New Mercies For New Years & New Days

New Mercy (1)

I almost always get in a really weird, not particularly good mood on New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day. It’s like regrets from the year coming to a rapid close and fears about the future are combined with a bunch of sentimental crap, making a poisonous concoction. It’s isn’t exactly deadly, but it certainly is sickening.

I also get annoyed by all the fanfare. Maybe I’m just a New Year’s Scrooge, but I can’t help it. People are celebrating all things new when really the only thing new is the year listed on the calendar. And so what? The numbering of years is just an earthy construct used to organize the passing of time. It’s useful, but not exactly earth-shattering. People make ambitious resolutions (and I have too), knowing full well that they will probably fail within the first month. These resolutions are usually good things – like eating healthy, reading the Bible daily, or exercising more – but rarely does one actually succeed in a resolution without falling at least a little. People shout “new year, new me!” as if they didn’t say the same exact cliché last year, only to be stuck in their same old ways by February.

As Christians, we can celebrate true newness every single day – not just one day a year. And this newness isn’t like the newness that the world parades with. The newness that the world offers is really just a mask on the same old deadness inside. The newness that God offers reaches to the deepest darkest places in our souls. It brings what is dead back to life and replaces cold, hard hearts.

As this year comes to a close, I’ve been thinking a lot about one particular passage of scripture: Lamentations 3:22-24. Read it once, and read it again.

“The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;
his mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.”

(Lamentations 3:22-24, ESV)

Did you catch that? His mercies are new every morning. Not just the day you first believed. Not just the moment you first trusted Jesus. Every morning. Every single day. His faithfulness doesn’t end. For every morning we wake, His mercies for us are new.

Of course, it doesn’t always feel that way. More often than not, our hearts and minds are flooded with worries, doubts, pain, and the weight of yesterday as soon as the alarm sounds and our eyes open. Mornings are filled with dread and not celebration. In these groggy moments, it is so easy to lose sight of truth. Just like our eyes struggle to adjust to the bright light of day after hours of darkness, our minds struggle to focus on the Light of Christ after hours of sleep. These early morning moments can easily define the rest of our day – at least, they tend to do so for me. Most mornings I struggle to get up – fighting anxiety about the past and the future, doubts, guilt, and just sheer exhaustion.

Whatever I’m feeling though, that doesn’t make truth any less true. The truth is that God is faithful and His mercies are continually new. I don’t have to carry the weight of yesterday’s shame, failures, and struggles, nor do I have to carry the worries of tomorrow. For the past few weeks, my nightly prayer as been “God, help me remember your mercies when I wake.” God is faithful. He has reminded me of them. It makes me almost teary eyed to think of it. Mornings still feel like a struggle. I have to wrestle with the thoughts that flood to my mind. It’s a battle and I don’t always win. Still – God is faithful. His mercies are continually renewed. They were new today, on the last day of 2018. They will be new tomorrow, as 2019 dawns. They will always be new. And thanks be to God.

We Rush, He Says “Be Still”

God isn't rushing. We are the ones who rush. We are the ones who race. God uses time for our good. God uses time for His glory

Everyday, we’re rushing. Rushing to get work done, rushing to check things off the ever growing to-do list, rushing to create a happier life, rushing to shape our identities with all the things we’ve done. We rush about our days to get this and that done and often wonder if we will have the time (and energy) to complete all we have to do or feel we need to do. This time of year, we rush at an even more rapid pace, as we rush to get the perfect gifts for everyone on our lists and rush to make a picture-perfect Christmas scene in our homes. We rush. We run. We race against the clock. We bow down to time. We bow down to the things our little screens scream we need. We bow down to lists and desires. I’m as guilty of this as anyone else.

But God isn’t rushing.

God isn’t frantic.

Yes, God is working. He is working every moment. Yes, God is moving. He is moving in people’s lives every second of everyday.

But God is not rushing.

God was never rushing. He is outside of time. He isn’t confined by it. We rush. He works in the best time.

I recently re-read the story of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead in John 11. Verse 5 stopped me in my tracks for a moment.

“Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. 6 So, when he heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was.”

John 11:5 (ESV)

At first glance, this verse doesn’t make a lot of sense. When a dear friend or family member is on death’s doorstep, we (rightfully and understandably) rush to their side if it is at all humanly possible. In this scenario, though, Jesus stayed where He was for two days. He didn’t do this out of apathy or selfishness. He did this because He loved Mary and Martha and by Him staying where He was for a couple days, God would receive greater glory.

In those two days, Lazarus died. His family and friends grieved and were hopeless. But that isn’t the end of the story.

