When you’re afraid of the daily dyings

His words grip me. “If the Gospel seems irrelevant to our daily lives, that is our fault, not the Gospel’s. For if death is not a daily reality, then Christ’s triumph over death is neither daily nor real.”

I reread the longer section several times:

“Death doesn’t wait till the ends of our lives to meet us and to make an end. Instead, we die a hundred times before we die; and all the little endings on the way are like a slowly growing echo of the final Bang! before that bang takes place. It’s like turning the record backward. Each lesser echo, each little death, has not only its own immediate sorrow; it draws fear and horror from the absoluteness of the last end, the real slamming of the door, the mortal and eternal BANG!. . . .

If you think you can’t endure the broader definition of death, the knowledge that it hazards every good relationship, daily striking things asunder (attending every party we poor humans plan), I would not argue. Nor would I call you weak. Such knowledge is intolerable. That’s why the world simply ducks it, deluding itself, pretending by all means (from hedonism to folksy forms of philosophy to vague spirituality) that death is no horror, that death is not.

But you – you have a present Savior with whom to meet and wrestle a present death. Surely, in such company you need not ignore this enemy as the fearful world does. And the more you recognize death around you, the sweeter will seem the love of the LORD. You will know him better; you will realize the pragmatic and immediate power of his salvation – for wherever death is, there can also be the manifestation of his glorious victory. And you, child- you may stride with freedom, even through the difficulties, grief and the hard road, mourning and bereavement.

If the Gospel seems irrelevant to our daily lives, that is our fault, not the Gospel’s. For if death is not a daily reality, then Christ’s triumph over death is neither daily nor real. Worship and proclamation and even faith itself take on a dream-like, unreal air, and Jesus is reduced to something like a long-term insurance policy, filed and forgotten – whereas he can be our necessary ally, an immediate continuing friend, the Holy Destroyer of Death and the Devil, my own beautiful Savior.” (Walter Wangerin Jr., “Mourning into Dancing” p. 26-30)

I think long. What does it mean for me, today, not to fear the daily dyings but to walk into them with the One who has conquered death? I write a long list. But it all reduces to this one thing: a choice not to hide.

Facing the daily dyings means learning to be honest with others.  Stepping out from behind “I’m fine. Really.” Refusing to tell only the “nice” bits of my story. Continuing to share even when all I have to share is weakness, trusting that God will show up with grace in the midst of the mess.  It means gratefully welcoming those willing to walk with me through the messy places and letting Jesus teach me how to walk well with others in their own difficult spaces. Refusing to hide behind cliches. Letting Him take me, eyes open, into the places where there are no answers, only Presence.

Facing the daily dyings means not skimming the hard bits of the gospel. Letting His eyes look deep into me. Even when the shattering of my pride burns like fire.

It means choosing to stop fighting reality. Accepting my limitations. Learning to live within them graciously.

At first this thought frightened me. If I let go, stopped fighting the daily deaths and allowed myself to see them, would I still be able to get up in the morning? I have long relied on willpower (and denial?) to get myself out of bed. How would letting myself see the daily deaths – and the victory beyond – compare? I wondered if perhaps I could keep pushing physically but release control to God in other areas. . .

But I discovered something so obvious it’s easy to miss. All the bits of me – body, mind, soul – are so entwined that I cannot keep fighting in one area and surrender in another. If I live the daily physical life by sheer willpower, I am also fighting grace that calls me to come just as I am, in the midst of my mess and pride and helplessness to fix any of it.

Grace coaxes me to try it on, this new way of being. I give in, let go, lie down.  I face the daily deaths, trusting the One who conquered death to lead me through.

And I find the words of Wangerin true. I let go, expecting to feel myself falling, but discover instead arms beneath, waiting to lead me into life. I stop pushing, stop clinging (for a few minutes at least!). . .  and find life full. I miss a meal with friends, but am available for a soul-strengthening chat with another friend. I can’t go to a musical, but Jesus meets me in the silence and shows me his grace. And I discover that this call to stop fighting the daily deaths is really a call to walk through them into life with the One who knows the route well.

