Stooping to Look Again

From four years ago….

I don’t like to wait. I try to find ways to avoid waiting. Call ahead. Go do something else and come back when the line is shorter. I especially don’t like to wait when I don’t know how long the wait will be. That’s what it feels like to be left, to wait for the unknown. When leaving, I think about the future, to what comes next. It’s exciting. When left, I think about the future, too, but what comes next? I know not.

The tomb scene in John spoke to my heart this week as I contemplate the departures of a few friends and teammates. Mary came to the tomb early and left late. She saw the men come and stoop to look inside and then they returned home. She, too, looked and saw emptiness inside, I suppose. The text doesn’t say specifically. She was left, so she thought, but she lingered anyway, weeping and waiting.

I don’t like to wait or to weep. I don’t like to be left.

But, then she stooped and looked again where others looked before and saw nothing. Amazing. Why did she look again? I don’t know but if I were her, why would I look again? I want to see. I want more. I want a different reality. Maybe I’d think that if I looked one more time, just once more before I left I could leave and go home and start to fill the emptiness on my own, sure that there was nothing left to wait for anymore. The act of stooping to look again is so full of faith.

She stooped and looked weeping and she saw angels…heard angels, spoke with angels!  She saw the Risen Christ, clung to Him, and He gave her a message to pass on.  For others who came and went, the tomb lay empty, just empty.  But for Mary, who waited and wept and stooped to look again, the empty tomb became a place of joy and comfort and hope and purpose.  The emptiness of feeling left by the Lord filled up with so much more.

So, I wait weeping more and more.  I stoop to look in the emptiness and wait for His explanation of the reality I feel so deeply.  He fills the emptiness more and more with the comfort, joy, and hope in His Word.  And, He challenges my view of reality.

I am not left.  I am not alone.  The emptiness of the tomb is the reality but the explanation for what my eyes see is far from empty.

The Doctrine of Production

Wednesday was my day to do things around the house. I started out in a whirlwind of activity trying to make the day count. Of course, by count, I meant produce things, results. My caffeine fueled to-do lists hardly ever leave me feeling satisfied. In my mind, I imagine I possess eternity in the confines of a single day and the strength of Hercules for my tasks.

Later, feeling rather unsatisfied and frustrated, I sat and talked with a college student about grace and how it means “unmerited favor.” Grace is getting what we don’t deserve. Grace is not getting what I deserve. I evaluated my week and realized while I could say the right things, my actions bear witness that usefulness is a central value. I like to merit my favor.

Ouch. What does that mean for the crippled child? For the elderly? For children in general? For the sick? For the needy? For my dad? For me?

It’s easy to abide by this usefulness doctrine when life is going well. When I can produce and when I feel good about my behavior. It’s harder when life isn’t going well for some reason or my production fails to meet my expectations. For some, like my dad, it’s health. For me, it’s been grief and moves.

And, actually, when I stand back and look at my life, I’ve accomplished a lot in the last year despite huge change. So why is this still a monkey on my back?

Striving. Striving to measure up. Striving to find favor when its already been given me through Jesus. So this is a futile striving in that what I strive for is already mine. So silly.

The verse where God calls me to “cease striving, and know that I am God” comes to mind. To cease striving, I need not look to the work of my hands to see if they are enough or look at life and figure out if I’ve met my goals or behaved well enough, but know in a profound way that God is God. His purpose will be accomplished.

And, He accepted me by grace through faith.

 Rest follows. True soul rest in the midst of the chaos of life. Order will come. Because God will accomplish His purpose.

 

Stooping to Look Again

I published this around Easter two years ago. As I read it again, I am struck by how the Lord is calling me, yet again, to stoop and look into the tomb. I reposted it this year. It is still a very current place for me.

I don’t like to wait. I try to find ways to avoid waiting. Call ahead. Go do something else and come back when the line is shorter. I especially don’t like to wait when I don’t know how long the wait will be. That’s what it feels like to be left, to wait for the unknown. When leaving, I think about the future, to what comes next. It’s exciting. When left, I think about the future, too, but what comes next? I know not.

