Five Minute Friday: release

It’s Friday. Hallelujah! It’s been a good, important, hard week. It’s been the best of times – news of two close friends having babies (Shelby’s #4 and Katherine’s #3); my most shared blog post ever over at The Gospel Coalition Blog; and then some intense ministry and life pressures and stressors that are inevitable when married to a pastor and working as a counselor, all while parenting two beautiful and strong-willed three-year-old princesses.

So I come here to this page thankful to be able to write and join in again with Lisa-Jo’s “Five Minute Friday” community. Five minutes of unedited free-writing on a different topic each week.


firefly image

Release. What could it mean to release my art, my words, my love freely into the world? It’s an image of the fireflies we captured earlier this week and put in jars flying into the wild blue yonder again. They didn’t light up in captivity (much to our disappointment). What made them beautiful is the art they made when they were free. When we tried to capture them, to own them for ourselves, the art died (but they did not). Art can only be free when I am released from the cage of my expectations and my perception of yours. 

What would I do if I were released (which I am)? Released to create – to dabble again in painting for the sake of painting, to play the piano just for fun, to write words because I want to and I need to but not because I am expected to or need to get a certain number of stats to prove my worth.

Couldn’t I then in my freedom release those around me from the suffocating pressure I exert? To know I am released by one who was chained to a cross – the worst suffering imaginable – who was enslaved to death and chose not to be released – this makes my soul sing. This makes your soul free. I don’t need your applause for my identity and self-worth and writing. I simply need to release Jesus through my words and my art and my laughter and my relationships. And so do you. Jesus imprisoned that my soul would be set free. That ushers me into true release of the best kind – release from slavery to self’s corrosive power on my heart. 

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. 

out with ’08, in with ’09

I was chatting with a friend over tea this afternoon, and she’s had one heck of a 2008. Many different layers of difficulties and trials. She said that she’s ready for 2008 to go. And then we were imagining together what it would be like if truly every bad part of the old year really did go out with the flip of the calendar. Old wounds instantly healed; chronic health problems solved; broken families put back together; destructive consequences of our sin and brokenness erased. Imagine … isn’t that an almost too-good-to-be-true thought?

And it is too good to be true while we yet remain on the earth. Tomorrow might actually feel new for a few minutes, hours, perhaps even days (certainly when my gym is crowded again with the “new year’s resolution crowd”). The calendar will display a new set of pictures. I’ll still be enjoying my new computer (I’m a big fan of MacBooks now). Reflecting on 2008 will bring new insights for 2009. And dreaming/wishing/hoping about 2009 will bring new energy to my focus, goals, and endeavors.

But I’ll still be struggling with how to love the unlovable, how to worry less about what I can’t control anyway, how to be more balanced in work and rest, how to be content with what wears on me.

And I think that might be part of why Revelation was written in the Bible. For when I open these pages, I find promises that seem too good to be true — yet they come from the God who never lies. And they tell about a world to come for those who believe in Christ who is bringing it into being. I hope you’ll be in awe with me, and that this gives you real hope for what’s new in 2009 … and beyond.

“They shall hunger no more; neither thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike them, nor any scorching heat. For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” (Revelation 7:15-17)

leaning on the everlasting arms

What a fellowship, what a joy divine,
Leaning on the everlasting arms;
What a blessedness, what a peace is mine,
Leaning on the everlasting arms.

Leaning, leaning, safe and secure from all alarms;
Leaning, leaning, leaning on the everlasting arms.

O how sweet to walk in this pilgrim way,
Leaning on the everlasting arms;
O how bright the path grows from day to day,
Leaning on the everlasting arms.

What have I to dread, what have I to fear,
Leaning on the everlasting arms;
I have blessed peace with my Lord so near,
Leaning on the everlasting arms.

