beauty in darkness: what’s good about “Good Friday”

I had skimmed over the verse countless times in the 30+ years I’ve read and meditated and studied this familiar account. Good Friday is the time to read the crucifixion story. A story of horror turned beautiful. Yet if you’re like me, too often I jump to the “turned beautiful” part without staying with the horror of what Jesus endured. It’s uncomfortable to sit with the events that culminated in the most gruesome of deaths on a Roman cross. But this week – this Holy Week – asks us to do just that. To sit. To see. To hear. Because in the horror, we are saved. We are deserving of all that the King of Glory endured innocently. And we who bear his name are called to endure similar suffering for the sake of love. Love enters into the messy, the broken, even the so-gruesome-you-can’t-bear-to-hear-it and Love takes it. Love endures. It does not run away. It stays. It shows up.

What feels impossible for you to endure today (and yet you must because of Love)? How can Good Friday become truly “good” for you today? What brokenness do you run from in your own heart and in the lives of those around you?

In my calling as a counselor, I often sit with those who have endured stories of abuse that are too difficult to name. And to think that what I have a hard time hearing is what they lived through. Well, that causes you to pause. To pray. To beg for redemption, for healing, for a Justice to make it all right. 

On Good Friday, we are given just that. Not only in the cross, but in the events leading up to the cross. Here’s the verse that stopped me in my tracks this morning (from Matthew 27:27):

Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus into the governor’s headquarters, and they gathered the whole battalion before him.

Do you know how many soldiers are in a battalion? I didn’t either, so I checked the footnote and saw that a battalion is “a tenth of a Roman legion; usually about 600 men.” 600 men. Quite different than movies who portray this portion of the scene with a couple soldiers kicking Jesus around. That’s bad enough, but this has an arena quality to it. 600 soldiers. That’s a very full auditorium hall. And what did they gather to do? Well, read on:

And they stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him, and twisting together a crown of thorns, they put it on his head and put a reed in his right hand. And kneeling before him, they mocked him, saying, ‘Hail, King of the Jews!’ And they spit on him and took the reed and struck him on the head. And when they had mocked him, they stripped him of the robe and put his own clothes on him and led him away to crucify him.

Utterly shameful. Shameful if it’s an audience of one, but for these horrors to happen before an arena-size audience of 600? Shame magnified. Shame too great for words. Twice he was stripped of his clothes. In addition to the emotional abuse of this mockery, there was the physical abuse of being “crowned” with thorns and beat on the head with a reed. What is striking is Jesus’ response. Nothing. The one who was God incarnate – who could have called down fire from heaven to devour these fools – stayed still and endured. That is the miracle. The miracle that turns bad into good, abuse into redemption, mockery into honor.

Centuries before, a prophet called Isaiah wrote about this and puts words to the what and the why of all that Jesus endured on “Good” Friday:

Surely he has borne our grief
and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed him stricken,
smitten by God, and afflicted.
But he was wounded for our transgressions;
he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
and with his stripes we are healed. …
He was oppressed, and he was afflicted,
yet he opened not his mouth …

Because Jesus did not open his mouth when enduring abuse, we can open our mouths and beg for healing and redemption. Healing from our own abuse and from the ways we have abused and oppressed others through our sin – through our brokenness seeking false healings.

In the place of your abuse, there is healing. Because he took the shame for you.

In the place of my sin, there is peace. Because he carried the guilt for me.

In the places where you and I have been silenced, our voice is restored. Because his was silenced this Good Friday.

So go. Walk as one who is healed, who is at peace, who can speak up and speak out and speak of darkness turned beautiful on this most good of Fridays. 

“what’s your story?”

The following is the manuscript for a devotional I gave at the conclusion of my church’s week-long women’s Bible study yesterday morning. 

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I’ll never forget the first time I met her. I was a brand new staff member at her church, freshly graduated from seminary, and she was hosting a kids’ vacation Bible school at her gorgeous, historic Philadelphia home. And I’ll admit that I felt intimidated. She was outgoing and funny – clearly “the life of the party.” She leaned over after introducing herself and took me aback with her atypical first question, “So what’s your story?” She later told me that she intentionally asks this question rather than the more common, “So what do you do?” because she finds that typical opening question to be rather off-putting. You’re immediately put on the spot and labeled and categorized based on what you do (or you don’t do). And how many of us feel comfortable claiming our profession as our primary identity? Of course you and I are much more than what we do. The opening, “what’s your story?” captures this so much better.

