A Prayer for Your Passion

“As the time drew near for Him to ascend to Heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem.”
– Luke 9.51

My God, there are hardly the words for this little verse. “Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem.” There is so much power packed into this single line of Scripture, so much purpose in less than 140 characters. I want to understand what Jesus was going through; I want to ask for help in feeling what He felt. But, oh, that feels like a dangerous prayer.

The intensity of His journey, the necessity of it borne from this overwhelming, overtaking love. I try to imagine how consuming Your love must be for this broken creation. I try to put words — any words, all the words, the most eloquent words I have — to this image of drowning in Your love, floundering, unable to even see the bottom, much less touch my toes to it. What a small way our small minds can quantify such love.

O God, I want to experience Your love in such a way that it fills my lungs and swells my heart and steals my breath. I want to be so full of You that Your love pours out of me, gushing from my fingertips and over this parched land.

These few words tucked quietly in the gospel of Luke moves me in such profound, unaired ways.

Your Word is already so full of Your deliberate plan to rescue us and redeem us, to turn Your creation back to You, to reconcile this world with what You envision it to be.

But these particular words draw so much hope from me, such gratitude and shame, all at the same time, honest emotions for once that twist in my gut. Something expands in my chest, leaving me breathless and doubled over, and I think, why haven’t I been hearing this? Why haven’t I been paying closer attention?

Jesus, there was nothing unknown to You. You knew the plan. You knew the cost. As the man You fully were, You fully became, how terrifying it must have been, the knowing. How You must have dreaded every dusty step closer to the cross, every sunset one more day spent. To weep blood from Your brow in desperation for what was to come, the burden pressing heavy and hard against Your back and driving You to Your knees. I can only pretend to imagine the tightness in Your chest, the knot in Your stomach, Your heart and pulse pounding out a desperate rhythm, “Take this cup; Thy will be done.”

But as the Christ, the Holy Son of God who was there from the beginning, whose hands shaped the formless void, You witnessed our downfall, You wept as we split wide the chasm between Heaven and Earth, all the while knowing the price of our redemption, all the while knowing You would willingly pay it.

How clearly this verse shows us Your passion, Your purpose. How real and how near is Your spirit, Your will and Your want for us. You offered Yourself up and into the greedy hands of the very ones You longed to draw back in. We didn’t understand; how could we? How could these dry and dying bones even recognize the life abundant You were pouring out over us, reviving us?

You set Your feet toward Jerusalem, Your eyes to the cross. You never once wavered but spilled as much of Yourself along the way — Your love, Your healing, Your mercy and grace and Your call for us to do the same — until all that was left was a final breath: “It is finished.”

What is left to say but a whisper, “My God, my God.”

What a journey, Jesus, the descent into Your darkest hour on this earth, all so we wouldn’t have to go too. You invite us along, to follow You, not into despair or dread or to our rightfully earned deaths, but to follow You back to the kingdom of Heaven, back to God Himself.

I would walk that journey to Jerusalem with you, if I could, if only to squeeze Your hand and promise I’ll do better, to be better, so can we just call the whole thing off?

But You died so we wouldn’t have to, not really, not fully.

Jesus, how passionately You died for my disobedience; help me to live as passionately for Your love.

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God’s Reality

“My dear children, let’s not just talk about love; let’s practice real love.
This is the only way we’ll know we’re living truly, living in God’s reality.”
1 John 3.18 (MSG)

So I tend to make the season of Lent a very private one. (Could you tell? #sarcasm #OMGshetalkstoomuch)

Not that I don’t talk or reflect or write about what I’m reading and learning and praying over. But that I tend to make the focus just Jesus and me. The necessity of Jesus’ life and death in contrast to my utter depravity and desperate need for rescue. Jesus’ holy perfection and my hearty disobedience. His eternal life, my ashes.

I don’t usually leave a whole lot of room in my head and my heart for much else to that story; it’s hard enough swallowing just how ridiculous the gap is between God and me.

But as introspective and inward-focusing as Lent can be, as it was designed to be, it’s only part of a much greater story.

When I intended to sit in silence this season, to step back from all the words I like to string together, to shut my mouth so God could speak, I don’t know what I was expecting really — probably not to hear from Him so clearly.

But how often God surprises me. Not by being full of truth and wisdom and eloquence and love and all of these things with the utmost tenderness. But that God would be all of these things to me. Specifically me. Who am I to not just witness but to experience His truth and wisdom and eloquence and love and quiet, powerful, moving tenderness, and in such a personal, real way?

I can believe and trust in God’s love for the world; God is love — so He loves. He so loves this world and I understand that because of everything I have seen Him do in and for it. It’s a corporate love for His creation, a cradling of the whole world in His hands.

