I walked into church this morning with a thought pressing heavily upon my heart. I knew it wasn’t my thought, as in it did not originate with me. What I didn’t know was if it originated for me.
It can be difficult to discern the difference sometimes, and the world has had enough of folks trying to force their personal lessons from Holy Spirit upon others. It’s a fast track to transforming legitimate relationship into oppressive religion, and I don’t want to do that. Ever. I prefer to avoid erring, but in this matter, should I err may it be on the side of caution.
And so I listened quietly to see if the thought that was pressing on me was part of the flow of what was happening around me. I’ve found that when I’m paying attention, I will often hear the door open, the whispered invitation. But sometimes I don’t. Sometimes I wait, and it slips by, and I still don’t know what I’m supposed to do.
Today was one of those days.
But the thought was restless. It didn’t just go curl up in a corner to take a nap, and it didn’t just pat my hand and say that I really needed a reminder.
No…it has banged around like a moth caught in a jar. It’s rumbled between my ears, knocked on my heart, reached around my back and tapped me on my opposite shoulder just to make me look.
So I’m going to plant it here and see if it finds a home.
I was thinking how the Bride of Christ will be complete, pure, and spotless before that great wedding day occurs.
Pure and spotless. This is an amazing thought because right now the Bride, the Church, appears to be in a constant battle with double-mindedness and defilement.
But then I heard a quiet Voice.
The Bride keeps trying to purify herself. She cannot do so. Her purity does not come from her own righteous behavior flowing toward Me, but from My righteousness flowing towards her. The closer she steps to Me, the more her purity will shine as the overflow of her life. It will no longer be about what she does or does not do, but by the transformed nature of who she is. The purified Bride forsakes judgment and self-righteousness, and instead loves.
I began to think of the things that I’ve been told are unrighteous at some point in my life.
Like…playing cards, watching R-rated movies, consuming alcohol or smoking cigarettes, wearing shorts/tank tops/bikinis, listening to secular music, tattoos, long hair/earrings on men, dancing, real non-side hugs, any sort of “chance” game including raffles and lottery tickets, going to Disney world, having non-Christian friends, dyeing your hair, wearing makeup…
Sadly enough, I suspect I could keep going for a long while. And it’s not that I subscribe to them anymore (I don’t), but some of them I did at some point in my life. I believed it when I was told that is what it meant to be pure. You begin subscribing to the don’ts, and the more don’ts you don’t, the more rules you follow, the more righteous you are.
I now look back on that and wonder how those teachings meshed with the Apostle Paul’s list of braggables in Philippians 3. But somehow they did, at least sorta, and it made sense at the time.
I see it so differently now.
The truth is, I can take a shower, spit and shine, grit my teeth and behave perfectly and still be as impure and unrighteous as a dog turd in the middle of the sidewalk.
Same with you.
We’ve got nothing to bring to the table on our own, you and I. Our “righteousness” is vile. Our impurity is a wasting disease that eats our bones. There isn’t enough perfume to cover up our stink, and there is no act of goodness we can perform that makes us any less putrid.
We’re helpless to change this about ourselves. We can’t even give ourselves a nice little spit bath with the corner of our hankies.
This is a mystery. I can’t explain how it works; my mind is too small for such things. All I know is that when our old death nature is covered by the blood of the Jesus, we become alive in a whole new way. We become His righteousness. He refines us and brings us out as pure gold, shining in heavenly brilliance. We are His fragrance, and He empowers us to bring His goodness to the world.
He changes the very essence of who we are. Jesus purifies His own Bride.
My heart aches to see people caught up in the hamster wheel of sin management. Maybe you know what I’m referring to: try and try and try and try and try and yet nothing changes…the same old battles plague. Guilt and shame roar in like a flood, and instead of running to the One who can really change you, you step a little further away, brace your heart against Him because you’re quite sure you’re a disappointment, and you wait until you feel life you’ve got your act together before hopping on the hamster wheel again…only to get the same results.
Sin management is just an effective way to sell books. I strongly suggest you consider a permanent fast from the hamster wheel.