So I want to pose the same question: what’s your story? My story this morning is of a mom who feels tired with trying to balance mothering twin daughters with the demands and privileges of a job I love as a counselor; and mine is the story of a woman learning to find my voice and seeking to explore my creativity through the art of writing. My story is of a daughter who misses her parents in South Carolina, of a sister who feels too far away from her brothers and their families, of a wife whose husband is a pastor and all the dynamics that this entails. My story is of a woman who longs for summer and spring with all my heart – who still associates summer with “free time” although having preschoolers at home means summer will be the opposite of this. My story is of a friend who wants to do more story-telling and story-listening than tasks accomplished and projects completed.

Studying Romans with my church’s women’s Bible study this year has given each of us a new angle on our story – a new way of understanding our stories – and this story is the best ever told. God’s story, or the shorthand Paul uses throughout the book “gospel.” Let’s think of the thesis in Romans 1:16-17 –

for I am not ashamed of [God’s story], for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in [God’s story], the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, ‘The righteous shall live by faith.’

What’s your story when you’ve read and studied Romans? Maybe one of the following –

  •  the story of someone who’s trusted in your own goodness too much and so Romans is a story of being beckoned out of your self-righteous judgment and hypocrisy into the freeing grace of admitting your sin and your need for grace found only in Jesus and HIS perfect goodness
  •  the story of someone who has found grace and power for salvation for the first time – who has found God’s story of grace, forgiveness, and righteousness in Jesus to be THE story your life needs
  • the story of someone who thought your badness was too bad for God – that your rebellion was too much – and God’s story beckons you to come home. To be truthful with where you’ve wandered far from him and to find refuge in grace.
  • the story of someone who’s found Romans to be profoundly and deeply unsettling as you’re confronted with a God who is not as we would make him to be – a God whose character seems harsh or even capricious at times if what Romans says about him is true. So perhaps your story is one filled with questions that feel haunting.

There are parts of my story that fit with all of these scenarios, but I find myself identifying most with the story of my goodness and judgmental heart exposed AND the story of unsettling questions weighing heavy on my heart. Whatever has been stirred up in your story during Romans, don’t leave it here. Don’t end that for the summer.

Maybe you could find a few friends or people you connected with from your table and meet regularly throughout the summer at someone’s home or a park or a coffee shop for the purpose of sharing stories – either your own and/or the stories God tells in His Word. Perhaps you could find a book or resource to read on your own that will help you to grapple with your questions and your story. I’ve brought a few that I would recommend: Extravagant Grace by Barbara Duguid, The Prodigal God by Tim Keller, To Be Told by Dan Allender; Grace for the Good Girl & A Million Little Ways by Emily Freeman; Grace through the Ages  by William Smith and/or Out of the Spin Cycle by Jen Hatmaker as short devotional thoughts. For exploring some of the hard questions raised by Romans, these are two of my favorites: How Long, O Lord? by D.A. Carson and Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God by J. I. Packer.

Although WBS ends today, your story doesn’t and neither does the community you’ve found here. Join us for Easter week celebrations – Maundy Thursday, 12pm or 6pm Good Friday service, 9am or 11am Easter Sunday. Help out with CAMP/Camp JR. (and send your kids!); join a community group that meets weekly; if you’re a mom, contact me to be added to the list to be informed of Nurture events and meet-ups throughout the summer.

Live into your story – tell your story – listen to others’ stories. That we may live out the truth of God’s story as seen in Romans more truly through stories of more grace and less judgment, more freedom and less condemnation, more acceptance and fewer barriers to love, more of trusting in God’s goodness for us in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ and less of trusting in our own.

 

Wisdom looks like love

Last weekend, I had the privilege of addressing a group of women at Grace Presbyterian Church in Lexington, Virginia, on the vast topic of “wisdom.” I’ve written a bit about that here, and I’m including a few more thoughts on the idea that transformed the way I’ve studied wisdom these past months. Oh, that it would change the way I LIVE out wisdom, too!

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Since Jesus himself is the wisdom of God, looking at his life provides the definition of what wisdom looks like. At every turn, we see love. Jesus sought out the tax collector who was too short to see him and invited himself over to his home; he healed the woman who had been bleeding for years and took away her shame; he forgave the adulterous woman who was about to be stoned; he had compassion on the crowds and miraculously fed them; he loved us to the very extent of love – giving his own life on our behalf, becoming obedient to death itself so that we might live and be restored to God. Jesus was God incarnate, and since God is love, we could say that Jesus is love incarnate. So wisdom and love are inextricably connected. Love is the outflow of true wisdom that comes from God, flowing out of a heart depending on Jesus.

