valentines and ashes

I am not Catholic, but I do realize that today is the celebration of both Ash Wednesday and Valentine’s Day. It seems there would not be two days more diametrically opposed. Do we focus on flowers and romance, or ashes and sorrow? Do we repent, prostrate in the dirt, or leap joyfully in shameless celebration of love?

Or perhaps we really do not fully understand the mystery of this question: Is there a convergence of the two, a romance inculcated by the act of prostrating in ash?

Are we able to focus on the romance of surrender, of humility, of recognizing we are butheart tree dust? It is a beautiful thing to be prostrate before the King, who desires our beauty, who gives “beauty for ashes.” So ashes can be romantic; our humanity, while humble and broken, is lovely.

To recognize that we are but dust, deserving of nothing, is a romantic and beautiful posture.
For, “…on this one will I look, one humble and of a contrite spirit, who trembles at My word” (Isaiah 66:2). We tremble with the understanding of His greatness and our unworthiness, yes; He is infinite and immense, and we are finite and puny, yes; so we tremble and fear before the Eternal and Holy, the Fire whom we cannot begin to comprehend; yet we also tremble with lover’s passion, engulfed by the searing flame of our Lover who draws us irresistibly into intimacy and incandescent communion.

Capture our hearts, Lover of our souls. “Set me like a seal over your heart, like a seal on your arm. For love is as strong as death….” (Song of Songs 8:6). There is a passionate jealousy and beauty resplendent in our ashes. From them, Yeshua will receive glory; our bodies—which came from dust and will return to dust—He has formed to be a container for His presence, a sacred temple on this earth, the pinnacle of creation.

So we, your people throughout history, are created into beautiful majesty from the ashes of our failure, as we reach upward in hope and are enlivened and recreated by your kiss, the breath of life. As we approach you, marked with humility, you make us glorious in your palace.

Advertisements

he gives us pure oil

This evening begins the celebration of Hanukkah with the lighting of the first of eight candles. The miracle that occurred over 2200 years ago is a picture of the light that has illuminated our hearts—a light of purity and a light of the miraculous.

We pray as Paul did in Ephesians 1:18; that the eyes of our hearts would be enlightened—“filled with light”—that we would know the hope of His calling and His glorious inheritance in us, and that we would understand the greatness of His power to us who believe. This power is like the mighty strength He exercised when He raised Jesus from the dead and seated Him at the right hand of the Father (Ephesians 1:19-20).

This is a work of grace in our hearts and our lives. It is our Lord’s mighty power at work in us. We don’t earn it; we don’t cause it to come to us through effort. We posture ourselves humbly; yielding, trusting, believing that He is true and faithful, and that His Word is true. He will fulfill His purposes and promises in our lives. He is the Alpha and Omega—the beginning and end, the initiator and perfecter of our faith (Revelation 1:8; 22:13; Isaiah 44:6; Hebrews 12:2).

He faithfully began a good work in us, and He will be faithful to complete it until the day of Christ Jesus (Philippians 1:6). This work unites us with our Bridegroom, creating worship and faithfulness within our hearts, that we would be the “five wise virgins” with our lamps full of oil (Matthew 25:1-13), purified by the Holy Spirit, watching with the eyes of our hearts wide open and full of light.

The darkness of our present age is no match for the burning devotion—fueled by pure oil—that the Lord Himself is producing in His family.  Just as the Maccabees refused idol worship and refused to be intimidated by the enemies of God, so we too enter the temple of the Lord to worship, to set aright those things that have been displaced, and to receive a miracle of power and devotion placed within our hearts by the One who performs miracles.

We need the oil of the Holy Spirit within us to keep our light burning in the night season until the return of our Bridegroom. His truth shines more purely and brightly within our hearts, and the light we release to others—bringing the light of hope to their darkness—will continue to grow in authority and power as we have yielded and find ourselves united in one spirit with the Lord.

This will display the true light that lights every man (John 1:9) and will release the power of the Holy One to restore us, our families, and our lands.

