quickly closed the door and let the Shrinky Dink do its shrinking. It finished without any more interruption and turned out lovely.

That 1 to 3 minutes felt like forever.

Sometimes I think the Holy Spirit nudges me at the oddest of (occasional?) moments. My white knuckle grip on the oven door while frantically deliberating the fate of my Shrinky Dink (and how desperately my oven needed cleaning) was one of those times.

It looked an awful lot like my messy life.

God has given me clear and explicit direction throughout His written word. I try to read it every day. I pray and ask God —at this stage of my life where even the simplest things sometimes are impossible to recall—to make the word of God the one thing I do recall. I pray that He would allow His Spirit to seal it within me, that I would know the truth. I read and re-read. I pray. I write.

Yet, somehow, when I am waiting and staring hard at my circumstances, I focus intently on the process over which I have no control. I panic. I wring my hands. My intervention must be necessary. I must get in there and fix this situation. Forget what the directions tell me to do. Ignore that it is a hot oven.

The process is frequently not pretty with contortions and changes that look like mistakes, failure even.

This is when I feel the gentle tug of His sweet Presence. “Be still.”

“Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord!” Psalm 27:14

“Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him; fret not yourself over the one who prospers in his way, over the man who carries out evil devices!” Psalm 37:7

“I waited patiently for the Lord, He inclined and heard my cry.” Psalm 40:1

I think of Eugene Peterson and his explanation of what it means to wait on God, wait on God in prayer: “Waiting in prayer is a disciplined refusal to act before God acts,” Like anything that requires discipline or denial, I am not very good at it. Here is where actually following the directions leads to real change, real success.

There are multiple circumstances in my life right now where I am so caught up in the details and micromanaging them. They are things I am praying about, saying that I am trusting God with and yet they just don’t look right! Surely it’s time for me to open the oven and start fixing things.

Perhaps I will get burned. I may even interrupt the process. I am beginning to find that when I loosen my grip just a bit and look again to the beautiful and mysterious Creator who’s at work, instead of the circumstances, I can trust His process. He is trustworthy. His directions infallible.

Where the untrained eye sees warped and twisted circumstance, the clarity of the Gospel lets me focus instead on finished work. The finished work is the part that astounds. We cannot comprehend the height and depth and breadth of His love—the mystery and majesty that take what is twisted and distorted and shapes it into something beautiful and glorious.

A cross that most certainly looks only like death and destruction and humiliation is somehow, someway nothing short of absolute beauty. Without this process, without this reshaping we do not have the depth and durability and finished work.

Christmas has come

The wee hours of Christmas morning, maybe even still Christmas Eve, I recall heart racing as I huddled under the covers with dad’s digital green glow watch. Not able to necessarily “tell time,” I stared and waited for the numbers 5-0-0 to come across the face for that is when I was instructed to return to my parents’ room. This seemed an eternity staring hard at the glowing face, anticipation building. It wasn’t long in reality, in the larger context of tired parents who’d been up late to assemble, to set up, to lay out.

They (I would later understand) were equally excited about what was to come and their plans were delightful but because they were the parents, they knew the appropriate timing. They knew what should be—for their sakes and mine. Even on the simplest of levels, fatigue and health, they had my best at heart. I had no realistic sense of this, only the promise of what was to come and my own unbridled excitement and limited knowledge that it would.

Over and over again God teaches through my children and He uses my own childhood and perspective gained as a parent now looking back. I fully recognize now their cooperation, their giving, their kindness and gentleness in the face of my impudent longing.

Our great God has held fast by His own gentleness and encouragement in long, dark hours.

Abraham comes to my mind. The promise—the calling of what anyone of stature and prominence would have during that time and place—to have a family name that stretches boundlessly throughout generations. To have the stigma of barrenness eliminated, erased. The promise fulfilled would do just that, but the timing must be right. He endured for more than 25 years just to receive Isaac. For Sarah and Abraham to watch month to month while evidence of pregnancy evaporates—dirt and heat and filthy rags reminding the waiting weary. Hopeful hearts diminish to the point of “helping God.” It must be time they demanded—their own timeline pulling a handmaiden into the plot. It’s like any of us fumbling in the dark, all the way to our parents bedroom, insisting in the dead of the night that morning is here!

Hard consequences chase foolish decisions in moments of second-guessing faithfulness. Just ask Eve.

I think of John the Baptist who knew that he knew from inside the womb. Ready, proclaiming, unworthy to unloose sandal straps. He speaks truth. He knows that Christmas is coming. He’s seen Him with his own eyes, but locked away on the whim of a guilty leader he awaits the morning. He doubts his own assurance in dark hours, sending word by disciples to Jesus: Are you the one to come or shall we look for another? (Matthew 11) He waited, expecting, believing and found all confirmed the moment a drunken Herod succumbed to take his life. Our God is faithful to the end, in the darkest of moments—never asking more than what He himself fully gave.

Today we look hard at the time, the times anticipating all the promises, all the good we know to come. Our own longings and long hours weigh heavy on heart and mind. Wasn’t it more than this we were promised? He has plans for good, we know.

A groaning world groans louder, longer. The ache of the broken, the lost, the angry thunders loud all around. Rumors of wickedness flourish, and worse the rumors are true. “As with a deadly wound in my bones, my adversaries taunt me, while they say to me all the day long, ‘Where is your God?’” (Psalm 42:10)

The world asks the taunting question while we turn again to Christmas, and a baby.

Mary’s excitement over an angel’s pronouncement must have faded some as whispers around from family and friends suspected the worst. Joseph surely fumbled with words and felt face warm with shame when he stared hard at the love of his life and tried to take in the prospect she could be pregnant without him, without any man. Surely this is not the way God intended.

Yet once again He sent word of encouragement, of assurance. Angels appeared. Cousins cried out. A baby lept for joy. Shepherds witnessed in amazement and went searching for themselves. The wise from afar recognized the signs and followed to logical resolution—the King has come.

The singular Word of all—of encouragement, of rescue, of promise fulfilled—was made flesh. Because He was, because He is, we can hold fast in the dark. We can stare hard at the light of His promise under the cover of a dark place and know the promise is true. Every longing will be filled to overflowing. Real rescue is palpable and Christmas has come. This day. Every day.