The Wisdom of the Wise Men

Usually, as Christmas approaches, I feel this season speeding by me at hyper-speed, and I must some how hit the breaks and bring it to a slow crawl, or I will miss the glory of it all. This year I thought “What better way to slow the season than to muse on the Story and write about it?” because that’s what people who love to write do… they write. And if you think all my writing is for someone else’s benefit, is that why you exercise your gifts? Or do they nourish your own soul, as well? Because I almost can’t think without writing.

This year, I keep contemplating the Magi. I usually read Luke’s account, which fails to mention them, yet Matthew spends more time discussing these wise me than he does the actual birth of Christ! (P.S. Never in Scripture does it say there were only three of them). It is commonly believed that they came from Persia, but I heard a solid argument for them having come from the southern tip of the Arabian Peninsula. According to patheos.com “The Kingdom of Sheba therefore grew rich on these three unusual, rare and precious commodities: gold, frankincense and myrrh… they were seen not only as rich gifts, but a sort of diplomatic gift–kings bringing the best produce and commodities from their own country in homage to a neighboring king.” I believe the common argument for Persia is that Daniel would have studied astronomy, and left a legacy in his wake of spiritual wisdom and a knowledge of the stars. He was also a prophet. I believe the word “magi” was most commonly used in Persia, as well, yet it was not only used there.

Either way, as the crow flies (or an eagle, or whatever bird is most enduring of really long flights), it would be around 1,400 miles. Taking the journey by foot (or trade route) would add a significant amount of miles to the trip. These wise men were committed. They were on a mission. And let’s not forget they were on foot (or perhaps camel). They knew they were en route to see a king who was significant enough for God to make a monument of celestial majesty to commemorate His’ birth.

I can only imagine their campfire conversations, their anticipation, their joy… and their bewilderment when the king they were coming to see was the toddler of two inexperienced and impoverished teenagers (it is commonly believed Mary was only fourteen or fifteen when she became pregnant, and I’ve never heard any insight into Joseph’s age).

Yet these wise mens’ faith never seems to falter, even when the religious leaders of Israel (the Jewish “pastors” in Jesus’ day) were dead-set on believing that their Messiah would come in the form of an earthly king (and thus miss the saving grace of Jesus). These Magi, who have studied much and hoped with longing that they should see Him in their day, are full of courage, insight, and a sense of triumph, as they approach the small child and lay their three gifts before Him and his parents.

There is so much I’d like to write about these wise men, and I will have to break it down into a few blog posts, because no one would read this if it were as long as it would be, should I say everything I want to say. But for now, this is what I’d like to share…

The Magi truly were wise. Here is what I notice in them that both gave and reflects their wisdom. First of all, they studied. They knew what to look for, and when it manifest I’m certain they were stunned, yet they knew to watch the horizon expectantly. Those of us who have been studying the Bible feel the same about the second coming of Christ. We know to watch the horizon. We will be exuberantly surprised if we suddenly hear a heavenly trumpet blast and see the King Immortal descending… yet we will not be so surprised that we miss the Majesty of it all. We read the signs of the times and notice that these things may be speedily upon us. A wise friend of mine, who is in her 80’s, told me a few months ago that she never thought she’d see Christ’s return in her lifetime, but now she thinks she just might. She’s in her 80’s! I feel the same way. There is an undercurrent in 2020 that only those of us who have been digging into the Bible can see or feel, but gives us all a sense of anticipation over what may just be on the other side of the horizon. Jesus may very well be just about to return, folks! If you do know Him, let that truth overshadow all your fears, doubts, and frustrations about turmoil in the world. If you don’t, it’s time to surrender and make amends with Your Maker. He already did His part. Time for you to do your’s.

These Magi knew that their lives were meant for more Glory than this world could ever promise. When the time came to pack their camels and hike their robes, they happily left their lives behind and sojourned for countless months, not knowing where they might end up or how long it may take. But the joy set before them eclipsed the relinquishment of what lie behind, or the personal cost. Nothing in this world mattered more than following that star, because they knew where it would lead them. They had studied. This is how I feel about heaven.

In my studying of Scripture, I also recognize that there is great pain for humanity in the time leading up to Christ’s return. Many will not endure it. I pray for endurance for me and my posse. The hope that gives me courage to endure is that I am not made for this world. There is another, higher Place, that is radiantly, blissfully glorious, and incomprehensibly beautiful. A place where the King of Glory dwells forever, and invites me as a bride to a wedding feast. Jesus, my Beloved, is there, and it’s where my heart longs for. The Magi wanted to see Jesus more than anything in this whole, wide world, and I do to. The pain and travail of getting there seems petty in contrast to the blessing. “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” (Romans 8:18). Because I have glimpsed a tiny view of heaven, through reading the Bible, I know where I am headed, and it overshadows all the pains of earth.

Finally, these Magi were prepared. They knew these things may not take place in their lifetime… but they also knew they might. This begs the question, “Are you ready?” Are you ready for Christ’s return? Are you ready to endure any suffering that may lie between here and there? If not, there is a cross and a Book.

