I want to walk the dusty road
with long-fought memory;
both pain and pleasure bending low
to make their peace with me.
I want to shake the hand of pain
declare instead a truce
abandon what was lost in shame
press forward into Truth.
For Truth is deeper than I knew
and Love has many names
Life can be wrapped in beauty while
still mixed with blood and pain.
What’s gone remains as close as thought
and never truly dies
the sweet and bitter mingle breath
with every aching sigh.
At table now with memory
I sit, and drink a toast
and arm in arm,
I with myself,
I want to walk the dusty road
Life is super busy right now. If you are waiting for a new post, it might be a while. BUT while you wait, here is an absolutely splendid bit o’ truth for your digestion.
What, exactly, are we, as Christians, asked to believe? What, if we claim Christ as our glorious Savior, must we then give full recognition as credible, from the very same scriptures that magnify His name? Without getting too very much into side-issues, let’s just look at the most basic facts. Off of the top of my head, here are a few:
A God who created everything. Just by…you know…speaking it into existence.
Jesus Christ, His Son, who was:
- conceived purely by the power of the Holy Spirit
- was born to a virgin
- performed too many miracles in His lifetime than can be listed here
- was completely sinless
- was sacrificed to be the perfect atonement for our numberless sins
- rose from the dead three days later
- sits at the right hand of God the Father, forever interceding for us, His bride
- is preparing a place for us in Heaven
- is returning one day to bring us all to that Home
- will judge satan and his consorts and fling them forever in to hell
The Holy Spirit, the living Spirit of God, Who dwells within us and brings God’s power, comfort, wisdom, guidance and peace to us.
Among other things.
Do I believe it?
I say I do.
But wouldn’t I change how I behave if I really did? Shouldn’t I be, like, shrieking a little bit in excitement every moment of the day if I really believed it?
Well, sometimes…rarely, but sometimes…the truth of it overwhelms me, and I do shriek a little. Not too much, lest anyone be alarmed and think I’m some sort of religious kook, but a modified shriek, mostly internal.
Do we realize how much like a fairy tale it sounds to those who do not believe? Those of us who have been Christians for more than a decade, or grew up in the church and cut our teeth on words like tribulation, armageddon, seraphim, rapture, and resurrection need to step back a few paces and look at it with fresh eyes sometimes. I mean, Jesus…our Jesus…is going to come back on a white horse through the clouds, sword splitting atoms as He enters the atmosphere, angelic warriors blasting trumpets, stars raining down from heaven…
There will be lots of shrieking in that moment, that much you can count on.
It sounds like the most fantastic work of fiction ever to sprout from a storyteller’s fevered brain…yet what laughable arrogance we humans possess, to think that God’s story is a product of our imagination, when our imaginations themselves are mere shadows of His.
It thrills me no end to serve a God whose mind can conceive exceedingly abundantly beyond all I could ask or think…and to know that I am on His mind, that somehow I delight Him…how good it is to belong to Him. How thankful I am to be His creature! How I wish my tiny mind could hold even a fraction of the wonder of it!
All our other faculties seem to have the brown touch of earth upon them, but the imagination carries the very livery of heaven, and is God’s self in the soul. ~henry ward beecher
My last post about Lazarus reminded me of this poem I wrote several years ago…a good time to revisit these thoughts…may it bless the reader.
“Wind the gravecloths, bind them fast
If you need more, recall your past.
There’s lots of ways that you can die
Give up, lay down, refuse to try.
Here, pass the cloth, I’ll help you out
I’ll make the knots secure and stout.
Around the head, the eyes, the ears
I’ll block out all except your fears
Come on with me, I’ll show you where
your life can end without a care.
No need to fight, a few steps more
I can already see the door.
Too bad He did not come in haste
He must think you’re an awful waste.
He isn’t coming, He’s done with you
Here is the entrance, just step through…
Lay on the slab, now fold your hands
It’s dark, I know, but that’s the plan.
You aren’t cut out for life, it’s true
It’s simply much too hard for you…”
And on, and on, and on, and on…
until my strength was almost gone
the lies came fast with urgent glee
and I….I cried….and I agreed.
Entombed, I lay all on my own
Against the entrance rolled a stone.
The time had passed, He had not come
Like Lazarus, my life was done.
Then cutting through my thick despair
a Voice I love beyond compare
echoed within the walls around
Oh, how my heart leapt at the sound!
Come out, come out,
I am not done
Unwind the bindings,
See the sun!
Come out to Me,
I love you, friend,
You’re not forgotten
It’s not the end;
The days feel like eternity,
I know, dear one, but trust in Me.
