If anyone were to ask me what the most beautiful animal on earth is, I’m sure I could think of a few, but sea slugs would definitely be on the list. I mean, type “sea slugs” into a Google image search.
Just look at them.
Their vibrant colors, their ethereal forms, their variety. Some of them are just breathtaking. Yet these humble invertebrates spend their lives essentially vacuuming the ocean floor, rocks and reefs, and they are essential to the ecosystems they abide in.
It seems my God is not without a sense of humor. Though I’m sure He likes to have fun sometimes, I’m also convinced He never does anything without purpose, even if that purpose is relatively small.
I’m certain that God uses all the extravagance and diversity of sea slugs to make a statement about beauty–I can’t help remembering “The Teacher” in Ecclesiastes going on about vanity. But sea slugs don’t need anyone to tell them they’re beautiful. They’re just fine going about their cleaning business, fulfilling their purpose in the deep blue sea.
Affirmation and compliments in our lives are encouraging, even desirable, but could we be more like sea slugs? Can we live out our divine stories, content knowing who and what we are (and whose we are), even if no one else is reading our stories?
The Body of Christ is a body indeed–no members exist in isolation–but imagine what could happen if all its members began to focus on their divine design for the good of the body and the glory of the head (that is, Christ), rather than on their desire to be something else, or to be affirmed in their assignments by other members. Imagine what the Body could do if Christ himself and the story he authored and finished for us was enough.
Imagine if we could humbly wear our beauty with confidence, rather than insecurity, and simply go about our business in the Lord. After all, we are all of us beautiful creatures to Him. And we all have an essential purpose, even if that purpose seems relatively small.
Spring is Now
I was driving on Ruston Way last night. It was after dark, and I was surprised multiple groups of people out, and I thought, Yup, it’s Spring now. There are jokes about what constitutes appropriate weather for going out in the Pacific Northwest; our threshold for what counts as “too chilly” seems to be higher than in other regions, and especially after long, gray winters, we tend to look outside and think, “close enough.” The people I saw walking the waterfront were mostly bundled up in blankets and puffy coats because, despite the lovely sunny day, the evening was very chilly.
I couldn’t help thinking how these people were determined to enjoy the season. Despite the weather report or the temperature, the fact remains that it is Spring, and people are starting to live like it’s Spring. And I couldn’t help thinking that this is a spiritual truth as well: When the season we’re in changes, sometimes the weather of our lives looks pretty much the same at first; or maybe a terrific storm comes when before it was simply cold, and it seems like Winter is only restarting and nothing is improving, or it’s actually getting worse. But the fact remains that the days of death and cold are over, and the days ahead are getting warmer and brighter; new life is blossoming, things are changing, because despite the weather, the season remains.
Of course, tomorrow is the day believers across the globe celebrate the Resurrection of the Son of God, and the consequent resurrection of every story that was marred by death. This season, the season of Abundant Life, zoé perissós*, goes on without end. All the darkness tries to hide the truth, to convince us that the storm and the cold and the gloom are here to stay; but the darkness cannot change the fact that life is here and now. We are able with Christ to live the way we were meant to, to walk out the story God has written for us, despite the weather. The days of death are over; Spring is here.
The phoenix is one of my favorite symbols: It’s a mythical fire bird which consumes itself in flames and rises renewed from the ashes. It doesn’t do this just once, but many times, so that it lives on and on. It reminds me of the beautiful passage from Isaiah 61:
The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me. . . to grant to those who mourn in Zion— to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit… (Isaiah 61:1, 3 ESV)
I can’t help thinking about this creature and these verses on this first day of the new year, as I say goodbye to 2015 (I won’t miss it at all), and look forward to a brand new year. I woke up today and it was as if I had new eyes too see everything; I had hope and joy for the days ahead like I haven’t had in quite some time—maybe ever. Today truly is a new day; all the days before are gone, and they cannot tell me who I am or hold me back from where God is leading me. I am ready to leave those ashes behind, no looking back, for the beauty and the joy of walking with the Lord in His all-consuming fire.
It is a happy new year indeed.
Why the baby?
I haven’t felt much of the “Christmas Spirit” this year, and I’m not really sure why. This season of my life has been tough in general, but usually Christmastime brings great joy: All the lights and shiny things, giving the gifts, sharing the good food and good times… This year not so much. But today, I spent some time with a friend helping her get things ready for her Christmas, and when I went home and was mulling over all these things, I came to this:
Why do we celebrate Christmas? I know the Charlie Brown answer, but really—why do we care that a baby was born in a manger a couple millennia ago? We could talk about Isaiah 9, John 1, the story of his birth in Luke…
The story of this baby is a wondrous and beautiful one, full of angel praise and mysterious dreams. But this is really only part of the whole story of who Jesus is, and this is what matters. What makes this story worth telling is what happens after Chapter 1.