There is a cross-shaped invitation into the Kingdom of heaven, and it is an open-invite to all, especially those who recognize their own brokenness and need. So often we think our sins disqualify us from the Kingdom of heaven, when God actually uses those things as an invitation. It’s the ones who think they are too good for such a handout, who ended up missing the boat. We need a Savior. A Messiah.

If you are a Christian, but you just keep hoping the world’s going to get better, your hope is ill-placed. There are two things that give me the most hope during hard times. That God is sovereign and God is good. Everything else is like a hill of sand giving way beneath my feet. But those truths are bedrock. No matter what happens, God is sovereign and He is good. The world often tries to cloud the vision of that, by throwing hard circumstances our way. We lose a spouse, a kid, our health, a job, our sanity, our community, and the list goes on. Or maybe our suffering hasn’t manifest, but it is a perceivable threat, like Goliath taunting the nation of Israel, before one teenager showed up with enough faith to slay him with a pebble out of the brook. But there is one thing that endures forever, and it’s the thing my hope always comes back to and is built upon: The Word of God. When I crack open that life-breathing Book, I am reminded over and over again, that no matter what, the sufferings of this present time aren’t even worthy to compare! God really is working it all out for good! The God I worship is the God who takes down giants and nations, in defense of His people… when He sees fit to do so. But He also gives us joy for the journey, and sojourns with us.

To Be Continued…

Space 12/14/20

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The Gift and Glory of Suffering

In a year that feels like a plague, in a season of peri-menopausal flare-ups of deep depression, debilitating internal lies, and fits of unmerited rage, in a moment wafting between a hospital stay and a test to determine, a cloud of anguish lays low. But it’s not for me… or the state of the world. It’s for a friend, whose precious, beloved husband is on a ventilator out of reach, in a medically induced coma fighting for his life.

I haven’t stopped thinking of her. Or him. Or them. I almost feel guilty with my healthy, loving husband, who I probably deserve much less than she does. She lays her head to rest every night on a pillow next to his empty one, wishing now more than ever for the comfort of her best friend’s hand resting in her’s. I am undone by her pain. I wake up thinking of her, and fall asleep thinking of her, and begging for it all to just go away.

Then I crack the Book. Something about opening the Bible seems to cast all of life in a proper perspective. I am reminded that the best of Christians have endured suffering. There is something so shallow in the soul before we have to get gritty with our pain. I was reading through old journals recently, and was stunned at the brutal wrestlings of my prayers towards God. We were in a season of endure great emotional abuse from someone who should have been supporting and protecting us. Over and over again, I saw the scratched out pen markings of a woman who was begging God for a softer heart. Sure, I wanted deliverance from my pain. But what I wanted more was to love. To endure. To bless in return.

Souls like that are forged in fire.

I won’t pretend like I’m always like that. Sometimes I think I used to be more mature than I am now. I hope I’m wrong about that, but who knows. But what I do know is that my soul was made better through that season. In fact, when I reflect on my life, my soul has been made better through every season of suffering. There is a huge part of me that wants deliverance from all I am going through now (especially the peri-menopause), but the deeper, richer part wants holiness instead.

I want so badly for my friend’s husband to miraculously rise up from his hospital bed, get discharged, and come back to full strength immediately. But what I know is that, regardless of how this turns out, God is doing something deep in her soul. He is carving crevices where no one has dared tread for His glory and grace to move deeper, to fill more, to permeate all of her pain and transform it into a place where she knows and treasures her God more than ever before. A place of intimacy with her eternal Best Friend!

Something about suffering makes the soul weather like the erosion of a canyon. It becomes deeper and more beautiful through the friction. “It is good for me that I was afflicted, that I may learn Your statutes” (Ps. 119:71).

Even if I don’t believe it at the time, there’s always the Scripture to tell me what’s true despite my feelings. “This is my comfort in my affliction, That Your word has revived me” (Ps. 119:50).

So, for anyone going through something hard (which is pretty much all of us this year!), all I can say is “Cling to Jesus! He makes it all purposeful and glorious for His beloved ones.”

Space 11/28/20

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Pandemic Thanksgiving

This has long been my family’s favorite holiday (and honestly, even though it will only be the second time ever that we celebrate with just our kids, and this time only 2/3 of them, it’s still my favorite).

This year has been about stripping us down to what matters most. We were stripped of busyness, entertainment, even companionship. And I won’t pretend that community isn’t a need. Reflecting on the origins of Thanksgiving, it was about the harvest, and about the dependent gratefulness that the Pilgrims felt towards the Native Americans, as far as I understand.

But this year many of us are navigating a lonely Thanksgiving.

I opened this blog this morning to remind us of what really matters. Thanks-giving. Giving thanks. At the core, this is my favorite holiday, because it is a celebration of the greatest despondence-crushing, pessimism-overturning, inward-turning (which is really a self-sabotaging) remedy of all- The Giving of Thanks!