The tomb scene in John spoke to my heart this week as I contemplate the departures of a few friends and teammates. Mary came to the tomb early and left late. She saw the men come and stoop to look inside and then they returned home. She, too, looked and saw emptiness inside, I suppose. The text doesn’t say specifically. She was left, so she thought. But she lingered anyway, weeping and waiting. I don’t like to wait or to weep. I don’t like to be left.

But, then she stooped and looked again where others looked before and saw nothing. Amazing. Why did she look again? I don’t know but if I were her, why would I look again? I want to see. I want more. I want a different reality. Maybe I’d think that if I looked one more time, just once more before I left I could leave and go home and start to fill the emptiness on my own, sure that there was nothing left to wait for anymore. The act of stooping to look again is so full of faith.

She stooped and looked weeping and she saw angels…heard angels, spoke with angels!  She saw the Risen Christ, clung to Him, and He gave her a message to pass on.  For others who came and went, the tomb lay empty, just empty.  But for Mary, who waited and wept and stooped to look again, the empty tomb became a place of joy and comfort and hope and purpose.  The emptiness of feeling left by the Lord filled up with so much more.

So, I wait weeping more and more.  I stoop to look in the emptiness and wait for His explanation of the reality I feel so deeply.  He fills the emptiness more and more with the comfort, joy, and hope in His Word.  And, He challenges my view of reality.

I am not left.  I am not alone.  The emptiness of the tomb is the reality but the explanation for what my eyes see is far from empty.

Held Hands

I ran across a piece of art a few years ago and I regret I didn’t walk home with it.  Art is hard for me that way, it strikes when I’m not expecting it and my pragmatic side takes over. I loved it and I walked away empty handed that day but the image stays with me.

The sculpture was a wood carving of a muscled arm and hand reaching down open and ready to grasp the out stretched hand of a small child.  It was beautiful, detailed, smooth.

It fascinates me that a simple gesture holds so much meaning and so many meanings.DSC_0351

Support, comfort, love, discipline, warmth, protection, guidance…all in a simple contact.  There’s the interlocked fingers of a first crush, the handshake of an introduction, the wrist hold when a toddler attempts to break free on a busy street, the help up a step for the elderly, guidance for the blind, comfort on a steep mountain trail, prayer, comfort.

In the chaos of our current transition back to the U.S. of A. I’ve wanted to reach out and hold something, anything, steady.  I’d love to reach up and be a dependent again…cede all decisions and provision to someone greater and more capable. But, I’m the adult and other hands reach to me now.

It is a challenge. Every morning I stumble out of bed and thank my Lord for programmable coffee makers while I attempt to make myself available to His hand. As much as I say I want dependence, I don’t do it very well…at all!

I read my Bible for a while and then start planning…not praying…planning.  If I hadn’t jettisoned my almost-used-up planner before we left Asia it would reveal over the top efforts to stabilize my life.

In the last days overseas I discovered the held hand picture in the Bible again.  Passages in Psalms about not being hurled headlong because He holds our hand.

This last week I latched onto the image of the sculpture again, an image to reflect on as I seek to depend on Him more. In the New Testament I guess you’d call it the abiding life from John 15, the grapevine.  Another picture.

I do so love the common real-life images that fill the Bible with images of life with God.  Constant reminders of His presence.  Alas, I regret anew passing over that beautiful wood carving!

What common images remind you of God?

That Man, Joseph

In the midst of the Christmas season, I find it hard to rest and engage with the Story of Christmas. Maybe it’s all the presents to buy and send, the goodies to bake, the events to attend. Last year I encountered the same problem! Today I want to take the time to look at another person in the story.

When I found some time last week to take a longer look, I noticed Joseph, a man caught up in an event that centered around others.  Mary, the unwed mother who needed protection.  Jesus, the baby who needed protection.  The Roman government that offered no protection and Herod, the ruler, who pursued Joseph’s charge in order to murder him.

In all of this Joseph thought of himself only once according to the account in Matthew.  Before being let in on what was going on, he thought about his honor in marrying a woman pregnant by who knows who.  But even in that, he meant to keep it quiet and protect Mary from the society they lived in that stoned women in situations such as hers.  He still protected even in that moment…even in that moment when all appearances said he was the wronged one.

