At Last, The King (the Gray Havens)

“To the serpent low, said the King upon His throne:
‘You’ve deceived and lied.
My child has gone into exile.
But I will go,
I will make a way home…’

In the dark,
in the shadows,
Light has come.
In the quiet,
in the dead of night,
Glory, glory sang the angels in the highest –
At last, the king
is born to us to overcome exile.
Born to us a virgin’s son, this child
born to give His life for us…
Good news, good news, so glorious.”

The people who walked in darkness
Have seen a great light;
Those who dwelt in the land of the shadow of death,
Upon them a light has shined.-Isaiah 9:2

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth…And of His fullness we have all received, and grace for grace.-from John 1 

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When Your Heart & Head are Bowed Low (Encouragement for this Weekend)

As I was getting ready to pick up my kids from school yesterday, a refrain kept circling in my head – Thou, O Lord, are a shield for me…my glory and the lifter of my head…

I went through my cd collection until I found the song that taught me these verses from Psalms by heart and let it play. It is still on my mind today…maybe because that phrase gets to the core of my heart – Thou, O Lord, are the lifter of my head…because so many times we have shoulders slumped in worry, eyes downcast in shame, feeling like it isn’t even worth the effort to hold ourselves straight, to look ahead in courage…

I see this movement – this eyes looking down at the floor, the defeated posture – in my own kids sometimes. When they’re in trouble, when they’re sad, when they tried something and it didn’t go exactly how they expected it to go – they look away from me. Sometimes they try to hide somewhere in the house, alone, and I have to search them out. And then I have to, quite literally, lift their chins toward me so that I can wipe away those tears and reassure them that they are okay….that they are loved in all times, in all things.

I have been there, so many times. I have been the one who didn’t want to look up because I was certain I would only see condemnation. I have been the one who couldn’t lift up my head because my heart was broken, my hope for the future gone. I have felt small in my shame. I have felt afraid in my pain. I have tried to hide away, sure there was no good thing in me.

Have you ever felt this way? Do you, even now, feel too tired to hold yourself up, too worried to look into the future with confidence or hope, too broken down to lift your eyes?

If that answer is a yes, can we take a few minutes to remember the story of John 8?

*****

There is no hiding the wrong she has done and the price is already set – she will pay for her guilt with her life. As their long strides and firm grips drag her into the temple courts, she does not need to look up to know that all eyes are on her. They all see her shame.

There is a crowd there, gathered around Jesus. The Pharisees make the woman stand before the group and say it loud and clear, making sure everyone hears her crime – she has been caught, yes, with their own eyes. She has sinned in the act of adultery and the law demands that she should be stoned. They want to know if Jesus agrees with their verdict.

Her life is laid bare before this crowd and though I can’t know for sure, I can imagine that she is gulping down tears of humiliation and fear. I can imagine that she is hopeless.

Perhaps she expects this man, who is obviously much-esteemed, to nod his consent and reach down for a stone.

And He reaches down, yes, but does not pick up a stone. He begins to write on the ground.

Maybe you know the rest of this story already…how they keep after Him, asking again and again what He believes her rightful punishment should be. With every accusation, every re-play of her dark moments, does she sink deeper into shame? Does she become more certain that her life is over?

In this moment, she hears the Teacher say – Let anyone of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.

I don’t know if the courts go silent. I don’t know if these men continue to mutter, to condemn. But I do know that they begin to leave.

And, so, after every accuser is gone and it is just this woman, just this woman rooted to the ground in her misery, and Jesus. He stands up and asks her – woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?

Again, I can’t know for sure – but I imagine that her shoulders have been slumped in defeat, her head hanging down as their words piled upon her.

And at His voice – at this question – she must lift her head. She must look up to see her deliverance – and this last One standing – what will He say to her?

Neither have I condemned you. Go and sin no more.

In His eyes, she sees another chance. In Him, she sees hope.

He sees her sin, yes – but He also sees her. He sees a heart that can be changed. He sees a heart that can be free from darkness.

He sees a daughter, redeemed.

********

A few more moments come to my mind…I think of the parents and children, rebuked by the disciples – after their reprimands, feeling too unimportant to come into the presence of Jesus – but looking up to see His welcome, too see His care for them….to see that they matter to Him. Come to Me, He says. And He brings the little ones close, blesses them.

I think of the woman we meet in Luke 8. She knows miracles happen when He is near. So, silently and unseen, she reaches for just the hem of His garment. Unclean and broken, she doesn’t call for His attention. She wouldn’t want His eyes on her. For so long she has been in pain, for so long she has been alone.