There is only one real solution. There is only one true hope.
Step closer to Him.
Get radical about getting in His space. Do what He does, say what He says. When you mess up, get up and step even closer to Him, no matter what sort of hissing you hear in your ear. Be relentless. He can handle it if you keep getting so close you step on the backs of His heels when you’re walking.
Let Him brush you off and clean you up. He’s an expert at it.
And He plans to make you dazzle.
I stood at the edge of the surf line, watching the waves tumble over themselves and race up towards me, barely brushing the bottoms of my feet before swirling back into the Gulf. The water was warm, bathtub warm, and the August air was thick and heavy in spite of the cool edge of the evening breeze.
Even though the sun was well on its way to Hawaii and the sky was overcast with an offshore storm lighting up a corner, there was enough light to break through the dimness of the night, and for a few minutes I just stood and took it all in. I live minutes from the Gulf of Mexico but I rarely visit the beach, being a certified paleface, although evening hours can be very nice. Good breezes and no risk of sunburn.
The waves roared and crashed. They never took a break, never decided to pull out to sea and stay there. Over and over they rushed onto the shoreline, smoothing the sand as they rushed back out again.
And I thought: This is so like You.
Even in the dim light of the night, the waves are constant. And they are agents of change for everything they touch: pushing sand up onto the beach, pulling it back out again, shifting the shoreline with every splashing encounter. Sometimes the power is gentle and restrained, but other times even a small wave can knock you over and leave you coughing and gasping for air.
He is my favorite agent of change. I love how every encounter rearranges me—sometimes gently, and sometimes bowling me over and leaving me gasping and sputtering. Even when it’s disconcerting, I know He’s there. He’s constant.
And that knowledge has been the knot at the end of the fraying rope for many a shipwrecked human.
Including this one.
Some things sound easy but end up being far more complicated than could ever seem reasonable.
I bet you’re wondering if I have a for-instance.
Why, yes. Yes, I do. Thank you for asking.
I was doing a bit of reading about voltage converters for my upcoming trip to Brazil when I saw mention that using one will often kill your hair appliances, or at the very least, damage them and void their warranties. That is when I remembered how poorly my hair dryer performed in Poland, even though I was using the proper converter. It barely ran, and it got hot and made weird noises.
Kinda like me.
I have a high-end flat iron right now that I do not want to kill. And my hairdryer isn’t high-end, but it’s still very functional and I like it. So really, it makes sense to just invest in some inexpensive dual voltage hair tools that I’ll keep for traveling.
The hair dryer actually will be easy enough. The flat iron is about to make me crazy.
Forty kajillion brands, thirty-nine kajillion of them rather shady sounding, consumer ratings all over the place, prices equally all over the place.
Which one will work well but not fry off my hair? I don’t know.
And then there’s the shoe issue.
I need a pair of black sandals. Dressy-casual, good support, comfortable enough for standing for long periods of time. Nothing that looks too flip-floppish. I’m not dying to wear black sandals, but they’ll match pretty much everything I’m packing, so it only makes sense to ignore all the pretty colors and go for sensible black. Besides, I’ll be able to wear them to work.
My feet aren’t always so easy to fit. And I’m very picky about how my shoes look and feel, because uncomfortable feet are a miserable life distraction. My trip to the Merrell, Clark, and Rack Room outlet stores was a strike-out, as was the trip to Belk and a local quality shoe store. I can’t just buy shoes online…I have to try them on first.
By the end of the day I realized that I was being distracted and bested by simple things.
I wish I could say it’s the first time in my life that has happened. It would be better said that I’m a pro at it.
I don’t know how to figure these things out and make these decisions. I don’t know what investments are wise, and what products will serve me well. But the great thing is that I don’t have to know. God already has it figured out. And I have a fabulous group of people praying for every little need I could possibly have related to this trip.
So now I wait to see where He leads, how He provides, and what wisdom He gives. It’s time to stop letting this be so hard. It’s better to walk in confidence that when I come across His yes, I will know it.
