Tuesday, January 27, 2015

song of joy: out with the old, in with the new

Last December, I prayed and asked God to name 2014. He told me to call it "New Things", and so I did. I wrote about the hope of those words here, but I had no idea how the year would go.

The newness has been a bit of an undoing in my soul, and I am thankful for the way God led me last year. But it's been challenging and hard, dark and yet in many ways full of God's light.

We spent the end of 2014 sealing up every item we own in boxes. It's strange the way your whole world can be compartmentalized and marked with bold Sharpie words like "GAME ROOM- pillows + books" or "MASTER CLOSET- belts + heels". Our stuff weighs less in our souls when it is itemized and labeled, as if the imaginary link it has to our souls is broken and we realize we are so much more than the accumulation of things.

And now, it is 2015, really and fully. And this year will be one of joy, of breaking light, of fresh strength and views from new heights. I have made a conscious choice to sit back a bit this year and watch to see all God does.

I am slowly unpacking boxes. Half of the stuff we packed up seems to be making its way into piles to give away. The things that remain are precious, beloved, and remind me of the story God has written for us: stories of His love, His sense of humor, the way He brings us up from ashes and delights in who we are.

My soul is also unpacking some old things, and I find I am letting go of some accumulated things that I no longer need in there, too. I feel lighter, and my prayers come more frequently these days, like contractions that precede a miraculous birth.

The farther I walk with God on this path, the less I really know what boxes and labels everything fits in- with the exception of my soul. My soul only ever fits well in one place.

"'As surely as I live,’ says the Lord, 'every knee will bow before me; every tongue will acknowledge God.’
So then, each of us will give an account of ourselves to God."-Romans 14: 11-12

There is a long list of things that won't matter at all on the day we stand in His presence. They will be unpacked and found to be completely unnecessary:

  • Our appearance. (face, body, hair, wardrobe, complexion, muscle definition, etc.)
  • Our status. (career, achievements, accolades etc.)
  • Our possessions. (house, car, wardrobe, gadgets, etc.)
  • Our hobbies/ passing interests. (favorite teams, collections, ideologies about this and that minute argument, etc.)
  • Our opinions about others. (what they say, how they look, who they ought to be, etc.)

Because we live in this temporal world, where these kinds of things are important and often have daily impact on us, it can be tempting to spend too much time, resources, and energy on the things on that list. 

What will matter when we stand before the judgement seat? What will God talk to us about? What parts of our life will He delight in, what errors will He correct us of, which of our days will He sing about when we lay ourselves low before the heat and glory of His presence?

That's a different kind of list altogether.

  • His love for us. (who He says I am, for what purpose He made me, how He delighted to set me free and bring me home)
  • How well have we kept the greatest commandment? (Love Him first and most.)
  • How well have we kept the second commandment? (Love others more than myself.)
  • Were His priorities also our priorities?  (How much more did we trust Him and His word than our fears and the voices of people who did not know Him? Who did we clothe and feed and tend for His sake alone? When did we make ourselves uncomfortable so that others could be comforted? etc.)
List it out, write it in bold letters, let it label and define us, and hear the words that never fail to make us new again and again and again: We belong to Him, we live freely in Him, we have been made for Him.

"See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. All who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure." -1 John 3:1-3

Oh, yes, moving day will be simply beautiful.

Monday, January 12, 2015

how a pastor's family is processing terrorism after being in Paris last week

We were driving to church Sunday morning when the random and odd question came from the third-seat row.

"Mom, where exactly is 'jail'?"

I assumed there was no passive-aggressive message about the morning ahead of us (pastor's kids endure a long Sunday morning). I explained jail, prison, and the hopeful reform of uncomfortable consequences.

"People end up in prison because they don't know how to love others more than themselves. They do whatever makes themselves happy, no matter the cost to other people or to society. But laws and consequences can't transform the heart," I said. "That's why the way your dad and I parent and love you is important. Sometimes we have to let you learn the hard way to make good choices while you're young, so that you don't have to learn in prison someday."