 

 

Why we hide

As I walk to pick up the book on discernment, my heart quakes. What if I heard wrong? What if God changes his mind? What if I discover that the call that I thought I heard, the one that felt like freedom and Life, lies in contradiction to the principles of good discernment?

My mind is set at ease as I discover that the questions in the book are leading to the same answer I thought I heard from God.

What bothers me more now is how quickly I doubt God. How can I see his fingerprints of love all over my days and yet still doubt whether he can be trusted with my life? What keeps my automatic response set on doubt and suspicion, wiring me so firmly to resist full surrender to Love? What do I fear. . . and why?

For two days I wrestle with these questions while the patient One waits quietly, sometimes whispering a few words into my struggle.

“. . . the LORD is upright;

he is my rock,

and there is no unrighteousness in him.”

(Ps 92:15 NRSV)

He reminds me gently that He will not tease or mock. He is not fickle. This One cannot act against His character, will not behave in a way that undermines the relationship He seeks.

I can trust Him. But even when I struggle to trust, He will not give up and leave. His commitment to the process of developing intimacy with me is limitless.

“If we are faithless, he remains faithful—

for he cannot deny himself.”

(2 Timothy 2:13, NRSV)

I wrestle unsuccessfully with the whys of my fear until Sunday morning when I am reminded of the garden choice that led to this hard-wired challenge.

As the new couple ignores warnings of death and chooses independence, “our relationship with God unravels. What was a relationship of trust and delight and love and intimacy is now marked by suspicion, doubt, fear, and guilt . . . . The characteristic posture of humanity now toward God is actually one of hiding. We sense the gentle stirrings of God moving in our lives, and we hide.” (Darrell Johnson – Grace outrunning the avalanche of sin)

And I understand my struggle to trust. I see how, as a child of Adam and Eve, I am hard-wired to hide. But I also hear grace.

“God asks the question, ‘Adam, where are you?’ The point? God really wants this relationship and is not going to give up on it. God’s question is pure grace. . . . God asks the question as a way to draw us back into fellowship. He knows that we’re afraid and that we feel shame, and so he draws us out of hiding instead of forcing us out of hiding. . . .

And God then clothes the fearful, ashamed humans. God does not pull them out from the bush and make them stand naked before him. . . . God knows our need to hide, and so provides a hiding place in his very presence.” (Darrell Johnson – Grace outrunning the avalanche of sin)

This grace sets me free. I need not condemn myself for struggling to trust. God doesn’t. Instead, He gently calls me to bring my quaking heart back into His presence where it can be healed. I timidly crawl out from under the bush into His waiting arms. And I look back to find even the bush where I hid on fire with His presence.

 

 

Why we must sing

Into yesterday’s questions, yesterday’s glimpse of poverty and inability to praise, God speaks through a woman who has asked the same questions.

“I know there is poor and hideous suffering and I’ve seen the hungry and the guns that go to war. But I have lived pain and my life can tell: I only deepen the wound of the world when I neglect to give thanks for early light dappled through leaves and the heavy perfume of peonies in June and the song of crickets on summer humid nights and the rivers that run and the stars that rise and the rain that falls and all the good things that a good God gives.

How does it save the world to reject unabashed joy when it is Joy Who saves us? Rejecting joy to stand in solidarity with the suffering doesn’t rescue the suffering. The converse does.

The brave who focus on all things good and all things beauty and all things true, even in the small, who give thanks for it and discover joy even in the here and now, they are the change agents who bring fullest Light to the all the world.”

Ann Voscamp ~One Thousand Gifts, A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are



And so today I give thanks. I still feel the pain of yesterday’s sidewalk-dwelling fellow image-bearers. But it doesn’t stop me from praising. It makes it all the more essential that I do.

Today I celebrate the God of the impossible. The God who is able to do more than we ask or imagine. The One who stepped into the pain and felt it himself so he could exchange despair for hope.

This is the Extravagant Giver who does not stop at essentials but pours out blessing upon blessing, a whole sky-full of one lavish canvas after another, the show changing every moment for more than an hour.















And I sing because he is not oblivious to the state of the world. He weeps with the poor. But he knows that evil will not have the last word. Love will. And so he paints beauty and declares hope and shouts his love and I must too.