This baby born became a man who died, who lived again and received his crown as The King.
Jesus is the fulfillment of every promise of God; He is the Word made flesh; He is the embodiment of the Love of God that always was and always is and always will be. He came as a human child to grow up and become who he really is, and to fulfill the promise of reconciliation and to bring new life, so that we too could grow up and become who we really are, and become the fulfillment of God’s promise of Love to those around us.
When people talk about having the “Spirit of Christmas all year round” (thank you A Christmas Carol), they’re talking about unconditional, extravagant, beautiful, Capital-L Love—the kind of Love that God lavishes on his kids, the Love that Jesus himself is the absolute greatest proof of—not because he was a little boy born in a barn, but because he is the Son of God, who chose to die and rise again, to fulfill God’s promise to all his kids: The promise that He Is who He says; the promise that you are everything He says you are, and you can live this great story He’s written about you.
PS—If you’re breathing air, God considers you His kid, and all of this applies to You. ❤
* * *
And Now, if you need a little Christmas Pep, enjoy this Happy Christmas song:
* * *
Long lay the world in sin and error, pining
‘Til He appeared and the soul felt its worth
I was listening to this song the other day in my car. It’s an incredibly familiar song, so familiar I could sing it in my sleep. And yet on this day, when this song came on my Christmas playlist shuffle, God dropped an understanding on my head of these lines that has thoroughly ruined it for me (in the best way).
I always thought about this part as a poetic little description of the world’s need for a Savior. Now that’s probably still true, but even more true is this: The world was pining for the story which was spoken right out of heaven, which sin and error made us forget. This goes right in hand with what the Lord has been saying in our church body recently. It’s not that people were so horrible, but that they were so lost, so unaware of the worth they always had in the Father’s eyes, so unable to remember who they really were. For God so loved the world…
Jesus is the embodiment of the promise of God’s love. He is the hope and the grace for every soul to walk in the wonderful story God imagined for them before they were born.
This isn’t a new message. This is the Gospel, the eternal Word. This is what God has been saying all along. You are worth everything.
A thrill of hope; the weary world rejoices
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn!
If you’re thirsty for more, check out the latest sermons from Zion’s River here.
I was driving home tonight after hearing a popular Christian speaker, who at one point talked about becoming everything God has designed us to be. This entails believing who He is and what He says, and who I am, which led me down a rabbit hole of thoughts until I distinctly heard, “What is keeping you from believing God?”
So don’t quote me on this, all you math and science people, but I heard once that, mathematically speaking, there’s no such thing as “deceleration.” It’s actually represented in equations as negative acceleration: If you’re going faster and faster, the number is positive, and if you’re slowing down, the number is negative, but both numbers in the equations represent a change in speed. And you’re thinking, I didn’t come here for a math lesson… So the point:
There’s a man in the Bible who, when Jesus talked to him about his belief, honestly and wisely blurted out, “I do believe! Help me in my unbelief!” (That’s in Mark chapter 9). Now the unbelief here is in reference to Jesus, what he is capable of, who he is. But if the man didn’t believe one thing, it’s because he did, ever so subtly, believe something else.
So when Adam and Eve were in the garden, God basically told them, “All I have here is yours: All the food, the whole garden to enjoy, except just leave this one tree alone. But everything else, have at it!” And they were content for awhile to dwell there, believing God’s word that He had given them everything they needed.
And then there’s this snake.
He comes up to Eve and says, “Did God really…?” And she questions what God said. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, she just has to stop and think. But the serpent keeps going, on and on about how this one tree is so great, and how important and special it is, and how God is withholding this from her, and how she’s missing out on something… The lies begin to creep in, clashing with the truth, and all Eve is doing so far is weighing these two opposing words, but now she has a choice to make: Who will she believe?
So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate… (Genesis 3:6)
We all know how that turned out.
The point here is that she only began to disbelieve what God said when someone else started talking. The enemy whispered in her ear, just like he did to the man in Mark, just like he does to us: You don’t have what you need, God won’t come through for you, you can’t trust God… And there is a choice to make: Will you believe the fear, the shame, the past, the coworker or friend or family member or random stranger who said that thing? Because if you’re having trouble believing something God says, it’s because you believe something else—it’s a negative belief. If you’re not believing the truth, you’re believing a lie, and lies are all the enemy has. He can’t tell you who you are, but he can try to convince you of who you are not.
Believing what God says about who you are and what you’re capable of, even if you’re not entirely sure what that is yet, will cause an acceleration in you to live the story He wrote about you while He was still singing the stars into being. And God is immeasurably excited about you and your amazing story (because Amazing are the only stories God writes).
So: What is keeping you from believing God?