Because of Who my God is (sovereign, triumphant, good, gracious, kind, tender, just, merciful, mighty, lovely…) I can give thanks under all circumstances. Pandemic? Laugh in it’s face, and tell God “thanks”! Health crisis (and the waiting period to find out if I need heart surgery)? Ha! I know my God is working all things out for my good and His’ glory! Loneliness? God is near to the brokenhearted and downcast!

If we drag any of our struggles and plights out into the brilliant Light of the Most High, suddenly they twinkle like diamonds in the sand. Life may be laden with hardships, this year more than ever, but though circumstances change, God never does. He is the same glory and goodness that He’s been every other year.

This year, even though the celebrations may feel pared down to almost nothing, Thanksgiving can be celebrated all the more, because now we don’t have as much chaos and food-comatose to distract us from the core of what matters.

One more thought, I think the longing is supposed to teach us something, as well. The original thanksgiving was about the harvest AND community, and I’m willing to bet those of us who are staying home for Thanksgiving are missing family and friends more than food. This is holy and good. Don’t try to sedate or deny the longing part of your heart until it dies of apathy.

Space 11/26/20

P.S. If you aren’t with them, don’t forget to call your folks!

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Kids: The Cure for Depression

Ever since leaving the hospital, I have been on and off battling some pretty intense depression. I tell you that for two reasons. One, because sometimes it’s good for others to see our weakness, and know their struggles are normal and don’t disqualify any of us from the affections of God. And two, because if you’re the praying type, that’s how you can pray for me (and my family).

A dear friend who I’ve been friends with for about half my lifetime called me today, knowing I was in the thick of some raging emotional turmoil, to pray for me. She asked me what I had to be grateful for right now. My mind immediately went to the kids at my church. I have a pretty special friendship with all of them. In fact, yesterday, on the heels of my hospital stay, some kids and I had a dance party in the back of the church sanctuary.

One girl, who wears her heart on her sleeve, and only hugs people if she really wants to, lights up like a stadium light, flings her arms wide, shouts my name, flies at me with her brilliant, beaming smile, and tackles me with her hugs. Every. Time. I. See. Her. It’s bliss! Another family has three toddlers, who have become dear friends, and shower me with the same affections. I’ve been teaching Sunday School, and seen kids roll in with a chip on the shoulder, and after a few weeks, soften all around the edges and talk freely with joy and peace and easiness of soul. Kids show me the face of God!

Last night, my pastor and another friend (a mom of some of these amazing kids), were joking about whether or not my joy around children is childishness or childlikeness. Suddenly, the mom turned to me and said “The thing is, Space, you dancing in the back… You were doing the thing we all wanted to do, but were too embarrassed to”.

Maybe that’s why we have such a special bond. Because we share a sense of wonder, glee, and a free-spirited willingness to act like goofballs in public.

I remember when I first realized how Jesus felt about kids. About how He basically chewed His disciples out for turning them away, then exalted the kids by telling His disciples they should become like kids if they wanted to enter the kingdom of heaven. Now, obviously, kids still have a sin-nature, and I fully believe kids need disciplined, but I also think they need delighted in. And that we need to lean in, and learn from them.

Kids tend to be the most under-appreciated members of society. They are often treated like burdens, and parents long for the day when their kids become self-sufficient. When I realized how God felt about kids, I began to get at ground level and try to see things from their vantage point. I began to watch and learn and pray about how I was to become like them. I began to see the value of wonder, dependence, and even being a little messy around the edges. Kids don’t polish themselves up and wear masks like grown-ups tend to do. It’s taught me that God is content with me being a little messy around the edges too. He still delights in me when I have mud splattered on my cheeks and grass stains on my knees, or when I am bleeding, wailing and clutching my wounds.

I was at a Nepali orphanage once, with these two little girls both tucked into my arms. They were taking turns planting kisses on my cheeks, and I was taking turns planting them on their’s. Suddenly, it occurred to me that my heart literally felt like exploding in my chest (from joy, not a heart attack). I was overcome with the most jubilant affection for these two little girls who had no mothers of their own to plant their kisses on. As I was confessing to God how I felt like my heart was growing three sizes, He said something like, “And that’s how I feel about you! That’s why I want you to become like a kid. Because kids are more receptive to My affections.”

Now that I think about it, I don’t really know any kids that battle depression (unless they have been through some kind of trauma, or are old enough for their brain to absorb stress). So, maybe there’s something to becoming like them that is also the cure for my depression. Either way, just thinking about our dance party revives my joy! Thank you to all the parents who have let me befriend your awesome kids! They really do show me the face of God, and teach me about how He delights in me!