He’s really good at this stuff.
It’s funny how sometimes the more you drink, the thirstier you are.
I have to wonder if we somehow learn to tune out our thirst and call it something else, pouring all sorts of things into ourselves that aren’t pure, aren’t water. We become dull and sluggish and we can’t figure out why.
Until, that is, we draw a tall cool glass and throw back our heads and drink…and drink…and drink.
It’s as if that water both satisfies something desperate in us and ignites a deeper thirst. The more water we drink, the more our bodies crave it.
That thirst doesn’t stop with our bodies. At least it doesn’t with mine.
I find myself thirsty these days. Sometimes I wonder how it is that someone who has abandoned herself to a wild river could claim thirst. And yet here I am, parched and drowning at the same time.
Am I the only one?
I’ve heard a lot of people call for revival lately. I wonder what they mean by that.
Sometimes it feels like when people who walked with Jesus didn’t understand why He came and they kept waiting for a political solution to a much bigger problem. People’s hearts were lost, their minds were darkened, they were separated from God with no way to be reunited with Him because sin was always in the way. No sacrifice had yet been made for it. And yet folks were expecting Jesus to become a great king and make all the countries who were being mean to Israel bow down instead. It’s as if they couldn’t grasp that they were calling for a ruler with whom they could have no real peace. You know…because of that sin thing. They wanted to be vindicated in the eyes of their enemies.
Jesus had a totally different agenda. He came to establish a kingdom, but not the kind they expected.
When I hear calls for revival today, they often seem tied to making people follow the rules and behave. The mindset seems to be that if we had revival, people would get right with God and behave righteously and stop being so difficult to be around. Then we wouldn’t have to be so uncomfortable with their humanity…or fearful of our own.
I believe Jesus still has a totally different agenda. And He’s still looking to establish a kingdom, and it’s still not the kind people expect.
I need the kingdom. His kingdom. I need to be an active giver in the kingdom, and I need to receive from the kingdom. I thirst for that power that blows the dust out of my corners and washes the muddy tracks off my carpets, the power that then flows through me to yank open the heavy doors in other people’s dungeons.
I ache for it.
There is a kingdom where I am not disqualified because of my screw-ups, but am instead qualified by His righteousness. Where nothing is impossible, where miracles are signs that brings me to my knees in wonder. Where grace is never given begrudgingly, but is poured out generously on the ragamuffins like me who know they’re sunk without it. Where love rules…love reigns…love wins.
I need it. I’m so thirsty my bones ache for it.
May the floodgates be opened.
I wonder if penguins dream of flying.
I wonder if eagles dream of swimming.
I wonder how often our dreams reflect something we could potentially do if we work hard enough, and how often they reflect what we can’t do, and were never built to do.
This is America and we like to tell our kids they can be anything they want. But that’s not true. If you’re color-blind, you aren’t likely to be a great interior decorator. If you’re tone-deaf, you’re not going to be a music star. It’s not that someone is trying to kill your dreams. It’s just that your dreams don’t fit you.
Watch an episode of American Idol auditions and you’ll understand what I mean.
We probably don’t dream big enough most of the time. But I find myself wondering how often we waste time and energy pursuing dreams that we’re not built to achieve. And I wonder what incredible things aren’t happening because we’re too distracted to bring our real game to a world that needs what we were really designed to offer.
It started out like any other Sunday morning. It seemed ordinary enough at the time, but I suppose that’s true of most moments in life. Everything is ordinary until it’s not.
I joined the gathering and I stood with everyone else, singing along with the music, offering praise to My Favorite. Then we changed to a different song, and the worship continued.
Your love never fails, it never gives up, it never runs out on me…
And suddenly, I felt the air around me shift. I stopped singing.
It felt important to just be in that moment, and wait quietly. And so I did.
In death, in life, I’m confident and covered by the power of Your great love,
My debt is paid, there’s nothing that can separate my heart from Your great love…
I thought about those words.
And then…the Voice broke in.
You confuse the power of love with the ability of love.