So I sing to this Lavish Lover who calls us to give and then gives it all back and tells us to use it to host a party with him and the poor at the center.

Be sure to set aside a tenth of all that your fields produce each year. Eat the tithe of your grain, new wine and oil, and the firstborn of your herds and flocks in the presence of the LORD your God at the place he will choose as a dwelling for his Name, so that you may learn to revere the LORD your God always. But if that place is too distant and you have been blessed by the LORD your God and cannot carry your tithe (because the place where the LORD will choose to put his Name is so far away), then exchange your tithe for silver, and take the silver with you and go to the place the LORD your God will choose. Use the silver to buy whatever you like: cattle, sheep, wine or other fermented drink, or anything you wish. Then you and your household shall eat there in the presence of the LORD your God and rejoice. And do not neglect the Levites living in your towns, for they have no allotment or inheritance of their own. (Deuteronomy 14:22-27)


I sing because nothing is too hard for him, and one day all that is wrong will be set right and there will be no more tears or sorrow or homelessness.
 


More of the endless gifts:

Never ending Love-paintings in the sky

Faithfulness new every morning

Hope in the darkest of places

Hearts that can hurt and heal and beat with His heartbeat

Being called to share his life

The promise that all will be made new.

holy experience

When you’re down on yourself

When we were children, if Dad caught one of us doing something we shouldn’t have been doing, he would often frown and say “grrrrowwwllll.” He spoke gently, never raising his voice, but we knew that we had better stop what we were doing.

Now sometimes I hear the Life-giving Lion gently growl at me through the pages of Scripture. His growl is a warning, but not a fearful one. It is a warning that moves me in the direction of Life, breathing love and peace and joy over me even as he growls. Today I hear the healing growl in Romans 8:33-34.

“Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who is he that condemns? Christ Jesus who died – more than that, who was raised to life – is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us.”

These verses picture God as the Judge and Jesus as the defense attorney. I am the defendant.

But far too often, I find myself stepping into the seat of the prosecutor. “That was so stupid. I can’t believe you did that!” “You’re so selfish. Lazy too. Maybe if you’d just try harder. . .” “Will you ever learn from your mistakes?” “Just look at yourself. How can God ever use someone like you?”

Not content to be the prosecutor, I even try to take the position of judge, declaring myself guilty and handing down a sentence.

Into this unruly crowd of one, the True Judge speaks, reminding me that there are enough prosecutors without taking that position myself. And there is only One qualified to judge.

The Lion’s gentle growl reminds me that the verses from Romans 8 speak not merely of the inability of others to charge or condemn me. They speak also to my tendency to step into the seat of prosecutor and judge. “Who do you think you are, to condemn yourself, when I have declared you righteous?” God alone has the right to make the final call. And, incredibly, it is God who justifies.

I could not have a better defense attorney. Since the time when he stepped down to serve the death sentence himself, he does not leave his place, a continual presence reminding the Judge, the prosecutors, and the defendant (should I care to hear), that the maximum sentence has already been served and the defendant can no longer be held liable.

“Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 8:1)

 

May you, too, know the freedom of being merely the defendant, and the joy of hearing the Defense Attorney and the Judge declare you no longer guilty.

Hope in Shattered Places

“. . . We live in the shadow of the fall
But the cross says these are all
Places where grace is soon to be so amazing
It may be unfulfilled
It may be unrestored
But when anything that’s shattered is laid before the Lord
Just watch and see
It will not be unredeemed . . .”
(Selah “Unredeemed”)

On this Monday celebrating the thousand gifts, the truth of God’s re-creating grace tops my list. I love watching how God brings Life and Hope out of the most painful of places.

A few other gifts on my list:

fruit smoothies

warm sun on bare arms

the laughter of children on the playground

little boys imagining sticks into trucks

a dog chasing a ball

washing machines (much easier than hand scrubbing!)

four-part a capella hymns sung with a large congregation

cool early summer morning air

constantly changing colors in the sky at twilight

God’s lavish generosity that keeps pouring on the gifts faster than I can count

a thousand risings full of God’s faithful love

holy experience