Forever, Wherever, With Us.

ImageWe sat there and wrestled it out.  A strand of three not easily broken.  Me, my brother and his wife, my sister.  We’ve been twisted, wrung out, strung up, strained.  But never broken.

Our first attempt had ended in an outburst…sharp words and hot tears.  Things deeper than dollars and maps and calendars surfaced ugly.  One turned to the TV, another to a book.

How we needed a new channel.  A fresh, clean page.

Deep breath.  Confession times two. Forgiveness. Begin again.  Because that’s what families do.  That’s what families are for.  Second chances.  And third. Fourth. Fifth.  As many as it takes. 

We’ve had our share these past five years.  It happens when you share the same church, life group, school, small town, last name. 

New leaves turn over as hard as old habits die.  So we start over with a prayer.  From the Top down this time.  Together.  Offering our little back to God with thanks in faith that He will make a miracle and there will be enough.  Enough for a clean break and a fresh start.   

We sat at the dinner table and planned.   Come late summer three will drive the span of the continent and then two will return. 

I’m going north while my brother and his wife are staying south.  These dear ones who said dream, go, do, try…why not.  The ones who poured living water and sunshine on my mustard seed faith.  They will be far away.    

But no matter how far, family always finds a way.  I know that now.  There are some bonds distance cannot weaken and time cannot erode.  God tied us together and He will keep us.  That was my prayer when parents moved to Africa, and now me moving to Canada in pursuit of art and ministry and new life… God, bring us closer together though we are farther apart.       

I’m still afraid to move.  I’m still haunted by words like “alone”, “forgotten”, “left behind”.  But the paralysis has been cured by deciding faith is more important than fear.  Walking with God is better than staying safe and secure.    

The path of righteousness can wind right through the valley of shadows.  There is evil and there will be enemies.  But always, the rod and staff deftly guide.  He is High King and Good Shepherd.  Always, there is a table and anointing for the choosing.  A bed of green grass waits and still waters restore, soul-deep.  Goodness and love will never stop pursuing.  All days.  Always.  All the way across that border into unknown places, two years of more studies and student debt.    

He is with me.  With. To that word I hold on for dear life.  The essence of who God is.  Emmanuel, God with us. He’s been there.  All along.  He is here, now.  With us.  For us. From the beginning and forever. Eternally with us.   

God is like the wild card you can count on in this crazy life.  He is not tame or controllable.  You can’t predict how or when He’ll show up.  But you can bet your boots He’ll be there.  For His name’s sake.  To stay true to who He is.

Not because I am full of faith but because He is faithful.  Not because I am strong in trust but because He is trustworthy.  Not because I am loveable but because He is Love. Not because of anything I am but because He was, is and always will be the I AM. The God of Abraham, Jacob and Moses is the God of you and me.

“…the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision:

Do not be afraid, Abram.
    I am your shield,
    your very great reward.” (Gen. 15:1)

“There…stood the Lord, and he said: “I am the Lord, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac…I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go, and I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.”

When Jacob awoke from his sleep, he thought, “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I was not aware of it.”  (Gen. 28:13-17)

And now the cry of the Israelites has reached me, and I have seen the way the Egyptians are oppressing them. So now, go. I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt.”

But Moses said to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?”

 And God said, “I will be with you. And this will be the sign to you that it is I who have sent you: When you have brought the people out of Egypt, you will worship God on this mountain.”

Moses said to God, “Suppose I go to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ Then what shall I tell them?”

God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM.This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I AM has sent me to you.’”

God also said to Moses, “Say to the Israelites, ‘The Lord,the God of your fathers—the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob—has sent me to you.’

This is my name forever,
    the name you shall call me
    from generation to generation.” (Exodus 3:10-15)

Cracked

Sepphoris mosaic, "Mona Lisa of Galilee"

The cross can split your vision right down the middle.  Like the nick in the glass that spread a crack clean across my windshield on Good Friday.  Like that curtain rent top to bottom while the earth cracked wide open.  Your whole outlook can be marked by a thing like Easter.

But the next week, you can forget and you drive back to work like nothing ever happened.  Like the disciples went back to fishing.

And life goes on until someone pulls you over and asks, “Ma’am, are you aware that your inspection has expired and that crack in your windshield is obstructing your line of vision?”  And you just trail off lamely, “Um, yes, sir, I had intended to get that taken care of…”

How quickly things expire.  How quickly we forget that Easter isn’t just another part of life, it is the essence of life.

We still look for the living among the dead.