As I was driving home tonight, I thought about that young Jewish girl who became the mother of God Incarnate so long ago. She is revered, a heroine: The little woman who said yes to God, to the impossible.
Mary was not unaware of the trouble that saying yes would bring. She knew people would not understand. They might disbelieve and even shun her. She knew raising a boy called the son of God would be difficult, to say the least. She knew her life would never be the way she’d expected or imagined it would be. But still she said yes. Why? Because she believed the One who spoke, and trusted in His words.
We all have a chance to be like Mary.
We all come to that moment when the Word of God comes, and we have the choice to say, like her, “Let it be unto me according to your word.” Not because it’s easy, not because we’re not nervous nor even terrified, not because we’re perfect and flawless. We can say yes because “No word of God shall be impossible.” He who speaks is faithful, both to His word and to us. He already favored us and chose us; we have only to believe Him.
A Picture Worth a Few Words
(Reposted from my own facebook page)
So I had to share this picture, not because of the main message (though it’s still true), but because the image itself struck me. Look at the ground she walks on: Dry as a desert. There are walls of water on either side, but they don’t come down on her. Sometimes, we go through “desert times,” seemingly inhospitable and dry, and we feel abandoned. Perhaps sometimes, what we don’t see is the torrent on either side, the raging waves we walk through that don’t crash down and take us under. Sometimes the paths God leads us on seem hard, even impossible. But these are the ways to be thankful for, because on these ways God is leading us right through the midst of chaos that would otherwise overwhelm us, even destroy us. He is a good Shepherd, who walks with His sheep wherever He leads them, so we can take heart in this as well: Desert or dry ocean bed, we are never alone.
The other day, I was minding my own business when the Lord, as He often does, spoke up to tell me something I needed to hear. It was actually a question: What are you being saturated by?
I’d actually had a pretty rough day, the kind where all these relatively little things added up to a very frustrated me. I was completely flooded by my own negative thoughts; I had allowed myself to soak in my funk all day. I had to choose instead to allow myself to be saturated with God’s presence, to soak in His word instead.
This is true of life in general. What do we allow ourselves to be saturated by? The past? Present circumstances? Pain? Offense? Fear? The things we are full of are the things that will pour out of us. It’s a daily choice, I’m finding, to be in the flow of His word and Spirit, so that praises pour out instead of complaints. We all need to get things off our chests sometimes, of course. But I find that when I’m full of nothing but negative comments, it’s because I’ve allowed my mind to dwell on unlovely things for far too long in a day. I long to be saturated by the presence of the Lord 24/7, so maybe others will get soaked by the river around me.
Hope and Houseplants
So last spring, I received a little fuchsia starter as a gift from a coworker. I have to say that I’ve always loved fuchsias, especially the kind I got: white flowers like frilly petticoats under smooth, bright pink sepals. The thing about fuchsias, though, is that they’re picky. In fact, the only kind of flower I can think of that is more of a diva than a fuchsia is an African violet (side note—how did those things ever survive in Africa?). Fuchsias don’t like to be too dry or too wet, too hot or too cold; seriously, they are the Goldilocks of flowers. Mine didn’t ever get big and bushy, but I managed to get it blooming like crazy—huge, lovely flowers every day for weeks—and it wasn’t dying… at least until summer really hit. After multiple episodes of inadequate watering, over-watering, heat waves and vacations leading to general neglect, it was looking pretty sad. I was just waiting for the poor thing to die at this point, though continuing to water it every so often; I had written it off as a failed gardening attempt. But it just kept hangin’ on, so I figured it was only mostly dead, and I’d call it all dead when it was all brown. So I kept watering it, and it kept trying to hold up its leaves, it kept trying to put out new flowers every few days, it didn’t dry up and die. Then I went out this afternoon to check on it, and there were little green leaves, fresh and new, growing out of the dry brown twigs. I already couldn’t understand why it was still hanging on, but to have new growth after such a terrible season?
I’m betting we all, at some time, have felt that we were in a place where we couldn’t prosper or grow, where it seemed impossible that we should survive, let alone thrive, yet God never gave up on us. He continued to pour into us, to coax us to trust Him again, to keep holding on. Even when we feel mostly dead, He still sees life in us and believes in us, no matter what circumstances caused us to wither.
God spoke to me the other day about hope, and my little potted plant just drove His point home to me. I had asked Him if it was even ok to hope about certain things, and what He told me was that I could always hope. But I must hold onto Him and not the hope itself, for He is the true hope, and the fulfillment of every dream He has for me is in Him. When my hope is in Him first, then I can see the light when there’s darkness; then I can withstand the heat and the cold, the dry times and the floods, and bloom when it doesn’t seem possible. Then I can overcome every false identity—weakness, frailty, shame, lack, misery, fear, death—and become who He has always said I am. And the dead leaves will dry up and fall off, and new growth will appear. If I can have a little faith in a potted fuchsia, how much more does my heavenly Father have faith in me? When our hope is in Him, we won’t be disappointed, but we’ll thrive.