But this one touch – and the disease that held her captive falls away. But this touch does not go unnoticed as she had hoped – His voice calls out – Who touched Me?

She falls trembling at His feet, ready for whatever chastisement may come, explanation limping out of her mouth.

But He says – Daughter – and she looks up to see compassion.

We could reach back into the Old Testament and walk through the New…always finding the same thing. When the broken-hearted and broken-bodied come to God, they find Love. He lifts their heads to Hope.

And each time eyes lift to His, they meet mercy.

**************

Sometimes all we can see is what we have done wrong. Sometimes we pull burdens of worry onto our backs and find ourselves bent beneath them. Sometimes we are just plain heartbroken over the hard things of this life and the weariness of it hangs our heads low.

If your head is bowed low, your eyes downcast – I pray that you will feel His eternal hands gently cup your face and lift it toward His.

Can I offer this from my own life? Every time I have cried out to Him, He has heard me. He has lifted my head, over and over again, bringing hope and restoring my heart in ways I thought were impossible. Don’t be afraid to look to Him.

You will see compassion in His eyes. If you have made mistakes and chosen sin, you will find forgiveness and redemption in His grace. He was lifted onto the cross for our deliverance.

You will see the One who saves us when we are crushed in spirit. (Psalm 34:18) You will see the One who comforts all who mourn…the One who gives a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair, beauty where there was once only ashes. (Isaiah 61) The One sent to bind up the brokenhearted…to give us strength…to sustain us, day by day, is here with us now.

Lift up your head, friend. Look up to the One who fights our battles for us. The enemy, our accuser, can tell us that there is nothing to be done for our shame, for our problem, for our fears – but thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Stand and be strong in the power of His might…there is nothing impossible for our God, who supplies all our needs according to His great riches…who heals every disease…who speaks peace to the storms and life into death. Lift up your head, for you are free from condemnation. He has given us His own righteousness. Lift up your head, for in days of trouble we know that He is coming soon to make all things new. In His own words – Take heart, for I have overcome the world! (John 16:33)

Let Him be the lifter of your head, the Father who loves you, in all times, in all things.

How Everything Changed

Not for Your great need of us – Holy God, Maker of All –

Rather, Your great love for us broke the silence between us, crossed the chasm we created.

You came in our own skin
to taste our tears – the bitter and the sweet.

You wore our weakness,
this fragile flesh, Your eternal spirit within a heart easily broken so I may kneel, here, and recognize You
in a baby’s cry, in a bird’s swooping wing on wind, in water, in bread,
in Light – in Life
(for all things were made for You and by You and through You-
every beating heart and soul and spirit)
so You came,
image of the invisible God,
unwilling to be a stranger to us.

Unwilling to let us live as if we are unloved, You came on a quest to breathe Hope into earth. To rescue us, You surrendered Yourself.

Unwilling that we should be crushed by sorrow, unwilling that we be defined by our wrongs, unwilling that death reign among us-

You came.

We would have called it improbable –
Gentleness breaking chains –
We would have called it inconceivable –
Righteous One wrapping Himself in our shame-
We would have called it unthinkable –
Our Life called from Your death-

But You have always been God of our impossible-

So You laid Yourself down in a manger — on a cross — in a tomb —

And- rising again- You resurrected us

Fearless, free, redeemed.

You wrote Your own name on our hearts – You called us beautiful, named us beloved.

Unwilling that we should be alone,
You came –
God with us-
You stayed, Spirit within us-

You made us a Home in Your Heart
And so shall it ever be –

because You first loved us-
because You came.

For Your Sunday…Scripture&Song

Light of lights! All gloom dispelling,
Thou didst come to make thy dwelling
Here within our world of sight.
Lord, in pity and in power, Thou didst in our darkest hour
Rend the clouds and show thy light.

Praise to thee in earth and heaven
Now and evermore be given,
Christ, who art our sun and shield.
Lord, for us thy life thou gavest,
Those who trust in thee thou savest,
All thy mercy stands revealed.
-St. Thomas Aquinas

But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, He saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of His mercy. -Titus 3:4

Advent Wonder: Grace

I find myself –again- knees to floor and heart undone, wondering how so much escapes my efforts. I am somehow still shocked, every now and then, by the struggle between flesh and spirit. Regretting a temper quick to flare and patience in short supply, I wish I could wave a wand of white-out and cover the wasted minutes and the trail of mistakes. I wish I could hide all my faults. 