We look for people who will love us because we are loveable not for a God who loves us because He is love.  We want to be loved because of who we are, not because of who God is.

We look for a God with standards who will demand that we feel sorry, try harder and live better.  Not a God  who is so in love that he takes all the blame on his own shoulders, just so he can be with us.

We for a God who will affirm our self-made identity, not define it.  And approve our beliefs, not dictate them.

But there is no living, no life save this:  To know Christ and God the Father who sent him.  To learn who God is and accept Him as He is.  To let God relate to us as Sacrificial Savior to sinner, Extravagant Father to child, Benevolent Master to slave, Unconditional Lover to Beloved, Good Shepherd to sheep, King of Kings to subject.

To lay down and let go.  To come and follow.  To let Him love you and let that love define you.  To identify with Jesus.  To place our identity in a God who bends down and breaks for us.

May we, like the disciple John, never get over that kind of love.  May we, like him, follow until the end and come to see ourselves only as “the one Jesus loves”.

May we be forever changed.  Not by an ancient event.  Not by a well-worn tradition.  But by knowing and being known by the Living God who loved us until his heart broke and his life cord snapped.  Who loved so hard that death could not overcome Him.  Who now lives and still loves and longs to be loved. Who is marked by love, now and forever looking like a lamb who’s been slain.

Who, having conquered still makes himself weak and vulnerable in love, and asks, “Do you love me?”

And we say, “Lord, you know I love you.  Jesus, all I have is yours.  All I am is “Yours”.”

And He says, “I know, Beloved, I know.  Now feed my lambs.  Come, follow me.”

May we be marked, heart cracked, leaking love that the world may know our Jesus.

A Good Day to Die

Good Friday commission

Holy crap.

That’s how I would sum up this week.  When the depths of our human depravity surfaced.  When all our muck and mire blew up in Jesus’ face.  And somehow, by every ounce of his blood, sweat and tears, by the surrender of his last breath, his very spirit, Jesus made it all holy, turned everything to good.

The crowd cried, “Let his blood be on us and on our children.”

We are those children.  We are still the same.

We still have in mind the things of man, not God.

We still try to be good, to do great things.

We still pay lip service, an outward kiss and inner betrayal.

We still would rather cut people down than appear weak.

We still wonder why God doesn’t just feed the poor, heal the sick, free the oppressed already.

We still champion political candidates, church leaders, military power.

We still raise hosanna hands Sunday and shake fists at the sky, spitting mad by Friday.

We still try to trap Jesus, box him in, tie him down to our idea of how the world should work.

We still think truth is a relative thing.

We still try to please everyone, washing our hands with noncommittal.

We still follow at a distance, hiding in shadows, waiting for God to do something.

We are still Peter and Judas, Pilates and Pharisees.  We are fleeing disciples, a cursing crowd, rebels and mockers.

We still fall.  We fail.  All Holy Week long.

 

We are still the same.

But it’s all good.

Really.

It’s okay.

Because Jesus is still the same too.

 

He still bends and washes the grime of the world off us, dirtying his hands with our filth.

He still holds up his cup of covenant that is his very life blood and waits for us to answer.

He still chooses us though we choose him not.

He still hurts like Hell, bending, bleeding, heart breaking over us.

He still takes the place of insurrectionist souls, we go free.

He is still strong in silent restraint while we question, doubt, accuse, mock.

He still sees the betrayal in our bought off hearts and welcomes us with, “friend”.

He is still all surrender, arms out, palms up, letting go of all rights and receiving all punishment.

He still prays for us, “Father, forgive them.  They can’t possibly know what they are doing.”

He still manifests Himself in weakness, brokenness, humility, simplicity, worldly failure.

He still identifies with the poor, the meek, the hungry and thirsty, the lost.

He still aches for us to be with him where he is.

He still takes the depth of human depravity in one hand and the heights of Heaven in the other and unites them by his own breaking body.

He still makes all things, even our same old, same old, new.

He still turns Hell Week into Holy Week.

He still turns every single filthy thing, to good.

 

So you who are still fallen, till the day you die…Be still.

And know.

God is still Jesus.

Who dies our death for us.

Who gives his life to us.

Who rose to Heaven before us.

Who is still hard after us.

He came, is come, and will come again.

 

“Behold! I am coming soon!…

I am the Alpha and Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End…

The Spirit and the bride say, “Come!”  And let him who hears say, “Come!”  Whoever is thirsty, let him come; and whoever wishes, let him take the free gift of the water of life…

He who testifies to these things says, “Yes, I am coming soon.”

