Receiving the Appointed Bitter Gifts of God

Writing a book is a funny thing because it becomes like your little shoulder angel, whispering in your ear, reminding you of all the fine words you wrote that you’re supposed to be also putting into action. Maybe God has a little chuckle watching me deal with the many opportunities I have to do so. Like, oh you wrote about sacrificial love? Here’s a 6 am wake up call, some poop handprints on the bathroom wall, and a vomit covered toddler. Enjoy.

It sounds stupid, but I’m often taken off guard when life is hard. I can be personally affronted by inconvenience. Do something hard and unpleasant? Surely, not ME. Maybe we never grow out of this childishness without a perspective shift…because if we believe our lives are fundamentally about us, then our daily difficulties seem out of place. If we think we’re the director and star of our own drama, we will be continuously perplexed when our storylines go awry. 

While we’d like to think that our lives are self-made, scripture tells us that they are appointed to us. “Only let each person lead the life that the LORD has assigned to him, and to which God has called him” (1 Corinthians 7:17). Our lives and every day that makes up their sum, including its difficulties, has been assigned to us.

If we see this, if it dawns on us that perhaps we are not the stars of this show nor the authors of this story, but recipients of a part to play in God’s grand narrative, we might begin to see our daily difficulties differently, even as a gift. I’m not sure I can ever look at poop handprints and think, “What a lovely gift,” but I think at least, we could see such inconveniences as bitter medicine with a sweet purpose. 

Every hard thing is meant to remind me that I am here on this earth to magnify Him and not the other way around. I can fight what He has assigned to me or submit myself to it, receiving the hard things as God-ordained and therefore, good. The toddler tantrum has been assigned to me. The poop handprints have been given. Though I might regularly pray, “Lord please let this cup pass from me”, the dishes and the laundry have apparently been appointed unto me for all my days under the sun. Yet I know from whom they come. I know who holds my lot and draws my boundary lines. The path He’s set out for me may include many things I’d rather leave out, but I know where it leads. To life. To joy. To pleasures evermore.

For the Unholy Mother

I thought I would be holier by now.

I thought surely eight years of motherhood would turn me into a June Cleaver who smiles beatifically through the travails of raising children. I wake up with the resolve to be more like this, but somewhere between the morning oatmeal smeared on the table and the fiftieth exclamation of, “He hit me!” My resolve crumbles.

God’s love is described as steadfast, like the waves that relentlessly hit the shore. My love often feels fickle, pulled back and forth by a moody, unpredictable tide. I want to grow to be more like Him, more steadfast, but instead I feel like I’m just “fast.” Fast to anger. Fast to grumbling.

But maybe, that’s a big part of becoming holier: first seeing how unholy you are. Maybe the work of sanctification in motherhood is seeing just how wide the chasm between you and righteousness really is. We are not just a little worse than God. We are so very human while He is completely “other”, in a category of holiness we could never even come close to achieving on our own.

“If you O LORD should mark iniquities, O LORD, who could stand? But with you there is forgiveness, that you may be feared.”

Salvations means God has descended down into our depths and hauled us back up to stand in the field of grace. It’s as simple as that and yet, there’s tension here. Grace is free, but not cheap. We are welcomed to its throne, but we must not tread flippantly on holy ground.

I thought I would be holier by now.

But maybe, the holiest person is the one bowed down to the dust, the one who reaches for the cup of salvation with trembling hands, knowing their only hope of receiving it is to plead the merits of another.

Reverence and redemption. Mourning and joy. Forgiveness and fear. How closely are they intertwined.

God’s Love is Under the High Chair. A Poem.

God’s love is under the high chair

The one who stoops down will find it

She condescends, descends into a lowly realm 

to scrub dried applesauce and mystery goo 

As she bends to peel spaghetti noodles,

noodle by noodle she discovers

God’s love is under the high chair

For before her, there was another 

who condescended, descended into a lowly realm 

to cleanse hearts and to redeem

Now, there is no job too low, no work too humble because 

God’s love is under the high chair

Motherhood Musings on Juggling and Struggling

“Struggling isn’t failing.” I stop and say the words out loud to myself as I’m cleaning up the kitchen. 

