In Memory of Rosie Martin, 03/19/00 — 11/20/14

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Rosie died yesterday, surrounded by people and prayers of those who loved her. Those very people–near and far–whom she loved so fully and faithfully for 14 years. The pain and sorrow are still too raw for me to offer a proper tribute, so for now I’m reposting words from October 2005. In honor of our Beloved Rose, who is now in the presence of the Good Shepherd and eagerly awaiting our return Home.

Today I had an incredible encounter with the Father. He loves me. Not because I’m beautiful or smart or talented or creative. But because….He loves me. Deut. 7 reminds me that He sets His affection on me not because I’m (fill in the blank) but because He loves me. Translation: He loves me because He loves me. I bring nothing. I have nothing.

Anyway. I was overwhelmed. I flung my body on the floor, weeping. Tears and snot all over the place. Rosie, of course, is watching all this. Quietly. Then she tap-taps downstairs while I’m prostraste on the floor. I hear her go down; I hear her return. And then she drops her
stuffed football on my back. She went down to get her favorite toy to
bring to me. Why?

Because she loves me. I’m telling ya, the Father used my
dog to remind me that He loves me because I am His. Just because He
chose me. Not because of anything I do.

It is a humbling thing to passively receive such outrageous love. It’s
a humbling (and amazing!) thing to receive such a message of love
from…your dog.

I am not worthy.

In sorrow and with thanksgiving to our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep (and lover of Border Collies),

Amen

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The Death of Keeping Score

 

In January, I met an author who is delightfully, scandalously immersed in grace and whose books are challenging my very broken, very narrow understanding of said grace. Robert Capon died last September, but not before influencing a pastor (Tullian Tchividjian) whose teachings are also blowing my mind and tenderizing my heart. Check out the link to see what Tullian has to say about Capon and what Capon has to say about grace.

Here’s just a sampling of the havoc he’s raising in my heart. Expounding on the parable of the Laborers in the Vineyard (Matthew 20:1-16), Capon says,

“Bookkeeping is the only punishable offense in the kingdom of heaven. For in that happy state, the books are ignored forever, and there is only the Book of life. And in that book, nothing stands against you. There are no debit entries that can keep you out of the clutches of the Love that will not let you go. There is no minimum balance below which the grace that finagles all accounts will cancel your credit. And there is, of course, no need for you to show large amounts of black ink, because the only Auditor before whom you must finally stand is the Lamb–and he has gone deaf, dumb, and blind on the cross….For if the world could have been saved by bookkeeping, it would have been saved by Moses, not Jesus….God gave up on salvation by the books. He cancelled everybody’s records in the death of Jesus and rewarded us all, equally and fully, with a new creation in the resurrection of the dead. And therefore the only adverse judgement that falls on the world falls on those who take their stand on a life God cannot use rather than on the death he can. Only the winners lose, because only the losers can win: the reconciliation simply cannot work any other way. Evil cannot be gotten out of the world by reward and punishment: that just points up the shortage of sheep and turns God into one more score-evening goat. The only way to solve the problem of evil is for God to do what in fact he did: to take it out of the world by taking it into himself–down into the forgettery of Jesus’ dead human mind–and to close the books on it forever. That way, the kingdom of heaven is for everybody; hell is reserved only for the idiots who insist on keeping nonexistent records in their heads” (taken from “Kingdom, Grace, Judgment: Paradox, Outrage, and Vindication in the Parables of Jesus”).

See what I mean?

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Standing Firm

I’m reading through the Bible (NLT), and I’m currently at Isaiah 7. Ahaz, king of Judah, hears that Syria has allied with Israel to attack Jerusalem. Ahaz is, as Isaiah describes it, trembling “like trees shaking in a storm” (v. 2). So the Lord sends Isaiah to speak His Word to Ahaz: “This invasion will never happen; it will never take place…. Unless your faith is firm, I cannot make you stand firm” (v. 7, 9). The ESV translates verse 9 this way: “If you are not firm in faith, you will not be firm at all.”

So Ahaz has a choice: to believe God and let Him save him, or to believe his enemy (Assyria, with whom he makes an alliance) and try to save himself. How about me? Will I trust God to save me or will I put my faith in “lesser gods” (money, reputation, talent, other people, etc.) and try to save myself. Even further: will I trust God to save my family (just as Ahaz is called to trust God to save his country), or will I try to save them myself?

