Writing

The Prayers I Need For This Mess

(On Instagram)

Sometimes the mess is sign of a growing, inquisitive, cruising baby. Sometimes it’s a reminder that, indeed, real people live in this house. Sometimes it’s a mark of generous hospitality— open doors and shared meals. This is where, I believe, people snap a photo and post it under #blessthismess.

But sometimes the mess isn’t material fit for social media. Sometimes the mess is in our hearts and in the hearts of our children. Sometimes it’s the mess of our trials, caused by sin (ours and others’), and evidenced by our troubled souls. We are disordered on the inside. And we need much more than God to “bless this mess”, as if we were sheepishly asking him to sprinkle some goodness on top of a sinkload of dirty dishes.

Most days, I need a better hope and greater grace. I need different prayers.

Like: God, by your power give me faith to trust you as I walk through this mess. You are too wise to err and too good to be unkind. I believe it, help my unbelief.

And God, forgive me for my part in creating this mess. Form in me a clean heart and renew in me a desire for you and your ways.

God, in your wisdom use this mess to make me more like Christ. Help me receive trials as discipline. You are working in me a harvest of righteousness and peace to come.

God, in your kindness give me grace as I deal with this mess, the fallout of sin. Your power is made perfect in weakness, and though I am weak, you are strong.

God, in your sovereignty redeem this mess. You are working all things, even this, for good— whether for me or for the sake of others— and though I can’t see what you’re doing now, turn this around for your glory.

God, this is the blessing we seek in spite of, through, with this mess.

Strengthened faith.
Clean hearts.
Holiness.
Grace.
Redemption.

Kyrie Eleison, Lord have mercy
For your glory
In Christ’s name
Amen.

Writing

The Eucatastrophe Of Human History

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Come behold the wondrous mystery
In the dawning of the King
He the theme of heaven’s praises
Robed in frail humanity
In our longing, in our darkness
Now the light of life has come
Look to Christ, who condescended
Took on flesh to ransom us.
– Come Behold The Wondrous Mystery, Matt Papa

“I’m the star holder!”, she’d announced earlier in the week. Now our girl stood on stage with her class, center-back row. She recited the gospel account of the wise men with the rest of her class as she held a golden star at her side, waiting until the time for it to rise in the east.

A few years ago, I stumbled upon the word that describes what moves me most about Christmas. Eucatastrophe. Coined by Tolkien, he defined it as “the sudden happy turn in a story which pierces you with a joy that brings tears.” This “good catastrophe” is, as Tolkien describes,

…A sudden and miraculous grace: never to be counted on to recur. It does not deny the existence of dyscatastrophe, of sorrow and failure: the possibility of these is necessary to the joy of deliverance; it denies (in the face of much evidence, if you will) universal final defeat and in so far is evangelium, giving a fleeting glimpse of Joy, Joy beyond the walls of the world, poignant as grief. (J.R.R. Tolkien, On Faerie Stories)

These days, I feel the shadow of death. This morning, I read and journaled, and thought about how a dear one was in the very chair I sat in a little over a year ago. Cancer has taken her body since, and I grieved that I hadn’t had more time to know and love her. I have felt the shadow lately as sin deepens and widens fissures in relationships and ministry. I feel it in how scary it is to live in a post-Genesis 3 world, as I shrink back from real and imaginary dangers that threaten what I love most. I think of Tolkien’s stories, and how it is in the absence of all hope of that rescue comes. I’ve given up hope on some fronts, though I know I haven’t truly, not completely. Perhaps you could say I am waiting for rescue.

Advent gives me permission to think intentionally about the waiting that was the context of the incarnation. I imagine the force of history barreling on and on while the people of God carry the weight of ancient prophecies yet unfulfilled. I think of intertestamental times and what it would’ve been like to be on the other side of the virgin birth, to reckon with God’s silence of hundreds of years. I think of humanity’s sure and final defeat if not for the baby born of Mary.

