V Is For Victory

How terribly mighty that love must be. ~ Walter Wangerin Jr.

_Egret take-off

It’s a long, discouraging losing streak when every player dies. We needed a win, but didn’t expect victory to emerge from the most spectacular of defeats.

The Easter Back Story

From the start, the odds were stacked against us. Sowing outrage, stirring conflict, distracting our attention with shiny objects, evil masks its true intention– to undo creation, to  hasten death.

Death of God’s plan, death of God’s delight, death of relationship, of identity, of meaning and joy. Death of us.

But one quiet morning the tables were turned. Death was swallowed up in victory.

In Victory’s Garden

It’s still dark, the world sleeps, unaware someone is tinkering with the previous day’s sorrows. With silent step, a divine intruder comes and rolls the stone away. The hard rock, once sealed tight against our hope, now  lies useless on its side.

No sword is drawn, but victory is swift and sure, the destruction of chaos by the Prince of Peace. The worst of news ushers in the best of times, new life.

Victory Still Seems Elusive

Resurrection comes softly and at first we don’t perceive it. Did you expect the rise of armies, the slaughter of villains and a golden throne on a hill? Instead, the “terrible, mighty” love of the living Savior is unleashed by his defeat. The pattern of this world is turned inside out for those willing to be turned:

  • In dying we receive life
  • In sorrow joy is fashioned
  • In poverty of spirit we find wealth beyond imagining
  • In giving up our right to self-rule, we find freedom no tyrant can know.

You say, “What of war, disease and disaster? How has anything changed? What good did the cross do?” In its last dying gasp, evil tries to divert our attention, but its final end will come.

Now, everything is different! In one bruised and broken person at a time, in one family knit back together, in one community restored. All over the world, unnoticed by the media, unheralded by those in power, where Jesus has his way, life wins.

Have you run out of hope today? Remember, the victory of the empty tomb:

  • There is life more powerful than any death we face.
  • There is love greater than all the hatred set against us.
  • There is provision beyond all the shortages we fear.
  • There is safe place to stand no matter what dangers we may face.
  • There is healing no disease can destroy.
  • There is hope no hurricane force despair can deny us.

Hope for a better me. Hope for a joy-filled you. Hope for our world beyond any good we can imagine.

Because of an empty tomb, life will get the last word.

Need to be reminded? Listen to, and join in with this song of celebration!

Every Praise Is To Our God

 

In our series, An Alphabet Adagio, we are savoring the story of the Bible, our story, alphabetically. You can subscribe to e-mail at the bottom of this website so you don’t have to miss a letter.

Photograph by Melanie Hunt

U Is For Undone

“For the Lord touched all parts of creation, and freed and undeceived them all from every deceit.”
― Athanasius of Alexandria

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Undone.

Undone, the bullying self, undone, the knot of evil, the tangled web of lies.

Undone, the ropes that bound us, our hobbled hopes, our truest selves.

“It is finished,” Jesus sighed.

From street level view, the crucifixion is a tragedy. A gifted teacher and prophet, calming storms and stirring the complacent, brilliant and kind, perceptive yet humble, the selfless, compassionate friend we search for in vain–brutally slain. Who would want to kill the only real love this world has known?

Skim through the first books of the New Testament, and watch the ratings drop. From high crowd approval–we are saved! we are freed! our long-awaited vindication is near!– to a murmuring mob, their anger stirred by insinuating whispers, their thumbs pointed down at Jesus .

“Father, forgive them, they know not what they do.”

From street level view, the cross is a puzzle–the brutal, tragic end of one more messiah, at the hands of the ever-fickle crowd.

Evil Undone

From satellite view, the cross is the astonishing climax–the literal crux of the story.

  • Imagine a puzzle, with the center piece now found.
  • Imagine a blurry kaleidoscope of  shape, color, dark and light suddenly come into focus.
  • Imagine a confusing cacophony of pitches, snatches of melody drowned by blasts of dissonant sound, and the conductor walks on stage, raises his baton, and out of exquisite silence, it begins….

The cross is the Rosetta stone of the Bible, the mystery of God’s intentions for his broken creation, revealed.

After Jesus died, all the Old Testament pieces began to fall into place. Even as his abandoned disciples huddled in a room, listened for the march of Roman boots, they remembered. While they waited, trying to swallow fear, they thought of ancient promises and prophesy. We know the ending and the whisper they may have been shaking too hard to notice,

“Fear not, the story isn’t over. Death itself is about to be undone.”

Do you sit in sorrow today? Fear not! The cross made it certain, everything that saddens us will fully be undone.