 

love casts out fear

Silent night, holy night!
Son of God, love’s pure light.

Radiant beams from Thy holy face
with the dawn of redeeming grace.
Jesus, Lord at Thy birth,
Jesus, Lord at Thy birth!
(“Silent Night”)

Into a world crushed under excessive burdens of hatred, fear, deceit, and shame, Jesus was born to testify to the truth of God, and to offer Himself as a sacrifice for sin. Scripture tells us that in Jesus the Messiah, God was reconciling the world to Himself, not counting people’s sins against them. This is magnificent news to all who are weary and troubled and fearful.

There is no fear in love. but perfect love drives out fear….
(1 John 4:18).

This truth is a beacon of hope; radiant energy piercing the darkness of the prevailing spirit of the age. Our world is energized by agitation. Human leaders achieve power using threats and dire warnings of punishment or chaos. When people are afraid, they make poor choices and are easily manipulated. But the child of God, redeemed by the blood of Jesus, does not need to fear the world or the systems and powers of the world. God is greater by far than every earthly authority and every dark demonic host.

This is not a time for us to be swayed by the narrative of our culture and live in fear. For us who know His love, He makes all things work together for our good. For those who have not yet come to the realization of His kindness, He is reaching always with mercy, proclaiming that now is the chosen time, now is the day of salvation.

We can fully trust our Lord and His love for us. We belong to this One who shone with purity of love, given as a gift of grace. And because we are His, we are given the gift of His great love in our hearts. As we respond to that love, as we love Him and love one another, we shine like the radiant beams from His face. We can be bright outposts of hope for the people living in darkness.

For it is you who light my lamp;
the LORD my God lightens my darkness. 
(Psalm 18:28).

Jesus is the Light of the world, and those with eyes to see will bow and worship Him in joyful adoration.  He was Lord at His birth; He has been Lord from ageless eternity; He will forever be Lord of all. Christmas is a season of holy light; a season of holy giving; a season of holy reflection; a season of joyous, holy love.

What better time than the season of light to proclaim the truth of the Son of God, love’s pure light? The Light of the world has dawned upon us, and in the illumination of His love, we can journey unafraid, our hearts filled with joy.

genuine value

Everybody wants to be somebody.

We desire significance. We want to be recognized; we want to be known; we want to be loved. We want to be important. This cry for value and dignity bubbles from caverns deep in every human heart. If we are truly to be whole people, we must understand our honest need.

We are not random collections of organic molecules that happened to develop consciousness; so our desire for esteem is part of our very nature, and it is good. But our consumption-obsessed society tells us we aren’t quite good enough. Make yourself better-looking, get more money, acquire more stuff; then you’ll be fulfilled and achieve real success. We desire outward signs to display our preeminence.

Unfortunately, when we seek at any cost to be important in the eyes of others, it is easy to lose sight of the beauty to be found in another person. We are too busy accomplishing great and mighty deeds. The world’s attitude is summed up in the famous line from Gilbert & Sullivan: “When everyone is somebody, then no one’s anybody” (The Gondoliers).

But our Father turns that on its head, because in His great heart, everyone is somebody, and no one’s nobody!

As I have written elsewhere, when we lose ourselves in Him and His desire and purpose, we become more ourselves than we ever can apart from His will. But when we let rightful desires within us run wild and unchecked, they turn into cravings; and cravings, unchallenged, turn into addictions.

My craving for significance is calmed by realizing that it can never be fulfilled by another human, and it cannot be pacified even if I “improve myself.” My heart is at peace when I realize the truth that Yeshua, the Creator and King of the universe, “greatly desires my beauty” (Psalm 45:11). He is the one who created me, created you, created everyone who lives, and He has placed within each of us a tiny expression of His glory.

Somehow, although none of us can really understand it, the eternal tabernacles in the temporal.

So, why do I crave recognition from any person? If I spend my time and energy trying to receive honor from people instead of God alone, it short-circuits my faith and my ability to live truly as I was meant to.