But maybe if He’s asking me to stop seeing my sin as the general, generic sinfulness of mankind, then maybe He’s asking me to do the same for His love.

*          *          *

I love people. I love people’s stories, I love hearing about their lives, I love discovering what makes them tick. I’ve been getting in trouble since Kindergarten for socializing because you guys, I love people. (#ENFJ #letsbebestfriends)

But I know I don’t love every single person I come across. Sometimes there are people I don’t even really like. But more often and more tragically, there are people I don’t even really see. And that might be the saddest thing of all. As much as I think I love people, I do not live or operate or even subscribe to God’s reality.

Every single person is an eternal soul known and loved and forgiven by God. I can talk all day about how that’s true despite my own behavior dismissing that, and it won’t make it any more (or less) true.

But maybe if I practice love — real love, God’s love, His personal, intimate, interested, transforming love — His reality will be so much clearer in this dark and desperate world. His voice will be that much louder, much more prevalent than any other noise I make with all my other useless chatter.

That’s what Jesus did; He brought the kingdom of God that much closer to us, to where we were squandering and drowning in our own broken selves. He peeled back the veil and said, “Would you look at how My Father loves you? How He sees you?”

No. Not quite. Not fully.

But I want to, and I want to help you see, too.

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Heirlooms of Our Faith

“Do you think the Scriptures have no meaning? They say that God is passionate that the Spirit He has placed within us should be faithful to Him. And he gives grace generously.”
– James 4.5-6

I sort of hate when the Bible asks me questions so boldly: do I think the Scriptures have no meaning? I don’t dare say yes, but do I approach His Word with the reverence and respect it commands? Maybe one day.

Be Still, and Know that I am God (Psalm 46:10)

Maybe because I’ve been paying more attention, trying to tune an ear to God and an ear to His people, I have heard a lot of flippant things said about the holy texts recently. That the Bible is outdated and irrelevant, that it ties the Church down and restricts her, how, sure, it is a beautiful book of our history and lovely metaphors for our lives, but see how far we’ve come? Such enlightened speak makes me scoff and disagree and go get my poster paints for a picket sign.

No. I do not think the Scriptures have no meaning.

But.

(There is always, always a “but” when you ask God to change you.)

But I know I don’t rest and rely on His life- and hope-giving words. Wait, let me back up. The Bible — indeed full of history and visions and prophecies fulfilled, directives and instructions and examples of loving well — is His Word; it isn’t The Word. The Bible gives life and restores hope, but not like Jesus, The Word Made Flesh. #theologyorsomething

So if Jesus is the visible image of the invisible God, then the Bible is the language of that image. The Scriptures give words and structure and plot lines to a very big and uncontainable God. Snippets, to be sure; the Bible has a beginning and an end describing a God who is eternal and infinite.

The Bible gives us a hearty glimpse. It shows us the saints and sinners who have gone before, how they saw and heard and learned about the same God breathing life into us now, how God moved in and interacted with His creation, how this earth has experienced Him.

It is His story and it is how we came to be invited into it.

This story — a collection of thousands of stories about one God — digs deeper. It invites us to dig deeper, to bury ourselves in the articulated God. These words — ancient things passed down from generation to generation, spoken and written and translated into words we all can use, through time and across the world — are the heirlooms of our faith.

This holy text, scrolls of wisdom and life and truth, tell us of a God intimately interested in our world. Passionate, this particular text says. Faithful and generous. And to think how unable our most eloquent speech is to fully describe Him.

I love the words, obviously (have you met me?). I love having the ability to be precise about what stirs my heart, to move my fingers across the page or my lips around syllables, and just like that, you know how I feel; suddenly, I am known.

That God would give us the words to describe (sort of) His goodness (to a degree), that He would shrink down (enough) to fit into language like so loved the world, and slow to anger, and leads me by still waters.

Not only do we have a way to see God, a way to name Him and speak of Him and to Him. We also have His own Spirit. What a generous God, to make Himself knowable in our limited language; to make Himself visible in the life and death of the Christ; to make Himself small enough to fit inside us, His Spirit residing in us, making room to hear the Spirit in each other, to hear and respond to the available God who craves our awareness.

I believe the Scriptures are Spirit-breathed, divinely inspired. But I have to come clean about how little time and attention I give them. The clearest, most straightforward way to know God and I barely give them a second thought.

But God’s got that covered too. When I am forgetful and distracted, when I choose a hundred other things above God, when I do actually think, despite myself, Scripture might possibly have no real meaning, no relevance to my modern, busy life, His grace is given generously.

