How to tell true love

You’ve probably noticed by now that smallness is a common theme around here. You’ve probably guessed some of the reasons for that. One of the most obvious is that I’m regularly aware of my smallness.
But there’s also this: I’ve long suspected that one of the best marks of real, trustworthy love is the way it relates to smallness.
On the one hand, real love is gentle and protecting, patient and kind. Small people and small things are safe in the hands of Love. Safe, and cherished, and treasured.

“Love is patient, love is kind. . . It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.” (1 Cor. 13:4,7)

On the other hand, real love has no need to sustain the power differential. It doesn’t need to be needed to satisfy some ego need in itself. It doesn’t need to keep smallness small. I’ll never forget Dr. J.I. Packer saying in a theology class that the best definition of love that he knew was “the resolve to make the loved party great.”

“Love does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. . . it is not self-seeking.” (1 Cor. 13:4-5)

To say it more simply, real love guards and protects us in our smallness. . .

“You give me your shield of victory, and your right hand sustains me; . . .“

. . . and takes us beyond our smallness too:

“. . .you stoop down to make me great.” (Ps 18:35)

In less than a week, Advent will begin, and we’ll be given four weeks to pay special attention to how unafraid God is of our smallness. Unafraid, and unashamed to share in it. God chose for Jesus’ birthplace not a palace but a stable. For his mother, a young, vulnerable woman, not married, not rich, not highly educated. Jesus set aside his strength and invulnerability and entered our weakness, showing us that we don’t need to fear smallness. And he continues to live his life in small, weak people. People whom he makes great by joining himself to us in our smallness and lifting us up with him to share in the life and love of the Trinity, and the mission of God in the world.
A friend comes for supper and shares pictures of her trip to Israel. I’m most struck by pictures of the Bell Caves. In one picture, the 96 year old man who co-led the tour rests in a wheelchair, hands folded. In another (professionally taken, so I can’t post it) he stands, straight yet tiny in the vastness of the cave, as a beam of light descends through the bell’s apex, blessing him, crowning him.
It images for me what happened in another small town in Israel some 2000 years ago. The light of God’s face which had been shining on us for millennia (Num 6:23-27) descended to live among us where we could see God’s face turned toward us, his smile now visible to our human eyes. And, in that smile, those eyes—God’s love now lived in human flesh—we could know that God joins us in our weakness so he can lift us to our full stature, beyond our full stature, making us co-heirs, crowned with God’s glory and grace.
Photo by Julie Hindmarsh. Used with permission.

The God who is for us

On this Canadian Thanksgiving day, all the other things I’m grateful for are finding their proper, smaller place next to this:
All three persons of the Triune God stand turned toward us in love and blessing, extending grace and peace. 

Grace and peace to you from the one who is, who always was, and who is still to come; from the sevenfold Spirit before his throne; and from Jesus Christ. He is the faithful witness to these things, the first to rise from the dead, and the ruler of all the kings of the world. (Rev 1:4-5 NLT)

The trees lift their arms in celebration, calling us to join in the worship of this God who loves us more deeply than we can imagine.

The God who blesses

This morning, just this truth, written over and over into the story right from the first few lines: God is a God who blesses. He is good and he intends good to his creatures.

“So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion . . .“See, I have given you . . . everything . . .
So God blessed the seventh day and hallowed it, because on it God rested from all the work that he had done in creation. . .
When God created humankind, he made them in the likeness of God. Male and female he created them, and he blessed them and named them “Humankind” when they were created. . .
God blessed Noah and his sons, and said to them, “. . . I give you everything. . . . I am establishing my covenant with you and your descendants after you. . .”
Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” (Genesis 1:27-29; 2:3; 9:1,3,9: 12:1-3 NRSV)

We only glimpse a tiny, unfinished corner of the grand work of art that the Creator is shaping. But no matter how messy or dark or unfinished that corner may seem, this truth remains: God is a blessing God, and he can be trusted.

“For the LORD is good; his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations.” (Psalm 100:5)
“Surely goodness and mercy shall [pursue with the intent of overtaking] me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD my whole life long. (Psalm 23:6)

So, friends, we can enter this day, this week, confident that, whatever we may see or not see at the moment, our good and kind Father, fully intent on blessing us, is shaping our days.