My heart is grieved, I also cry,
I do not sleep, I cannot lie
I have a plan, I’m never late,
although sometimes you’ll have to wait,
for I will make My glory known
’til strongholds lie all overthrown!”
And I came out, into the Light
the rags of death still holding tight
Until He spoke to friends I know
“Unbind the cloths, and let her go”
And now I stand as one set free–
He spoke the words of life to me.
Do you lie wrapped in graveclothes too?
He’s at the door, He weeps for you.
Wait on the Lord, He’s on His way,
Hold on, hang tight, press in and pray;
He hears your every need and care
He knows what’s best, and He’ll be there.
Christ never hurried anywhere.
Walking the dusty roads of Palestine, He had no way to hurry. He owned no creature that would carry Him. The only animal He ever rode was borrowed just for the occasion (a humble donkey, on Palm Sunday).
Yet we see no evidence of Him ever worrying that He’d be late for something. Late for an appointment. Late for work. Late for play. Late for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. He travelled in utter assurance that He would be where He needed to be, when He needed to be there.
There were many times when Jesus could have hurried; plenty of times when someone needed desperately for Him to hurry.
Martha, her beloved brother sick and dying, sends word to friend Jesus to come, please come quickly. Surely, He will come. He had stayed with them, eaten with them, fellowshiped with them. He alone could help. He was their friend. He loved them, she was sure of it. Surely He would come in time.
Jesus receives this message, brought in haste, the urgency in every line. He does a curious thing.
Here’s what the scripture says:
Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So, when He heard that he was sick, He stayed two more days in the place where He was. John 11:5
He loved them, SO….He hurried as fast as He could to comfort them and rescue them.
He loved them, SO…He sent messages saying that He would be there as soon as possible.
He loved them, SO…He ran to charter a camel that would get Him there more swiftly.
No. He loved them, SO…He stayed two more days.
This doesn’t look or sound like love to me. I’m just being honest. This looks like…indifference. Cruelty, even. Let’s skip the theology for a minute and look at it from Martha and Mary’s perspective: Jesus, the Jesus that was their friend, the Jesus that had performed miracles for thousands of others, the Jesus that had sat at their table and eaten their food, well…He couldn’t be bothered to come in their hour of need.
Four days after Lazarus has DIED, He finally shows up.
He’s TOO LATE. Too late to heal. Too late to help. The wrappings have been applied, the body interred, decay a certainty. Mourning is well underway.
Where am I going with this? Spoiler alert! LAZARUS IS RAISED FROM THE DEAD.
Everybody knows that!
But Martha and Mary didn’t know it.
When Lazarus died, they didn’t know Jesus was going to show up and raise him from the dead. In the back of Martha’s mind, at least, it might have been a wild, frantic, ridiculous, fleeting hope, but she certainly wasn’t banking on it. She is the reasonable sister, the practical one. She understands that Jesus is the miracle-maker, but maybe not in this case. One wouldn’t want to hope for too much.
Mary herself was so distraught that she didn’t even come to greet Jesus until Martha (lying, apparently) told her that Jesus was asking for her specifically. When she does come, she falls at His feet.
It is a pattern with Mary to be at Jesus’ feet. She washed His feet with her tears and anointed them. Sat at His feet in adoration as He spoke. Mary is not the composed sister, not the one to practice restraint. She is all about abandonment to Him, and she does not hold back. She voices the same thought that Martha spoke in composure, but from her, it is with tears, accusatory:
Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.
If You had only been here when I needed You. If You had only come when we asked. If You hadn’t decided we were not as important as something else. If You had really understood how much we needed You. If You had really cared.
But You didn’t.
And now he’s dead.
Are there things dying in your life right now as Jesus takes His time? Is he dawdling, uncaring, while your dreams shrivel and waste away? Has decay set in on the things you love the most, while He stands afar off, busy with other people?
Then this story is for you.
HE LOVES YOU, SO….He is coming. Not when you think He will. Not in the way you think He should. Not to do what you think needs to be done.
I am Martha, desperately begging Christ to come. Don’t be late, Lord. Please don’t be too late. Yet even as I plead, my dreams die. My plans, my hopes, my loves…they die. I weep, and I wonder, and I wait some more. And in the waiting, it feels like He is uncaring, unmoved, unloving, and absent.
But He is on the way. He is up to something. He has a plan, and He is asking me to trust Him. To trust, as Martha, that even if all dies, He is able to resurrect.
Because He is trustworthy.
And it is BECAUSE He loves me that He tarries. He knows what I do not know; that in both the waiting and the revelation, my faith is refined. In the waiting, as I learn to trust, the purifying occurs. And the revelation, the thing that rises up from the ashes, will be all the sweeter because of it.