Space 11/23/20

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A Million Tiny Deaths

A.W. Tozer wrote a small, but mighty book called “The Pursuit of God”, which I am on my fifth-ish time reading. I have a sweet friend, named Alex, who frequents my back porch. We read books together, and then get together about once a week to discuss life’s transformative process, using the book we are reading as a springboard. This past Wednesday, we were discussing my favorite chapter (chapt. 2) of the Pursuit of God. Tozer writes of God calling Abraham to lay his beloved son, as an offering, on the altar. Tozer’s analysis of this hard-pill-of-a-passage is that God’s test of Abraham was meant to remove Isaac from the idolatrous position he held in his father’s heart. As soon as Abraham had proven that he loved God more than his son, the Lord stopped his hand, and provided a substitute sacrifice.

I told Alex that, though God has never called me to do something so extreme, He has beckoned me to a million little deaths. Deaths that would chip away at my the calloused areas of my heart, and bring me into deeper surrender. Times when I was fearful of losing my husband, or sons. Times when I had to have a show-down with those fears, and preach things to my soul that would make it float in the storm. Things that make my soul cling more tightly to heaven, and less to this world.

Two days later, I had to check myself into the hospital for heart attack symptoms.

Just as I was saying good-bye to the kind folks who transported me by ambulance from one hospital to the next, my phone rang. It was my mom. The same mom who knows how the thick the sludge of heart disease runs in my family, and is stuck on the opposite side of the country, petrified of her only daughter having pains symptomatic of a clogged up heart.

She asked me how I was doing. I was stunned by my own joy, and honestly answered her that I was doing fine. I told her plainly, surprising myself at the truth of it, that I am more attached to heaven than earth. I recognize that my life is laid up in heaven with Christ, and all that really matters down here is that I live to the fullness of His’ glory, because that’s all that matters for eternity. If that means having my ribs sawn open, and my heart dissected, then I guess it’ll hurt, but this life isn’t what I’m living for. If that brings God the greatest glory, then so be it. What is this pain but a momentary, light affliction?

And I thought of Joni Earekson Tada, who glorifies God more than just about anyone on this planet, and has been a quadriplegic for around 50 years, and last I heard, was battling cancer, as well.

I realized that all those times when I had a shoot-out with my greatest fears and won, had created spiritual muscles for a time like this. They had taught me the supernatural and super-important art of surrender. They had taught me how to turn my palms up, open before God, and let Him give and take as He so chooses. I think 2020 taught me a good bit about this, as well. Control issues will either die with 2020 or be the death of us in 2020.

So, I am laying in a hospital bed, wishing I could be with my son who is flying in from Florida in about 45 minutes, but knowing that God has me here.

Maybe it’s not for my heart. Maybe it’s just so that I will pray over the people that enter my room, and encourage the fainthearted nurses who have been fighting their way through the jungle of 2020, working in healthcare, serving patients who are stressed out and angry at the world. Maybe it’s just so I’ll write this silly blog post, reminding anyone fighting their own battles for surrender, that it is worth the fight. Or maybe I am here to discover that something is terribly wrong with one of my most vital organs, and rejoice that I didn’t find out by making my husband a widow, and my children mother-less. Either way, it is the Lord who has me here, so I can simply open the hand, and rejoice, and be led by His kind and tender spirit, who suffered patiently through things much more tremendous than what I’m going through, because His’ home was heaven’s palace, as well.

Space 11/21/20

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The Depth of the Ocean

I met a girl named Katie in an airport once. She and I had a lot in common. We are both writers infatuated with Jesus, and also the story of Mary and Martha. She passed me a booklet she had written, giving me a glimpse of her own heart, and a deeper understanding of Scripture.

I’ve been reading about Mary and Martha for most of my life. I’ve been excavating it like an archeological dig for about half my life. Because Mary is one of my greatest mentors.

It’s been awhile since I’ve really resonated with Martha. I used to feel an awful lot like her, when my kids were small, and I had no practice whatsoever at stillness (especially stillness of mind). But ever since half-a-lifetime-ago, I’ve been practicing, and learning, and growing.

This morning, I peered, once again, into the scene where their beloved brother has just died. Martha comes storming out, demanding an answer, as to why Jesus had delayed and allowed her brother to lay lifeless in a grave. Mary, comes kneeling, weeping, begging the same question.

My friend, Katie, still resonant with Martha, showed me that God’s response to each of these women was pertinent to their character type. Martha needed answers. She was cerebral about things. So, Jesus spoke to her need for logical answers. Mary was emotionally wounded. Christ’s lack of concern about her brother translated into lack of care for her and her sister.

As I reflect on the first scene in Scripture in which these women are introduced (the one with Martha in the kitchen, serving bitterly, and Mary lingering long at the Feet of Messiah in her living room), I realize that when Jesus told Martha that Mary had chosen the better part, He wasn’t simply telling her that Mary’s actions of sitting, stillness, and nearness were better, or that her heart was in a better place (she wasn’t judging anyone else’s actions, like Martha was), but also, I think it may be cracking a code for us, as far as genuine, deep-in-the-bones Christianity.

I think all of us who care about good theology, begin with a cerebral understanding of God. We get so excited to see our pet-theology expounded upon in Scripture, because it validates our beliefs. We love to have iron-sharpening-iron conversations, because even if we’re wrong about stuff, we learn and grow in our knowledge about God. ABOUT God.