This really gets me. I can live in my head so much as a woman who loves words – reading them and writing them and pondering ideas. My profession as a counselor calls me to discuss wisdom and love outside of the actual situation where one is being challenged to love wisely, and so I can too often stop at the false conclusion that wise insight equals heart change. If you spent a week with me, you would see the gap between what I teach, how I counsel others, and the way I apply wisdom to my own relationships. Too often after giving marriage counsel to a couple in conflict, I come home and do the very things I warned the couple against. I interrupt before listening; get angry too quickly at petty differences; sulk and say “fine” when I’m really anything but; hold onto grudges instead of forgive. Same with parenting. I can explain to a friend that being calm will bring calm to her kids, but the minute my own kids get in the way of what I want (an uninterrupted shower? a peaceful Target trip? quiet in the mornings?), I erupt in anger and yell at them impatiently.

I’ve written a blog series entitled, “Confessions of an angry mom,” about how to bring anger under the control of the Holy Spirit through the power of the gospel of Jesus. And it has helped many others. But I still need these words for myself. I will never outgrow my need for wisdom. For I will always be drawn away from wise love by my foolish, selfish desires. Sin dwelling within me – the old self that died with Christ. And so preaching the good news about “Christ in me, the hope of glory” is essential to practicing wise love daily, being transformed by the One who is Wisdom rather than building up myself through my intellectual understanding of wisdom or analytical relational insights.

for the beauty of Romans 8 (and Valentine’s love)

In my church’s women’s Bible study, we have been studying Romans this year. And we have finally arrived at my most favorite of chapters: Romans 8. This morning as I was doing today’s study, I was struck again by the security of LOVE expressed, explained, proclaimed in this chapter. A fitting reflection for Valentine’s week … which is about love, however you feel about that.

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I remember as a daughter feeling so loved by my dad on Valentine’s day because he’d bring home a special treat (usually a box of chocolates, or a stuffed animal) along with my mini-bouquet of flowers and a card. In elementary school, it’s fun to give and exchange dime-store cards. Then middle school hits, and all of a sudden this doesn’t feel like enough. I didn’t want my dad to bring me flowers; I wanted the boy I had a crush on to notice me. My friends’ cards were sweet … but …. just not quite enough. High school intensified these feelings. In college I tried to evade the longing by celebrating friends, having fancy dinners with roommates, pretending we didn’t care that we weren’t romantically pursued. Then, finally, I met the man I was to marry and he romanced me properly on our first Valentine’s together – dinner out at a fancy Italian restaurant in Center City Philadelphia, roses, a Hallmark card … my life was complete.

Or was it? Isn’t it true that in many ways, my life was already complete by being privileged to know the security of my Dad’s love for me since I was a girl? And going  even further, isn’t it true that my life was the most complete it could be from the time I became God’s daughter, forever secure in Christ?  I think as I reflect on Romans 8 this morning, I draw a similar analogy to Valentine’s Day memories. I was always securely loved, but I wavered in my feelings attached to this love as the years ebbed and flowed. In various seasons, I desired a different expression of this love. And that’s part of how we’re created. There is a desire for romantic love – for married love – and at it’s best, it’s meant to reflect God’s love in the deepest human way possible. Which means that even if you feel brokenhearted, jilted, betrayed, disappointed, or lonely during this annual reminder of what you don’t have in the way of romance, you can take refuge in the ultimate love that romance is (at best) a fleeting reflection of. You, too, can enjoy the real thing. Not that it eases the pain or disappointment – don’t hear me saying that what you feel isn’t real. It is incredibly real, and God wants you to come to him with all of it. Not to receive a candy-coated “my love is better!” sort of flippant response, but to receive the comfort your heart needs – a comfort that leaves room for your pain and validates it. A love that comes with its own set of promises, too.

Romans 8 for those who take refuge in Christ by faith is a cascade of promises for us. Not only do we belong – adopted into God’s own family – but we have hope for present day suffering. Hope that sustains us when faced again with the stubbornness of my own selfishness or the brokenness of this world where humans are trafficked, children are abused, marriages fall apart. Hope makes us go on, and hope makes us groan for more.

And not only do we have hope, but we have the promises that no one can be against us; that the only one left to condemn us [Christ] is actually pleading our case continually as he intercedes for us; that nothing and no one can ever, ever, ever, EVER separate us from the love of Christ. But don’t take my word from it. Read it here for yourself in Romans 8:37-39 – and be comforted, wherever you find yourself today, that there IS a lover who will never leave you, betray you, give up on you … no matter what. This is better than the best, sweetest, poetic Hallmark card. Read it … believe it … savor it!

