Tuesday, April 1, 2014

like stream in the Negeb

You know how it feels when your soul is barren. There is no green thing, no sign of life, nothing to suggest hope. It is just dust for miles and everywhere you look.

Even the streambed is dried up. It mocks you. A stark reminder of what used to be and is no more. Or maybe what was longed for and never was. A picture of the buried hopes, the dreams that you'd rather forget but you can't, so they just needle at you from deep below the surface. And just when you think you've finally managed to deal with the pain once and for all, when you think it's finally under control, something happens. Something so small and inconsequential that no one else even notices. But that little something brings all the ache rushing back to the surface and it's as if the wound was inflicted just yesterday. 

Your eyes have cried more tears than they should even be able to produce. Your heart sits aching in your chest, stone-heavy and still beating, every lub-dub another reminder that it is sick from hope deferred. And no doctor can write a prescription for that ailment.

Can I tell you what you don't know? Up there, yes up there in those hills, just on the horizon, it's snowing and raining and melting. And water is starting to travel down that long-abandoned streambed. It's coming, joyous and abundant and flowing, straight to your stone-sick dry and dusty heart. You can't see it. You can't hear it.

Not yet.

Wait. The water is there, right there, and it's on its way. Life-giving ever-flowing.

And it's coming straight to you.

When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion, 
we were like those who dream. 
Then our mouth was filled with laughter,
and our tongue with shouts of joy; 
then they said among the nations,
"The Lord has done great things for them.” 
The Lord has done great things for us; 
we are glad.

Restore our fortunes, O Lord
like streams in the Negeb! 
Those who sow in tears 
shall reap with shouts of joy! 
He who goes out weeping, 
bearing the seed for sowing, 
shall come home with shouts of joy, 
bringing his sheaves with him.

Psalm 126

Monday, January 27, 2014

Words and suchlike

I follow this blog called SingleRoots. I very much enjoy it.

Today they published my words.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Joy in a Minor Key

The band sang, leading us in an upbeat rendition of "Joy To The World".

He comes to make His blessings flow 
Far as the curse is found

And I couldn't make my mouth form the words. I just read them, projected on the screen, mocking me. His blessings. All I see around me is the curse. And I'm begging for blessing. 

I won't let you go until you bless me.

But what does that mean honestly? What does His blessing look like? Why does it look so different than I think it should? And how in the world do I hold onto Him until He blesses me?

The Advent candles beckon. Unlit in their wreath. My friends stand in front of our church family. They read that old familiar story. Shepherds keeping watch over their flocks by night. And lo an angel of the Lord appeared to them. And the glory of the Lord shone round about them. And they were afraid. 

Sore afraid.

Because here's the thing. I couldn't sing joy to the world. It was too happy-clappy, too upbeat, too major. But I could sing tidings of comfort and joy. A minor key. Come let us sing of joy in a minor key. Those words I can sing. Joy tempered by sadness. A paradox.

For where is the joy in Christmas? I still sometimes look for it wrapped under the tree, stuffed in the stockings, wafting out of the oven as dinner cooks.

That is not joy. That is happiness made of toothpicks and Elmer's glue. It's weak. It collapses with the smallest pressure. It crumbles with the lightest touch.

Joy though. Now joy is bedrock. It is foundational. It is buffeted by tempests and is not shaken. And it is hard to come by. It requires work. There is no pixie dust formula for joy. It is a conscious decision. A premeditated grasping.

But lest you feel the burden to manufacture joy, take heart. Listen again to the angel. You are sore afraid. Your soul is tattered and flayed. Your hope is like that little candle, trying to shine against the dark and in mortal danger of going out.

Fear not. For behold I bring you tidings of great joy.

And there's that word again. That little impossible word. 

For unto you is born this day a Savior.

Behold your joy. It is not something that you muster up from the depths of your broken heart. Your joy, my friend, is a Person. And He is here. 

The Word became flesh and dwelt among us. 

Hold onto the Word. He is your joy. And Joy did not come to stay a baby in the manger. He came to die. 

Come sing with me. Come sing of death swallowed up by life. Come sing of curses overtaken by blessing. Come sing of joy. In a minor key.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

An Unexpected Miracle

They weren't looking for a miracle. They were out at night, watching sheep.

Sheep are boring. And it's nighttime. The shepherds should, by all normal circadian rhythms, be asleep. But they weren't. They were discharging their duties. Watching sheep sleeping. The last thing in the world they were looking for was a miracle.

Perhaps one of them noticed the light, that extra star in the sky. Perhaps they didn't. Perhaps they were just trying to keep their eyes open.

And this Christmas we too are discharging our duties. Driving the same old route to work every day. Studying for finals. Doing laundry. Cleaning the bathroom. Christmas shopping. Eyes on the task ahead of us. Blinders on. Full steam ahead.

But miracles don't stop for blinders.

The angels came unannounced, bright and loud in the sky. Proclaiming the Light of the world come to Earth. God Himself. Savior of the world. Prince of Peace. The Alpha and Omega. I Am That I Am. YHWH. And here's the sign. 

It's a baby.

Because sometimes miracles come loud and announced, full of glory and light. And sometimes miracles are wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a feeding trough. This miracle the redemption plan from eternity past. This miracle the answer to the pleas for mercy over the centuries. 

Not all answers look the way we think they should. Those anguished prayers that we sob into our pillows. Those angry screams we fling toward the heavens. When God answers, it doesn't always look like we want. 