But Mary, in her Feet-lingering, was learning what Jesus looked like when He spoke. She was learning the etches of His smile, and the lilt of His voice. She was learning what He smelled like after days-long journeys. She was learning the way His’ eyes twinkled in the Palestinian dusk. She was learning Him.

So, when Jesus didn’t show up in time to rescue her brother, this wasn’t a God she knew a lot of facts about, this was a God she knew and cherished, and believed to know and cherish her. She had seen the tenderness in His sparkling eyes, when He looked down at her and smiled, using her as an example of holiness to dispel her sister’s criticism. Mary’s tears were tears of a wounded heart, who thought she knew His affection, but momentarily couldn’t believe it.

My husband has a sharp theological mind. He can read Scripture like nobody’s business, pointing out a hundred things that connect, and validate one another. He has a rich knowledge about God. But you know what brings him to tears every time… the Cross. When He thinks about God being strung up on a cross, like a criminal, about the passionate Love that was displayed for His bride and His Father, Smiles starts sobbing. Every. Time. You know why? Because Smiles might have a cerebral understanding of Christ, but he also has a deep relationship with Christ. He doesn’t just know about God, he treasures God, and knows that He is treasured by God.

This makes me think of the ocean. Many, if not most Christians, seem to swim on the ocean’s surface, or barely tuck their head under water. And that alone, is pretty amazing. The ocean is so vast and wild, untamable and invigorating. But they are staying where they can manage.

There are those of us, however, who want more. We want to swim to the ocean’s depths, and see the glory of the ocean floor. We want to swim close enough to a sea turtle to touch it’s leg (I did that once, but it took a scuba mask, and overcoming the feeling of panic in my chest, as I descended the ladder and into the unknown and unmanageable). We want to find coral embedded upon rocks no one ever sees, unless they’ve gone deep. We want to see caverns tucked into those rocks, where school of fish go into hiding from predators.

None of this is something you can just read about. To understand it’s fulness, it must be experienced. You have to put on the scuba mask, and go well beyond what you can personally control.

This is like God. You can crack a Book (and you should) to find out what Jesus spent His time doing, or what the Bible says about God, but until you’ve stilled yourself like Mary, and felt a gentle breeze like the kisses of God covering your skin, or leaned deep into that Book, to understand His’ heart of affection and grace, you may swim on the ocean’s surface, but never weep when someone mentions the Cross. Because the cross still seems like a historical account, or a fact about God. Rather, we should be able to look into the wincing face of Christ, and see His grimace as He chose to absorb the brutality of our consequence. We find His affection carved deep into the crevices of His pain-stricken forehead, and it suddenly becomes Love above knowledge.

This isn’t cerebral, this is relational. God poured His deity into human form, so He could have relationship with us. He put a man and woman in a garden, so He could walk with them. He had Moses build a tabernacle, and Solomon a temple, so He could dwell with His people. He gave His chosen ones the Holy Spirit, so He could speak to us and we could hear and be transformed by His voice. He gave us the Bible and prayer, so we could have conversations with God. And if all of this doesn’t leave your jaw agape, and you wondering when your heart will start beating again, perhaps it’s time to take note of what Mary did when Jesus sat in her living room. She sat, in stillness, at His feet. Until she knew the etches of His’ smile.

Space 11/12/20

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Broken Cisterns

The whole world, or at least America, is in an upheaval right now…. and has for the entire year.

But it didn’t begin this year.

For the past few weeks, my Bible reading has been a little like the world: Scattered. I’d read in Ephesians one day, come back to it the next, then scour the Psalms for a couple of days, but this morning I woke up feeling like I needed a little direction. It occurred to me that I had dropped off after reading Isaiah, and the next book in line was Jeremiah, so why not start there.

Reading the first few chapters of Jeremiah is like being broken off at the knees right now. I forgot how many times I had lamented, in the years preceding this pandemic of a year, what is being expressed in the opening chapters of the book. But instead of Israel’s spiritual harlotry, I’ve lamented America’s.

Jeremiah isn’t shy or wafting about His words. He drives the nail right into the coffin. He immediately reminds us God created, established, loved on Israel, and she took His blessings, and started serving all sorts of other gods, who are not really Gods at all (because there’s only One true God). It says “What injustice did your fathers find in Me, That they went far from Me and walked after emptiness and became empty? They did not say, ‘Where is the Lord Who brought us out of the land of Egypt, Who led us through the wilderness, Through the land of deserts and pits, Through a land of drought and deep darkness, Through a land that no one crossed, and no man dwelt? I brought you into the fruitful land to eat its fruit and its good things. But you came and defiled My land and My inheritance you made an abomination” (Jeremiah 2:4-7)

If you just read that, and understood the gravity, don’t forget to breathe.