You don’t understand how much I love you.
You don’t understand how the joy I felt as soon as I had conceived of you in my mind drove me to form you, or the way your first breath and cry made my heart swell and my feet dance. Nor can you fathom how excited I was when I made the earth and everything in it, knowing one day, the perfect day, you would walk in it. I saw you before you were, and I couldn’t wait for you to become—
You don’t understand how much I love you.
You can’t imagine the sorrow in my heart, knowing I’d given you the gift of choosing everything I Am, but that you would reject it—reject Me. I raise the sun even when you aren’t looking and I never get tired of searching for your heart, nor of opening mine to you—
You don’t understand how much I love you.
You don’t know just how far I reached through space and time to pierce the darkness that blocks My light from your view, to shatter the boundary between your heart and my love, to offer you My hand, forever. I will never give up on you, no matter how far you run or how deep you dive, no matter what you say to My face or what you do when you believe My back is turned to you—I never turn my back on you—
You don’t understand how much I love you.
My heart sings when you turn to me, when your heart reaches for mine, when your spirit worships in truth. You reach up to Me, and I am already there with you; you cry out to Me and I have already heard it. You bask in My presence and let My love overflow in your being until you think you should burst, but this is only a glimpse, a taste of my passion for you. I made you for Myself, and all that I make is good. I know who you are, I wrote a wonderful story about you, when I dreamt of you before the foundation of all things. I made you out of faith that you are able to be and to do all I imagined you could—
You don’t understand how much I love you.
Being Where You Are
At night, and especially in the rain, everything can look very different. Streets you’ve driven many times look unfamiliar, the lines on the road become hard to distinguish among the many reflections from streetlights and businesses, and even though you know where you’re going, suddenly it seems like getting there has become more challenging.
This will be honest.
A friend of mine recently asked me why I seem to have changed so much in the past few months, and I realized tonight (while driving home, in this midsummer weather bummer) that part of it is because my life has become very unfamiliar to me. A lot of changes have happened in my life in a relatively short span of time, and I have been grasping for something that feels like the way things were; something familiar, from what I think of as a good time in my life. Even though it’s the same road I’ve been on, a turn somewhere brought me into the night; the lines on this road are harder to see amidst the distractions and deceptions coming from the side. I feel alone on this road, and I’m nervous about driving it. Suddenly the path I was sure of has become foreign and even frightening. Suddenly, I feel like I don’t know where I am.
I realized the things I’m grasping for are times and seasons and places that I have passed through, but can’t get back to, or things that aren’t here yet that I keep hoping will be. What I’m missing, what I’m really looking for, is something unchanging. I hunger for that place that can be reached from anywhere I am—I want the peace, the quiet stillness, the presence of my Father.
I’ve also realized the quiet is something I’ve come to dread. All my fears find a voice there, and all the worries begin to shout in the silence, and the many things I feel I must do to keep occupied suddenly seem so very important. I ride the wave of the clamor right past the secret place into more chaos, and the things I do just to keep busy really just keep me cluttered and confused. Then, when the desire to meet God in my prayer closet becomes so strong I might actually act on it, I feel guilty or ashamed for having put Him off, and so continue to put Him off (which totally fixes the problem..?). Yet in the times when I find that place, and the voice of the Lord breaks through with a blast of peace, I remember the comfort of His presence and the joy of His word. He is the solid ground I’m looking for while this ground seems unstable. He is the light that shines without distortion, though the night is dark and the rain is heavy. When I live by His presence, I find the road I’m on to be one I’m able to travel, regardless of how hard it is. I am reminded that I’m not driving alone, either in my own vehicle or as the only vehicle on this road.
I am also reminded in these times, when I allow the Holy Spirit to refresh and strengthen me, that there is no time or place in life when I can’t seek Him. Another friend of mine was recently talking about “getting to that place” where she can find God again, and when I opened my mouth to reply, the Spirit came out and said, more or less: “You don’t have to get anywhere. Find Him where you are, because He’s seeking you where you are.” How often we think we must be a certain way, or change certain things, or find a new circumstance, before we feel like we can come into His presence again. God is always where we are, right there with us. Certainly He wants to lead us into new places—but it’s impossible to be led by someone who isn’t there, so how can God be elsewhere? This brings a whole new dimension to that familiar phrase, “Be where you are.” You can’t live in either your past or your future, for better or worse. You’re not what you were, nor what you will be, but you are, here and now—and so is God. Find Him where you are, without fear or shame, without regrets, without reserve; and let Him find you, every part of you. Whether you feel completely lost or completely on track, seek Him; He already knows the road you’re on.