 

In our series, An Alphabet Adagio, we are savoring the story of the Bible, our story, alphabetically. You can subscribe to e-mail at the bottom of this website so you don’t have to miss a letter.

 

 

 

T Is For Love’s Tender, Troubling Tilt

Jesus didn’t say, ‘Blessed are those who care for the poor.’ He said, ‘Blessed are we where we are poor, where we are broken.’

~Henri Nouwen

old car

Love tilts, with eyes of compassion bent in one direction.

Down.

Many expected Jesus to be like them–proud, powerful and particular about the company he kept.

Instead they met an enigma, a maddening puzzle or a refreshing cure, depending on their posture.

Jesus looks different from the gutter than he does from a throne of self-sufficiency.

Unrolling the Isaiah scroll, Jesus read,

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” Luke 4:18-19.

Notice who is missing from the list. The rich, the satisfied, the self-made, the visionaries, the pompous moralists who scorn the wretched–all who have no need of a savior, for they have already ‘saved’ themselves.

We all tilt. But do we tilt in the right direction?

A Parable

There once was a woman known for her gracious hospitality. Her large and comfortable home was thoughtfully designed, with spacious bedrooms and spotless windows framing river and meadow and the cool blue mountains beyond. Along the back porch, (its well-scrubbed boards creaking beneath soft pillow rockers), were her  gardens–flowers for the mantlepiece, vegetables waiting to be stirred into succulent stews.

Every morning, noon and as daylight faded, savory feasts were laid out on the gleaming counter. A long table readied itself for hungry guests, while a simmering tea-kettle sighed its welcome.

They came–the wistful , the hopeful, the discouraged, the lonely, the anxious, the joy-filled, the shamed, the guilty, the merciful and those in desperate need of grace–all sat down at the table together. The only thing they had in common was the door through which they entered. The only thing that mattered was that all had found a place.

But some folks lounged across the road, ignoring the wide-open front door. Refusing the woman’s welcome, they booed their contempt for the empty-pocketed who turned up her path. Crouching in the weeds, they ate their rancid meat dinners, certain she’d envy their fare. Later, in darkened bunkers they whispered of crowns and castles. Sleeping on couches of un-earned treasure, they dreamed of having more.

Why Love Must Tilt

A universal law: only the broken can be repaired, only the empty can be filled, only the person who dares to need will walk through the open door.

“Blessed are we where we are poor, where we are broken. It is there that God loves us deeply and pulls us into deeper communion with himself.” ~Henri Nouwen.

Does your heart reflect this heavenly tilt?

 

In our series, An Alphabet Adagio, we are savoring the story of the Bible, our story, alphabetically. You can subscribe to e-mail at the bottom of this website so you don’t have to miss a letter.

Photography by Melanie Hunt

S Is For Savior: Hope For Weary Wanderers Like Me

“Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it.” ~ Robert Robinson

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You are small, the path is daunting, you were never meant to make your way alone. You need a savior but that savior is not you.

But you can try. You can make yourself moral, you can make yourself rich, you can carve out a life by the grit of your intentions.

You can pretend you are happy. You can portray yourself as wise. You can use other people as bit parts in your story, and write every scene around you. But the curtain will fall, the audience will exit, the lights will go out on your efforts.

Somewhere, in deepest spaces of your heart, is a lost child yearning for home.

Since the first chapter of history, humans have fled from the one place we would be happy. We’ve tripped over roots, been scratched bloody from brambles, stumbled up rocky pathways, hungry and aching for a hand-hold. The one thing we’ve refused to do is the one thing we must do.

Turn around.

And run into the arms of the one who inbreathes us, who designed us and has carved our names on his hand.* To the one who can “save us in every way a person can be saved.”

A Savior-Figure

The quote is Rose describing Jack, the young passenger on the Titanic who froze to death in the North Atlantic so she could be dry and live. Rose was going the wrong way, engaged to a man who would use, but not love her. Pursuing the lifestyle of the glittering, soul-selling rich, she needed to turn around, to find a savior who could restore her true self. Jack, a Christ figure of sorts, became an illustration of Love.

Would we admire Jack, who died for the sake of another, if Jesus hadn’t died for us first? What does true love like? Look at Jesus, our Savior.

In our Alphabet Adagio we have finally reached the New Testament. In the first four books, the Gospels, we watch all the promises of the Old Testament converge. Jesus is God the Son, the true Adam, the true Israel, the true Tabernacle and Temple. He is the new Covenant, the new King, the good Shepherd, and through him we are given new life.