My mind stuttered a little upon hearing those words. I’d never even thought about this concept before, that there was a difference.
I began to process it. Love is a power, that much I knew. Love can heal wounds, rescue the lost, deliver the oppressed, restore the broken, provide for the empty…
Well, shoot. Yeah…that’s all about the ability of love. Suddenly I understood that the ability of love is an expression of the power of love, but not the totality of it. So just in case I questioned whether or not He was right…
“So what exactly is the power of love?” I asked Him. “I want to know. I want to understand.”
As I stood, I became aware that something was swirling around me. I was starting to feel really strange and more than a little wobbly. And then, the Voice again.
We can do this however you’d like. You can yield, or you can keep trying to stand.
There was no condemnation attached to the choice. It was a real choice, and I know He spoke it to my heart carefully and on purpose. He knows how much I want to live yielded to Him, but I also want to able to bear up under significant measures of His presence. I need to be able to bear up under significant measures of His presence in order to do the things He’s called me to do. But I don’t want to do so at the expense of yielding to Him.
He spoke it again. You can yield, or you can keep trying to stand. This time I heard the better choice within the question.
It only took me a couple of moments to be face down on the floor. My heart, my questions pouring out as the music took on a new weight. And then the Presence added His own weight.
He didn’t answer my questions. But neither did He leave. He stayed and I lost track of time.
I’m not sure what made me think I could have stood under that weight. I couldn’t even lay flat on the floor under it. I shook like crazy and couldn’t stop. I shook inside, I shook outside.
But still I heard nothing.
I am not sure how long I was down there. I think it was probably a good while. The music was over and had been. When I finally got up, I felt completely wrung out. I also felt…retuned? Recalibrated? I felt like something inside me wasn’t receiving in the same way it had before.
It’s a rather raw feeling, really, and a little electric. As if I might rip out of my skin any moment. As if I might spill out of myself. I’d almost describe it as painful but that’s not quite the right word. I think it’s just that it’s more alive than I know how to bear, and that leaves me more than a little undone.
I still don’t understand love as a power and what that means beyond love’s ability. I know I’ve been operating under a much higher revelation of the love of God over the past years, but I’ve obviously got a lot of room for expansion. I want to grasp it, carry it, embody it.
And I want to live completely yielded to it.
Everyone has a story.
Some people really love to tell their story. Others are private about it. And then there are people like me who, when asked, suddenly can’t seem to remember anything that ever happened to them anytime, anywhere, at any point throughout their lives.
We’re too busy living our stories to think about them, I reckon. Or at least that sounds like a good
excuse reason to me.
Anyway…we all have stories. You, me, the cranky dude at the post office, the waitress who brought your lunch.
My story, if I think about it long enough to begin to dredge it up, has plenty of ups and downs. There have been seasons that have been exciting and awesome, and others that have been downright miserable. But that is how any good story goes.
The shadow proves the sunshine.
I don’t know when my story will be over, but it’s important to me that it ends well. And it seems to me that we’d all benefit to occasionally evaluate our stories to see if they contain the right elements. Of course, those elements will vary from person to person. Otherwise our stories would lack for interesting people to give them salt and spice.
Does it have enough tie-dye?
Does it have a good soundtrack?
Does it have at least one iron-clad relationship with a fierce person?
Does it have at least one sweet relationship with a hugger?
Does it have some awesome shoes?
Does it have enough Holy Spirit wow-factor?
Does it have enough champagne?
Does it have a list of have-tos and want-tos that generously overlap?
Does it have enough fire?
Does it have a handful of weirdo cats?
Does it have enough poppycorn?
Does it have enough laughter?
Does it have enough Jesus?
Does it have enough purple? Enough orange?
Does it have enough challenges to remind me that I’m dependent upon God?
Does it have a good place for napping?
As time goes by I’ll probably need to change it up some. Stories have chapters, after all.
What do you think of your story thus far? Does it need more of something? Less of something?
We don’t get a re-write.
But we also don’t have to let the disappointments of the last chapters determine the quality of the next.