Unless the Lord…

Have you ever looked at the world–at your life and circumstances–and asked ‘what is the meaning of this’?

Let me tell you: there is no meaning, unless…

“Unless the Lord builds the house, its builder labors in vain.” Psalm 127:1

This is the secret to life. Without the Lord, all is vanity. At the end of the day, what is it worth without Jesus?

The tragedy of sin is that it sucks meaning from life. But the beauty of grace is that Jesus pours the beauty back in. Our hope is that all the meaningless is turned upside down on the cross.

psalm 103

The temptation, when viewing the sin-struck world, is to give in to the meaninglessness of all things broken instead of seeing the cross as the faucet of grace that cleanses the dirt of this world. Please, let’s remember that nothing has meaning without Jesus–and in that truth is so much hope. Because with Jesus is so much meaning. Meaning that transcends the petty daily struggles that slap us. Meaning that’s everlasting! Amen.

Visitations

How will you respond when He comes to you?

“The LORD appeared to Abraham near the great trees of Mamre while he was sitting at the entrance to his tent in the heat of the day. Abraham looked up and saw three men standing nearby. When he saw them, he hurried from the entrance of his tent to meet them and bowed low to the ground.” (Genesis 18:1-2)

“The angel of the LORD came and sat down under the oak in Ophrah that belonged to Joash the Abiezrite, where his son Gideon was threshing wheat in a winepress to keep it from the Midianites. When the angel of the LORD appeared to Gideon, he said, ‘The LORD is with you, mighty warrior.’ . . . . Gideon replied, ‘Please do not go away until I come back and bring my offering and set it before you.’ And the LORD said, ‘I will wait until you return.'” (Judges 6)

“The LORD came and stood there, calling as at the other times, ‘Samuel! Samuel!’ Then Samuel said, ‘Speak, for your servant is listening.'” (I Samuel 3:10)

“In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord seated on a throne, high and exalted, and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him were seraphs, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying.  And they were calling to one another: ‘Holy, holy, holy is the LORD Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.’ At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke. ‘Woe to me!’ I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips . . .'” (Isaiah 6:1-4)

“The word of the LORD came to Jonah son of Amittai: ‘Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me.’ But Jonah ran away from the LORD and headed for Tarshish. He went down to Joppa, where he found a ship bound for that port. After paying the fare, he went aboard and sailed for Tarshish to flee from the LORD.” (Jonah 1:1-3)

“But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, ‘Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.’  . . . When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife.” (Matthew 1:2off)

Hidden place

Places of Healing

When Hosea prophecies the tender healing of Israel, he doesn’t paint a Psalm 23 picture. No green pastures or quiet waters. On the contrary, the words of the Lord to his broken bride are this:

Hosea 2 14

He leads us to the desert. That means that the barren place I find myself in might not be by accident, nor even a result of my own sin or failure. I might have been lured here. Drawn by a Spirit whose quiet voice I’ve trusted and proved faithful, followed without question.

Wait. I thought the desert was a dry place. A place of forsakenness. The place where outcasts go to hide, saints go to test their spirituality. How can anything good come from a desert? Why would I go to a place of death?

Where God is, there is life.

Where the Lord chooses to lure us for healing is his choice. Read on in Hosea (the end of chapter 2) and you’ll find a beautiful picture of healing and wholeness. A picture that defies the image of an aired desert. The desert becomes a womb in which God forms his people. Sometimes life grows where we least expect it. He knits us and forms us in the most unusual environments.

But always–ALWAYS–life grows with God, and only with God. Jesus came to give abundant life. Not easy life. Not quiet-waters life. But full life. Life that can’t be subject to death. Life that doesn’t wilt when the heat comes.

Where God is, there is life.

Please, friends. Don’t fight the lure of the Spirit, wherever it may lead.

 

Beauty in the Morning

awake my soul

I live at the bottom of a mountain. Several days a week, I jump on the interstate and drive up that mountain to the town where my church–and much of my life–resides. In spring, wisteria drapes the hillsides. In fall, brilliant colors cloak the vista. Some nights, I chase the full moon down the mountain as it rises in the east and dominates the horizon landscape.

This morning, heading west, the sun shone from behind and slapped morning light against the hillside as I snaked up. I tried to engage my four-year-old in a moment of worship, “Isn’t this a beautiful morning the Lord has made?” I met his eyes in the rear-view mirror. He didn’t seem impressed.

But I was more than impressed. I was awakened. The way the light split the scattered clouds and drew silk lines along their edges–it was glorious. Just five minutes before, my daughter had asked, “What’s God’s glory?” With only one minute to answer before she hopped from the car for school, I took an out, “It’s hard to explain. Let’s talk about it this afternoon.”

Then I drove up the mountain and came face to face with glory. Praise awakened. The silly things of life that can drive me crazy–even the larger yearnings that nag–settled on the bottom of my heart like sediment on a river floor. I drank in the crystal-clear water of God’s beauty. What were the frustrations of life compared to this heavy goodness pressing in on my heart?

That’s God’s glory. Heavy goodness that’s so real it makes everything else seem trivial. Even the serious things of life which God cares about and doesn’t want us to brush over and pretend don’t bother us. Still, nothing compares to his glory.

be exalted

As we crested the mountain and the cross of a conference center came into view, a voice from the backseat asked, “Is that heaven?”

“What?” Had I heard right?

“Is that cross heaven?”

I smiled. “No, that’s Ridgecrest.”

But maybe this glory within is the promise of heaven. The deposit of the Holy Spirit guaranteeing what is to come. A slice of eternity right now.