We closed our worship service at my church this morning with this old hymn. It was the fitting closing to a sermon on Deuteronomy 33: a series of final blessings Moses gives to the Israelites, tribe by tribe, which ends with these verses: “There is none like God, O Jeshurun [a term for the Israelites], who rides through the heaves to your help, through the skies in his majesty. The eternal God is your dwelling place, and underneath are the everlasting arms….” Noah Huss, a seminary student, was preaching this morning and one thought in particular stood out to me. He highlighted the idea that we, like Israel, although held secure by our God’s everlasting and strong arms, continually stray after idols and other things which ARE NOT God. The irony is that we are held by God and yet we often anxiously ask Him for new idols to which we cling desperately … as if what we’re holding is better and more powerful than the ONE who holds us. We forget where we are.

And so then my prayers begin to look something like the following:

“God, please work out my schedule today so that I can do what I want to do (and am planning to do) when I want to do it. Don’t let me be interrupted.”

“Lord, would you heal this terrible cold I have? Quickly? And keep me from getting any more colds this winter?”

“Father, would you provide more money for us? So that we can dress in nicer clothes and drive shiny new cars and be able to buy a home?”

“God, please keep trouble and suffering away from me. Will you please deliver me from the current troubling situation? And give me strength so that I can think that I did this on my own?”

Can you relate? Perhaps not to how obvious those examples are … and rarely do my prayers actually sound this obviously idolatrous. But if I’m honest, this is what’s often in my heart. NOT that God doesn’t care about every detail of my life, like the fact that I’m fighting a cold or that we would like to live in an apartment with 2 bedrooms one day, but His heart desire is that I would want HIM more than I want any of these things or comforts. And that my prayers would begin with resting in Him. Realizing I have what makes me most secure already — that I have true comfort and eternal treasures.

Where do you struggle? What do you run to the most? And what helps you to remember your secure place in the arms of our Father God?

For those of you “reading” to whom this concept seems quite strange, I hope and pray that you will one day know the security of this God-embrace I’m discussing. It’s only possible as our brokenness of sin that separates us from God is restored through the saving work of Christ on the cross. And, oh, what true security and comfort is found in God’s embrace to us in Christ! It is a wonder that we who know its comfort struggle so …


beach musings

I wrote this from Kiawah Island, a beach about 45 minutes south of Charleston, South Carolina. (a REAL beach, I say, tongue-in-cheek to these Philadelphians who consider the New Jersey shore THE beach) And believe you me, I’ve had many moments to put into practice what I had the time and luxury to theorize about! (see the last paragraph about death/life)

I hope you’ll be encouraged to look for grace, wherever you are in your life today…

I sit on a porch perhaps a half mile from the beach. Sunlight drifts in through the screens and the palmetto trees. There’s a golf course in the background. Faint happy noises of families vacationing, kids playing, birds calling out to each other. The evening crickets are warming up for their nightly symphony. I am alone but also near to my family. Mom’s inside cleaning up after supper; Dad’s with Seth playing a few holes of golf. We are at peace here.

It’s beautiful. Very. Exquisitely so. I’m going to try to focus on the present beauty that must surround me at any given moment. If my Creator is good and beautiful, as is His creation, there must be some of His exquisite nature that peeks through despite the sin. It’s so easy though to focus on the sin.

As I take a step back from my profession for a week, I’m realizing that many days it feels like I focus on sin. Whether mine, theirs, or someone who’s hurt them. I’m bombarded with the harsh reality of sin and its damage to a world created to be perfect. I hate sin. I hate what it does to me, to others, to those controlled by it and blinded by it.

So I think I am going to need to be much more intentional about looking at grace. Reflecting on it, watching for its beautifying presence even in the midst of sin and its consequences. I need it so that I worship God for who he is and enjoy others for the gifts they are. We are saints, after all (those of us in Christ). Oh, to truly live out of this promising reality! Rather than the despair of being a sinner.

I want newness. No more stale worship or half-hearted relationships. I also know this is impossible to perfectly arrive at this side of heaven. But how do we live in the in-between without either becoming a naïve idealist or a cynic pessimist?

The cross. Redemption. That must have something to do with it. The hope of the “already and not yet” can’t be felt without the reality of the cross and resurrection. Jesus died and rose again. So I will live through death – both the kind of death which will be a doorway to Heaven and the many varieties of death that living out redemption in the here-and-now will entail. Death to my time, to controlling every moment of my schedule, to trying to keep life clean when it gets messy, to my preferences, to anything that gets in the way of Life that is really life.