We are just like Israel. We were brought out of slavery, though not quite as severe as Israel’s. We were brought forth from a tyrannical government, and religious oppression. And God gave us this amazing country. (Now, I know not everyone who stepped off the ship was righteous, and there were some pretty heinous things done to the natives. I’m not trying to start a political debate here, so just follow along, please.) God gifted us a gorgeous country. “The Land of the Free”. He blessed us with some really wise patriots, who signed our Declaration, knowing it may cost their lives, and wrote our Constitution, which may very well be one of the best written documents of all time, save the Bible. God made the land plentiful. For the pilgrims and puritans to have survived the initial years here, was nothing short of a miracle. They came from the land of buying, selling, and trading, and suddenly had to start from scratch (Imagine if all the grocery stores suddenly disappeared, if you will… and know that this isn’t too far off in our future, if we don’t repent).

Yet, we, like Israel, started worshipping other gods… ourselves, our comforts, our pleasure, our desires, other’s opinions, political correctness, our busy schedules, whatever made us feel like WE were the ones who should get the honor and fame. We began shoving God out of our schools, governments, and homes. We allowed others to brainwash our children, rather than bringing them up like He says to do in Deuteronomy 6:4-8, where He tells us to love God with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength, to love our neighbor as ourselves, and to teach our children to do the same, always. That wherever we go, we should be raising our kids up with the knowledge and affection of God. And we should be living it.

Rather, we’ve been hoodwinked by the American Dream, as though that’s more spectacular than the God Who made heaven and earth, tree bark and skin cells, amoebas and galaxies!

Right after this, in Deuteronomy 6, God warns us not to forget Him, when we end up living in “great and splendid cities which you did not build, and houses full of good things which you did not fill, and hewn cisterns which you did not dig, vineyards and olive trees which you did not plant, and you eat and are satisfied.”

Guys, this is EXACTLY what we’ve done. We’ve gotten so distracted by our wealth and blessing, that we’ve forgotten the God who gave them. We didn’t create all of this ourselves, even if we want to pretend we did. Even our able bodies and minds are a gift from Him. Even if you had some hand in the matter, you still don’t have a right to accredit yourself, because you wouldn’t have a hand if He didn’t give it to you.

Even if He takes it all away: family, freedom, home, business, food, water, He will remain faithful and good to me, because my treasure isn’t on this planet, and there’s nothing as glorious as He is! Besides, earth’s suffering is “not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Romans 8:18)

Rather than inflating our egos and covetous natures, all of these blessings ought to overwhelm us with gratitude! We keep trying to steal the honor due to the Almighty. Even faith in Him is a gift from Him!

We need knocked off at the knees.

Our idolatry is a much bigger pandemic than a virus, and this jacked-up year is mercy compared to what we deserve. We are at a crisis point, in this country, and we are either going to fall on our faces in humble repentance (and not because we want God to give us what we want, but because we realized that we have hocked a loogie in the face of the Almighty with our self-centered, egocentric, idolatrous mindset), or this nation is about to be obliterated…. and we will have brought it on ourselves. It is justice. Repentance is our only hope for mercy.

I have one last thought, then I’m done. It says, in Jeremiah 2:13, “For My people have committed two evils. They have forsaken Me, the fountain of living water, to hew for themselves cisterns, broken cisterns that can hold no water.”

The things we have replaced God with in our lives are all absolutely worthless compared to Him, the Fountain of living water!

Space Welch 11/5/20

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Clamoring

If you’re anything like me (or anyone else with a pulse), you are likely feeling anxious about this election.  I have a suspicion the whole, entire world is a little anxious about how tomorrow is going to turn out for America. 

I have been doing a lot of book editing, over the past few months.  It’s holy work, but it’s easy to read my own writings through an analytical, editorial lens, rather than as someone who needs shaped by the words… and the objective it to write a book that will transform lives.  So, why not start with my own?  

This morning I was reading a chapter on spiritual poverty… About how God is so lavish with His affection towards us that He uses our neediness to draw us to Himself, rather than pushing us away, like we tend to do with others, when they are needy and broken.  

Hebrews 4:16 provokes us to “draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”  God uses our desperate need for mercy and grace as an invitation. 

Right now, as a nation, we are desperate for mercy and grace.  If you are God’s child, you can walk confidently into His presence, crawl up on His lap, begging and resting.  

In Psalm 131, David compares his relationship with God to a weaned child resting on his mother’s lap.  How glorious is that?  Weaned children come for relationship, rather than to have any needs met.  

So there you have it.  That’s how I am being transformed.  All of this anxiety over the state of the world, and the future of our country, have sent me clamoring right into the lap of God.  It is enriching my relationship with Him, because my distractedness and disgruntledness is not something I am willing to let reside in my heart, so I run to the Healer to heal me, and in doing so, the intimacy of our friendship grows.  Because of the cross, and the purification it completely accomplished in me, I can run to Him confidently, and know full well that I will be met with grace and affection!