‘Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom.” (Luke 12:32)
“What then shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?” (Romans 8:31-32)


God’s (perfectly serious) joke

I almost laugh out loud as I watch God’s little joke unfold.
I’m reading in 2 Kings 6 of Elisha’s calmness when he rises in the morning and discovers the city where he is staying surrounded by enemy troops.
His servant panics. “Oh no, my lord! What are we going to do?”
Elisha responds, “Don’t worry. There are way more on our side than on theirs.” Then he prays, “Open his eyes, LORD, so he can see.”
And here I’m intrigued. The hills around the city are filled with horses and chariots of fire. They are present, sent, attentive and protective. And yet they just stand their ground, up in the surrounding hills, and the one to act, calmed and empowered by the knowledge of their presence, is Elisha. The fiery horses don’t decimate the enemy troops. They don’t show themselves and make the enemy die of fright or run for their lives. They quietly encourage faith in those who see.
It seems that God’s kingdom power, made visible in those fiery horses, so vastly outweighs the power of the human armies that God decides to play a little joke while he’s at it. Why not have a little gentle fun when the situation at hand is so easily managed? And Elisha, trusting God, gets to be part of the joke. Is it hard for Elisha to hold back a smile as he prays for the God who has opened the eyes of his servant to blind the eyes of his enemies? They don’t seem to notice their blindness, and Elisha, the man whom the troops are seeking to capture, calmly carries on with the joke. This small, vulnerable man—the intended captive—is graced to carry out God’s work while the armies of heaven stand by watching and witnessing (and marvelling at?) this grace.
“Oh, no, this isn’t the right road, and this isn’t the right city,” Elisha says to the troops. “Follow me and I will lead you to the man you’re looking for.” How absolutely true. It wasn’t the right road or the right city for what God was doing, and with every step Elisha was leading them to the man they were looking for, the man who was walking just a few steps ahead of them and whose identity would be revealed when they arrived.
They reach their destination and the would-be captors find themselves captives in the city of the king of Israel.
God’s magnificently gentle, perfectly serious joke continues.
“Oh no, don’t kill them,” Elisha instructs the king. “Feed them and send them back to their master.” And so the army which comes to take Elisha captive is taken captive by that same praying, trusting man, and is set free after being honored and cared for, nourished and tended.
(And for some reason, despite the extravagant hospitality, the enemy soldiers don’t seem tempted to come back for another meal. Problem—which in God’s eyes was never much of a problem—solved.)

Oh LORD, you change times and seasons,

You set up kings and depose them,

You free your people and feed your enemies

And You do it all with such creativity and freedom,

Such lovely humor and grace.


Open our eyes to see you at work in the world around us

and give us the faith to join in your perfectly serious joke.


LORD of the nations, we pray

make America great again—

great in faith and love and peace,

in joy and courage and generosity.

And let all whom you grace to stand and watch,

to walk and speak and lead hungry captives to the banquet

do so gently and humbly

delighting in your limitless love

and your vibrant joy

which erupts again and again in rich hospitality.

When you need a little comfort {The End of the Story}

Gratitude flowed through me yesterday when Pastor Andrea called us to worship with the Easter refrain, “Christ is risen!” and we responded, “He is risen indeed!” Somehow, until we arrive each year at that Second Sunday of Easter, I seem to forget that the forty days of Lent are matched on the other side of the pivotal weekend with fifty days of Easter.
For forty days of mourning, God gives fifty days of joy. Or, more truly still, for forty days of suffering, our extravagant God gives fifty hundred1 (Mark 4:8, 20; Mark 10:30), or a whole eternity (Rev 21:3-4), of joy.
When we’re in them, the days of suffering can feel like an eternity. Maybe that’s one of the reasons we need the season of Easter, and the mini-Easters of every Sunday all year, to let this truth sink deep: God can be trusted with suffering.
“Those who sow in tears will reap with songs of joy.” The psalmist repeats it to be sure I’ve understood: “He who goes out weeping, carrying seed to sow, will return with songs of joy, carrying sheaves with him.” (Ps 126)

This is one of the assurances of Easter. God never wastes suffering. We might waste it, complaining our way through it, or denying it, trying to avoid the pain. But God doesn’t waste it. Instead, He invites us to plant our suffering, to plant ourselves deep in Him, to let ourselves be planted with Him—that grain of wheat that fell to the ground and died—and wait to see the harvest that God will bring forth (John 12:23-28).