Amen,  Come, Lord Jesus.  (Rev. 22: 13,17, 20)

Lent V: I Do

Last Supper- BouveretThe Third Cup of Passover, the Cup of Redemption.  That was the one the Son of Man took after dinner and lifted up, giving this toast: “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is shed for you.”

The new had come and the old was passing.  The symbolic Passover lamb gave way to the flesh and blood Lamb of God.  This One who had said, “eat my flesh and drink my blood for I AM the Bread of Life.”  And the only people who hadn’t turned away in disgust were those around the table with Him now.  The disciples who had said, “We can’t leave you because your words are our life.  Where could we go? We have nothing else.”

For the ones who have nothing, Christ gave everything. To the ones who have nothing, Christ becomes everything.

He is our only hope, our last lifeline, our Kinsman Redeemer come to submit his bid and buy us back….

We have fallen, wandered far to foreign lands, sold ourselves to shifting shadows, phantom promises, wealth, fame, lesser loves.

Long after we have forgotten the place we called home, our Father stands watching at the windows.  He scans the horizon, ready to run to us, undignified, and make up the distance, if only we will come back.

The Son asks, “What would it take to buy them back?”  The Father says his wayward child means the world to Him.  The bridal price would be His very lifeblood.  We are worth the death of God.

Jesus said “Yes, I do.”  Love does. And He did.  He has done it. He signed His name in blood and drank the cup of covenant, the full cup of the Father’s wrath.  He gave up everything to be with us and to bring us home as His Beloved.

But he is no tyrant, no slave trader.  He does not drag us back gagged, in chains.  He launches assault on enemy strongholds, yes.  He plunges the depths in search of our souls, yes.  A jealous lover, a fierce warrior, hard after the treasure of our hearts, yes, yes, yes.

But when He finds us, He does not force.  He is gentle, singing songs of deliverance.  He snatches us back from the jaws of death but then He woos us gentle and waits.

He made His choice.  He drank the cup of God’s wrath and poured out His lifeblood.

Now is our turn. The Fourth Cup of Passover, Jesus did not drink but held out to his friends…The Cup of Acceptance.

His cup of covenant is lifted up, a toast of fealty and love to you.  He has drunk deep of sacrifice and commitment. What will be your answer?

Will you drink in acceptance and be covenanted to the King of Kings?  Will you remember and be membered back to the Body of Christ as one flesh, one blood?

“Drink, in remembrance.”  Drink this in deep… He came.  He comes.  He is coming again.  For you.

Now is your turn.  Are you for Him?  Will you be the Beloved.  Love does.  Will you, with your very life, say, “I do?”

“I will bring you out form under the burdens of the Egyptians…

I will rescue you from their bondage…

I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great judgements…

I will take you as My people, and I will be your God”

(Exodus 6:6-7)

Lent IV: Vision

Gaston La Touche- A Maiden in ContemplationThrough the hills of my heartbreak,

Kicking stones.

How long, O Lord, must I walk alone?

Vision blurs.

 

Two years and no better,

Just used to it now.

Time heals and it’s a killer.

I sport the scars.

 

Thank God

for music, that badge of courage.

Keeps me walking.

 

I thank God

for family and friends to miss.

Letters for the post.

 

I thank God

For sliver moons and morning glow.

Art itching in my bones.

 

I thank God

For silence, canvas to take captive.

Remembrance is the picture I paint…

 

How he came.

Lamb on lintels and the angel passed over.

Snake in desert and those who looked, lived.

 

How he kept coming.

Newborn in hay, company of cattle.

Cup of covenant, written in blood.

 

How he is come.

Held by my right hand, lead to Glory.

With and for us wherever, forever.

 

How he will come.

Rending heavens, riding clouds.

Fire and justice, all things new.

 

Eventide ripples reflections,

Skipping stones.

Look up and know I’m never alone.

Vision clears.

Lent III: I Am

Lady Madonna- Carlo DolciIt’s exhausting.  Sorting all the voices on the wind.  Coworkers and sermons and advice and memories and family and friends and stories and music and movies and commercials and TV and talking, talking, talking.  And you’re desperately trying to do what’s right, to discern what’s the devil, what’s God, what’s people jabbering and what’s plain ol’ you.  You can need three naps in one day after a week like that.

Maybe that’s why the Spirit drove Jesus into the desert.  When there’s nothing but silence and yawning stretches of horizon, things become clearer.  There’s no crowd of well-meaning people each with two copper coins about what you should do.  You’re not distracted by preparation and clean-up, get-togethers and meetings, assignments and to-do’s.