My mind feels chaotic as the many things I need to accomplish for the day come at me like missiles, missiles that circle back around every few minutes to land again. Get my son to piano lessons. Finish school for the day. Shower. Maybe. Schedule that appointment. Call about getting the baby’s shots up to date. Put on makeup before my doctor’s appointment so I don’t look like a cast member of The Walking Dead. Everyone needs baths…and their nails cut. Why are there so many fingernails that insist on growing?

The chaos in my mind is mirrored by the chaos in my house. There are crayons. Everywhere. In the corners of the kitchen. By the stairs. I’m convinced they’re multiplying. Dress up has been discarded on the floor. Magnet blocks all over the living room. There are mac n cheese noodles stuck to the floor under the three-year-old’s chair. The lid to the coffee creamer wasn’t shut when I shook it and it spilled everywhere in front of the refrigerator. It is now a giant sticky spot that is collecting dirt and hair and who knows what else. I need to mop…I need to vacuum…I need a maid. 

It’s too much. There’s not enough time. Not enough energy. Not enough of me.

I am struggling. And it feels like failing. 

I’ve never been sure if I should call myself a perfectionist. My disorganized drawers would suggest no, but the meltdown I had after my first B would suggest yes. Sometimes, less than perfect doesn’t bother me, but others, it feels devastating.

Why is it so devastating? I’ve been trying to figure that out. I think ultimately it’s because it means that I am lacking. Lacking means deficiency and deficiency means failure. That is the path my mind naturally takes and that is why I find myself talking to myself in the kitchen, trying to take the thoughts out and examine them to see where I’ve gone wrong. 

What if the lacking was supposed to lead me somewhere else? To someone else?

We are uncomfortable with our limits. We balk at the reality that we only stretch so far before we break. My struggling feels like failure, but it’s actually just a reminder that I am a finite being, bound by time and space and the ways God has made me. It’s actually just God telling me I am not enough and this is a good thing to remember because it points me to the One who is. He exposes weakness not in condemnation, but love. He gives me more than I can handle so that He can give me more of Himself. 

The struggle is where He meets us. It’s where He pries our battered, ruined self-sufficiency from our hands and says, “I have something better.” 

“Struggling isn’t failing,” I say again. “It’s a gift.”

“She is clothed with strength and dignity.” And also probably armed with wipes and coffee…

Photo cred: my 3 yr old

The Israelites, Covid-19, and Our Greatest Battle

On Christ the solid rock I stand, all other ground is sinking sand…

These words comforted my soul as we sang them with our church body via live stream this morning. We are studying the book of Daniel and a message on Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego reminded me that God is with us in trial. My faith was bolstered, my heart uplifted.

Then I looked at the news.

I’d say you’d have to be living under a rock to not know what’s going on with covid-19, but actually, we are all living under a rock because of covid-19. Every day feels a little bit like groundhog day. Every day we wake up, stay inside, and wonder when this nightmare will end. Then we repeat.

Trying to even just process the state of the world is difficult. It’s hard to even quite wrap our minds around how our lives have been upended in just a matter of weeks. This morning as I cranked up the worship music in an attempt to calm my heart, I began to think about the Israelites in Exodus.

God delivered them from the slavery and oppression of Pharaoh. He passed over them when they hid behind the blood of a lamb. He miraculously divided the sea so they could walk through it. And He assured them that He would lead them into the Promised land.

They knew their past. They knew their promised future. And yet, they hovered in the uncertainty of the in-between, a desert space filled with great enemies and dangers.

We have much in common with them. God has delivered us from the slavery of sin. He has passed over us because we are covered by the blood of the Lamb. He has done amazing things in our lives and never failed to be faithful. He has promised to lead us into the Eternal Promised Land where death will be no more and sorrow and sighing will cease.

We know our past. We know our promised future. And yet, we hover here in the uncertainty of the in-between, a desert space filled with great enemies and dangers.

Like the Israelites, our greatest battle in these days is the battle for faith over fear, the battle for trust over grasping. Like them, we face many temptations. We are tempted to turn to idols when God seems absent and we don’t understand what He’s doing. We are tempted to worry about tomorrow, hoarding “manna” in a vain attempt to make ourselves feel secure. We are tempted to run in fear when we hear reports of giants in the land.