Then, an angel came to him and spoke to his heart.  I love this.  The angel first spoke to his fear.  Do not be afraid.  The angel went on and gave Joseph his role in this monumental event.  Take Mary as your wife because she is carrying the One who will take away the sin of the world.  And…he did it at great personal cost to his reputation.  A cost that stayed with the family all their days.  DSC_0093

The story takes some wild turns too.  Learned astrologers and scientists come from distant lands with loads of gifts far greater than what a carpenter ever saw in his life, I assume.  Then, another visit from an angel to the one, Joseph, charged with the protection of the One destined to save the world.  This time, marching orders.  Flee and flee now and then wait.

Joseph’s life again centered around protecting this Child and His mother and this time the cost was leaving their homeland under the dark of night without any explanation to loved ones.  They became sojourners in a distant land.  Jesus became a Third Culture Kid spending the young years of his life in Egypt.  Joseph made a way for them as a refugee. His profession as a carpenter served them all well.

I wonder if they heard reports of the massacre that took place after they left?  How did they feel when they returned and all those other families saw their son, Jesus, and remembered their own sons murdered?  I imagine the benefits of their departure caused friction in relationships. How could others restrain their feelings of jealousy in the grief of a lost son?  I bet Joseph endured a lot.

Joseph disappears from the story by Jesus’ adulthood and most suggest he passed away.  I don’t like that the story goes this way…that Joseph misses the chance to see the fulfillment of the promise the angel told him.  But the legacy this man leaves is truly tremendous.  He protected the Savior of the world at great personal cost but he also raised James and Jude, Jesus’ brothers who became pillars of the early church.

Whatever feuding existed during Jesus’ ministry gave way to broken hearts in His younger brothers’ chests.  I imagine that is Joseph’s legacy as well.  Raising humble men willing to sacrifice their lives for others because of the One who takes away the sin of the world.

That’s the mark of a man, humility.  Mary gets plenty of press, but I still think Joseph deserves more than he usually receives .

That Man, Joseph

I slacked off my writing last week.  My parents dodged snow storms and smog storms to arrive for a Christmas visit a week and a half ago.  Snow storms delayed their departure and smog here changed our travel plans.  When freeways close because of smog I give thanks for trains!  In the midst of the Christmas season, I find it hard to rest and engage with the Story of Christmas.

When I found some time last week to take a longer look, I noticed Joseph, a man caught up in an event that centered around others.  Mary, the unwed mother who needed protection.  Jesus, the baby who needed protection.  The Roman government that offered no protection and Herod, the ruler, who pursued Joseph’s charge in order to murder him.

In all of this Joseph thought of himself only once according to the account in Matthew.  Before being let in on what was going on, he thought about his honor in marrying a woman pregnant by who knows who.  But even in that, he meant to keep it quiet and protect Mary from the society they lived in that stoned women in situations such as hers.  He still protected even in that moment…even in that moment when all appearances said he was the wronged one.

Then, an angel came to him and spoke to his heart.  I love this.  The angel first spoke to his fear.  Do not be afraid.  The angel went on and gave Joseph his role in this monumental event.  Take Mary as your wife because she is carrying the One who will take away the sin of the world.  And…he did it at great personal cost to his reputation.  A cost that stayed with the family all their days.  DSC_0093

The story takes some wild turns too.  Learned astrologers and scientists come from distant lands with loads of gifts far greater than what a carpenter ever saw in his life, I assume.  Then, another visit from an angel to the one, Joseph, charged with the protection of the One destined to save the world.  This time, marching orders.  Flee and flee now and then wait.

Joseph’s life again centered around protecting this Child and His mother and this time the cost was leaving their homeland under the dark of night without any explanation to loved ones.  They became sojourners in a distant land.  Jesus became a Third Culture Kid spending the young years of his life in Egypt.  Joseph made a way for them as a refugee.