"This is not a nice conversation," said Boy 2.

I smiled, and let that one go.

Because, well, too bad, kiddo. This is life.

Later that day they would sit on the sofa and ask Mr. Fantastic about the terrorist attack in Paris. We were within blocks of it when it happened. The City of Lights was tense while we were there, and we felt the holy love of God for a frightened people at every turn.

We had avoided the topic with our kids because of our proximity to it, not wanting them to be afraid for us. But the neighbor had mentioned the attack in front of them. Our children wanted to know everything, and even pressed to know if the men who killed the journalists were caught or killed by the police.

We told them the truth, that when a person begins executing hostages, the police end the terror however necessary.

In my heart I know this is only the beginning of these conversations. Our children are growing up in an age of senseless violence, and we are processing with them the love of our own God for a people who have chosen to hate others in the name of a god we choose to reject.

How does God sort it all out? I'm not sure, but I know He does and I trust Him to judge even the most deceived hearts with mercy and love.

And really, while sorting out the ugly details, what can we  do to change anything except talk with our children and pray?

After our chat about prison in the car, I spoke a blessing over my children.

"I love you guys. I hope you know God is singing joyfully over your lives today. I pray that you know Him better and that you hear His voice in church today. I hope His presence meets you and touches your hearts, encouraging you to trust and obey Him. May you know Him as your Savior, your Healer, and your Good Father."

There are some lessons only God teach my children, and they come straight out of not-nice conversations.

Because all the journalists and terrorists and hostages of the world were once little children in the backseat of their mother's car. I refuse to miss my chance to open the doors of my children's minds and souls to the most important knowledge.

God is love, and we must love others more than ourselves. All the law is bound up safely for those who choose the way of Christ, the way of forgiveness, and the path of sacrificial love.

Oh, God, that you would seek the hearts of your enemies today, and forgive them of their sin. We lift You high above all other Gods and see You seated on the throne. May your love reign, and may every knee bow under Your lordship. Amen.

Friday, January 9, 2015

happy and sad and farewell to paris

Today is our last day in Paris.

I keep thinking about the children's book "The Hello Goodbye Window", with its window at the front door of Nana's house. I love the book's message to all who read it- that it's okay to happy and sad at the same time, especially when we are saying goodbye to people and places we love.

I wish I could wrap up the beauty of the City of Lights and bring it all home with me. I'd like to bottle the spontaneous joy of finding a new museum and discovering a new view of the Seine or the Eiffel Tower. if I could, I would put the laughter of the man I love in my pocket and pull it out on the hard days of real life that await us in the coming weeks.

It's sad to leave a place like this.

But all wrapped up at home are four people who truly can't live without us any longer. My arms ache for the weight of my children's embrace. My ears keep listening for the sound of their breathing in the dark of the night. My heart keeps seeking their souls like a lighthouse seeks boats to lead to safety.

I am happy to be going home.

We have had an interesting time in France. It has been a privilege to minister to the church our dear friends planted in Marseille. It has felt heavy, and also holy, to be in Paris during the terrorist attack this week. And to share so many amazing moments with my very best, most fantastic friend has been a blessing.

There is a fullness to life that strikes me with awe and wonder.

At the end of everything, albeit buried beneath the ache of goodbye, the truest thing we can know is love.

Wrapped up in that love is everything good and powerful: grace, forgiveness, mercy, strength, and obedience.

Grace is the kindness of God's love made manifest.

Forgiveness is the generosity of God's love towards us.

Mercy is the greatness of God's love on the earth.

Strength is the joy of God's love in all creation.

Obedience is possible by the faithfulness of God's sustaining love.

Always, always, it is His love that births and heals and fills our lives with His presence and person. It is God's love that makes the sadness of leaving bearable.

Goodbye, Paris. I am so very happy and sad to have to leave. I leave you with with a promise to pray for the love of the One True God to fill your beautiful buildings and to protect your precious people.

It's time to go home now.