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

when God’s wrath becomes beautiful

Yesterday I taught our women’s Bible study on the passage of Romans 1:18-32. It’s a tough passage. Nothing easy or pleasant or (at first glance) comforting here. The theme is God’s wrath revealed against human sin. And yet it comes not in fire and brimstone but in a gradual giving over to what our hearts desire. That’s what’s terrifying about it. There are four stages of this “sin anatomy” found here:

1. Worship exchange (verses 18-22) – Although evidence of God’s beauty exists around us in creation and within us in the form of eternal longings that can’t be satisfied by the world and a conscience, we suppress this and worship Beauty rather than its Author.

2. Truth exchange (verses 24-25) – Unmoored from a relationship with God, it’s easy to believe lies rather than truth. And it’s the only way my idolatrous worship can be supported – that I believe lies that arise from empty/futile/pointless thinking and a darkened heart. The darkness supports the lies and the lies build the darkness. To the point that I call evil good and good evil. It’s also evidenced in my guilt dysfunction – I feel guilty for what I shouldn’t, but fail to feel guilty for what I should.

3. Relationship exchange (verses 24, 26-27) – Inevitably, this leads me into using people around me to get what my heart craves (and worships) rather than lovingly serving them as fellow made-in-God’s-image beings. Sexual sin is a vivid example of this, and Paul does not skirt around this issue in Romans. Lest we begin to think we can judge another because “I don’t struggle with that …

4. Identity exchange – This is the deepest descent, the natural place we end up when first starting with exchanging God’s glory for creature and creation glory. I become what I practice, and the sin I dabbled in now owns and defines me. “Murder” is listed side by side with what follows, and all of us are caught in the net of practicing the unrighteousness that justly deserves God’s wrath:

  • gossips
  • slanderers
  • God-haters
  • insolent
  • haughty
  • boastful
  • inventors of evil
  • disobedient to parents
  • foolish
  • faithless
  • heartless
  • ruthless

When honest, we are left in despair by the end of this chapter in Romans. Where is the hope for any of us or for the world? And what do you do with this? Apparently, one common temptation would be to (still) try to self-justify and use this chapter to judge others, for Paul launches into the following warning at the beginning of chapter 2:

Therefore, you have no excuse, O man, every one of you who judges. For in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, practice the very same things.

But, thanks be to God, Romans doesn’t end with chapter 1, or even after chapter 2, or 3. [It gets more bleak before it gets better.]

For what all of this is leading to is the beauty of the great gospel exchange. In which God loved us so much that he was willing to enter into our messy world, messy because of us – corrupted by our fall from created intent – sent his very own Son, Jesus, to do the unthinkable. To exchange HIS holiness for our sin; to exchange HIS righteousness for our unrighteousness; to exchange HIS perfect record as the holy and beloved Son of God for our record stained with sinful idolatry – and pay what we deserve. The price of God’s wrath, which he alone experienced in all its furor on the cross. And the good news doesn’t stop there. Not only is God’s wrath paid for, but we are given Jesus’ life in exchange for our own – his beauty for our shame. And this is what we have been craving all along. All of our attempts to exchange glory for idols are merely attempts to run away from/cover/hide/escape the gaze of the all-knowing God, from whom we cower in fear because we know we aren’t worthy. But God, even in revealing his wrath, provides hope for rescue.

And this is how God’s wrath becomes beautiful for the one who is hidden in Christ through faith. This is the only way I could teach on such a topic yesterday and not leave in despair and hopelessness. I know that there is good news; but the good news implies that there is bad news. God’s wrath is real, but as a Christian, I will never have to feel its reality because Jesus took it all. This makes me weep for the mercy I’ve found … and this invites me away day after day after day to worship the Beautiful One instead of his gifts.

watering plants and finding wisdom

This will not come as a surprise to those of you who know Seth and me. Plants are an endangered species at our home, whether inside or outside. The past few summers, my dad generously helped us to landscape our front bed – meaning, we picked out a few “hearty” plants and bushes at Lowe’s, and I watched as he planted them, and I listened to his advice about watering them daily (twice in the heat of summer), fertilizing them, mulching them. And I have tried. Promise, Dad! We even bought a lawn sprinkler this year to water the little planties for 30 minutes at a time (or two hours once when I forgot to turn it off. Hello, high water bill).