“I say to myself, the Lord is my portion;

therefore I will wait for him.

The Lord is good to those whose hope is in him,

To the one who seeks him.

It is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord.”

(Lamentations 3:24-26)


1Yes, I know, 40 x 100 is forty hundred (or four thousand), not fifty hundred, but fifty hundred is my sister’s favorite number, and I figured our extravagant God who gives us a whole eternity of joy wouldn’t mind me rounding up a little 🙂

Photos compliments of former colleagues in Afghanistan.

Morning Mercies

Snow settles soft on the earth, fresh grace
calling me to come
to rest
to fall, myself, into its welcome
and then to fall again, now part of its gentle blessing,
tenderly touching foot-roughened earth
with hope and peace and beauty.

“Because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed,
for his compassions never fail.
They are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.” (Lamentations 3:22-23)

The truth your heart is hungry for

IMG_3234It is Mother’s Day and Baby Dedication Day and on this sixth Sunday of Eastertide we’re still calling out the good news:

“Christ is risen!”
“He is risen indeed!”

Pastor Justin stands at the front with three sets of parents, each accepting the holy joys and responsibilities of parenthood, the gifts of pain and delight.
The parents promise and the congregation promises and then Justin takes little Elliott in his arms. “The LORD bless you and keep you; the LORD make His face to shine upon you and be gracious to you.” The child is happy enough, looking all around, content in the safety of arms. “The LORD lift the light of His countenance upon you and give you peace, this day and always.” Baby Elliott gazes straight up into Justin’s face as though drawn by the light, turning like ivy leaves or the whole rosy bloom of a tulip toward the nearest window.
I smile. And I watch little River lift her face to Justin’s at the same words—”The LORD lift the light of His countenance upon you”—turning to face the light as though reaching for it, called by it. The curtain has been pulled back and for a moment I’ve glimpsed again the truth at the center of the universe, God’s heart always pouring itself out in blessing, His face shining on us the purest of love. His delight, His longing, awakening in us a responsive seeking of His face.

“Yet the LORD longs to be gracious to you; he rises to show you compassion.” (Isaiah 30:18)

Baby Arthur sleeps right through the blessing, at peace in the light of the face turned toward his.
Taking it deeper:
What difference might it make in your day to know that the LORD’s face is turned toward you in blessing?

Dust you are: the Easter edition


The long journey through Lent is over. We’ve walked with Jesus to the cross and seen him rise from the grave.

Every time we walk this path it’s a little bit different. We are a little bit different.

The only typical part of my journey this year was that first day of Lent when I brushed my bangs aside and let my forehead be marked with a cross of ash. The rest of this Lent I’ve danced that dual truth—that I am dust, and that I am His—in a way quite different than other years. I didn’t make it through a Lenten devotional. I struggled to enter the Passion narratives. And on Easter Sunday as I heard the trumpets shouting “Christ the Lord is risen today” and I proclaimed with the church around the world “He is risen indeed!”, I found my heart too numb to ring with joy.

I lived the first half of Lent in the womb of God, the second being a baby. The refrain that echoed through my Easter day was a child’s lullaby:

Hush my dear, lie still and slumber,

Holy angels guard thy bed.

Heavenly blessings without number

Gently falling on thy head.” (Isaac Watts)

Pastor Darrell spoke of the two angels in the empty tomb of Jesus, one where his head had lain and one at his feet, just like the angels that rested at the two ends of the mercy seat on the ark of the covenant. “There”—at the mercy seat formed by the crucified and risen body of Jesus— “I will meet with you.” (Ex 25:22) There—on this strange bed guarded by angels—I can rest.


I smelled my fellow pilgrim before I saw him, a young man walking down the aisle about ten minutes before the end of the service. Had he just remembered it was Easter? He knew he needed to come near.

He walked in and sat for a moment in the end of a pew about six from the front, placed his cardboard box with a few belongings in the aisle beside him. He glanced around, saw, perhaps, the trays of little squares of bread being passed along the aisle. What was going on? Was he too late?