During one of His encounters with leaders in Jerusalem, Jesus issued this stinging rebuke:

I do not accept glory from men, but I know you, that you do not have the love of God in yourselves….How can you believe, when you receive glory from one another and you do not seek the glory that comes from God alone? (John 5:41-42, 44 TLV).

If I scurry about seeking approval from others, I miss intimacy with the one true Source of life who alone can validate my existence. Connected with Him, I have the courage to live selflessly, full of love for others, desiring their good and being willing to pour out my life for them, as Yeshua poured out His life for me.

I will also find myself free to seek first His kingdom and His righteousness.

consummation

“I would have all of thee.”

Yes. You would have all of me—

in fiery love, You would possess me,
Your candescent beauty would enflame me,

and I yield, yet I am not consumed;

my guttered passion fanned by holy wind
and upward dancing,

I am burning, breath to breath with desire eternal.

And I know that You will ravish me;
that I—

dulled to glories yet unseen;
drinking from defiled streams;
astray from beauty’s pasture green—

will find my purity in Thee.

 

 

thirty-four years of beauty

(This is adapted from a post I wrote a few years ago for my precious wife on our anniversary)

I write with grateful joy today, because it is my wedding anniversary. Thirty-four years ago this day, a wonderful, loving, gentle, luminous, alluring young woman and I exchanged vows before God and family and friends, and our pastor announced we were married.Marriage is exciting and infuriating and joyous and frightening and challenging and wondrous and weird and astonishing. It is a great adventure; it is a comforting and joyous sharing of life; it is two unique individuals daily learning to become—in profoundly mysterious union—“one flesh.”  Marriage is an earthly picture of the love Christ shares with his Church.

I have learned how to be more like Jesus, and how to truly be a man, by sharing this journey with the finest woman I have ever known.

The last chapter of the biblical book of Proverbs contains this question: “A capable, intelligent and virtuous woman, who is he who can find her?”

I can answer. I found Kathi.

My feelings for her today are elegantly expressed in the lyrics to a beautiful song performed by Steven Curtis Chapman titled “We Will Dance”:

I’ve watched the sunrise in your eyes
And I’ve seen the tears fall like the rain
You’ve seen me fight so brave and strong
You’ve held my hand when I’m afraid

We’ve watched the seasons come and go
We’ll see them come and go again
But in winter’s chill, or summer’s breeze
One thing will not be changin’

We will dance
When the sun is shining; in the pouring rain
We’ll spin and we’ll sway
And we will dance
When the gentle breeze becomes a hurricane
The music will play
And I’ll take your hand and hold you close to me
And we will dance

Sometimes it’s hard to hold you tight
Sometimes we feel so far apart
Sometimes we dance as one
And feel the beating of each other’s heart

Some days the dance is slow and sweet
Some days we’re bouncing off the walls
But no matter how this world may turn
Our love will keep us from falling

And we will dance
When the sun is shining; in the pouring rain
We’ll spin and we’ll sway
And we will dance
When the gentle breeze becomes a hurricane
The music will play
And I’ll take your hand and hold you close to me
And we will dance

The music will play
And I’ll hold you close and I won’t let go
Even when our steps grow weak and slow
Still I’ll take your hand and hold you close to me
And we will dance

Thank you, my beloved, for all the years of dancing.

Dancing

 

God’s name is not harvey

A few days ago I read a grimly humorous story about a family who posted a message on social media, “Good news! We are OK,” to which a friend wearily replied “I’m sorry, remind me: which disaster are you in?”

The level of destruction due to natural—and man-made—catastrophes we have recently been witnessing is heartbreaking. We all want to do everything we can to help and to ease people’s suffering.

Many Christians are deeply troubled and fearful in the midst of such chaos, and unfortunately, we have seen much conflict and animosity occurring as people entrench themselves into opposing viewpoints, vehemently arguing their case as to the cause behind all the trouble. Some claim the disasters are judgments from God; others react against this, questioning why God would judge one place and not another; and still others try to walk a middle road, claiming that God is merciful, but there are times He does need to judge and we can’t always understand His ways.