I don’t know how tomorrow’s going to turn out.  The future of our country and our world will be intensely affected by it, but one thing that will not be affected is the fact that God is a grace-and-mercy-dispensing God, with a limitless amount of affection for His’ people!  So, no matter what happens in the temporal, I can have joy and peace, because my God is triumphantly good, and He will use both hardship and blessing to draw me nearer… and “the nearness of God is my good”.  (Psalm 73:28) 

Space Welch- Election Eve 2020

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Interdependence

I just feel like this might need said now more than ever… Church, we need each other! (Feel free to ignore this post, if you are not a Christian, because it doesn’t apply to you… church gatherings are for, well, the Church, not the rest of the world).

In a time of civil unrest, an impending election that might and very likely will result in destruction and chaos, in the dangers of both a virus and the implosion of our Constitution, the division that comes from fearing one of those more than the other and reacting accordingly, etc., etc., etc. we are ill-equipped to walk this out alone.

I have spent years of my life empathizing with those with sob stories of how the Church has wounded people, and they just can’t bring themselves to go back. I have listened to a friend tell me how their Christ-hating spouse (who is no longer alive, by the way), made the experience of going to church so miserable that she has PTSD from it, and can’t possibly overcome the anxiety she feels associated with going to church on Sunday mornings (this same friend is a widow who needs emotional and physical care, and the burden largely falls on me, rather than being dispersed throughout a congregation, like it was intended to, because of her refusal to connect with the larger group). I have seen the demise of marriages, due to Christians thinking they have enough strength to walk this out on their own, and that they are superior to other Christians, so they have no need. These same Christians always seem to get slowly, spiritually devoured. I see it coming, but they don’t want to hear the warning blast about how they need the Church or they’re not going to make it. I have also watched people walk away from their faith, for the same reason.

If anyone gets it, I do. I could write chapters expounding on the side-eyed looks we got from Christians, especially when we were traveling the country, or the bully of a pastor we had in California, or the neglectful one out here, both of which cost our family dearly. My family has suffered more than most from abuse and neglect and judgment at the hand of other Christians.

But we also love the Church more than just about anyone I know.

I want to tell you about a moment that changed our life forever. A moment at a worship leaders conference, somewhere in the early 2000’s, where a young, zealous man told Smiles, with all the exuberance of a child at Disneyland, “Man, I LOVE the Church! Jesus LOVES the Church! Jesus DIED for the Church!” And that was that. How could I criticize what Jesus cherished enough to died for?

From that point on, our vision was corrected, and some of our pride demolished. No longer did I think I was better. I began to realize that even the rough edges of other Christians were meant for my refining. And that I had rough edges, too, that needed sanded off by living in community. I realized that people have issues, but that doesn’t mean I should crawl in a hole and live out my days in isolation.

I also realized that, for all those issues, the Church is actually the most gloriously beautiful thing we can catch glimpse of. For every abusive pastor, there’s another one out there who is loving, humble, wise and kind (trust me, we’ve got one!). For every Christian who has wounded you, remember conflicts only get resolved when dealt with, and the “other guy” isn’t the only sinful human in the equation. Perhaps the conflict can be redeemed, and you can both walk away better people for having worked through it.

For every one of you who professes to love Jesus, but thinks you can hang better on your own, I’m telling you flat-out, you’re wrong. We need each other, or we just aren’t strong enough to survive and thrive. If you say you love God and hate your brother, you’re a liar (1 John 4:20).

There’s a reason why not a single person has every spiritual gift. It’s because we’re made to complete each other. There’s a reason why none of us have a full knowledge of God. It’s because we’re supposed to share what we’ve learned and grow together. And for everyone who is trying to deal with hard circumstances (which is pretty much everyone right now), and you think you can handle it solo, you’ve got way too much confidence in yourself. What you need is a tribe of Christians, who will lift your eyes to see God, and your hands in battle.

Besides, isn’t the world supposed to know that we belong to Him because of our love for one another (John 13:35)?

If you don’t think this virus is a political war, I want you to ponder for just a moment, which gatherings were most intensely attacked. You were allowed to burn down cities, but you couldn’t go to church, especially not if you planned on worshipping God with your voice. There’s a reason why the enemy of our souls is out to divide the Church (not just separate us from weekly gatherings, but cause us to judge each other over our responses, and live in fear of one another). It’s because the Church is the most powerful force on earth!

Observe the peace-increase of those who continued to gather throughout this spectacle of a year vs. those who either a) kept aloof from the Church already, or b) thought online services were an adequate substitute. I am sure some of you are judging me for this, because in your mind the virus is the greatest threat, and gathering as a Church is so “dangerous”. But the bigger threat is isolation.

I’m not telling you that if you have some pre-existing health condition, so you stay home and watch sermons online, you are sinning. God forbid I judge your conscience, regarding your own health and safety, and there’s a big difference between exercising wisdom and discernment vs. living in fear, or thinking you are better than everyone else Jesus came to die for. This post is much bigger that that. My frustrations didn’t start this year, but I think they might need said more than ever, considering that many who used to gather have become apathetic about it, in the past 8 months or so. Online sermons might serve as a temporary substitute for hearing the Bible expounded on, but they can’t substitute genuine, authentic community.