There was a table at the front, pastors waiting behind it. Leaving his seat, the man went forward, stood uncertainly a few feet from the table. How to receive the blessing he longed for?

An usher came and stood with him, asked, perhaps, whether he could help him. And then the pilgrim was kneeling before one of the pastors.

The encounter lasted only a moment before he stood and, reclaiming his cardboard box, headed back out the door. But I had seen myself kneeling there at the table in blue jeans and old sneakers, seen the welcome and felt the risen Lord touch my shoulder. I was confused; He smiled on me. I longed for His love; He touched me.


It is finished and He has done it and no matter whether I come singing hallelujah or dancing lament, wearing a new Easter dress or ancient blue jeans, I am His and He is mine and nothing can separate me from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Heavenly blessings without number gently falling on my head.


Taking it deeper:

What does it mean for you that it is finished and you can come as you are and rest in God’s love?

For those who have been following the Lenten “Dust you are” series of posts, is there something from this dusty journey through Lent that you’d like to take with you as you continue the journey with Jesus beyond the tomb, some new way of loving Him—and receiving His love—with your body as well as your soul?

The song He’s singing over you


The pastor extended his hands toward us. “And now, receive this benediction.” And he began to sing:

“May the peace of God, our heav’nly Father,

And the grace of Christ, the risen Son,

And the fellowship of God the Spirit

Keep your hearts and minds within His love.”

And I thought my heart might burst because for a moment I saw right through: they weren’t just Darrell’s hands outstretched over us in blessing. They were Jesus’ hands. And it wasn’t just Darrell singing over us; the face of the Father was turned toward us, shining on us, the voice that spoke worlds into place singing tender love.

He was singing the same song Jesus always sings over us: grace and peace. Those words at the start of most of Paul’s letters? They’re not just a greeting from Paul: “Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”

Our God sings grace over us like a love song or a lullaby, grace that erases all the places we’ve failed. He sings peace too, a song that delights in us and invites us to enter and rest there.

And when you hear His grace and His peace being sung over you, sung to you—to you—what can you do but lift your hands and your heart and your whole bursting self and join in?

“And to Him be praise for His glorious reign;

From the depths of earth to the heights of heaven

We declare the name of the Lamb once slain—

Christ eternal, the King of kings.” 1




1You can listen to this song by Stuart Townend and Keith Getty here.

Grace on credit?


“Jesus, will you heal me so I can get on with serving you?”

The answer is no. Not necessarily no to the healing—that remains to be seen—but no to the reason.

I was finishing my workout in the gym when Jesus showed me that my request was rooted in a lie: the lie that I’m not worth healing for my own sake. That I don’t matter. Or that I only matter insofar as I can be useful to other people.


People say that we’re blessed to be a blessing.

It’s not true.

We’re blessed simply because God loves us and delights to give good gifts to His children.


True, being loved like that will flow over into wanting to be a blessing to others. God’s kind of love is contagious.

True, part of the way God blesses us is in allowing His blessing to flow through us to others.

But making us a blessing is His promise and His work, work to which we surrender and with which we cooperate but not work we can do on our own (Gen 12:2-3; John 15:4-5). And the first part of that surrender is receiving. Freely. For ourselves. Enjoying His delight in us and delighting ourselves in Him.


Confession: I struggle with this.

I’m always tying strings to places God has marked “no strings attached.”

I hesitate to ask for help. And when I do, it’s with at least the unspoken promise that I’ll pay it back (or forward) as soon as I can.

But this kind of “grace on credit” is no grace at all. It’s exhausting. It’s salvation-by-works transferred from a cash-only society to one in which we build up debt we can never pay.

I’m not suggesting we ought to live as though the world revolves around us. It doesn’t.

I am suggesting that we do not need to be afraid to enjoy the good gifts God gives. The gifts he gives freely. For our enjoyment. Because He delights in us and delights to enjoy us enjoying His good gifts in His presence. (I Tim 6:17, James 1:17, Deut 14:22-27)


We can only truly love when we learn to let ourselves be loved.

Letting ourselves be loved—freely and extravagantly—is not selfish. It is an essential part of stepping into who we’re called to be.


“Jesus, let me not run from the love which you offer. . . “ (David Flemming)