Jesus arrives and sees Mary, Martha, and the others mourning. He asks where they have laid Lazarus and He goes to that place. He asks for the stone to be rolled away, which sounds crazy to all the mourners as the stench of a decaying body is strong. They do as He says though and Jesus calls Lazarus out of the tomb. Lazarus comes back to life. Hope is restored. God is glorified. And perhaps the faith of those involved grew.

Had Jesus rushed to Lazarus and healed him of his illness immediately, none of those things would have happened.

This story is one of countless examples both from the Bible and the lives of believers shows that God’s timing is perfect. His timing is sometimes (often times) a bit different from our own. Sometimes He seems painfully slow or perhaps even absent. But He is faithful. He knows how to use time in our lives to grow us in faith and to sanctify us. God isn’t confined by time but He uses it as a tool for our good and His glory.

This is something I have been struggling with. I have begged God to change certain things in my life and my growth in Him feels agonizingly slow. I want things to change with the flick of a switch. I want a painless healing. I want painless change. God is capable of that. He is capable of all things. But true growth and change don’t happen without time and sometimes pain. Instead of instant gratification for my desperate pleas, God tells me two things that I don’t really want to hear but that I need to hear:

  1. “Be still, and know that I am God…” (Psalm 46:10)
  2. “…He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” (Philippians 1:6)

In all my worries and anxieties, in all my rushing to be good at things and succeed at work and in life, God says to be still. Stop. Slow down. Don’t rush. Know that God is here and God is in control. I may not know how many days I have and it may feel like a race against the clock for me, but God knows how many days I have and what it will take to fully sanctify me. He will bring the good work He began in me to completion – not in my time, but in His.

And while my tenancy is to rush, it’s great news to hear that God doesn’t rush. For when an artist rushes, the work of art rarely comes out well. Rushing rarely produces quality. We are God’s creation, creations being created, His masterpieces. As a dedicated Creator, He takes His time and skillfully molds us. We just have to be still and trust His promises.

Digging a Deeper Hole

Digging a Deeper Hole

Last night, someone lost control of his truck, hit (and broke) the curb on one end of my family’s property, ripped a street sign out of the ground, knocked out a mailbox, spun back into the road and ended up in a large shrubbery on the other end of the property, with one of the back wheels thrown several yards away. After hearing the thuds and burning rubber, I looked out my window to see the driver frantically trying to drive out of the bush and the hole he was in. He kept pressing down on the gas multiple times. The engine revved up and dirt flew into the sky. His efforts to drive away only deepened the hole that his remaining back wheel was in. He dug himself into a deeper hole.

When he realized that there was no hope of driving out of this predicament, he ran away on foot, thus digging himself into an even deeper hole, this time with the law. He ran fast and managed to get quite far away, but he was no match for a K-9 unit hot in pursuit of his scent. Fleeing the scene of a crime and trying to hide only adds another charge against him. He dug himself into a deeper legal hole.

Thankfully, no one was seriously hurt. This story could have had many other horrific endings for the driver, other drivers, my family or the neighbor’s family. We are very thankful about that.

Once the tow truck finally got the truck out of the shrubbery and the police left, a humbling thought came to me. How many times am I like the driver? How many times to I find myself in some sort of struggle or sin and keep frantically trying the same thing over and over again trying to escape? How many times do I try to “pull myself up by my own bootstraps?” How many times do I reply on my sheer willpower? And when I finally give up trying and trying and trying to fix the problem myself, how often do I run away? How often do I try to hide from all the shame? How many times do I dig myself into deeper holes?

The answer: more times than I’d care to admit. My tenancies are exactly like those of this driver. I try to fix my problems myself and when I finally give up on that, I try to run.

Sure, sometimes I try good deeds. But those deeds are often ruined by the stench of ulterior motives. Sometimes I try to just ignore the problem. But my mind always returns to it like a dog to its own vomit. Sometimes I try to rationalize and say my sin isn’t so bad. But the truth is that my hands are covered in blood and nothing I can do will wash me clean.

No matter how much work I do or willpower I have, I cannot overcome my sin. It is too strong and too powerful a foe. It is deeply ingrained in me. Sure, I can run, but my weary legs will only take me so far. My only hope is surrendering to God and believing in Jesus as my Lord and Savior.

“For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith.”

(1 John 5:4)

Of course, surrender isn’t easy. Even though I know that God knows all, it’s hard for me to admit things to Him and to just sit in His presence. It’s even harder to follow Him when He leads to tough conversations and situations. It’s also hard to admit my struggles with anyone around me, even those who seemingly want to help me. That has been especially evident the past few weeks. I know I’m not meant to carry my struggles alone but more times than not, I try to.