What an extravagant God, to provide every way to wrap my simple mind around as much of Him as I can manage, and then the grace for when I squander that.

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Rescued and Purchased and Forgiven

“For He has rescued us from the kingdom of darkness, and transferred us into the kingdom of His dear Son, who purchased our freedom and forgave our sins.”
– Colossians 1.13

I read this verse over and over again in preparation for living this day.

I read them slowly and out loud, I read them silently and with emphasis on different words, I read them until they gained their own rhythm, a cadence tapping against the inside of my heart and on the palms of my hands.

And over and over each time, I found myself landing in the same places, stuck on the same words: rescued. purchased. forgave.

Scripture is funny that way, the breathing thing that it is. The words move and shift shape and sink into different corners of your mind every time.

Rescued.
Purchased.
Forgave.

Jesus rescued. Jesus purchased. Jesus forgave.
(or)
I am rescued. I am purchased. I am forgiven.

It matters too, I think, the simple order of these words in this Spirit-penned letter, the order of events that creates a traceable path from darkness to light. The funny thing is, the first two words are powerful, full of action and drama – Jesus, desperate Lover of the Church diving in after His Bride to rescue us from our own crumpling selves, to purchase our freedom at an impossible price. How exciting; how romantic.

But then that third word kept chiming in, refusing to be left out.

Jesus forgave. Jesus forgives. Jesus will forgive.
(or)
I was forgiven. I am forgiven. I will be forgiven.

It struck me at first because it lacked that panache. It seemed a step back from the grand and sweeping gestures. It was in the wrong place, I thought; we swell upward, heavenward, bigger and bolder, we don’t kill the buzz.

But it continued to ring in my heart and echo in my ear, to grow roots and gain weight. Jesus rescued me from the kingdom of darkness when He came to our world, walked our world. And Jesus certainly purchased my freedom when He left our world bled bone-dry, transaction complete.

But – oh, my - the forgiveness of my sins…that verb is still in action, for today, already, and for tomorrow, and for always and for every single moment that needs it.

Jesus didn’t just come to redeem us that one time so many ages ago. His redeeming work continues even now, even as I swear at bad drivers and yell at my kids and skip church and wake up early to sit and steep in Scripture and instead lose three straight games of Trivia Crack.

I’m pretty decent at thinking less of this miraculous forgiveness of my sins, cheerfully forgetting how Jesus’ whole rescue mission hung on my ability to turn from Him with such eagerness and consistency. I am genuinely unable – completely lacking the mind space – to GET what it means to be divinely pardoned. So I tack on that forgiveness thing as an afterthought. I am rescued! I’ve been purchased! Oh, right, and forgiven too and junk.

Maybe I shouldn’t look so closely at this general blanket sinfulness of mankind I willingly and rightfully claim, the embedded nature from which we honestly can’t get away, even as the forgiven and found. Maybe, when I think of Jesus’ forgiveness, I should look at the sins that find me now, right where I am now, the frustration, the impatience, the pettiness, the distrust and distance and reckless words and selfish acts. These sins that forget the redemptive work of Christ, the smallness that takes for granted the cost of such freedom.

How quietly He challenges me. How unassuming these whispered conversations humming in my gut, all wrapped neat and tight around three simple words.

Rescued. Purchased. Forgiven. 

Beloved, you have been rescued from the kingdom of darkness, swiftly stolen from the greedy clutches of the things that would destroy you.

Your freedom has been purchased by the smitten Christ, the cost never bartered or second-guessed but paid.in.full.

Your sins have been forgiven, are being forgiven, will forever and always and altogether be forgiven, and maybe that’s the most powerful thing of all.

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Ashes and Oil

“For dust you are, and to dust you will return.” -Genesis 3.19

I would like to be able to say I wholeheartedly believe God makes it easy to find Him. That it isn’t even so much a finding of Him as it is simply a seeing Him. But if actions > words, then that wouldn’t be very honest of me to say at all.

Don’t get me wrong; my heart and my brain and my experience point to a God who is very near. I trust and I know and I write about a God who is very good. But all of those things don’t seem to hold much weight when I let myself get so caught up and so dragged down by the ugliness and brokenness tunneling through our world.

I read the terrible headlines, and then I read the terrifying articles, and then I read the ignorant comments, and I say under my breath, “My God,” because I can’t find or see Him very clearly at all, and maybe a whisper wrenched from all of these collective broken hearts will invoke His interference.

(Let’s all agree to be better Christians by not reading the comments, I guess?)

And I am reminded of another heart-heavy plea:

“Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?”
(My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?)