Covid-19 is a giant that looms large and seems unconquerable. The battle for faith as we face this giant is a daily one.

Today, I will not trust in myself, in government, in doctors. Today, I will trust in the Lord

Today, I will not worry about tomorrow or the days after. I will look to the Lord to provide the resources, grace, and strength I need for this day.

Today, I will not give in to fear when I hear reports of growing threats and danger. I will lift my eyes to the One who rules over all. 

I’d be lying if I told you’d I’ve been winning this battle every day of this global crisis. My faith is weak and fickle, just like the Israelites, but God is staunchly faithful to me and all who are called by His name, just like He was to the Israelites.

And thankfully, the battle for faith is never a battle we fight on our own. He knows how we are formed. He remembers that we are dust. He knows we could never win this battle by ourselves. So He fights it with us. When our hearts begin to tremble with fear, His Spirit leads us back to faith just as a good shepherd leads a weary sheep to water. Again and again and again.

I don’t like feeling like my life is out of my control, but actually, it’s always out of my control whether I “feel” it or not. However, it is never out of His. It makes me uncomfortable that I have no idea what the future holds, but it gives me hope that I know the One who holds it. Today, I will fight the battle for faith in Him. Tomorrow, He will help me do it again.

God has delivered us from sin and promised to deliver us to that eternal shore. He will surely lead us through the uncertainty of the in-between. He is in our midst. He will help us when morning dawns. The LORD of hosts is with us. The God of Jacob is our fortress.

sars-cov-19

 

 

And Yet…We Praise Him. Thanksgiving When Life Is Hard.

2400 years ago, Plato wrote his famous work, The Republic. In it, he addressed a crucial question. Is justice an intrinsic good? Is the just life, the righteous life, really the good life? That is, if you removed all the rewards of righteousness and the penalties of unrighteousness, would it still be worth it to live justly? Plato’s character, Glaucon, claimed that it wouldn’t. Those who live justly, he argued, only do so for its worldly benefits.

Many thousand years ago, Satan made the same argument to God concerning his righteous servant Job. “‘Does Job fear God for no reason? Have you not put a hedge around him and his house and all that he has on every side? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land. But stretch out your hand and touch all that he has, and he will curse you to your face'” (Job 1:9-11).

And so, God allowed Job to be tested. He was stripped of all his earthly goods including all of his children and yet…He praised Him (Job 1:22).

Two thousand thousand years ago, Paul and Silas were beaten because of their identification with Jesus Christ. They were thrown in jail and placed in shackles and yet…they praised Him (Acts 16:25).

Two weeks ago, my uncle suffered a stroke during his bladder removal surgery. He awoke unable to see. Barring a miracle, He is now permanently blind and yet…he praises Him.

A week ago, my mother, who has suffered from the effects of cerebral palsy her whole life, underwent ankle replacement surgery. Her pain is great and her recovery will be long. There is a possibility she will end her life in a wheel chair and yet…she praises Him.

Today, the Prosperity Gospel tells us what Glaucon told Socrates and what Satan told God. Righteousness is only worth what it produces. God is only worth what He gives. He is not the end to happiness, but only a means. The good life is the life that is full of health and wealth and if God does not give it, He is not worth our time. Our righteousness has been in vain (Psalms 73:13).

This Prosperity Gospel has a childish sort of logic to it, a basic arithmetic.  Be good. Get good. If this is the case, then Job and Paul and Silas and my uncle and my mom and so many more are either fools or they know a greater truth. The Prosperity Gospel cannot account for worshiping prisoners or singing blind men. It has no explanation for joyful suffering.

Like Satan in the garden, it mixes truth with lies. The content of its promise is true, but its timing is wrong. We are promised health and wealth, but not in this life. Its claim that God wants to make us happy is true, but its understanding of that happiness is wrong. God is both the means and the end to our happiness. He is not only the giver of the treasure. He is the treasure.