“For My people have committed two evils: They have forsaken Me, The fountain of living waters, To hew for themselves cisterns, Broken cisterns That can hold no water.” Jeremiah 2:13
Oh, the grief God feels for me. He offers me His fresh and sparkling living water as it burbles up joyfully from the fountain of Life…He stretches out His hand to invite me to come, drink great draughts from it, and I am so, so very thirsty. My mouth is dry and dusty from breathing the air of this world. I have been running the race, running so hard, trying with all my strength to do everything right. I come close…I look at His outstretched hand, His tender eyes imploring me…and then…
I turn away.
I turn to another cistern, cracked and leaking, a cistern that is not connected with His life, that has never been connected to Him, but was enlarged by my own hands, years and years ago. There is no fresh, bubbling water there. There is a sludge of dark putrescence at the bottom, a few flies buzz around, mosquito larva swims in the murky stillness. It stinks. It repels.
But I bend..and I drink.
I drink the dregs of pride, and fear, and regret. I drink abuse, and guilt, and shame. It hurts and does not go down easy, it sticks in my throat and leaves a bitter aftertaste, but I persist.
And the Father…my Father…He weeps over me as I do. He bends low and speaks His words of love in my ear, His words of peace, and promise, and life, but they are muffled by the sound of my own gulping and gasping. Sure and swift, death comes. Death to hope, death to joy, death to vision, and hearing, and grace, and I collapse inward, a black hole of need and loss.
I give up.
But the story does not end.
It does not end because deep within I still hear Him calling. He stands over me, singing. His tears fall on me as I lay, inert and exhausted. He binds my wounds. He speaks peace to the storm in my own mind. His grief penetrates my heart. Oh child, He whispers. Choose life. Choose life! Choose Me. Leave the poisoned wells in the past. Trust Me to make all things new. I take the water from His hand, and it purifies what has been poisoned.
Though it feels like a vicious cycle that will never end, there is redemption here. The glory-to-glory is here, in the black hole of need, in the gutter of abandonment and rescue, in the hurt and the healing, that is when I am slowly shaped into His image. It feels all wrong; it doesn’t feel like victory, but with God all is topsy-turvy, and failure becomes His triumph as I learn to turn. Learn to choose.
Learn to live.
John 4: 10-14
Sometimes the enemy, he wins a round.
Almost always, I am sitting quietly, enjoying the view from my mountaintop, wondering why more people don’t choose this bliss, when the lies begin.
Slowly at first, sliding down around me softly as I whistle a happy tune, I don’t even notice them.
real change is impossible, you know they whisper. you’re never going to get where you want to be.
Oblivious, I swat at them absentmindedly, little buzzing flies.
your past…it is full of error. you’ll never change, you can’t. God doesn’t really plan to use you.
Larger, and faster they pelt me, weighing me down before I realize what is happening.
you’re really kind of a failure they taunt. what do you have to feel so good about? Look around! Nothing you have done really matters.
Suddenly it’s a full-scale avalanche.
THERE IS NO USE TO ANYTHING. GIVE UP, GIVE UP NOW. BEFORE YOU MAKE THINGS WORSE.
The boulders bounce, calculated to crush and destroy.
HYPOCRITE. FAILURE. IDIOT. HOPELESS. DELUSIONAL. FOOL. GOD IS NOT BIGGER, HE IS NOT BIGGER, HE IS BIGGER FOR EVERYONE ELSE BUT YOU, YOU ARE THE EXCEPTION, YOU ARE THE ONE HE CANNOT HEAL, YOU ARE THE ONE HE CANNOT DO ANYTHING WITH. THE ONE. THE ONLY ONE. AND IT’S ALL YOUR FAULT. IT’S ALL, ALL, ALL YOUR FAULT. ALL OF IT.
And just like that, I am buried.
AND IT MAKES ME SO ANGRY, BECAUSE THE LIES, THEY ARE NOT JUST LIES, THEY ARE COMPLETE AND UTTER BULLSHIT.
AND I WILL SAY IT AGAIN BECAUSE IT IS THE TRUTH, THE TRUTH, THE GOD-HONEST TRUTH, EVEN IF IT IS MYSELF ALONE WHO NEEDS TO HEAR IT: THEY ARE BULLSHIT.
BULLSHIT, SATAN. BULLSHIT. I CALL YOUR BLUFF.
And because God the Father knows I am dust and has compassion on me in my frailty and is mighty to save, because He takes great delight in me, He quiets me with His love, even under the rockslide of BULLSHIT. Even though I sat there and let it bury me. Even though so much of my life is failure, day in and day out, He loves me. He has a plan.