This is what captures my heart at Christmas–  that the story of Christ’s birth, like the whole of the Christian claim, is not one of denial. Our faith is one that is meant to be tested in the face of real life in the real world. The “thrill of hope” we feel of the incarnation comes in the context of deep darkness. In the birth story: Mary, the mother of God, will have a sword pierce her soul. Her baby is born into a life of lowliness and suffering, to be murdered as a criminal at the hands of sinners. A maniacal ruler orders a massacre in his raging jealousy at the news of a newborn Jewish King. In the story of humanity: rebellion against God, unbelief and helplessness, doom and despair.

Into this darkness, Christ was born. That God himself would come and dwell with us, and become one of us to take on the darkness for us, no one could have hoped for in their wildest dreams. But he did, to those who had no hope, he came. He came unexpectedly but decidedly, and the darkness has not overcome him. And so, as Tolkien wrote, “The Birth of Christ is the eucatastrophe of man’s history.” While death’s shadows loomed, the Word became flesh and entered as light.

References to light are woven throughout Christ’s birth narrative. He was to be the “sunrise visiting from on high to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death”, prophesies Zechariah (echoing Isaiah.) John describes Christ as the one in whom “the life was the light of men”. The glory of God shines on shepherds as they watch their flocks by night. And a star rises in the east because a virgin has borne a son.

Just as the rising sun cannot be held back by the night, with the turning of the incarnation, came our sure and strong rescue. All those years he seemed silent, God did not forget. Though it was a long time coming, he fulfilled his word. And because he came, suffering in this life does not the final word. Sin ravages but will not have the victory. Death’s days are numbered and we have hope beyond the shadow. We look toward our dwelling with him in the land where there is no night.

The hopes and fears of all the years, met in the birth of our Christ. Here is the dawn of the eternal day and of joy, joy beyond the walls of the earth.

The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light;
those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone.
Isaiah 9:2

Writing

Loving Others Is Worth The Risk

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If you are sufficient for your task,
it is too small.
– John Piper

Expect great things from God.
Attempt great things for God.
– William Carey

I love board games. Actually, I love fast-paced games with quick rounds (like, Taboo, Tangrams, or Codenames.) I’ve never been into longer games, especially ones that require strategy (think, Monopoly or Settlers) and I used to say it was because I didn’t have enough patience for them. But in recent years I realized the real reason I didn’t like them: I’m a sore loser.

I don’t want to invest an hour into a game that I might not win. Connect Four is preferable because even if I lose, I can insist on another round–and win it! Is that bad? Probably. Ok, ok, yes it is. But these are just board games, so, not a big deal.

I’m realizing though that my aversion to losing does not only manifest itself when it comes to game night, that I am by nature risk-adverse because I hate failure and would rather not do something than do a less-than-excellent job. This shows in board games, yes, but also in other areas of my life.

This year, God has me in places where I’ve been serving out of weakness, in situations where he has given me enough skill to be of service to others, but not with so much natural ability that I feel I’m excelling. And while some may say, “This is the best way to serve– so God will look great when he helps everything go awesome-ly!” that’s not how it’s been. Rather, he’s allowed me to flop, falter, and at times, fail, and I’ve walked away wishing there were someone else who would take over or feeling silly for trying in the first place.

But I am grateful. Because as I reflect on these experiences, the thing God has been impressing on my heart lately is this: Do not give up. Because risk, for the sake of loving others, is right.*

First, risk for the sake of others is right because what I have is not mine. Paul says that all I have, I have received (1 Cor. 4:7). We are all stewards of our gifts, opportunities, relationships, jobs, and possessions. All that I have came from and belongs to God. So for me to withhold my time, gifts, love, and service out of fear of failure is to, like the wicked servant Jesus spoke of, take the one talent I’ve been entrusted with and bury it in fear or laziness.

Secondly, risk is right because as a steward, life is not about me. There are some that would encourage us to pursue our passions for our own sakes– for the possibility of fulfilling our dreams. There’s nothing wrong with dreaming, but as Christians, we are not told to pursue our own glory or fame, much less to do so in the name of Christ.

So I think instead of the people in history who have attempted and done great things for the glory of God. For them, working toward national reform (King Josiah) or abolishing slavery (William Wilberforce) was never about self-actualization. But neither were they restrained by fear. Rather, they took risks and dreamed big because they were not thinking about themselves. They were pursuing the glory of God and the good of others.