But after months of diligent watering, we unintentionally took a few weeks “off.” We went on vacation, and thankfully it rained, and then I stayed on vacation from watering our plants. And then a week or two later, I noticed that they looked a bit wilty. Like this photo:

By the time I noticed, I scrambled to find the hose and began watering like mad, enlisting my two favorite little gardeners to come with me. I watered them until the soil looked saturated, hoping against hope to somehow make up for the lost watering time with some extra TLC that could be retroactive.

And that’s when it hit me. That what I was trying to do with my garden is what I often do with pursuing wisdom. I go a long time without nurturing my relationship with God in prayer, Bible study, and community – and then when the need for wisdom arises, I try to take a crash course in it overnight. It rarely works like that. Wisdom is the fruit of a walk with Christ. Just as in watering my plants, it’s easier for me to know when my heart has not been “watered” regularly than if it has been. If I’m daily watering my plants, I won’t notice much growth – it’s slow, steady, constant. However, if I miss a few days in the sweltering heat of the summer, then it will be almost immediately obvious.

What a picture for me of my need to daily seek God’s face, to ask him to reveal my pride that hinders me from obtaining wisdom, and come to prayer, His Word, and church to water my thirsty heart.

Old Navy, Romans, and Potty Training

 

What do all of these have in common, you ask? Quite simply it’s the fact that all were topics of our dinner conversation since I found a *steal* at Old Navy today in some great summer shorts; Seth’s working on preparing the Romans training for women’s Bible study leaders next week; and we commence potty training, round 2, tomorrow.

Here’s another way they all tie together. The shorts I bought were a “pre-treat” for a mom who quite honestly is dreading potty training 33-month-old twins. My husband and I discussed all the various options of potty training to come up with the plan that we are willing to try tomorrow. And these verses in Romans 5:3-5 is going to get us through the next few days! Thanks to my friend Suzanne who reminded me of this gem today as we were discussing many of the typical trials of raising babies and toddlers.

Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.

We may all be suffering together, but the hope is that the short-term “suffering” of potty training twins will yield (eventually) to the independence these girls will need to carry them through preschool and really the rest of their lives. It’s one of the most important skills that we all take for granted that someone had to teach us at some point. Let’s all take a moment to thank our moms or dads or grandparents or nannies or daycare workers right now for helping us gain our freedom. [It’s no coincidence that we’re initiating round 2 on “Independence Day” – insert laughter here.]

And here’s the other thing. God cares about Old Navy, Romans, and potty training, because I’m his girl. His daughter. The God who cares about each sparrow who falls and numbers each hair of my head likewise is connected with me about the highs, lows, and conundrums of my day. Nothing’s too small (shorts from Old Navy); nothing’s irrelevant (potty training); and nothing’s too complex (Romans). That’s a God to celebrate – that we are free in Christ to call him Father … what a gift!

Identity lessons from “Angelina Ballerina”

I happen to be quite well-versed at kids’ cartoons these days.

I’m not generally a huge TV fan myself, but when it comes to needing 30 minutes to _________ [name sanity-restoring task here: clean, prep a meal, shower, take a phone call from your BFF/etc.], I am not above putting on some kids’ TV which almost perfectly guarantees freedom from interruptions. Today the girls were watching one of their favorites, “Angelina Ballerina.” I love this show. The characters talk in British accents, families are portrayed in a favorable light and the kids actually seem fairly respectful and kind to one another. Plus there’s ballet dancing, and becoming a professional ballerina is a secret dream of mine (that I’ll never realize since I get dizzy when attempting to pirouette). 

I overheard an episode today that connected with this morning’s discussion of the book of Colossians. One friend summarized the main message of this book as: “Who you are in Christ, and how to live according to who you are.” In a word, identity. A favorite topic of mine as one who can easily forget who God’s created me to be, and/or doubts the identity that’s already been given to me and so tries to prove myself through 1000 exhausting enterprises. (“Like blogging daily?” you, my kind reader, suggest. “Well, yes, now that you mention it.” But enough about me – on to Angelina …)

Enter Angelina. It’s her first day at an elite dancing school, and she’s becoming insecure about dancing ballet when she observes her friends doing Irish dancing, jazz, and other modern dance. In a last minute practice, she asks her friend to accompany her by playing any music other than classical. This practice session ends with Angelina in tears, and her accompanist frustrated as he shifts from one musical style to the next to try to keep up with her dancing. Angelina is the next one up after lunch, and the audience feels her despair as she cries.