This is the true heart of the Christian faith and it radically changes its message. Grace confounds the Prosperity Gospel’s basic math. In fact, it reverses it. We have done bad and yet, we receive good. Moreover, the treasure we receive is of such great worth that not only does any earthly treasure pale in comparison, but it is such that we would gladly give it all up in order to obtain it. As Paul said, we would count it all as rubbish that we may gain Christ and be found in Him (Philippians 3:8-9).

Christ is the treasure we could not afford to buy and the treasure we would sell anything to keep. That is how you account for worshiping prisoners and singing blind men. That is the only way to make sense of joyful suffering.

Next week, we will all gather with family and give thanks for our blessings. For those who are suffering, this may be harder to do. It is hard to believe in God’s goodness when it can’t be tasted and seen, but there is a day of prosperity that is unseen, but surely coming. We couldn’t earn it and we can’t lose it. This treasure is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for us (1 Peter 1:40).

The good life is not the easy life, but the life lived for Jesus. If we have Him, we have more than sufficient cause for giving thanks. If we know Him, we have known and we will know happiness. While we tarry here, we are not promised easy and comfortable circumstances, but a joy that exists independently of all circumstances. We may have seen great sorrow and we may see greater sorrow still and yet…we praise Him.

thanksgiving.jpg

What If I’m A One Talent Woman?

In Jesus’s well-known parable in Matthew 25, a master gives talents to his servants while he goes away. To one, he gives five, to another, two, and to the last, one. The first two invest and multiply their talents, earning the praise and commendation of their master upon his return. The last servant, however, hides his talent in the dirt, earning a harsh rebuke. The talents are usually understood to represent the resources God has given us: our time, money, possessions, and abilities.

My sisters and I, all in the throes of raising young children, sometimes joke that we are one talent women. It’s usually funny to laugh about, but…what if it’s true? My adult years thus far have been riddled with many insecurities. There is in my mind, a feminine ideal, of which I fall so short. I picture her making a healthy, gourmet meal while also crocheting a sweater and teaching her rapt children a catechism. Though I know this probably doesn’t really exist, I look around and see many women who seem to embody it better than I. They have better organizational skills, administrative abilities, and domestic know-how.  They seem to have endless energy and resourcefulness and patience. I have often even felt inferior to my own husband, who is ten times the cook I am and knows more about how to remove tough stains. I laugh that he is a better woman than I, but all of this comparison has led me nowhere good. Mostly, just to self-pity.

Our Talents Are Not Our Own

Maybe I am a one talent woman. Maybe you are too. So what? None of the servants in the story did anything to earn their talents. They weren’t even their own. They were the Master’s. Feeling self-pity or shame over your one talent is as silly as another feeling pride over their five. “For who makes you different than anyone else? What do you have that you did not receive?” (1 Corinthians 4:7).

Pride has no place in the kingdom of grace nor does shame or self-pity. All that we are and all that we have is from God. It is His to give as He wishes. It is not given to make us greater or lesser, but to magnify Him and advance His purposes. Both the first two servants receive the same commendation even though they have different amounts. The last servant is rebuked not for having little, but for doing little with what he had. In the same way, if we sit and compare our one talent with another’s five talents, we are missing the point and wasting what we have been given.

Our Talents Are Not Who We Are

There are many different kinds of people in the body of Christ. Some rich and some poor. Some with brains and beauty and charisma and some without. Some with many gifts and abilities and some with only a few. Yet, all are equal citizens in the kingdom of God and all have the same fundamental identity.

Grace is the great equalizer. While the world places us all in different echelons based on money, power, beauty, the Gospel places us all in one category: condemned. It then offers us a second category: justified. The only means to this transaction is the grace of God. When we receive this grace, we receive a new identity: in Christ. This identity is given to every citizen of heaven without discrimination. It alone is what separates us from the condemned and makes us acceptable to God.

So, every Christian has the same identity, but different gifts. The gifts we are given, be they great or small, do not define who we are. When we sink into comparison or self-pity, we are forgetting this. We are forgetting that our identity is bound up, not in ourselves, not in our gifts, but in Christ.

Our Talents Are Not For Us

We are all products of grace, intended to be means of grace. Whatever we are given, for we are all given something, we are meant to use, not for our own glory, but for God’s. Not to serve ourselves, but to serve others.