What is it like to be saved?

According to the Gospel writers, Jesus came,

  • To heal and remake what is broken.
  • To seek and to save the lost.
  • To deliver us from sin and judgment.
  • To rescue us from the grip of evil.
  • To restore our relationship with God.
  • To usher in his kingdom, with a new kind of humanity as its ambassadors to the world.

A kingdom where love wins, justice reigns, evil is banished, and every person is invited to come home.

The story is not over. In the chapters ahead, Jesus will make all of God’s dreams come true.

Have you turned around your weary self and run to Jesus, your Savior?

*Isaiah 49:16

In our series, An Alphabet Adagio, we are savoring the story of the Bible, our story, alphabetically. You can subscribe to e-mail at the bottom of this website so you don’t have to miss a letter.

Photograph by Melanie Hunt

R Is For Remember

 

Do you love me, do you not? You told me once but I forgot. ~Elena Helms

_chick on rock

Which command is repeated most often in the Old Testament?

  • Not… do good.
  • Not…obey me.
  • Not… stop that!

Instead, two hundred and thirty-two times we encounter the Hebrew word, zakar, “remember.”

Remember:

  • How you were once slaves, and suffered, so don’t work like you are still in chains, don’t abuse others as if you have no scars.
  • How God delivered you from the might of Egypt when nobody else could, so don’t rely on lesser gods when calamity strikes again.
  • God’s wonders, compassion and kindness in the past–he’s the same God at work in your circumstances now.

We can remember because God does not forget:

  • That we are temporary, like flowers fading in the meadow.
  • That his love and faithfulness are all we have to depend on.
  • The unshakable covenant, the promise he has made,

“Whenever the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and all living creatures of every kind on the earth.” (Genesis 9:16)

Don’t Forget To Remember

Amnesia is common among us.  Ancient hurts, recent worries, beguiling lies and propaganda beckon with an HD glow, and we forget. We become disoriented, and circle our hopes around our sanctity, our strength, our successes, in the hopeless task of becoming something we were never meant to be. We gaze into the mirror of our own dazzling delusions and plunge unthinkingly into self-worship or self-disgust.

How we need a bright red dot to tell us “you are here” and an arrow to direct us where we need to be.

And God knows this. The Bible, well-read, is our guide, our story within its story, a road map into the future, a firm foothold when all else fails. Over and over we are told to remember, like this:

“I remember my affliction and my wandering, the bitterness and the gallI well remember them, and my soul is downcast within me.

Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: 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.

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 3:19-26)

Read it again, as if it told your tale. It takes practice to not forget.

 How has amnesia left you spinning lately?

Deuteronomy 5:15; Exodus 22:21; 1 Chronicles 16:12; Isaiah 46:9; Psalm 103:13-17; 98:3

In our series, An Alphabet Adagio, we are savoring the story of the Bible, our story, alphabetically. You can subscribe to e-mail at the bottom of this page so you won’t miss a letter. 

 Photograph by Melanie Hunt

Q Is For Quiet: When God Doesn’t Answer

God’s silences are actually His answers.

~Oswald Chambers

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O God, I’m parched by my tears,

I’ve worn out my fears,

but through these long years,

you’ve been quiet.

I learned something recently about the way I’m wired: a non-response equals rejection. The e-mail not returned, the text message ignored, the smile of greeting never noticed–I wince  at their silent sting.

So when God is quiet, when my prayers lay scattered at my feet, unopened, what am I to think? “He’s angry. I don’t matter. He has better things to do.”

I’m not the first to hear only crickets.

The Hebrew Bible closes with the return of the first exiles to Jerusalem after seventy years in Babylon. The Christian Bible ends with Malachi, the prophesy of a “great and terrible day of the LORD,” still to come.

In either case, the final ink mark seques into  silence–four hundred years of human history with no apparent word from God. While empires rose and fell, generations were born and buried, God’s people were put on hold.

What did they do as they waited? What many of us do today.

In the search for  God’s attention, we

  • Try hard to impress him.
  • Find other gods to supplement him.
  • Escape from life to await  him.
  • Use power to force his hand.

Jesus encountered all four (Pharisees, Sadducees, Essenes and Zealots). I wondered if he pondered the prophet Jeremiah’s way.