I keep digging myself into deeper holes of guilt, shame, fear, pain, and sin.

Thankfully, God didn’t and doesn’t and will not leave me in a hole. He doesn’t come after me in order to punish me but rather to rescue me. He takes my grimy rags and gives me new clothes. He works in me. He sanctifies me. He is patient with me. He lavishes me with His incredible love. And He is faithful to me.

“And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.”

(Philippians 1:6)

My tenancy may be to dig myself into deeper holes, but thanks be to God, that is not the entire story.

The Circle & The Tangent Line

The Circle & The Line (2)

I’m tired of running in circles,
But afraid of running a tangent line.

In the circle, I find my comfortable masks that I know too well,
But on the line there is no room for façades, only authenticity.

In the circle, there are lies and warped truths to lull me to fitful sleep,
But on the line there is truth and rest and life.

In the circle, there is no true, permanent hope,
But on the line there is hope that doesn’t put the holder to shame.

In the circle, there are chains to hold me down and keep me spinning,
But on the line, I am free and the one who Christ sets free is free indeed.

I’ve ridden the circle many times, more than I can count.
But I long to walk the narrow line with my Savior.

My feet are inclined to turn and walk the curves,
I’m dizzy from the circle and cannot always stand.

In the circle, I ran alone, desperate and tired.
But on the line, I do not walk by myself.

In the circle, I relied on my own strength,
But on the line, my Savior steadies me and keeps me from a deadly fall.

In the circle, I followed a predictable cycle,
But on the line I walk in sweet, pure freedom.

I have run in circles all my life long,
But now I want to walk the line.

Lessons From the Garden | The Sensitive Plant

Lessons from the Garden_ The Sensitive Plant

I’m a firm believer that the natural world around us can show us things of God’s character and give us important reminders as we journey through this life. After all, He is the creator of it all. Art reflects the artist. We just have to open our eyes and pay attention.

Where I work, we have several gardens and probably a couple hundred different flowers, vegetables, herbs, etc. There is one particular plant that has fascinated me ever since a co-worker showed it to me last summer: the sensitive plant, also known as the “shame plant” or “shy plant.” It gets its name from the fact that when you touch it, it immediately folds inward and droops on the ground, as the picture below shows. In a few minutes, it starts to perk up again and soon, it is as if it never drooped at all!

Sensitive Plant

Sometimes life’s circumstances seem like a sudden punch to the gut. Sometimes we crash and burn. Sometimes our faith falters. Sometimes our situations look hopeless. We may turn inward. We may see our lives looking like the shriveled up leaves this plant has when it is touched. Things looks dead and hopeless. But as long as we have breath in our lungs and are still rooted in Jesus like the plant is rooted in the ground, there is hope. Things aren’t always the way they look at first glance.

That’s a frequent theme in scripture and in life. Sometimes our senses and our feelings fail us. They are not 100% accurate. There is always hope even when all seems hopeless. Even on the most hopeless day in history, the day that Jesus died a gruesome death on the cross, there was hope. He came back and will come back again. If Jesus could come back from the grave, then we can know for certain that there is hope in the seemingly hopeless in our lives too.

Of course, it may take exponentially longer to get up than it did to fall down. The same is true with this plant. It folds inward almost immediately upon being touched, but takes five or ten minutes to come back out and face the sun again. It doesn’t happen all at once either. It’s a slow, moment by moment comeback. And that’s the important thing: there is a comeback. One touch from some other force beyond the plant’s control does not keep the plant down. It is resilient. As God’s sojourning children in this world, who do not fight evil forces on our own but with the power of God, we can be resilient too. We do not fight this battle alone. We can and will rise again.

“Rejoice not over me, O my enemy; when I fall, I shall rise; when I sit in darkness, the Lord will be a light to me.”

(Micah 7:8)

 

 

Music Monday | Terminal

A picture of a Meetinghouse steeple and clock

Death is the ever constant elephant in the room. Everyone knows about it, everyone knows it is eventually inevitable, yet rarely does anyone want to think or talk about it. Yet death, as cruel as it is, is a necessity in this world. Everything that is now alive in this world relies on something that died. The plants that sprout from the ground and feed animals and humans grow from the dirt – made of decomposed plants and animals that came before. Even in the new heaven and earth to come, all who live there will be alive because of Jesus’ death on the cross and dying to themselves.

Lately death has been on my mind. Perhaps it is kind of morbid, but it’s hard to not think of it, with all the stories on the news and all the young people I have known to meet untimely ends. Death is prevalent, and it isn’t going away until the day Jesus returns. It’s the elephant in the room we have to address if we want to live this life like the gift that it is. None of us are getting any younger, and none of us know how many days we have left. I’m in my twenties, but I’m just as mortal as anyone in their supposed “sunset” years.