*     *     *

I’ve been struggling for the past several weeks how to approach Lent this year, how to dig deeper without losing sight of the world around me. Lent has been my favorite season of faith for many years now (super weird, I know), and I usually have lots of thoughts on it, on how to make it more meaningful for myself. It centers me, it connects me with believers around me and believers who have gone before me. It draws me in and all the way back to the beginning of the Christian church whose remembrance of what happened was so pivotal, so profound.

I love the ancient rituals, the fasting and the prayer, the timeless texts and the scent of ashes and oil. I love the singular focus, just on Jesus, for a little while anyway, the Church hungry for and aware of His life story.

It’s a season of paradox. A season of deprivation in order to steep in God’s divine extravagance. A time of personal sacrifice in order to reorient ourselves on Jesus’ ultimate sacrifice that ushers in life abundant. A season of particular awareness of the God who is always present anyway, calling our attention to the beauty and to the broken, that we may experience Him in life, in death, in every crack and crevice in between.

It is a season when we wear our ashes on our foreheads, our hearts on our sleeves, willing more so to not just acknowledge, but to grieve our own depravity, our own desperate need for a Savior.

*     *     *

I’m still not sure, even as I write this, even as the sun comes up on Ash Wednesday, how I am going to approach Lent this year. I haven’t been certain of any words, any generous insights to this season that means so much, that speaks so deeply.

Even as I write this, I wonder if this year I need to run out of the words. Maybe — and I’m realizing this in REAL TIME — maybe I need to listen more this season. Maybe this season of Lent is asking for my silence.

Maybe I won’t talk so much. I won’t pray so loudly, but sit in silence and let Him speak. Maybe I will hear Him more clearly, hear your hearts more closely.

This season, I will press my ear to the dusty road and listen for the footsteps of Jesus as He turns toward Jerusalem. This year, I will listen to His heart and His words as He cries out for this earth, blood tears staining His robes. I will close my eyes and tilt my head and listen. This year, maybe I will hear the heartbeat of God as Jesus moves closer and closer to the cross, to His surrender, to our redemption.

If you press your cheek against His chest, you can listen with me.

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The One Where I Hated You

I have a confession.

I hated you last week. For the last couple of weeks, actually.

“Hate” is a strong word, and whenever my kids use it I encourage them to find a different one. Because I know they don’t really hate spaghetti or bath time or naps.

And I didn’t hate this place we call Earth or America or the mountains, so much as I hated the people who were making this place so damn tragic.

And I probably didn’t really hate you these past few weeks.

But I use that word because I want you to know how twisted and ugly I got on the inside, and how incapable I was of being honest with myself and with God, and how I was just not equipped or brave enough to label this anger properly.

And it was a diseased kind of anger. Not the righteous indignant kind that fuels passions and results. It was an anger rooted in the very real feeling of impotence.

We’ve all been reading the news. We are aware (more or less) of the boldfaced headlines happening in Ferguson, in Iraq, in Syria, in Gaza, in all of these places so far from my home and my community, so farflung it felt like no one was really paying attention.

I hated you for disagreeing with my own half-informed political views.

But if you agreed with me, then I hated you for not caring enough, for not doing enough, for not paying enough attention.

I hated you for complaining about your job or your spouse or your kids or your disdain for all of the ridiculous privileges we have for simply being not in Ferguson or Iraq or Syria or Gaza.

I let myself crawl into a dangerous, small place where everything around me was JUST NOT THAT BAD SO SUCK IT UP, YOU JELLIES, as if there is a threshold for heartbreak, and until you cross it yours totally doesn’t count. (And honestly? You probably didn’t even notice; I’m super good at passive-aggressiveness I’m practically invisible.)

It’s the whole, “You’d better eat all your vegetables, there are starving kids in Africa!” mindset.

So I needed to break up with you. It’s not you, it’s me.

My own darkness needed time to stew a little, and then to rage, because I was suddenly so very aware that I literally cannot fix the world, that I would not even know where to begin. And I was suddenly so very aware that I believe in a God who literally CAN fix the world, yet it’s still in a rotten mess. I was suddenly, violently, so very aware of my own so very smallness.

Here’s the thing about confessions. They only work when they’re confessed. Hashtag revolutionary thinking.

I was angry and helpless and stuck. I yelled at my kids for whining, I argued with my husband over politics, I cut people off on the interstate.

I. Was. Rotting.

The good news is, I have three teaching pastors in my life whom I claim (but I’ll share).

One is the associate pastor at our home church and is always willing and available to meet for coffee and to talk me off the ledge or to push me off of it (whichever is most useful). One I met on the internet and then at a conference in Nashville, and he reigns me in and speaks truth over me. One wrote a book and has no idea I even exist unless he remembers that one time he replied to my tweet, and is responsible for changing the way I wear this skin.