When God Is Quiet

Jeremiah penned a letter from God to the Babylonian exiles. With the land of promise conquered, the temple destroyed, no heir of David on the throne, every evidence of God’s presence and love was gone. The stifling quiet of a non-answer leads easily to bitter lament. But God has something else in mind for us in the middle of every delay:

“Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat what they produce…multiply there, and do not decrease. But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.” Jeremiah 29:5-8

  • Build a garden, nurture life in barren places.
  • Savor the goodness of the moment, instead of peering anxiously ahead.
  • Turn strangers into family, the lonely into kin.
  • Embrace community even when it’s easier to be alone.
  • Work and pray for the good of where you are, instead of where you wish you could be.

“For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the LORD, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.” Jeremiah 29:11. 

In quiet obedience, you may just become God’s answer. 

Have you planted any gardens lately?

 

In our series, An Alphabet Adagio, we are savoring the story of the Bible, our story, alphabetically. You can subscribe to e-mail at the bottom of this page so you won’t miss a letter.  

 

P Is For The Perplexing Anger Of God

“Anger is the fluid that love bleeds when it gets cut.”

~ C.S. Lewis

God-wrath

Anger. Wrath. Vengeance. Judgment. Fury.

What do we do with God’s darkest moods?

Do we avoid the Bible’s offending verses? After all, a God with deep passions is embarrassing to indifferent humanity.

Or maybe we see his anger as divine permission to luxuriate in our own cranky moods.

Some of us want nothing to do with the wrath of God and have left him for a gentler version of our making. An invented god is less confusing, but useless in the face of evil.

Consider a God incapable of anger and shudder as the predators have their way. The problem isn’t anger, it’s blindness to what the focus of fury should be.

Anger is uncomfortable. So we douse it with donuts, drink and denial. We defer it and dismiss it, to the detriment of our souls. Like live coals placed in our hands, without a safe receptacle fury will burn us.

The safe receptacle is God. On the cross, all the violence the world had hoarded was poured out on his beloved Son. Christ’s victory means this: Our darkest desires, most vengeful thoughts, every memory of  bitterness and betrayal can be safely entrusted to his care. In exchange for our fury, we are given the power to “overcome evil with good.” (Romans 12: 21)

Necessary Anger

Why is God’s anger necessary? Evil is an alien intruder within God’s good Creation. But as Solzhenitsyn reminds us, “The battle line between good and evil runs through the heart of every man.” Our every unkind word, selfish action, and unholy thought cruelly slashes God’s  beautiful design. We are defacers and abusers–none of us excepted. So God does what is necessary to pry our bloody fingers from evil’s cunning blade.

And wipes them clean with his tears.

God’s righteous anger is the perplexing evidence of true love.

Have you been confused by God’s anger?

 

 

Consider The Birds

The woods would be very silent if no birds sang there except those that sang best. ~Henry Van Dyke

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Consider the birds.

Their talons hold light to the branch, letting go feels natural. They tremble, not with fear but focus,

attentive to an inner voice, to a whisper, weighty with promise,

“Fly!”

Consider the birds, because they’ve never known self-doubt. Humans alone bear that burden, the glory and gut-wrenching pain of self-consciousness.

We are skilled at wing-clipping, you and I.

We tether our hopes. We duct tape our dreams to memories of failure. We notice that others fly straighter, higher, with grander wing spans, a more melodious cry, so we fold our modest efforts beneath our breast and refuse to step into the air.

But  birds don’t fret their variety, nor wish to exchange gifts with each other. Large birds croak unbecomingly, but sing anyway. Small birds fly in spurts, but fly anyway. Flashy plumage or homely feathers, they share the same bug-berry fare.

Consider the birds. They simply are what they were created to be, every single day.

And You?

Whom were you designed to be, when not compared to those around you? How could the world be less dark and broken because you are here? What will we know about the loving-kindness of God when you are finally willing to fly? Is there a God-planted yearning you’ve avoided? A calling you’ve forgotten to heed? What would happen if you unfolded your wings… stepped off your safe perch…and….?

I might fail.

What’s so bad about failure?

I’d make a fool of myself.

Then why not be a fool?

Others would think less of me.

Who are these “others” that you have made them your god?

What The Birds Know:

The air is not empty.

If you dare to spread your wings, to loosen your grip, and step into God’s beautiful will, you will never fly alone.

_cranes and swans

“Consider the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?” Matthew 6:26-27

I would love it if you would share any whispers you are hearing. I promise to pray for the courage to obey!

Thank you, Melanie Hunt, for the digital window into creation your photography offers us. We are blessed.

O Is For One And Only

We humans believe numbers mean something. For God, it is precisely numbers that mean nothing, nothing at all. ~ Soren Kierkegaard

number one

Only one number matters. Who wears it matters more.