Enter mom to the rescue. Her mom shows up unexpectedly, asks Angelina why she’s been crying, and reassures her of who she is: a great ballet dancer. She encourages Angelina to be who she is, not try to become someone different to impress her new friends. She’s a ballerina, and she dances best to classical music. This also in fact makes her unique. Being different isn’t any cause for alarm or change, but it’s reason to celebrate her distinct identity. 

We then see Angelina move confidently to the stage and request “a classical piece, please,” to her relieved accompanist. She dances beautifully as she stays true to who she was created to be. A pleasant result is that the other dancers also admire her style, and Angelina walks off the stage smiling.

A few observations about identity come to mind:

1. We get confused when we compare ourselves to others, becoming either prideful if we seem to be “better than” and despairing if we feel we are “less than.”

2. We need others to remind us of who we and that who we are is beautiful and unique.  Do you have friends, family, co-workers, neighbors like this? And when’s the last time you reminded someone else of his or her God-given identity? Do you as a Christian remember who you are? Spend some time soaking up the first few chapters of Ephesians or Colossians for a crash course in your identity in Christ.

3. Being who we are will bring joy and confidence. Living according to who we are means we say “yes” to some things and “no” to others; that we live out of who God’s made us and not who we think we should be. As a mom, the book Desperate has been amazingly helpful to remind me of this in terms of living as who I am as a mom v. “the ideal mom” I have in my head.

 

Words that haunt my middle class mentality

Jen Hatmaker in her book Seven challenges readers through her own journey of seeking more true Life through less stuff – less consumption and less excess, waste, and spending in order to free up more resources for more true gospel work. She says in chapter 2 –

Jesus’ kingdom continues in the same manner it was launched: through humility, subversion, love, sacrifice; through calling empty religion to reform and behaving like we believe the meek will indeed inherit the earth. We cannot carry the gospel to the poor and lowly while emulating the practices of the rich and powerful. We’ve been invited into a story that begins with humility and ends with glory; never the other way around.

And so this week of being involved in our church’s major endeavor to bring mercy and justice to those yet without it, I want verses such as these below to challenge my thinking not just this week but in the weeks to come. My sister-in-law made an astute (and convicting) observation that the Bible’s words to care for the poor and needy, “are not a suggestion but a command.” Lord, teach us! 

Cursed be anyone who perverts the justice due to the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow.” (Deuteronomy 27:19)

“Have mercy upon us, O Lord, have mercy upon us,
for we have had more than enough of contempt.
Our soul has had more than enough
of the scorn of those who are at ease,
of the contempt of the proud.” (Psalm 123:3-4)

“For though the Lord is high, he regards the lowly;
but the haughty he knows from afar.” (Psalm 138:6)

“I know that the Lord will maintain the cause of the afflicted,
and will execute justice for the needy.” (Psalm 140:12)

humbled and grateful

I am humbled to hear of many of you who were touched by yesterday’s post. I am grateful that my words could be used to minister some brief comfort to you, however small it may have seemed against the background of the vast ocean of grief and pain you felt yesterday. Thank you for the privilege of being part of that, even though we may never meet face to face.

Today begins my church’s week-long summer camp with a twist. It’s not simply the traditional “Vacation Bible School,” but its heart and focus is to provide a high-quality sports and art camp for those who may not typically have access to such a camp due to their socio-economic limitations. And so we come to an inner city housing development in our community and bring this camp to them, while inviting their preschoolers and kindergarteners to attend “Camp Jr.” (more VBS-like) at our church for ages 3-5. I’ll admit that there was some dread this morning and the question of, “Will this be worth it?” as I herded my screaming toddlers (who wanted to dress themselves but we didn’t have time) out the door so that they could attend their class and I could help with the 4 and 5-year-old class.

It was more than worth it. Really delightful to be with this group of 9 children, and I’m looking forward to the rest of the week. I think my daughters had fun, too, judging from their big grins when I went to get them at noon.

Yet ultimately the question of, “Is this worth it?” isn’t answered by my enjoyment of it but by the fact that as a believer in Jesus Christ, this is part of what I’m made for and the calling he’s given his people to care for the poor and needy and young and messy. Because all of those qualifiers describe me as well, and I have a good strong God who has entered my life and my story with his love. I can’t help but do the same for others.

Psalm 113:7-8 in one of many verses that speak of this story, that is my story:

He raises the poor from the dust
and lifts the needy from the ash heap,
to make them sit with princes,
with the princes of his people.