These pronouncements and opinions miss the point.

In Luke 13, we read that Jesus was told about a group of Galileans who had been cruelly killed by Pilate. He gave a response that, at first glance, almost seems evasive, but it actually gives us an enlightened perspective:

And Jesus answered and said to them, “Do you suppose that these Galileans were worse sinners than all other Galileans, because they suffered such things?  I tell you, no; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish. Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them, do you think that they were worse sinners than all other men who dwelt in Jerusalem?  I tell you, no; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish.” (Luke 13:2-5)

The Lord had just been discussing the importance of discerning the signs of the times when someone piped up with the account of the slaughtered Galileans, probably with the intent of receiving a response about judgment and retribution. But Jesus clearly pointed out that these events were not direct examples of heaven’s judgment upon wicked people. As He often did, He changed the focus of the question back upon an individual’s responsibility to live in right relationship with God.

So, as we ponder and pray our way through the turmoil and chaos, and wade through all the declarations of doom from self-proclaimed prophets—and the resulting hurt and angry protestations from individuals offended by what they perceive as heartlessness—there are a number of factors to consider.

We understand that God is sovereign; everything that exists belongs to Him. He reserves to Himself the ultimate authority to judge every individual, every people group, every nation. There is a coming Day when the present age will be consummated, and the secrets of every heart will be revealed. In that Day, we will all stand naked before the holy One who sits upon the glorious throne, judging with perfect justice.

It is important to recognize that God has a controversy against every nation (Jer. 25:31, Hosea 4:1), so we are to seek Him for wisdom and guidance as to how we should pray, and not automatically declare “This particular occurrence is a judgment of God upon this particular people at this particular time.” The great truth, and great hope for us, is that God desires all men to be saved. His heart is always reaching for mankind with good-will and kindness. Jesus did not come to condemn the world, but to save it. He said if we believe in the Son we are not judged; if we do not believe, we are judged already (John 3:16-19); and it is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God if we refuse His grace (Hebrews 10:31). But for us who have been justified, the hands of God are a refuge of strength and comfort and mercy, for we have been tenderly engraved upon them (Isaiah 49:16; John 20:24-29).

We also recognize that at this present time, Scripture teaches that all creation groans and convulses as a woman laboring in childbirth, desperate for the full manifestations of the sons of God (Romans 8:22). It is irresponsible and naïve for us to ignore our own complicity in the convulsions of creation due to sin. Our planet groans and aches with longing for us to fully take our place in righteous stewardship, properly managing our Lord’s good gifts, because then creation itself will be delivered from its bondage to corruption into the glorious liberty that awaits us (Romans 8:21).

So, when we see tragedy strike, it is helpful and right that we humble ourselves and confess our sins—not in morbid introspection, but in humility like Daniel, identifying ourselves with the failings of our people and our nation. As we repent, we also respond with gratitude and worship for God’s great kindness and goodness. We have freely received, so we freely release blessing and life over our nation, proclaiming mercy and healing into every heart and every situation. As children of the great King, ambassadors of His grace, it is our mandate to bless and not curse. We are to be blameless and pure so that we shine as lights in the midst of a warped and perverse generation (Ph. 2:15).

So, do not feel as though you must take sides about “why” tragedies occur. Frankly, there are many “whys” we all must face that do not have completely satisfying answers. But it is vital that we keep as our foundation the clear teaching of Scripture that our Lord is good, and He expresses that goodness to all He has made! At the birth of our Savior, the sky exploded with brilliance as angelic hosts proclaimed the kind intentions of our eternal Creator: “…peace on earth, goodwill toward men….”

We honor our Father when we trust Him. We do not bury our heads in the sand and refuse to face reality; rather, we courageously and boldly live lives of hope and trust in the face of dark trouble and wickedness, knowing that the God of all the earth will do justly.

We are assured that the time is coming when He will wipe every tear from our eyes, and His dwelling will be with us eternally. There will be no sorrow, or sickness, or fear, or pain.

All will be as our God desires. Behold, He makes all things new.