Loving Well

Thanks to author Rachel Hauck for her post, Have I Loved Well?

Loving Well

With the stores already plastered in red and pink, it’s time to consider the meaning of love. I know the theological answers: God is love; God showed his love to us by sending Jesus; Jesus showed his love for us by dying on the cross. Love sacrifices.

What does this really mean? And do I know how to love well?

I know how to love happy. We all do. It’s natural to be kindhearted and giving with those who make us feel good and appreciate what we do for them. When we think of love, we think of joy. We think of the warm fuzzies we exchange with those we like to be around, you know, our friends and family.

But what does it mean to love well? To make love a pattern in our lives?

Here’s the secret (I think): love is not only in the large moments of life, it’s in the mundane. Yes, Christ’s love is seen in a large moment, but a look through the Gospels shows Jesus loving in the mundane, everyday moments. The small ways.

1. I love others by keeping my mouth shut when I’d rather sling a zinger.

2. I love others by doing the jobs they don’t want to do or can’t. (I’m thinking of diapers)

3. I love others by confessing sin to them. Ouch. Of course this requires discernment, but a timely confession to the right person can create a tight bond of love. I know this to be true.

4. I love others through honesty. Love doesn’t lie, even when it hurts.

5. I love others through sacrifice. Here’s this amorphous theological statement again, so let me explain. When I put aside my need for the sake of someone else, that’s love. Like when my four-year old wants to play chase again, and I don’t want to? Or when my six-year old needs me to help her practice the piano and I’d rather go for a walk? Or how about at work? What if your boss wants you to do something one way, and you want to do it another? Or if a friend comes into town and wants to have lunch with you–during your team’s football game?

6. I love others through telling them so or showing them. Words and hugs are the most obvious way to show love, right? But how often we hold back. For me, as an introvert, I can’t always express well how I feel about others, and I’m not openly affectionate. That said, when is God calling me to offer a word of encouragement?

7. I love others in the ways that come natural to me, through how God had made me. By this, I mean that I offer my gifts of music and writing for the blessing of others.

8. I love others by offering forgiveness, the benefit of the doubt, and grace. I’m thinking of my large church family here. When we relate to each other in the family of Christ, a large amount of grace is necessary. We love others when we let go of offenses, don’t assume the worst, and refrain from talking about others negatively. This is perhaps that hardest challenge of this list.

Have I left anything out? Certainly. The more I flesh out the ways I can love, the more I want to love in these ways. And in a generous manner. That means I need the Holy Spirit. I need to commit myself each morning to the Lord and his work in me. That means I need to dress my heart in red and pink and pretend it’s Valentine’s Day everyday. Which it is, according to God, whose expression of love is unparalleled and whose offering of that love to us never ceases.

In the Beginning . . .

There’s nothing like a new year to make us feel the urge to change our habits or circumstances, to make us feel like we need to change, should change. All around us, people are making resolutions, showing a willingness to be better, improve themselves. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Except it’s all to easy to slip into the mindset that our efforts can earn brownie points with God, maybe get him to make our lives better. Tim Keller calls this Moralistic Therapeutic Deism. We put in the effort and expect God to meet us half-way, appreciate our attempts at good, and be the heavenly grandfather that spoils us. So we hope again with the New Year that somehow, this year will be all that we want it to be.

But there’s nothing like a beginning to make me overwhelmed. If I failed last year, and the year before, what’s to convince me that I won’t fail again?  The fresh start may be like a blank canvas before me, but I already see the black spots. The need to change is too great for me; the work too hard.

That’s why I don’t like New Year’s, or why I don’t make resolutions (see last year’s post, The Rest of a Graceful Resolution).

However, this year, amidst the joy of family and a relatively uneventful holiday season, something shifted in me. I began to dwell on another beginning.

Genesis 1,1

Wow. We overlook this common statement as mere revelation of fact, an introduction to the Biblical narrative. But really, what a miracle. What a statement to put us in our place—as part of God’s creation (and how often do we first think of ourselves as creators—of our circumstances, in our jobs or families?).

Then we read the next sentence and get an image of pre-creation:

space

What an ugly nothingness with no hope of becoming anything beautiful. A lost cause. A terrifying insurmountable hurdle.

Except for one vital, life-changing thing:

spirit of god

Stop here and forget you know the rest of the story. Remain in this place of tension—a faceoff between nothingness and the hovering Spirit.

Is this the picture of your start to 2014? When you look at your life, do you see hurdles of darkness or emptiness?

Don’t let Satan fool you. He doesn’t want you to look up and realize that the Spirit of God is hovering. The hovering is only the beginning of the creating. If you read on in Genesis 1, you see what becomes of the dark nothingness. Beauty, life, and fullness.

And all this from God’s spoken word.

Let me encourage you. God spoke, and it was. God still speaks, and it still is. That means that the hovering Spirit is about to speak into your life beauty and creation–as he’s been doing since you said yes to Jesus. When we come to Jesus, we live in this place of tension, the old life of darkness yielding to the hovering Spirit. Jesus, the Incarnate Word whose birth we just celebrated, has come so that we may experience new life, and that this abundant life may be to the fullest. But we have to have our ears open to the Word. We have to set aside our own plans for change and receive His. His ways and power. His Spirit.

That doesn’t mean our good intentions aren’t important. It does mean our good intentions need to be brought beneath the hovering Spirit for his power and approval. The will of the Word is to make us Christ-like.

Happy New Beginning, Friends. Don’t fear the darkness. Feel the wings of the Spirit around you and yield to His creative power.