The beauty of God’s kingdom is that grace is liberally and indiscriminately given to the weak and strong alike. All are lost. All are brought in. All are justified. All are given something. And all are called to take what they have been given and invest it. We are held accountable not for what we’ve been given, but what we do with it.

So, if you have a home, use it. Manage it the best you are able and make it a place where grace and love abound. If you have children, pour yourself into them. In the strength that you have, care for their daily needs and diligently feed their souls the Gospel. If you have special gifts and abilities, use them to make His name great and not your own. If you have time, money, resources, invest them in kingdom things. Take all that you have that will not last and with it, build what will.

Even if we have one talent, we are meant to take that one talent, every bit of it, and leverage it for our Master. If we have just one gift, we must steward it, develop it, wield it for the One who has given it. Whatever we have received, great or small, is meant to be used in the service of others and the ministry of His all-surpassing grace (1 Peter 4:10).

Is God Anti-Pleasure?

Pleasure and holiness are not things we normally think about in the same category. Pleasure is about doing whatever you want. Holiness is about abstaining and restraining. Pleasure is about freedom from rules. Holiness is about burdensome adherence to the rules.  Pleasure and holiness by definition, must be at odds.

However, I would suggest that these are mistaken understandings of pleasure and holiness that stem from a fundamentally and tragically warped view of God which has pervaded our society and even sometimes, the Church itself. It is the view that God is boring and He wants us to be boring too, that He delights in giving us rules just to keep us from enjoying all the things this world has to offer. To choose a life of holiness is to forego the life of pleasure. The truth I have come to realize and delight in is that this is fundamentally false. In fact, what Scripture teaches us about God is the exact opposite.

Consider the status of man before the Fall. Adam and Eve were brought to life and it was abundant life. They found themselves in a verdant garden, full of all kinds of delicious fruit to taste and beautiful plants and creatures to behold. Above all, they were given each other, companions to love and enjoy for life. And God had equipped them with all the sensory organs they needed to experience all the wonderful things the garden and each other had to offer.

The garden was literally laden with opportunities for pleasure. God called it good and He wanted Adam and Eve to experience just how good it really was and therefore, just how good He really was. Yes, there were rules.Well, really just one rule. Their pleasure was not without its boundaries. There was one tree, just one tree out of many from which they could not eat. What is interesting is that it is after they break this one rule, after they break with holiness, that their desire for pleasure becomes frustrated. Like Adam and Eve, we sin not because the pleasure we seek is itself is wrong, but because, having forsaken holiness, we seek it in perverse ways that God did not intend.  

This shows us that God’s character and attitude towards man is not one of stinginess. God’s delight is not to withhold arbitrarily, but to give bountifully. It is also tells us that, contrary to popular belief, pleasure without bounds is not very pleasant in the end. This in turn shows that our desire for pleasure needs boundaries in orderly to be properly satisfied. Is it not logical that the One who created all the good things in this world would know the best way to experience them? In making this earth, God had a design and His design was perfect and benevolent.

Consider the role of a Father and child.The child has things he naturally and foolishly wants to do. The child has a God-given desire to experience things. Yet, he lacks the knowledge and wisdom to know how the best way to do so. Is it wrong or mean-spirited of the Father to set boundaries and laws for the child? Of course not. A Father does not give his child rules arbitrarily or to withhold good things from him. Rather, he gives the child rules to protect him from harm and to show him the best and most enjoyable way to live.

In the same way, God’s rules (holiness) for the ways in which to live and enjoy His creation (pleasure) are designed for our good. The wondrous truth is that God takes great pleasure in our pleasure. However, our pleasure is most fulfilled when lived within the parameters He has set for us. His holy laws are given to us in love. So we see that contrary to common thought, God is not against our pleasure. His call to holiness is to not a call to dullness. It is a call to life abundant.

It seems then that pleasure and holiness are not mutually exclusive as we might think, but are meant to be united.  For when we experience pleasure through creation, we reflect the character of God who Himself has called it good and desires that we should too. And when we limit our pleasure within the bounds of holiness, we find that our pleasure is not lessened, but rather increased. We find that there is holiness in pleasure and pleasure in holiness.