Whether or not they realize it, these three fellas forced me to realize what this darkness really was: pride dressed up in anger and empathy. It was guilt dressed up in outrage.

I want the world to be better. I want God to heal the world, and I want to be awake enough to realize when He’s asking me to help.

But I don’t want to move out of this place, as ugly as it is, if it means moving into complacency or back into oblivion. I don’t want to trade this grief, as pride-tainted as it is, for false, blind hope.

I guess I’m trying to figure out that balance between despairing the state of the world and believing it’s getting there, between the feeling of impotence and the action I actually can take to help, between a global awareness and the presence needed to hear your heartbreak, too.

I think God is okay with me being angry and frustrated and, frankly, fed up at the brokenness all around me, as long as I’m willing to roll up my sleeves and get to work.

So maybe the world isn’t there yet, but obviously neither am I.

(PS, Just in case I wasn’t clear, I don’t really hate you. I love you, actually. Can we still be friends?)

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Hope.

I tried to write something hopeful this past week.

See, I’m in the middle of a certain special project very close to my heart and soul, and it takes me to a certain special place and it burns a certain special kind of energy. Ambiguity is SUPER FUN, right, you guys? And in all honesty, I can’t wait to tell everyone what I’ve been up to, but right now it feels sacred and secret and I don’t want to lose steam or jinx myself just yet.

But this post isn’t about what I’m sneaking around and writing in caves.

This post is about hope.

And how achingly hard it is to find right now.

Lately, I’ve been able to get away and outside with good food and trendy notebooks and my favorite pens and just write.

What I had wanted to write this week were words steeped in hope and purpose. But I got barely two sentences in when I realized I needed to write something else entirely. Every word I had put down felt fraudulent. Every scratch of my favorite pen felt dishonest. And every inch of me sitting on a restaurant patio with my trendy notebook and fancy pen was a tired lie. We humans hate to feel dried out like that. I think it reminds us too much of our dusty, lifeless beginnings.

So I pulled out a second notebook (I have at least three with me at any given moment). This notebook is reserved for my messiest, sloppiest, most honest and rough-edged words, and I found myself writing a full frantic page before even catching my breath.

I wrote about this hopeless world, about the consistency of grief and selfishness and violence and death, as if I were briefing anyone who might be listening. I wrote pleas to God to JUST FIX THIS, with capital letters and underlining. I didn’t exactly know where I was going with it all, I just knew I had to move away from all of the darkness and all of the despair and all of the senselessness.

This world sucks right now, you guys. And that’s pretty much where I ended up when I packed up my notebook and put it away. I am world-weary, and I can hardly remember what hope tastes like. I read heart-wrenching stories about coping with or giving in to depression; I read about racial tensions pulled so taut it threatens to snap this country in half; I read in horror about the dangerously, carelessly justified acts of brutality twisting and scorching the homelands of our middle eastern neighbors. I read, helpless, about devastating choices pushed up against only slightly less devastating choices. This world is driven deep between a rock and a hopeless place.

And it makes me just want to quit it all and scroll through BuzzFeed articles instead. What I really want to know is what emoji am I?

But then I write. It’s what I do when the emotions roll over me, thick as fog or tear gas, and all I can do is watch through stinging eyes as the light disappears, defuses. I write because I’m not in a place where I can hold hands and feet blistered by the desert sun or stained with spilled blood. I’m not in a place where I can bandage wounds in both bodies and minds. I write, even though what I really want to do is shake my fists at the sky and demand in capital letters and underlining: FIX THIS.

And then those become the only words I want to write. I want to end it there. I want to cross my arms and turn my back because no one seems to hear me, hear us, hear the whole world cry out: FIX THIS.

I am not smart enough or political enough or passionate enough or rich enough or present enough to do much of anything else but wail against the broken places.

Hope, right now, feels frail. Hope, right now, feels false, or fleeting at best. And because I’ve pressed my hands against my ears while chanting FIX THIS FIX THIS FIX THIS FIX THIS, I cannot, do not, hear God say, “I have; you’re here.”

I don’t like that answer. In fact, I hate that answer. Because I’m not smart enough or political enough or passionate enough or…

I still don’t know where exactly I’m going with this. I still don’t know how to write words of hope. To be hope. To be part of the fixers God put us here to be.

I don’t know how, and all the while, our world is caving in.

For Christianity is a fighting religion. It thinks God made the world […] But it also thinks that a great many things have gone wrong with the world that God made and that God insists, and insists very loudly, on our putting them right again.
— C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

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