My life is not my own. It has been given to me for the sake of loving God and loving others. For me, then, it is sinful self-centeredness to be motivated out of self-protection and fear of failure.

So here’s the challenge: Christian, how are we being called to take risks for the sake of love? Fruitfulness in ministry is not guaranteed just because we pour out our hearts, prayers, and time– but it is worth it because our hearts, prayers, and time are given to us by God and because people are worth it. Developing your creative gifts for the sake of building up the church is worth it even if you’re not the best, because it’s not about you being the best. Receiving critical feedback in service to others is worth it because you are learning how to maximize your return for the King.

And here’s the comfort: Christian, you are in the most secure place to take risks. Why? Because, for one thing, nothing that is done for Christ is ever in vain; as long as your service is done unto God, he sees, he knows, and he receives your acts of service as worship to him. We may look at outer appearances, but God looks at the heart. And what may look like loss to the world, is gain if it brings us closer to our Christ.

Furthermore, as you risk, you are also secure because your “worth is not in skill or name / In win or lose, in pride or shame / But in the blood of Christ that flowed / At the cross”. (My Worth Is Not In What I Own)

In other words, you are held firmly in Christ, apart from your works, because of his work. As God’s worksmanship, we joyfully walk into doing the good he has already prepared for us (Eph. 2:8-10) but we who do good in the kingdom of God never do so for our ultimate sense of purpose and acceptance. Our worth is found in Christ. Our joy and hope are not tethered to results in ministry, acknowledgement from others, or our own flawless performances. Thus we are the most free people, liberated to lavishly love others.

Praise God! May we risk it all, for the sake of others and his great name.

 

 

* Though I wasn’t thinking about it as I wrote, I absorbed the phrase “risk is right” from a helpful small book written by John Piper called, of course, Risk is Right. It was helpful for me in making a major family decisions a few years ago, and I recommend it!

Writing

A New-ish Blog Beginning

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I never thought I’d choose to write. In high school, I complained about English class as I crunched out last minute essays in the school computer lab and in college, I celebrated after taking my last mandatory writing course ever.

But then again, I’ve always written even when I didn’t have to. I’ve “blogged” ever since the days of Asian Avenue (anyone else remember that?) and Xanga (eprops were the pre-Facebook “Likes”).  And though, thankfully, those cringeworthy entries about high school crushes and Jess of Gilmore girls are no longer public, I remember enough of my Xanga site to mentally trace a drastic change in content over time. Continue reading “A New-ish Blog Beginning”

Writing

Social Media Hiatus & New Blog!

It’s been awhile since I’ve written anything to post online, but here I am again with a new blog and ready to start writing again! There are some posts that have been swimming around in my head, but before sitting down and getting those onto paper (screen?), I thought I’d share a bit about why I took a quasi-break from social media and why I decided to blog again. I don’t imagine that I have to explain myself so much because people have been wondering about my internet whereabouts as much as because I think it may be helpful for those who are thinking about the role of social media in their lives and because it’ll help me to have written down why I want to start blogging again.

My break from social media (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Blogging) started out involuntarily and, I believe, by the mercy of God. I was on vacation in the middle of the ocean and without internet for a few weeks! Here is what I realized during my time there and in the months that have followed as I’ve been mostly away  social media. I don’t want to say social media made me do these things, so I’ll start off each by saying my use of social media…