It’s just the Spirit strong within you and the devil skulking.  Sometimes it’s a relief to meet the Tempter head on instead of his shifting shadows and thieving sneakery.

I don’t think Jesus was caught unprepared and unaware in that 40 day desert.  I think Jesus was gunning for the devil with a strategic ambush.  Jesus lured the devil out into the open by appearing in the weakest state of humanity… tired, hungry, alone, lost, thirsty, vulnerable.  He was at end of his human self but the power of the Most High was just getting started.

Jesus didn’t have food or water or shelter or company.  But what are those against the forces of evil in the heavenly realms?

Jesus had Truth.  He knew who he was.  The freshest memory was the Father’s voice calling him Beloved Son.  With that naming in mind, Jesus faced down the devil.

Jesus didn’t need to prove his identity with sustenance, worldly power, jumping off ledges.  He had the word of His Father hidden in his heart.

Scripture says that Satan left Jesus until an opportune time… The same temptations came up over and over throughout Jesus’ life.  And though it broke his heart when people did not believe he was who he said he was, Jesus never wavered.

When they wanted bread, he said eat my flesh and drink my blood for I AM the Bread of Life.

When they asked why he let Lazarus die, he said I AM the Resurrection and the Life.

When they spat and mocked and accused and, Pilate asked if Jesus was King of the Jews.  Jesus answered, I AM.

When you hear those whispers, “So, if you are God’s Beloved, shouldn’t you have this, do that, be this?” Don’t defend yourself. The devil’s not worth the breath.  Just say, “I am”.  He’ll know what you mean.  Belovedness just is.  God is love and we are His.

Belovedness is not the tally of savings on the bottom of receipts, the grand total of tithe for the year, budgets, well-stocked pantries, five year plans.

Belovedness is not what people say or think, followers, friends, fans and “Likes”.

Belovedness is not extreme sacrifices, testing limits, having an edge-of-your-seat testimony.

Belovedness is not miraculous provision, power and influence, a life-or-death story to tell.

It is being loved by the Being who is Love.  The Great I AM.

He is, therefore, we are…Loved.

Lent II: Being the Beloved

Image

I think it happened that way, that order, for a reason.  There was purpose in the chronological unfolding of your story.  Truth unfolds like paper-thin wings from those fluttering pages.

Before you took flight to the far reaches, driven wild into the desert, you took to the waters and the Spirit-dove swooped down on wing and settled on you.

I think you needed to hear it before there was just this blank page of God-silence inked over by the curling script of Satan-tempting.  I think we all need to hear it before we go out into the desert of the world to do our good deeds and meaningful ministries.  It needs to be first.  The source, not the goal. Mary before Martha.  Sabbath before the week.  Be before do.

That’s why long before the water to wine, the fish and the loaves, before the blind saw, the deaf heard and the mute sang for joy.  Long before the sermon on the Mount and the Hill of the Skull.  There was just a simple act of humble obedience and this…

“You are my Son whom I love.  With you I am well pleased.” (Mark 1:11)

Maybe this is Lent.  Simple obedience intertwined with the favour of God.

We are the beloved children of God.  He is well-pleased.

Well-pleased when we leave safe ground and go down in the waters of repentance.  When we pull our demons under to drown them to death.

Well-pleased when we trust him enough to lean back and surrender to the Everlasting Arms, believing He will raise us to light and life.

Well-pleased when we strip off self-righteous robes and turn to him naked and empty.  Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness for they will be filled.

Well-pleased when we confess to the body of believers our weakness.  Humble yourself in His sight and He will lift you up.

Well-pleased when we look to Him with expectation, longing for the sound of his voice.  He will take great delight in you, quiet you with his love and rejoice over you with singing.

Well-pleased because when he looks at us he sees His Son.  Because He is love.  While we were still His self-proclaimed enemies, God counted us sons and daughters.  He chose us when we chose Him not.  He agreed to the cup of covenant, the bride price that was His very lifeblood.

I wash my mind with this over and over. The Gospel is an everyday thing I have to evangelize to myself.

He is well-pleased and it is well with my soul.  I must live from this.

Life runs us through the ringer but maybe that’s what it takes to be washed clean.  Getting  stains out is not a gentle cycle affair.

But one day, this battered sheet of a soul will get hung up to dry in the sun.  And the wind of the Spirit will fly it like a flag.  And the fluttering will sound just like the wings of a settling dove, like sheets of music singing, “Sons and daughters, come and know, let me show you just how you are loved.”