This knowledge produces in me a renewed awe at the goodness of my God, a God who is overwhelmingly for our pleasure, is also good and wise, delighting to give us good things and to show us the best way to use them.

It also causes me to reflect that ultimately, all the pleasures God has given us here on this earth are meant to point us to Him. They are an overflow of His good character and a mere shadowing of the pleasures we find in Him. He has made known to me the path of life and in His presence, I am filled with joy (Psalm 16:11).

So as I eat, drink, and seek to live a holy and abundant life to the glory of God on this earth, I lift my eyes to Him, thanking Him for all the good things He loves to give and that one day, I will be with Him forever. I resolve to live a life of holiness knowing and rejoicing that “the boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places” (Psalm 16:60) and that this path of holiness is a path to pleasures forevermore (Psalm 16:11).

god

The Prosperity Gospel’s Deadly Whisper

“Find rest, o my soul, in God alone; my hope comes from him. He alone is my rock and salvation; he is my fortress, I will not be shaken. My salvation and my honor depend on God; he is my mighty rock, my refuge. Trust in him at all time O people; pour out your hearts to him, for God is our refuge” (Psalms 62:5-8).

That was the verse shared by someone at church about four months ago, a verse I memorized in college. But that Sunday, I just thought, “That’s nice. I like that verse” and moved on with my life. Only later did I realize it was for me, that it was the verse God was giving me as the theme for the season of trial He was about to lead my family through.

A week or so later, my husband lost his job. We had just come off a year of great blessing. Great new job. Great new house. Beautiful new baby. This year could not look any more different. Unemployment. Sickness. Job offers falling through. Maybe we’d put too much stock in these earthly blessings. “Are you punishing us, Lord?” I wondered. Not punishing. Refining. Refining our hope. Refining our rest.

What does it mean when trials come regardless of “good behavior”? This is the great question of the book of Job.

The truth is, we all want a simple calculus. Do good. Get good. Do bad. Get bad. Obey. Reap blessings. Disobey. Reap trials. We want God to operate on our terms. It’s no different, really, from the Old Testament draw to idol worship. Gods made of human hands can be controlled by human hands. They are manipulable. Containable. Predictable. Non-threatening.

A living, breathing, omnipotent, sovereign God on the other hand? That can be a terrifying thing. He cannot be controlled or manipulated. He lives far above us in heaven and does all that He pleases (Psalm 115:3). His judgments are unsearchable and his ways are inscrutable (Romans 11:33). If we submit to Him (or not), we are very much at His mercy.

Trials have a way of revealing what we really believe about God and about ourselves. I could give you a point by point run down of the Gospel.  I can scoff at Prosperity Gospel preaching and provide a scriptural rebuttal and yet, its seductive whispers can sneak behind my theologically equipped mind and make their way into my more vulnerable, more wayward heart. It is there that God is sifting.

I must confess that I can want God to behave more like an idol, to be a tool in my hands that I bend into making my life what I think it should be. I can want the Prosperity Gospel to be true.

As we have endured and continue to endure this season, it has forced me to ask myself some questions. Do I really believe that God is sovereign? Is the misfortune that has come our way a product of bad luck or divine providence? What has God promised me? Comfort, ease, and a life free of trouble? Or a hope, a joy, and a peace that remain in spite of trouble? What is the purpose of my life and what role does God play in it? Is my life about me and is God my fairy godmother who makes all my dreams come true? Or is my life about Him and His glory?

The answers to these questions directly determine how we respond in trials and suffering. I cannot pretend that my answers have always been the “right” ones. The verses I’ve been most drawn to are from Psalm 77. “Has his steadfast love forever ceased? Are his promises at an end for all time? Has God forgotten to be gracious? Has he in anger shut up his compassion” (v. 8,9)  My soul has refused to be comforted (v. 2), and yet still searched diligently to remember the deeds of the Lord (v. 11). I believe. Help my unbelief.

The lie of the enemy is that God owes us much and yet, withholds much. The truth of the gospel is that God owes us nothing but wrath and yet, gives us nothing but grace. Which will I believe?

I do not serve a god made of clay, fashioned by human hands, but the great and mighty creator and ruler of the universe. He has redeemed my life from the pit and it is His to do with as He pleases. He is not a good luck charm I invoke when trials come. He is my refuge when trials come. He is not making a plan for my life. He is making my life for His plan.