The shepherds weren't looking for a miracle. But they got one anyway. They got the answer to the cries spanning the centuries. And it was a King. It was a Savior. It was a Redeemer.

But not the one they were expecting.

He is a King who rules not a physical kingdom but rather the hearts of His people. He is a Savior who saves not from the Romans but from death itself. He is a Redeemer who redeems not a piece of land but the soul eternal.

Because the greatest miracle is the one that meets us in our deepest need. Because the Christmas Miracle is the precursor to the Easter Resurrection. 

Because God has come to earth wrapped in swaddling cloths. 

Monday, December 9, 2013

The Light and this Little Town

I don't think Caesar Augustus meant to fulfill a prophecy when he sent out his decree. I don't think he meant to have a hand in ensuring that the son of a peasant girl would be born in Bethlehem rather than Nazareth. 

But that is of course what happened. Because no matter what our plans may be, God's plans are far more intricate and vast. Full of personal details and spanning the full scope of history. 

Wouldn't it have been better for Mary to bear Him at home, with her mother and friends nearby? What kind of God forces a young girl, heavy with child, to travel miles away from everyone she knows right at the moment of her greatest need of tender supporting hands? What kind of God expects a man to wed a woman pregnant with a child not his own? What kind of God lets His own Son take His first breath in the squalor of a stable, welcomed not by cooing women but by squawking animals? 

The same kind of God that send His own Son to die for the sins of the people. 

This God who sent a pregnant girl into the darkness, with no comfort but that of her frightened husband, is the same God who willingly sheds His blood for the transgressions of the rebellious.

This God who demands that the seemingly cuckolded carpenter take home the pregnant woman as his wife is the same God chases after His Bride in order to present her holy and blameless.

This God whose tiny infant lungs draw their first breath surrounded by stable filth is the same God who will asphyxiate suspended on a cross for the redemption of mankind. 

This is the God who travels to Bethlehem, the too little town, and creates a star to shine in the heavens above it. 

The Bethlehem Star. The announcement to all who will see that Hope is born to a hopeless world. The hope that all the long and lonely journeys, though full of fear and trembling, shine forth a greater purpose. 

Light shines and darkness cannot understand.
Light shines and darkness cannot overcome.

Behold the Light of the World.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Oh Come Oh Come

The words were there, on the screen, in plain sight.

Rejoice, rejoice,
Emmanuel shall come to thee
Oh Israel

The melody, haunting, ancient, desperate, rose to the rafters. We sang, in our little suburban church. We sang, proclaiming the joy of Christmas in a minor key. And in the Advent wreath, the first lighting, the Prophecy candle shone, bold against the cold, strong against the dark.

Do you hear the hope, a single thread across the years? Rejoice, oh Israel. 

How do you wait for 700 years? How do you hold tight to the promise of a child to be born, a Son to be given? How do you hold fast for the Wonderful Counselor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace? Don't just wait for years or decades. 

Wait for centuries and rejoice.

You have nothing but the promise of God, Israel. You have nothing but hope in God. But you know this God. You know His Power, the seas that He parted, the manna that He created, the water that He brought forth from the rock.

And this God, oh Israel, He is the One who will give the Son. The Prophecy has been proclaimed. Now wait and rejoice.

And it's Christmas again. The Son has come. Wars still rage. Typhoons and tornadoes still ravage. The anger in men's hearts still result in death. Cain and Abel all over again. Bombs still explode. Bullets still kill. Mothers still weep over their children's bodies.

How do we hold fast? How do we wait for the Son's coming again? That morning when Light dawns for the last time and all that is wrong is put right. That day when the pangs of childbirth come to fruition. That moment when Death is swallowed up forever and Life takes His eternal throne.

Rejoice, oh Israel. 

They did not know that the Wonderful Counselor would be sentenced to death by a cowardly governor and no jury. They could not see that the Mighty God would be subject to lashing at the hands of a Roman centurion. They were unaware that the Everlasting Father would hang suspended between earth and sky, heaven and hell, on a cursed tree. They did not know the Prince of Peace would die the most violent of deaths.

But we know. And we know what happened after that. The prophecies did not just foretell His coming. They foretold His life and death. And they foretold His resurrection.

The strings sing a sad and mournful melody. Rejoice anyway. You have the promise kept.

How did those ancient people wait? They rejoiced with sadness and song.

When it seems all hope is hidden, sing. 
When the silence of God fills your ears, sing. 
When your cheeks are wet with tears and your belly full of sadness, sing.

700 years, those ancients waited. And we wait with them. And we sing with them. Songs of rejoicing in a minor key.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

The Autumn Sunset

I don’t know why it is or how
The autumn sunsets wield such glory and pain

The spring sunset is full of pixie dust
Cheerful and dancing from the joy of simply being alive
Even the sun’s evening farewell cannot stem the excitement

The summer sunset is full of warmth and heat
Sweaty and sticky from popsicle runoff all over my face
And dirt on my feet and fireflies dancing all around

But the autumn sunset is different
It is full of pain and a beauty tempered by sadness
Deep and cold and dark

Is it because the year is drawing to a close?
As the sun sends out his dying rays earlier and earlier each day,
Does he radiate his sorrow across the sky for all of us to see?
Is the glory displayed the ache of a vanishing year and fading sun?
The hurt of the previous days all stacked up in the clouds above our heads?

Nostalgia comes from two Greek words
nostos meaning return home
algos meaning pain

I think that is what the autumn sunset is
The pain of returning home
The ache of longing for home
Painted across the sky

In vibrant light and ancient shadow