longing

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“The days are coming,” declares the Sovereign LORD, “when I will send a famine through the land–not a famine of food or a thirst for water, but a famine of hearing the words of the LORD. Men will stagger from sea to sea and north to east, searching for the words of the LORD, but they will not find it.” Amos 8:11-12

If you want to read a feel-good bible story, don’t read Amos. It’s a messy account of Israel’s indignation and selfishness. To be honest, this came as a surprise to me. In my mind, prophets were fortunetellers. I thought their sole purpose was to establish within the Old Testament enough predictions about Jesus so that the Israelites would have enough proof to believe he was the Messiah—so that Christians would have enough proof to believe he was real, too. I never opened my bible to explore the world of the prophets for myself until Kenneth Hanson’s Biblical Prophets course. In that class, I was introduced to a brilliant man named Abraham Heschel. Rabbi Heschel taught me the depth of the prophets. In his words, “Amos’ primary mission is not to predict, but to exhort and to persuade. Israel has failed to seek Him, so He will go out to meet Israel…This seems to be Amos’ premise: God does not leave man in the dark; He communicates His thoughts to men. What has provoked the anger of the LORD? What had happened to shatter his silence? Two things stand out in the prophet’s condemnation: the absence of loyalty and the absence of pity.”

Amos didn’t come to predict the future for the Israelites. He came to speak truth into their lives. The Israelites hadn’t been living a life that reflected the goodness of their God. They turned blind eyes to the destitute and, consequently, turned further and further away from the LORD. But the story doesn’t end there. It never ends there for Israel. They were being unfaithful, but the LORD wasn’t willing to be. “Man may remain callous, but God cannot keep silent. Terrible is His voice, because he has a heart,” explains Heschel.

The LORD loves Israel enough to use a man like Amos to get their attention. He loves them enough to call them, however sharply it may be, to a better life for themselves and for the sake of others. He loves them enough to create in their hearts a famine only He can satisfy.
I can’t help but notice the similarities between the Israelites’ actions and my own. My faith is just as messy and I’m just as selfish. It’s easy for me to forget the life God has called me to. I’m supposed to lead a life so attractive and so different that others can’t help but consider belief in the LORD. I’m supposed to live selflessly and fully because the deepest parts of my soul have been made alive by the LORD. I’m thankful for forty years full of reminders in the Israelites’ journey: it’s a process. What was true for the Israelites then is true for followers of Christ now: “Faith is not the clinging to a shrine but an endless pilgrimage of the heart” (Heschel).

When I consider the endless pilgrimage of the heart, I think of “Ulysses” by Josh Garrels. The album it’s from, Love & War & The Sea In Between is, in Josh’s words, a story of “navigating life in a dark and mysterious world with the hope of a homecoming where God has set all things right.” Every time I listen to it, I’m in awe of the eloquent parallels he draws between The Odyssey and what is, to me, one of the most difficult, gritty aspects of the Christian life: a famine of hearing the words of the LORD.

This song isn’t just about my longing after the LORD, although it does articulate it in a beautiful, honest way. Just as I long for the LORD, so He longs for me. It’s the same longing that is evident in Amos’ words to the Israelites: I want you and all of you. While faith is not all about me, there’s not one moment I’m alive that is about something other than growing closer to Him. This is the depth of his love and commitment to my soul and to yours.

not yet

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I have seen the burden God has laid on the human race. He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.
Ecclesiastes 3:10-11

I’m thankful that on all days, but especially on a day like today, God is much bigger than I can comprehend. Even if I can somehow come up with one sentence or phrase in our language that clarifies an attribute of His character, it’s just a small glimmer in comparison to all that He is. When I remember that, on days like today—where emotion and religious jargon ramble on and confuse the truth—it’s easier to settle down and rest in the things I do know to be true of Him and to long for the things I do not know yet, but one day will.

your job

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Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.
Philippians 4:4-7

“A tree’s job is not to try to bear fruit; the tree’s job is to abide near the river. And the fruit does not ripen overnight…Anytime you see life flourishing, it is receiving nourishment from beyond itself.” – John Ortberg from “The Me I Want to Be”

It takes some of the pressure off to know that I’m not responsible for having it all figured out. My mind will race a million miles a minute trying to figure out what I could be doing better, how to make my life look different. It’s good to be reminded that my job is to stay as close to him as I possibly can. If I just focus on that, it’ll always be enough.

the devil’ll wear you out with worry.

Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.
Psalm 90:12
Even to your old age and grey hairs, I am he, I am he who will sustain you. I have made you and I will carry you. I will sustain you and I will rescue you.
Isaiah 46:4

I love that scripture is alive. I took this photo back in March and these two verses were definitely the inspiration for it. But I forgot to post it, and only recently did I think back to it. The scripture is still applicable today, as new thoughts and worries enter my heart. There’s always something new to worry about, isn’t there?

At first, the two chairs simply represented having the opportunity to grow old with the Lord, to gain wisdom and peace with each passing day alongside Him. But I’m a worrier, so I quickly forgot these lovely thoughts. Last night, I heard a sermon and the preacher said, “The Devil will wear you out with worry if you let him.” I am an odd bird, and I rarely have a thought that I don’t over analyze. So worrying becomes a trap for me, because it’s not just the worry. For example, a simple worry I had recently is Hm…I haven’t heard from my roommate today, I wonder if I’ll be home alone tonight… No big deal, right? But then, after about 45 seconds of worrying my sympathetic nervous system kicks in and I’m all like Holy cuss, I literally have no friends and I bet all my friends are posing for a cute instagram photo right now at something I didn’t get invited to because I’m too lame and no one wants to be around someone who worries as much as me I mean look at me right now and oh my gosh I’m going to die alone. I probably won’t even get to heaven because look at me worrying right now I don’t read my bible enough because someone who does wouldn’t be worrying like this right now.

Yeah, I really wish I could say I was exaggerating but even as I type all of that out, I realize how often I have those thoughts! And you know where those thoughts take me? Nowhere. Here’s a riddle for you: what moves frantically and doesn’t move an inch? In those moments, it’s me because the Devil is having his way with me as I run around in one of those damned hamster wheels. Satan wants nothing more than to preoccupy me with the useless. So it’s lovely to think of me inviting the Lord to sit with me in those two chairs but all too often I’m begging the Devil to sit right there with me, hold my hand, and tell me the same thing over and over again because for some reason, my first instinct is to believe the lies. Maybe because hamster wheelin’ it is easier than trusting. At least then I’m doing something in response.

Worry will wear.you.out.

But only if you let it. I’m learning to invite the Lord in those moments, to laugh when I feel my pulse and breathing quicken. It’s not forgetting the worry. God doesn’t want me to be fake. But it’s accepting the worries for what they are and opening my hands loose enough to let God in a little bit. It’s sitting down, taking a breath, and being in silence in the presence of the One who will always care for me.

your dear early love

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It’s in Christ that we find out who we are and what we are living for. Long before we first heard of Christ and got our hopes up, he had his eye on us, had designs on us for glorious living, part of the overall purpose he is working out in everything and everyone.
It’s in Christ that you, once you heard the truth and believed it (this Message of your salvation), found yourselves home free–signed, sealed, and delivered by the Holy Spirit. This signet from God is the first installment on what’s coming, a reminder that we’ll get everything God has planned for us, a praising and glorious life.
Ephesians 1:11-14 The Message

I recently heard someone reference Revelation 2 and how God is our first love. The concept of first love has been intriguing as of late.  It’s interesting to look at the beginning of Ephesians, and then to the place in Revelation 2 where God as a first love is mentioned because lo-and-behold, Revelation 2 is directed to the church of Ephesus. I love looking at the beginning of Ephesians, and then reading Revelation 2:1-7 and seeing how their struggle to remain faithful to their first love mirrors mine:

1 Write this to Ephesus, to the Angel of the church. The One with Seven Stars in his right-fist grip, striding through the golden seven-lights’ circle, speaks:

2-3 “I see what you’ve done, your hard, hard work, your refusal to quit. I know you can’t stomach evil, that you weed out apostolic pretenders. I know your persistence, your courage in my cause, that you never wear out.

4-5 “But you walked away from your first love—why? What’s going on with you, anyway? Do you have any idea how far you’ve fallen? A Lucifer fall!

“Turn back! Recover your dear early love. No time to waste, for I’m well on my way to removing your light from the golden circle.

6 “You do have this to your credit: You hate the Nicolaitan business. I hate it, too.

7 “Are your ears awake? Listen. Listen to the Wind Words, the Spirit blowing through the churches. I’m about to call each conqueror to dinner. I’m spreading a banquet of Tree-of-Life fruit, a supper plucked from God’s orchard.”

God will always be my first love, but faithfulness is a process. Even when I forget that truth and wander off a bit, he’ll be there bringing me closer time and again.