“The doctor says I’m dying
I die a little every day
But he’s got no prescription that could
Take my death away
The doctor says it don’t look so good
It’s terminal.

Some folks die in offices one day at a time
They could live a hundred years
But their soul’s already dead
Don’t let your spirit die before your body does
We’re terminal, we’re terminal.”

“Terminal” – Jon Foreman

Every day is one day closer. And in the mundane tasks of everyday life, it’s easy to forget what a gift this life is. I find it very difficult to remember this as I get caught up in the pressures and stresses at work. Perhaps that’s why the line quoted above about folks dying in offices cuts so deep. Sometimes it feels like I’m wasting precious time, caught up in the drudgery of getting my work done and just surviving. It’s easy to take all the little things – like breath, food, friends, and nature – for granted. It’s easy to lose wonder in the world. It easy to fall to cynicism and frustration. It’s a fight everyday, but I refuse to let my spirit die one day at a time as I go about my work. I want to live for something more. I want to live for Someone more.

Not only that, but I want to live BECAUSE of Someone more, that is, Christ. My hope is that you want this too. And there comes the concept of death yet again. See, in order to be in Christ, one has to die. 2 Corinthians 5:17 says “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” I am alive in Christ.  And I am alive in Christ because of Christ’s death 2,000 years ago. Yet this new, eternal life is currently housed in a mortal shell, a vessel that will die. And even though I have been born again of God, part of the promise is not yet realized and will not be so until the day Jesus returns. As Christians, we live in both the now and the not yet. For now, while we inhabit this world of tension between physical birth and death, so too our souls lives in the tension of being saved yet not fully resurrected.

“We are, we are the living souls
With terminal hearts, terminal parts
Flickering like candles, shimmering like candles
We’re fatally flawed in the image of God.”

“Terminal” – Jon Foreman

We are living souls with terminal bodies. So even as Christians, our physical predicament hasn’t changed. But because of the new life that God has given and because of His promises, we can live this life in our mortal shells with hope and purpose. Because of Christ’s death, we are free to live for and because of God. Because of Christ’s death, we can live this life with hope and with longing for a world we have not yet seen. Because of our own eventual deaths, we can live this life like the gift it truly is. We can flicker and shimmer like candles, shining a light in a world that is so dark.

As we shine our light and acknowledge our own mortality, it also behooves us to take a breath, take a step back, and treat our fellow eternal souls in mortal bodies with decency and respect. While we may be different in looks, skills, status, or reputation, one thing is the same across the board – we are all dying. All of us face that predicament.

“Whenever I start cursing at the traffic or the phone
I remind myself that we have all got cancer in our bones
Don’t yell at the dead, show a little respect
It’s terminal, it’s terminal.”

“Terminal” – Jon Foreman

Everyone has some baggage they are carrying, even if it’s not easily noticeable.  Knowing that everyone is dealing with something, whether it is grief, physical illness, emotional problems, financial instability, etc., we ought to show love towards all, just as our Savior did. Getting mad about someone cutting you off on the highway isn’t going to do anything good for you or them. On your deathbed, you won’t care about that sort of thing. So let’s be slow to anger, quick to love, and willing to serve our fellow mortal beings. We’re all terminal, but for the time being, we can shine like candles, helping illuminate a dark world with the hope and love.

 

The Potter and the Clay

But now, O Lord, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand.

I know the clay has no right to say
Why the Potter shaped it some particular way.

Yet I cannot help but wonder
And so, I sit, I cry, I question, I ponder…

Why did the Potter make me so–

Prone to anxiety,
Easily swept by pride,
Overcome with feelings so deep,
So shy and awkward,
And easily afraid?

Quickly jealous,
Painfully indecisive,
Susceptible to crippling doubts,
Often impatient,
And lonely?

My hope is that these things aren’t me.
That these things are not the end of the story He wrote for me.

That these things may somehow be used to glorify Him,
As he skillfully shapes this lump of clay with a plan and not on some whim.

That He won’t abandon this mess I’m in,
And that He sees a brighter future, not just where I’ve been.

That His hands will shape, trim, and cut when needed,
And that He won’t leave me uncompleted.

That I will not be burned up in that fiery kiln,
But that he will take away all my burdens and sin within.

That the vessel that comes out is beautiful and purposeful,
Pointing to the Maker and His grace so bountiful.