  • Broke up my time and attention in unhelpful ways. It’s not as if I was sitting down for hours or even 30 minutes at a time at the computer. But having the option in the palm of my hand to fill up a minute or two here and there by scrolling through tweets and status updates filled my mind with mostly unhelpful information when I could have been thinking about something else, reading a few pages of a book, enjoying my daughter with undivided attention, or even just being silent. For me then, it was (and is) not so much a matter of whether or not I was doing something wrong with my time, but whether or not there was something better that I could be up to. 
  • …Was out of proportion considering the things and tasks that are important to me (i.e. my priorities). Although in the past I’ve contemplated completely cutting myself off from any kind of social media for the sake of not wasting time, I never did because I really believed that it could be a tool to bless others. Why? Because I’ve been helped by articles and blogs I’ve read online and I love being able to help others have access to good resources. I figured that hey, if people are already spending their time on Twitter, Facebook, etc. and reading all this stuff, why not get something in there that really  matters? It also is a way to keep in touch with people that I don’t see every day or may be far away. These uses were mostly about potential ways and people I could serve or connect with. But for me right now at this stage of life my priorities are toward 1. God 2.  my husband 3. my children 4. my family 5. my church &  close friends, and some place after that those I could  hypothetically/potentially serve through social media. Not that the people listed above couldn’t be blessed through my social media use, but that’s not one of the main ways I could be serving them. Therefore, given the position that social media connections was, or rather, how it wasn’t on my priority list, my time and attention weren’t being properly used.
  • …Gave me a false sense of connectedness and community that replaced my desire to actively seek out someone to talk to. One reason I stay on Facebook is because it can be useful to connect to (real life) friends or reconnect with people that I really do have a relationship with. But I feel like the option of having  my thoughts broadcasted out there any time  gave me a sense of being connected to a listener that was in reality not there or at least unknown to myself. As people, we all have a desire to communicate and share our lives with others, from important lessons learned to little joys in life. (Think about the seemingly unimportant status updates that people often complain about others posting). When God teaches me something new, I want to share it. When my daughter does something super cute, I want to tell someone too! Something kind of scary that I noticed after I stopped going on social media was how often  potential tweets and blogs passed through my mind when things like these happened.  Even having the option of sharing things through social media acted in a way to satiate that desire to share with another what was going on in my mind. I found that after I disconnected, I took more time to direct these thoughts upward in prayers of thanks for what I was experiencing and outward to others (texting a friend, telling my family members, etc.)  
  • …Showed that instead of being a tool to be used, social media mastered me. I  could give all these  helpful uses of social media that I really think are legitimate, but honestly, I think that social media had a hold on me that I could not really see. Yes, I could stay off of it for a few days and I had at times set up specific time limits for my own use of Facebook, but why was there such an impulse to go on it right away when those limits were up? I’m not even sure what the appeal was, but I think it had become such a habit  even though often I was scrolling and looking through things I cared little about.
  • Made it easy to produce (post) or pass on (“like”/”retweet”) rather than to first live it out. It is so easy to read something good or potentially impacting and instead of thinking first about how I can be changed or have my life put in accordance to God’s truth, to retweet or share it and leave it there. Or for me to be at the starting point of learning something new from God and the Scriptures and then right away think about how I can blog about it instead of first letting it sink in and change me first. I don’t think social media makes people fake and I don’t think I have to be all there before sharing honestly, but I think the ease and quickness with which I can put out something publicly makes it  dangerous for me since I already have little time in my own life set aside for serious contemplation, prayer, and meditation. I want truths to sink deep and to have things I share come out from within me, not merely passed on and giving others the impression of having made a difference in my life.

So, with all that I’ve written above, why am I blogging again?

1. Because I have been helped by things I’ve read and I hope to bless others in the same way.  There are blogs that I follow because of the way they encourage me point me towards the truth of God and I hope to edify others in the same way. I am thankful to have been approached by different people here and there saying they were helped by things that I have written . As I have been thinking about whether or not to blog again, my husband encouraged me to focus my thoughts on serving and not to not write because of fear.  Also, I’m thankful that many (most) of you reading this are people that I love and know, and though it’s hard to update you all individually about how God is working in my life, I can write it and have you all read it at once! 

2. Because I am passionate about right theology in the everyday and in all of life. God has wired my mind and heart to be passionate about helping others see the impact of Biblical truths in real life. I get fired up about right theology because I have seen (and see) in my own life the impact of wrong teaching and wrong thoughts about God, his word, and how he has designed life to be. Because of this, I love being able to share others about how God is renewing my mind and teaching me his truth, and in this way, changing my life and my worship. I hope to write more about this specifically another time, but for now I will say that my second reason for blogging is because I enjoy it!

So, hello again internet reader and friends! And I pray that God will use this blog in whatever way he chooses for your edification and for his glory.