I wonder if they heard reports of the massacre that took place after they left?  How did they feel when they returned and all those other families saw their son, Jesus, and remembered their own sons murdered?  I imagine the benefits of their departure caused friction in relationships.  How could others restrain their feelings of jealousy in the grief of a lost son?  I bet Joseph endured a lot.

Joseph disappears from the story by Jesus’ adulthood and most suggest he passed away.  I don’t like that the story goes this way…that Joseph misses the chance to see the fulfillment of the promise the angel told him.  But the legacy this man leaves is truly tremendous.  He protected the Savior of the world at great personal cost but he also raised James and Jude, Jesus’ brothers who became pillars of the early church.

Whatever feuding existed during Jesus’ ministry gave way to broken hearts in His younger brothers’ chests.  I imagine that is Joseph’s legacy as well.  Raising humble men willing to sacrifice their lives others because of the One who takes away the sin of the world.

That’s the mark of a man.  Mary gets plenty of press…and Joseph does too…but I still think he deserves more.

Choking Down the Air

We started a new game in the car on the way to school this week.  Guess the pollution level.  My daughter wins more than I do.  I refrain from guessing until we round the corner that spits us out on the highway.  My guess always depends on how well I can see the large mountain.  Some days I can’t see it at all.  Like today.  On a clear day a tall hill rises in the distance with a pagoda at the top.  It stands a quarter mile away. IMG_0223[1]

I knew when I woke up and descended the stairs that the level bumped up from yellow, orange, to red, and most likely, to deep maroon.  It smelled like someone lit a campfire outside our front door.  The pollution app confirmed my suspicions.  It is a deep maroon day.  Bad.  I feel angry and exasperated.  Why, Lord?  Why do people still burn their fields?  Why do factories belch out particulate matter?  Why is the coal burned in its dirtiest state?  I rail in my mind against the injustices that I live in, but I choose to live here…in all these injustices.  How can I complain?  I don’t know but I find my way to complaining pretty fast!

Then, I ponder sending my kids to school.  Will it help to keep them at home?  Inside?  Not much.  The lack of seals anywhere at all means the pollution drifts into our home and we do not own an air filter.  Air filters help a little, I’m sure, but one doctor told me it’s about as effective as putting an air purifier outside.  I kept my one thousand dollars.  I decided to send the kids to school but request no outside playground time for them.

I think of my friend whose child is recovering from a bout of pneumonia.  How will he deal with this?  I heard my downstairs neighbor coughing continuously last night and then again this morning.  How will he deal with this?  How does anyone deal with the choking smoke?  Do I take him an emergency inhaler and teach him to use it?

My choices spread before me.  Ignore it hoping I can push down all the feelings of anger and frustration.  Hmmm not easy.  Or, I can scramble all the resources I have to lessen the impact knowing the limited chance of success.  At some point I must open my door for something.

My other choice is to escape.  We can drive to the airport and pass over a slim plastic card and our little blue booklets and leave.  Just get on a plane and fly away.  I like that choice when I only think of myself.  But when I think of my friends who have no slim plastic card or little blue booklet with an eagle on the front, my face sobers up a little.  It’s not fair.  It feels criminal to use my freedom and privilege that came merely through birth to escape what others cannot.

The choice I don’t want to make is to accept it and let all the mix of emotions play out while I live my life one step at a time in the midst of the smog.  It drives me to my  knees.  I pray for a strong wind.  I confess my anger and sin for dropping a cuss bomb at a reckless driver.  Thankfully the car was empty but still…but still, that is what dwells in my heart.

Actually, this is not a bad place to sit.  I realize my dependency on the Lord for my very life and the lives of my children and my spouse and my friends.  I face my sinful response to a sinful world.  My deep longings for a world without sin, pollution, sickness, death, and injustice rise up and I long for the Day of the Lord.

The apostle Paul comes to mind. He possessed the ancient version of a blue passport with an eagle on it, Roman citizenship.  And, he used it when it prolonged his life.  I wonder what he felt when he claimed all the benefits of citizenship to appeal to Caesar.  Did he struggle with his privilege?

I bet my Bible will crack open to that theme today at some point.  I want to dig a little deeper.

What trials drive you to the Word today?