Also, how can you read this version of Ephesians 1 and not think of this?

when camp ends

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Commit to the LORD whatever you do, and he will establish your plans.
Proverbs 16:3

To the tune of “We’re Alive” by My Name is You

I’m finding that I’ll distort even the best kinds of moments in life. There was this one night last year. It was simple and perfect. There were about eight of us. It started to rain, so we played tag outside in the downpour. When it stopped, we put on warm clothes and sat in a dark room and took turns reading Edgar Allan Poe in different accents. That’s a night that we look back on and think, “Those were the good days.” We say those things like we are so old and removed, because that’s what it feels like. That was a time when we were together the most: staying up late, laughing, praying, learning each other in the process of growing. The best way to describe it is that we were at camp then. No rules, endless possibilities, and the purest, most childlike intentions any of us had in years. But camp never lasts forever and it didn’t for us either. The nights when it rains now are a little less rambunctious for me. Like right now, as I’m writing this, it’s a rainy Saturday night and I’m home alone. We don’t hang out as much anymore. Schedules are different and maybe it’s a little from disenchantment, too. It’s nights like these that make me look back and idolize rainy Edgar nights. It’s easy to romanticize the past and lament the current and I wonder why that is. In my head, these quiet and slow moments become haggard in the face of a perfect past. What a foolish thought to entertain…because isn’t every breath in our lungs a moment of magic and beauty? When my head is in the right place, I remember that there wasn’t anything extraordinary about that night, really. We were the same people we are today, and we were just as broken then as we are right now. There has to be some letting go of that “perfect past” in order to receive what the Lord has ahead.

Somewhere along the string of nights between this one and that one I forgot to praise the God of that moment instead of that moment. So here’s to praising God at camp, to drinking in every second and every detail of perfect rainy Edgar nights because they won’t last forever–because nothing this side of heaven does. Here’s to absorbing how those moments feel, because we’re called to extend that same warmth and love to all. I’m learning to praise God in the quiet and just as wonderful present. I was able to see a lot of my friends through God’s eyes on that night, so here’s to learning how to see you as he sees you over and over again. I’m learning to find peace in the current and the past. God doesn’t call me to compare to what was, but to live with my face to the East, reflecting his ever-present love for us, and to bring as many home with me as I can.

psalm 51

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Open my lips, Lord, and my mouth will declare praise.
You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it;
you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings.
My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart
you, God, will not despise.
Psalm 51:15-17

I’m taking a break. Somewhere in the past few months, things became about producing and not worshiping.

So take a break, too. Maybe cut yourself some slack. Stop focusing on all the things you should be doing right and stop focusing on the things that maybe you don’t have the capacity to accomplish this day or any day, for that matter.  True worship leads to freedom, to love, and to joy. And freedom, love, and joy lead to worship. Sit in those moments and remember everything about how it feels to be loved exactly as you are–seen as whole and unbroken despite yourself.

rain

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And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.
Romans 8:28

To the tune of this. Grace is not a thing to be taken advantage of. But do keep God out of that box you try to keep him in. He can work for the good in you, regardless of what you’ve done…in spite of who you are even right now in this moment.

this time i know what i am fighting for

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The bows of the warriors are broken, but those who stumbled are armed with strength.
1 Samuel 2:4

Sometimes, it’s easy to lose sight of where the tension in our lives should be. It shouldn’t be against one another. It shouldn’t be against God. It shouldn’t be against ourselves…for the Lord is a God who knows, and by him deeds are weighed. The battle is against untruth. And the battle has already been won. The Lord brings death and makes alive; he brings down to the grave and raises up. The question is, am I living like I believe God has won the battle and that the strength to live in that truth resides in me through the Holy Spirit?

the gardener

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And this same God who takes care of me will supply all your needs from his glorious riches, which have been given to us in Christ Jesus.
Philippians 4:19

“I have promised to meet all your needs according to My glorious riches. Your deepest, most constant need is for My Peace. I have planted Peace in the garden of your heart, where I live; but there are weeds growing there too: pride, worry, selfishness, unbelief. I am the Gardener, and I am working to rid your heart of those weeds. I do my Work in various ways. When you sit quietly with Me, I shine the Light of My Presence directly into your heart. In this heavenly Light, Peace grows abundantly and weeds shrivel up. I also send trails into your life. When you trust Me in the midst of trouble, Peace flourishes and weeds die away. Thank Me for troublesome situations; the Peace they can produce far outweighs the trials you endure.” – Jesus Calling Philippians 4:19; 2 Corinthians 4:17 4.2.13