I feel, down to my bones, my need for a Savior willing to come to where I am. Because on days like these, I am a mess of shame and frustration.  On days like these, I see – again – how much I need His grace.  On my own, I cannot begin to attain righteousness. I cannot love the way my people need me to love. I cannot become ‘good’ in my own try-hard ways.

But the thing that I remember is this- even if I could manage to achieve some manner of righteousness on my own, it would still be like a pile of dirty rags in the light of His holiness.

And I marvel at this kind of mercy: He was wrapped in our flesh so that we could be wrapped in His righteousness. He wore our shame so that we can wear His holiness.

All the wishing and white-out in the world cannot cover our sins, but His blood does. He was wounded for us, His body broken for our iniquities. In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that He lavished on us. (Ephesians 1:7) We do not have to hide our faults, we do not have to cower in shame and condemnation because if we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9)

We could give it our all, our best, every day of our lives and would not be able to step into God’s presence…so Jesus came and give His all, His best – Himself. And that is, eternally, enough for us to boldly approach the throne of mercy. For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ.  (2 Cor. 5:21)

We are forgiven. We are new creations in Christ, no longer slaves to sin and flesh. When we walk with the Spirit, He helps us to live in holiness, to live like Jesus. When we falter, when we fail – because we are not yet made perfect – this is the time to remember how dependent we are on Jesus, on the Holy Spirit abiding with us. We can’t crucify our flesh, we can’t follow Him in our own power. But when we try it (because sometimes we do) – and when we fall flat on our faces (because we will!) – He helps us back up, gives us strength and wisdom to deal with the consequences. He gives us mercy, every morning new, and His faithfulness never depends on ours. 

Tonight, I am reminded that my Savior who was born into a messy, imperfect stable still comes to me in my messy, imperfect heart.

His patience and compassion are everything to me when I stumble. Jesus leads us to repentance. He speaks new life and freedom into our souls. He heals us and He delivers us. He meets us where we are, in our surrendered hearts, and loves us. 

His love does not depend on whether or not deserve it. It never has. He loves because He is love. And His love toward us transforms us, brings us into His presence, makes us new.

It was His wildly extravagant love that brought this beautiful, incomprehensible truth:

He became like us so that we can become like Him.

And I ask him that with both feet planted firmly on love, you’ll be able to take in with all followers of Jesus the extravagant dimensions of Christ’s love. Reach out and experience the breadth! Test its length! Plumb the depths! Rise to the heights! Live full lives, full in the fullness of God.

God can do anything, you know—far more than you could imagine or guess or request in your wildest dreams! He does it not by pushing us around but by working within us, his Spirit deeply and gently within us.

Glory to God in the church!
Glory to God in the Messiah, in Jesus!
Glory down all the generations!
Glory through all millennia! Oh, yes!

-from Ephesians 3

Carry Me

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Nearly every afternoon, after I’ve picked her up from a full day of kindergarten, my daughter falls asleep in the car. We have to go one town over to pick up my son before returning home, so she has plenty of time to sink deep into slumber. Which means that, once we are finally home, she is quite unhappy to be awoken. There is usually an attempt to ignore the stopped car and my insistent voice. She’ll put her head to the side, eyes still closed, and would probably fall asleep again if I’d let her. But I unbuckle the seat belt and shake her gently, reminding her that we have to go inside if she wants a snack and time to play before homework.

Get your backpack, I tell her, when she finally slides out of her seat.

And then, every time, she slides it onto her back and declares: It’s too heavy! I can’t walk! I’m too tired! Carry me!

So with the bright pink and white Hello Kitty backpack slung over her shoulders, she throws her arms around my neck and I scoop her up into my arms. A few afternoons ago, she smiled as she rested her head on my shoulder and said: I carry my backpack and you carry me!

And her words were mirrors, reflecting a truth I needed to remember – even while we are called to pick up our crosses, even while we sometimes live with problems and the weight of our particular lives – we have a God who holds us firmly in His arms, burdens and all.

We do get tired, though, don’t we? Even the good things we are busy doing can begin to wear us out after a while if we are  drawing our abilities and strength from our own selves, forgetting to let God restore us with His Spirit…and if we are in a time of pain or fear, it can feel like our joy and strength have drained totally away, leaving us exhausted and wanting to just be left alone. We want to close our eyes to whatever comes next because it seems like we just cannot do it. Our shoulders are caving in from the weight of carrying it all and our legs are giving out, too weak to move another step.

And this is when it is time to say to our Father: I can’t do this on my own…this life is too heavy for me. I need Your help. Like Kailey, we can cry it out: Carry me!