No one cares if we praise God when the sun is shining, but the world will stop and marvel when we praise Him in a storm, when our worship operates completely independently of our circumstances. That is the mark of a faith that is really real, of a heart that loves God for Himself and not for His blessings.

I am weak and weary, but I pray that trials will prove the tested genuineness of my faith, refined like gold in the fire, and resulting in the praise and glory and honor of Jesus Christ (1 Peter 1:7). I have faltered and will no doubt falter again, but I am resolved to say with Job, “The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away: blessed be the name of the LORD” (Job 1:21). “Though he slay me, yet I will hope in him” (Job 13:15).


Holiness Made Its Home Among The Cursed

At Easter, it is natural to reflect upon the death and resurrection of Christ. This year, I find myself also thinking upon the broader scope of His life and its meaning for us. What does it mean that He was Emmanuel? What does it mean that God not only forgave our sins, but came to dwell among us, the sinners? It means God was not merely after forgiveness, but restoration. Restoration of the world in its entirety. Restoration of the human condition in its entirety.

You don’t have to look far to see that we live in a broken world. There is pain. There is injustice and evil and grief. We can find that even our greatest joys can be tinged with sadness as if we know things are still not what they should be. We can be haunted by the dauntless specter of death, our one shared and final fate though something tells us it shouldn’t end that way. Why? Why is the world fraught with sorrow? Why does life end in death? Because we are fallen. We bear the curse of our sin and every square inch of creation bears it with us (Romans 8).

Yet in the life of Christ, we see mercy dawning. We see God retracing the steps of the Fall. We see the Holy One enter the cursed womb and set into motion our ransom, our rescue. The first place He sent sin’s curse was the first place He sent sin’s cure. And there is nowhere He has commissioned His curse that He has not also commissioned His grace, no scars of His judgment that He has not also touched with the healing of His redemption.

The incarnation means that Holiness made its home among the Cursed. Yahweh, a name too sacred to be spoken by our tainted lips, became Emmanuel, God With Us. How astounding that the holy, eternal God entered into the wasteland of our transgressions. How astonishing to see Him be born of a sinful woman, labor among the thorns and thistles of our cursed ground, touch and heal the sick and perishing, and finally, die the shameful death of a common sinner.

Christ, the God-man, our lamb and conqueror, subjected Himself to our curse that He might defeat our curse. The Lord laid on Him the iniquity of us all (Isaiah 53:6). Who could but falter under such an unfathomable burden? Yet, He never did. He carried it to completion and finally, cast it off, hurling our iniquities into the depths of the sea (Micah 7:19) and with them, our condemnation. Now we find the wrath of God is quenched, spent, satisfied like a fire which finds nothing left to burn. Its cup is emptied. Not a drop remains for He drank it all for thee.

What, then, remains for us to fear? What part of our curse shall hold terror for us still? Shall we fear the womb, be it emptied or filled or aching with the pain of loss? No, for our Lord has been there. Shall we live in dread of sickness? Jesus has taken up our infirmities (Isaiah 53:4). Shall we falter under the burdens of loneliness, grief, persecution? He has been well acquainted with them all (Isaiah 53:3). Shall we tremble as we face our final breaths? No, for Christ has breathed them before us.

He has lived and hurt and died, not merely pardoning us from afar, but entering fully into our human experience and leaving grace for all and in all in His wake. Yes, this ground we tread is cursed still, but now Holiness has been here, sowing the seeds of redemption. For now, they may seem to lie dormant as in winter, or barely shooting up, as in the first, fledgling moments of spring, but someday…someday, they will burst into full bloom. They will chase away the curse forever. All will be made new. It will. It will.

“The desert and the parched land will be glad; the wilderness will rejoice and blossom. Like the crocus it will burst into bloom; it will rejoice greatly and shout for joy….” Isaiiah 35:1,2

“But only the redeemed will walk there, and the ransomed of the LORD will return. They will enter into Zion with singing; everlasting joy will crown their heads. Gladness and joy will overtake them, and sorrow and sighing will flee away.” Isaiah 35:10

jesus walking