How to see clearly

These days I’m thinking a lot about seeing.


Maybe it’s because all of life – near and far – is a bit blurry while I wait for new glasses.


Maybe it’s because I’m reading about brothers and sisters whose way of seeing led them to joyfully give their lives for Jesus.

“[They] thought [their death] a small price to pay. What was persecution to them, considering the privilege they had of telling others about the one who promised eternal life? For that matter, what was death to them, considering that they belonged to the one who conquered death?” (Sittser, “Water from a Deep Well,” p. 46)


And maybe it’s because of Sara, a beautiful woman just my age who, after years of choosing joy in the midst of constant pain, has just seen Jesus without the dark glass of our sin-stained nature in between. She saw him, veiled, for years, longed for others to see him too. And the shirt that her body wore to the final celebration of her life summed up what she long lived: “It’s not about me.”


What was the prism through which these brothers and sisters saw so truly?  I think it was love.  They found themselves pursued. Arrested. Eyes blinded that they might be given soul-sight. And with Jesus in the center of their vision, the rest of life attained clarity.


They discovered that Christ was everything – their very life. And that suffering – with and for Jesus, eyes on his face – was one of the best places not only to find themselves loved by Jesus but to give their whole selves to him with whom they ached to be finally and fully united.


Maybe that’s why one of the earliest martyrs could say, “It has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for him. . .” (Philippians 1:29) Granted. Charizomai. Its root is charis. “Grace.” And charizomai might be best translated “graciously granted” or “generously bestowed.” It has been graciously granted to you . . . to suffer for him. To suffer withhim. “I want to know Christ. . . and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings. . .”


“Take up your cross daily and follow me.” It’s a call deeper into love. Most of us, today, will not meet our own physical death. But all of us will be graciously granted little opportunities to die.  Let’s pick them up, eyes on Jesus, and follow him. Let’s let him fill the center of our field of vision, refract the rest of life so we can see it as graciously given, a place for deeper, richer union with Christ – and thus for joy.


“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Hebrews 12:1-2)

When you fear the cross

If I’m honest, I really don’t like the cross. I dread it, fear its demand for all. My heart runs from its command to come and die, its insistence on brutal honesty as I look at myself and the world, its reach into every place – identity, relationships, bank accounts.

I hate it because it hurts, and who really enjoys pain? Though I don’t usually dare to say it so bluntly, sometimes I wish there was a way to truly follow Jesus that didn’t require me to be crucified into him. Don’t you?

Take a deep breath. It’s okay.  We don’t have to like it. Even the Son of God dreaded the cross.

“Abba, Father,” he cried out, “everything is possible for you. Please take this cup of suffering away from me. Yet I want your will to be done, not mine.” (Mark 14:36, New Living Translation)

But there’s another side too, and if I’m really honest, these days I also love the cross more than ever. I love it because of its declaration. “You are loved beyond comprehension, loved enough that I walked straight into what I dreaded so I could have you.”

I love it because it forces the freeing truth, releasing me from the weight of impossible demands. “You can’t do this for yourself. Stop trying so hard and let me do in you what only I can do.”

I love it because I’ve tasted a drop of the joy that lies beyond. It calls me to die not to leave me dead but to set me free to truly live. In Him. The only place we can ever really live. And it is this joy, this relationship, that makes the pain of death worth it.

Let us keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, who leads us in our faith and brings it to perfection: for the sake of the joy which lay ahead of him, he endured the cross, disregarding the shame of it, and has taken his seat at the right of God’s throne. (Hebrews 12:2, New Jerusalem Bible)

“I-Thou may be a perilous word, the dyings of two into one another, one emptying himself to be found in the world, the other one necessarily emptied in order to find the whole world in the first; but I-Thou is union indeed.” (Wangerin, The Orphean Passages, p. 5-6)

And I love the cross too because of its power to do what it promises. Even in areas that are impossible for me to let go, when I’m honest with God about my fear, my inability to change, and give God permission to touch those areas, he works until their hold on me is broken. Sometimes I can’t even make myself willing to let Him touch something. That’s okay too. I’m learning that even being willing to be made willing is enough. The power of this cruciform truth, in all its fearful beauty, is beyond imagining.

For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. (I Corinthians 1:18, New International Version)




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 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

How Grace speaks into places of woundedness

This week I am grieving the loss of colleagues. Some have been wounded before. This time they paid the ultimate price as they shared in Christ’s sufferings.

Many of my friends have suffered. One lives with constant noise from eardrums damaged in a blast. Another has worked through extreme emotional trauma. Still another finds the mind struggling to meet weekly expectations as it labors and slows under the too long, too heavy years. Even Spirit-filled people have bodies of dust. Minds, too, can only labor so long under extreme burdens without being affected.

I think of each of these colleagues. And I wonder how many bear not only the physical wounds but the heavier weight of shame and frustration.

I have felt it. The shame of weakness and inability to help with daily tasks. The frustration of needing to schedule daily naps and exercise rather than being able to spontaneously respond to the needs of others. Self-accusations of wimpiness, selfishness, laziness. “Maybe if I just tried harder. . .”

Into these places of shame Grace speaks. His wounds touch ours, connecting our pain, our weakness, the rejection and hurt and dis-ease that we have experienced with his. His hands honor us, lifting us up, reminding us that it is His marks that we bear in our bodies.

Today He reminds me through Paul. This man who was beaten and imprisoned, rejected and starved of food and sleep was not ashamed of his wounds. He wore his scars boldly as honorable battle wounds.

“Finally, let no one cause me trouble, for I bear on my body the marks of Jesus.” (Galatians 6:17) 

And so a word to my hurting colleagues: The weakness that haunts you, the wounds you continue to bear as a result of your service are not signs of failure. They are not shameful. They are honorable wounds, marks of courage and endurance and union with Christ in His death. By His grace, you have willingly followed Him to places where you have been injured.

Today may Grace speak freshly into the places of pain, enabling you to wear your scars confidently as marks of a fight well fought, a cross carried, a privileged participation in Christ’s sufferings for the sake of his body.