Because the same Savior who calls us to carry our cross is the same Savior who says: Cast all your cares upon Me. This is not a contradiction but a beautiful mystery of grace: the work He has called us to do, the responsibilities entrusted to us, the hard times we are asked to endure – we must do all these things with our whole heart and everything within us…but all the while, He is our very present help. He gives us fresh strength. He gives us joy. He gives us His power…2 Peter 1:3 says that He gives us everything we need to live the Godly lives to which He has called us. So in our weakness, we don’t give up – because He comes through and He is strong in us and for us.  When He carried the Cross to Calvary, didn’t He bear all of that weight of the broken world because we could not carry it on our own? Doesn’t He still stretch out His arms for us, holding us and the heaviness of our hearts, so that we can find His yoke easy and His burden light?

We carry what we have been given, faithfully, and He carries us.

If you are weary and don’t feel able to budge another step, it’s time to remember that He is waiting to be your help and your source of strength. There is life ahead of you – a holy calling to live out His love – and so don’t stay put, eyes and ears closed to His beckoning. Reach out to Him and trust that He is able to keep you from falling. Even more than that, when we obey and trust Him, He carries us to the place we need to be: a place of purpose and abundant life, a place of fulfillment and restored hope. It takes talking to Him – surrendering control of what we are holding – and putting our faith in His promises to sustain us and to help us. The Message version of Isaiah 41:10 helps us to plainly hear God’s sure Word to us: Don’t panic. I’m with you. There’s no need to fear for I’m your God. I’ll give you strength. I’ll help you. I’ll hold you steady, keep a firm grip on you.

That makes me want to say with David, that poet-king – “Praise be to the Lord, to God our Savior, who daily bears our burdens…Praise the Lord; praise God our Savior! For each day He carries us in His arms.” (NIV&NLT)

We can rest in this way, with bold belief in His love and knowing that He will carry us all the way home.

“…you whom I have upheld since your birth,
and have carried since you were born–
Even to your old age and gray hairs
I am He, I am He who will sustain you.
I have made you and I will carry you;
I will sustain you and I will rescue you.”~Isaiah 46:3-4

“Let the beloved of the Lord rest secure in Him, for He shields him all day long, and the one the Lord loves rests between His shoulders…the eternal God is your refuge and underneath are the everlasting arms…He is your shield and helper.” ~from Deuteronomy 33

 

 

Note from A Self-Prescribed Time Out

I confess that I am writing this to you from inside my bedroom closet. It is one of those evenings in which my children, who have been blessed with extraordinary volume in their little bodies, are running around at full-speed. They are having a great time together, but it has been an errand-y sort of day and there are things weighing on my mind…so, here I am, listening to them from (sort of) afar and taking a little break before we get ready for church.

Sometimes, friends, we need a moment to re-focus our hearts toward Jesus and just take a few deep breaths.

It’s the middle of the week. Maybe your own mind is full of worry and what needs to be done. Maybe you are busy and tired. Maybe you are facing problems that you have no control over…maybe you are waiting for answers to come, for the pain to ease.

I don’t have any easy solutions for the issues I can see in my own life or for the difficulties you might be facing.

But – as two well-loved disciples once said – what I do have, I give to you.

I have this – Isaiah 53, which gives us a Savior who took up our pain and bore our suffering…a Savior who endured punishment to bring us peace, who was wounded so we could be healed.

I have Hebrews 7:25, which tells me that this same Savior ‘always lives to intercede’ for us…He who ’empathizes with our weakness’. Yes, because of Him – we may ‘receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need’.

What I have to give you is the truth that Jesus is with you in the chaos, in the pain, in the every-day of your life. He understands the emotion, the weariness, and the struggle. So many times the New Testament talks about how Jesus had compassion on those around Him…and He still does. In Him, you find a friend who will listen, a safe place to pour out your anxiety and your fears. In Him, you find a constant companion who will not ever walk away from you or leave you in your despair. He is like His Father – close to the broken-hearted.

In our hard times, we can’t make a wish and see the problems disappear. But we can bring it all to our Savior, who suffered so that He could bring us peace in a broken world. He took on our pain so He could help us bear these trials, here and now.

So let this be the reminder to me and to you…He is ever-near and ever-ready to listen.  His grace gives us what we need to keep going, to keep hoping, to keep joy no matter what. He sustains us. And when we are weak, He gives us His strength…fresh strength, strength that never grows tired or weary.

He is there, with you, and He isn’t going to leave you alone.

My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.-Psalm 73:26