We are designed to live for an audience of One but we long for the love of the many.

This is Holy Week, when we remember the cruelty and incomprehension of the numbering crowd. Jesus, alone on the cross, bears the weight of our fickle longing for more.

We have, from the start, broken the first commandment of the one God who knows what we need. But “no other gods before me” has become “every other god before you” for us, his wild and wandering children. Do we still worship other gods in our sanitary age? We do–we worship the god of numbers.

Drawn by the power of numbers,  we submit to  the whims of the herd:

  • What everyone is doing
  • What everyone is watching
  • What everyone is buying
  • What everyone is believing
  • What everyone is fearing
  • What everyone is applauding,

We will applaud the same.

How much are you paid? How many adore you? How great is the evidence of your charismatic success?

Numbers dazzle us. Numbers pressure us. We crave the impressive approval of numbers, when we were made for an audience of One.

One King

Josiah was only eight years old when he climbed onto the throne of Judah. His hell-bent father and grandfather had crowded the countryside with altars, sacred poles, carved images of the sun, the moon, the constellations, and “all the host of heaven.” The bloody and brutal fruit of importing the gods of other nations? Child sacrifice, temple prostitution, and soothsayers whispering secrets in the night.

The Old Testament reads like a tragedy–God’s people dancing to a dark and demanding audience of gods, exchanged for the blessing of One.

But Josiah was different, a king who remembered who is King.

Josiah pulled down the altars, demolished the shrines, beat the idols and images into powder wherever he found them. He did away with mediums, wizards, priests of Baal. But most important, he blew the dust off a forgotten book and called a nation to turn back to its Author, to return to an audience to One.

“Before him there was no king like him, who turned to the LORD with all his heart, with all his soul, and with all his might…nor did any like him arise after him.”  (2 Kings 23:25).

One person, with a single intention, embracing whole-heartedly one unconquerable love–what can God accomplish through a person who lives every day for his applause alone?

Whose applause and approval are you dying for?

In our series, An Alphabet Adagio, we are savoring the story of the Bible, our story, alphabetically. You can subscribe to e-mail above so you won’t miss a letter.   

N Is For Nobody Cares

One of the greatest diseases is to be nobody to anybody. ~ Mother Teresa

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Nobody cares, nobody notices.

Their eyes were fixed on grander schemes  while you labored in the back, while you gave until your heart ached with unrequited effort.

You were the one moving mountains by grit alone, but no one glanced your way. You were faithful and true, and credit is due. But the cheers still echo for someone else, not you.

Nobody noticed.

Discouragement is a tricky companion. The fickle crowd is its best friend. The illusion that nobody cares can make us blind to the smile of recognition by the only One who matters.

 “I alone am left…”

Elijah, according to the book of James, was “a man just like us.” Appointed by God to call his people back to faith, he is cold-shouldered at every turn. Baal is the impotent but beguiling god du jour, and the evil queen Jezebel kills God’s prophets just for fun.

Elijah is a prophet.

God, in his “show-not-tell” way sends no rain for three years–as in, who really controls the life-giving storms? In a dramatic showdown on Mt. Carmel, 450 prophets of Baal, in desperate frenzy of self-mutilation, call on their silent rain-god and lose the contest to Elijah’s calm prayer.

God answers that prayer with drenching, joy-giving rain. Like Rocky, fists lifted in triumph at the top of the stairs, Elijah runs all the way to the palace to share his victory. The King and Queen are unfazed. Hardened hearts will not see God no matter how dramatic his entrance. A price is now on Elijah’s head.

Have you been there? You did everything right, you stayed true to God, and now you are worse off than before.

Deeply discouraged, Elijah runs to the wilderness and feeds on despair:

  • God let me down
  • God’s people let me down
  • I am all alone, nobody cares.

Ah, Elijah, the story isn’t over yet, don’t you see? If life seems to have no happy endings, it’s because the ending has not yet arrived. God assures Elijah there is work to be done, and there will always be a faithful remnant, just the right number of burden-sharers who refuse to bow to Baal.

Read 1 Kings 19 and you’ll find God’s simple solution whenever discouragement hits:

  • Nourishing food and rest.
  • Time in creation, just you and God.
  • Quiet reassurance and a the reminder to keep moving in the direction he has in mind.

It may seem nobody cares, but the story is not over. And God owns the pages ahead.

Is there someone who feels alone and needs your encouragement today?

 

In our series, An Alphabet Adagio, we are savoring the story of the Bible, our story, alphabetically. You can subscribe to e-mail above so you won’t miss a letter.