That I am a creation being created,
Now and for all my days that He allocated.

pottery process

Music Monday | Polaris

Music Monday | Polaris by Remedy Drive

The world seems rather bleak these days. Somewhat ironically, the bright screens we hold at our fingertips scream of the darkness that covers the world – the corruption, injustice, greed, pain, sorrow, violence, suffering, and death that surround us. Whatever stories make the news, these are only the tips of the immense icebergs of human suffering. Still, these stories alone are overwhelming. There is so much pain, so much misery, so much darkness in this world. It’s easy to feel helpless. It’s easy to think that our individual actions are meaningless. It’s easy to crawl under the covers in a comfortable bed of apathy.

As Christians, we know that God is a just God. We know that He will make all right on a glorious day to come. This knowledge doesn’t give us an excuse to not act though. God beckons us to get up and follow Him. He calls us to love our neighbors and our enemies; to seek justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God; to love others as He has loved us. God is the Light of the world, and as His children, we are to let our light shine in this world of darkness too. But what can one person do in a world of immeasurable suffering and seemingly infinite darkness?

A lantern on a dark nightOne person can have more impact than you think. Think about a flickering candle flame. In a dark room, this little flame stands out. It pierces the darkness. It lights up its immediate surroundings. No longer is the entire room shrouded in darkness. It makes a difference in its own once dark corner. Add some more lit candles, and the whole room will be illuminated. We are each a candle in this world. Each of us can shine a light and make a difference where we have been placed. An ordinary white wax candlestick can be a light just like a fancy scented candle in a jar. Regardless of who we are or where we are, we can be a light. And just as one flame can light many others, they same may indeed be true for us. One flame can become so much more.

This thought is echoed by the lyrics of “Polaris” by Remedy Drive on their latest album, The North Star. One particular part of the song immediately stood out to me:

“Stay strong, be brave
Ripples turn to tidal waves
Don’t you know?
You use your pen when you don’t have a sword
You’ve got your fingertips on the keyboard
And you’ve got the sphere of your influence
Nobody else has got your fingerprints”

“Polaris” – Remedy Drive

Just like one flame can light many others and light up a room, a ripple action can turn into a tidal wave movement. One action can spur others. A group of people working towards something can have a monumental impact. That’s how abolition, women’s suffrage, and the outlawing of child labor happened in the United States. We’ve made some progress, but there are still many miles to go – both here in the United States and around the world. But we also don’t go alone; we follow a God of justice, mercy, and power who goes before us.

This God that we follow has also made us unique – with our own fingerprints and skill sets. We were made in the image of an amazing creator, and we have been given creative impulses. Creativity takes infinite forms such as painting, music, engineering, writing, teaching, and more. Our creative impulses are diverse. The important thing is to use the talents, skills, and ideas that God gives us for good in this world and the furtherance of His kingdom. One person may use their pen as a sword and write speeches, songs, and poems to spread awareness of an issue and to give hope. Another person may engineer a system to provide clean water to a community. Someone else might teach others new skills and foster the ones their students already possess. Another may rescue and counsel a victim of abuse. Yet another may work to find the right remedies to heal wounds and illnesses. An ordinary person in any vocation can do something to love, serve, and help other people.

Let our prayer be that God would help us use whatever talents, interests, and resources we have to shine His light ever more brightly in this dark world. May we not waste our lives asleep in apathy, but rather face the darkness knowing that we don’t do it alone. May we be the hands and feet of Jesus in a world that desperately needs His grace and mercy. May we let our light shine as long as there is breath in our lungs. After all, ripples can and will turn to tidal waves.

Now and Not Yet

Now and Not Yet - Crocuses & Spring

Ask any New Englander how they feel about the weather right now, and they’ll probably grumble about the April snow showers and the cold temperatures. Winter has lasted a long time, and we’re ready for sunny skies and warmer temperatures. We’re ready for spring. The weather just hasn’t caught up yet.

But the signs of spring are there. Indeed – spring is here – though it may only be in the early stages right now. At work, the crocuses are blooming amidst the shriveled up remains of last year’s gardens. New life is springing forth from the dust.

2 Corinthians 5:17 says:

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.”

I don’t know about you, but sometimes I really don’t feel like a new creation. The reminders of past sins come and haunt me. The baggage of my guilt and shame sometimes weigh down on me. The doubts and fears creep in and threaten to steal what God has given. Some days I want to just throw in the towel. Some days it seems that hope is far off. Some days it seems like the chains of yesterday will never fall completely.

But that’s not the full story. I am in Christ, and therefore I am a new creation. But I am a new creation also in the process of being recreated. I am saved, but I am still being sanctified. Jesus has won the war, but there are still battles to fight. The kingdom of God is at hand, but it is also not yet. God’s promises are both now and some time in the future. The winter is over, and spring is here, but spring is also still coming.

A crocus in spring