Even when everything around me is shaking with the force of the enemy’s wrath, even when all seems lost and nothing seems worthwhile, He is up to something.
Even when all hell breaks loose.
It breaks loose so I can break free.
Because He is good, though the battle is lost, the victory is mine.
Pour it out
in silver coin
for threshing floor and oxen;
must come at price
for sin to be forgotten.
What cost it him–
the shepherd boy
who had become the king?
He blessed the loss
and would not burn
from that which cost him nothing.
Pour it out,
the costly oil
from broken alabaster;
anoint the Head
prepare for death
the body of the Master.
What cost it her
to freely give
what jealous souls would keep?
She blessed its loss
and spared no love
in tears upon His feet.
He poured it out,
His blood and life
for your soul and for mine.
Wrong made right
the mortal with divine.
What cost it Him–
the Lord of Lords
upon that dreadful hill?
He blessed the loss
upon the cross
where time itself stood still.
Once and for all–
His Spirit set
on future joy and union–
from hell and grave
to glorious reunion!
So pour it out
in service bold
as drink upon the ground;
your life’s the cost
and must be lost
before it can be found.
What cost it you–
a vapor’s breath–
to surrender Him your all?
You’ll bless the loss
and count it dross
at His great trumpet-call.
2 Samuel 24:18-25
1 Corinthians 15:50-58
Our God is a consuming fire, and my filth crackles as he seizes hold of me; he is all light and my darkness shrivels under his blaze. It is this naked blaze of God that makes prayer so terrible. For most of the time, we can persuade ourselves we are good enough, as good as the next man, perhaps even better, who knows? Then we come to prayer – real prayer, unprotected prayer – and there is nothing left in us, no ground on which to stand.
~Sr. Wendy Beckett
Real prayer…unprotected prayer…when we come to Jesus raw and oozing and leave pretense at the torn veil as we pass through. We see ourselves in the clear light of His Presence, and we grieve. We look into the mirror of His Word, and we mourn. We fall so short of perfection. Is it any wonder so few want to come close?
I mean, who WANTS to be humbled and broken?
I’d prefer to hold tightly to arrogance, to the soothing voice that says “now, now, you are not that bad! you’ve never (fill in the blank) like that guy over there…”
Mostly though, there is no voice. Just the smug assurance that really, when you get right down to it, I truly do deserve God’s grace, at least a little bit. Surely He didn’t have to spill quite so much blood over me. Surely all the stripes and the thorn-piercings and the nails were for everybody else. I mean, for me He might have just needed a spanking. Maybe a really hard one, but truly…all that blood and suffering? Not necessary. But I’m glad He did it for everybody else, don’t get me wrong.
And then I read about the woman at Jesus’ feet, who washed them with her tears and wiped them with her hair, who loved Jesus with such an all-consuming, extreme passion that her act of devotion prepared Him for death. I believe that her love for Him, the image of her pouring precious oil on His feet and kissing them repeatedly, must have been foremost in His mind as they drove in the nails. Because it was for that kind of love that He gave Himself up. For a bride who would accept His gift without reserve and return that Love in earnest, forever rejoicing in His wholehearted embrace.
I want to have that kind of love for Him.
Yet I stand aloof, not wanting to blubber and make a spectacle of myself.
He pursues as a lover, the bridegroom who yearns to draw me near, who calls out my name and beckons me just come…just come, and let Me look at you! I love you, I accept you, I died for you.
Oh, come come now I say, shaking my head a little nervously, thinking self-deprecation is the proper response. Get ahold of Yourself. Not me, surely. I think You have the wrong person.
Pride and doubt mingle to keep me politely declining His invitation. I think I am at some kind of party where there are just two or three hors d’oeuvres left and I must resist the urge to devour them all so that there will be enough for others. Because, you know, they aren’t ALL FOR ME. I mustn’t be greedy. I must show some decorum!
But greed is exactly what He is wanting from me. A holy greed that is hungry for Him, and all of Him. And nothing else. A holy passion that doesn’t care who it has to offend and who it has to bypass in order to get at Him. A thirst for Him that is not satisfied until it is at His feet, weeping and kissing in gratitude.
Where does that kind of gratitude come from? That kind of passion? From understanding just how much I have been forgiven. From understanding that what was done, was done ALL FOR ME.
Passionate love is the only true response when I come face to face with His holy fire that burns all the pretense away and I see just how far He had to come to bring me home. I pray the unprotected prayer, for my senses to be awoken to how truly filthy I was, how very large my debt, and how merciful my Ransom.
And the passion, it grows.
Luke 7: 36-50