I’m sorry if I sound frustrated… but I am. And it’s not because I think I’m better. It’s because I know I’m not. It’s because I used to justify condemning the Church, and keeping myself aloof, and realize now how gracious God was to transform my arrogant heart, and I just want Him to do that for everyone. I am frustrated because I am watching friends go down like a burning torch. I am frustrated because I love the Church! I want the Body of Christ to be strengthened, in a year when we are being chipped away at, weakened, divided, and sifted.

Some of us are being strengthened! But I’m only seeing it in those who value the refuge and fortress of the Church.

I am watching this world go down like a sinking ship. I am watching us lose our freedom to gather, while people hide behind self-pity, legitimate hurts that have turned into illegitimate bitterness, and in the shadow of a fear-pushing political system meant to divide and conquer God’s people. There is a ravenous enemy prowling like a lion, seeking to devour God’s people. And you know who the most susceptible sheep are? Those who wander from the flock.

“Preserve me, O God, for I take refuge in You. I said to the Lord, ‘You are my Lord. I have no good besides You. As for the saints who are in the earth, they are the majestic ones in whom is all my delight.” (Psalm 16:1-3)

Space 10/22/20

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Stand Firm!

Yesterday, with a backdrop of vibrant trees, I posted myself on my porch swing, where I spend my mornings.  Good Book sprawled across the lap, I peered into the Source of wisdom and courage.  

I have felt compelled to read Ephesians over and over again.  I know that whenever I have sense God asking me to marinate the mind in a portion of His Word, it is always, ALWAYS good for my soul.  Especially when I am to read it many times over.  The book of Galatians once saved my life, that way.  

This morning I noticed something I haven’t ever given much thought to, in all my decades of reading the Bible.  Ephesians 6 gives us a full description of what spiritual armor is given to God’s people, for the invisible war we are all involved in (and some are aware of).  We are clothed with, Truth, Righteousness, the Gospel of Peace, Faith, Salvation, and the Word of God, as well as the prayers we breathe for and from the Church.  

What burst off the page, like never before, was this: Before He describes our armor, He gives us our battle posture… twice, to make certain we get it.  “Stand firm” it says redundantly, as verse 13 ends and 14 begins.  

Our posture is not to race into battle, to rush away from it, nor to cower behind our shield, helmet and breastplate.  It is to STAND FIRM.  Simple as that.  

In Exodus, where Pharaoh and his cruel army were pursuing God’s people, Moses tells Israel, “Stand by and see the salvation of the Lord, which He will accomplish for you today, you will never see them again forever.  The Lord will fight for you while you keep silent.”  (Exodus 14:13-14).  In Psalm 46, we are told to “Cease striving (be still, relax) and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.”  In 2 Chronicles, Jehosphaphat is told “You need not fight in this battle; station yourselves, stand and see the salvation of the Lord on your behalf.”  

Most of us are pretty aware that we are standing on a battlefield.  You can honestly see it, these days.  Maybe many of us are not aware that this war is spiritual in nature, however.  All of life is.  

We, who hope in God Almighty, have a hope that the Lord fights for us!  We have a hope that supersedes anything that could happen to our bodies (and can give us immense joy in the midst of suffering), but we also have a hope (if we are saturated with Scripture and believe what it says) that He is more than able to deliver us from any bodily harm, should He so choose.  Don’t believe me?  Read Daniel, Kings, Chronicles, Judges, Samuel, Exodus, Acts, etc., etc., etc.  A God-fearing man gets thrown into a den of hungry lions, and instead of being eaten, gets to pet them (I’m assuming, because I would), then rest peacefully among them.  A few righteous young men resist the cultural pressure to comply against their conscience by worshipping an idol, get thrown into a blazing furnace so hot it kills everyone else approaching, and instead of being singed, they get to walk among the flames with God Himself!  Peter, on the cusp of execution, is woken up by an angel and led straight out of prison, as though the doors were all unlocked. Paul and Silas sing in a prison cell, and the doors fling wide. I could spend pages telling you story upon story of deliverance against all logic, but I won’t bother.  If you want to read that, you should go straight to the Bible.  It’s loaded with wild tales of deliverance!  

In the middle of the night last night, I woke abruptly from a nightmare.  I don’t know about you, but my dream life has been pretty… well, I don’t even know what adjective to use… anxiety-invoking, and prayer-provoking.  Last night was no exception.  

I knew I wouldn’t sleep again unless I flung back the covers and hit my knees on the rug.  As soon as I was kneeling, these life-sustaining words surged through my soul, “Stand Firm!”  I was flooded with peace, and was back asleep nearly as soon as my head touched the pillow.  

Church, this war is raging.  This battle is fierce.  But the Lord, the God of Grace and Glory, has told us how to posture ourselves in battle.  Stand firm!  

                                                                       Space 10/12/20

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