Isaiah goes on to say that the Lord sent him to give this Word to Ahaz: “…ask the Lord your God for a sign of confirmation…. Make it as difficult as you want—as high as heaven or as deep as the place of the dead” (v. 10). In other words, “I am willing to do the most difficult thing you can imagine in order to confirm My truthfulness, to verify My Word (promises) to you.”

Wow. What would I ask for in that situation? What difficult task would I put before the Lord of Hosts in order to confirm His promises to me? Something supernatural (beyond natural, physical explanation). Something significant (not “make the sky green and the grass blue”). Part the sea? Nah, He’s already done that. Cause bread to fall from Heaven? Nope. Been there, done that. Raise the dead? Maybe. That’s a biggie, but didn’t He already do that via Elijah/Elisha?

It’s a good question. So how does King Ahaz answer it? He says, “No, I will not test the Lord like that” (v. 12). What?! Why not?! Because he’s already decided who/what he trusts in, and it’s NOT the Lord.

Isaiah replies, “Well, that’s too bad, but have it your way. The Lord Himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive a child! She will give birth to a son and will call him Immanuel (which means ‘God is with us’).”

And that is the very sign Abba gives me: The virgin’s son, Jesus, the God-Man, who lived the life I can’t live and died the death I should die to pay the debt I can’t pay and to credit me with righteousness I can’t muster on my own. The sign He gives me is the Cross.

Today, Abba is saying to me, “The thing you fear—the enemy you face—won’t conquer you. I promise. Remember the sign I’ve given you: My Son nailed to the Cross to save you from the consummate enemies of sin and death. Look! Remember! Believe! Then you WILL stand firm, standing in the shadow of the Cross. I, your Father-King, am FOR you. Who can stand against you? If I didn’t spare My own Son but gave Him up for you, will I not also along with Him graciously give you all things? Count on it, Daughter. Nothing (no enemy, no trial, no prison, no calamity, no sin) can separate you—or any of my beloved ones—from My love, love that was consummated in Jesus’s life, death, and resurrection. Be at peace. Believe and stand firm. I will fight this battle for you.”

Oh, Abba. I believe. Help my unbelief.Image

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A Prayer

Abba, This morning I am your freckle-nosed daughter with unruly blonde hair and skinned knees. I’m sweaty and sticky from playing in the front yard and slurping on a popsicle. Dirt caked beneath my fingernails from digging in the garden. Legs covered with mosquito bites that itch and distract and preoccupy me. Too much grape kool-aid has turned my lips and tongue purple, and I’ve been too busy exploring to notice the urge to pee, and so I dribble. I look up from my play, my work, my preoccupations to see You watching me, a smile in Your eyes and on Your lips. You wave me over, and I run to you, climb into Your lap, throw my sticky arms around Your neck, and press my purple lips to Your cheek. You laugh. Your affection for me is palpable. Strong, gentle arms draw me close to your heart, my head resting on your breast. You breathe deeply, inhaling my pungent dirty-sweaty-little-girl smell like it’s Your favorite perfume. My scabby legs itch. I scratch. I’m still a little hyped up on kool-aid. I wiggle. You wait patiently for me to settle down, settle into the comfort of Your lap. And finally I do. In Your arms, surrounded by your presence, I rest. It never occurs to me that I’ve crumpled Your shirt, stained Your cheek, offended Your nostrils, interrupted Your day. Because You are my Abba, and I am Your Daughter. You love me, dirt and scabs and wiggles and all. I rest. You smile. And so it goes, a girl in her Daddy’s arms. Amen.

Psalm 131 My heart is not proud, O Lord, my eyes are not haughty; I do not concern myself with great matters or things too lofty for me. But I have stilled and quieted my soul, like a weaned child with its mother, like a weaned child is my soul within me. O Israel, but your hope in the Lord both now and forevermore.

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Authenticity v. Holiness

Has “Authenticity” Trumped Holiness?

My friend, Rameylady, sent the above article my way and wanted to know what I thought about it. Here goes…

The author cites numerous books and films and blogs dedicated to messy Christians. I suspect that the recent rise in these confessionals is a reaction/response to the numerous books and films and blogs over the years that have been dedicated to “How to Do Christianity.” The pendulum swings, and we’re asked to choose one over the other as if they were mutually exclusive. However…

Both authenticity AND holiness are good and necessary. And both flow out of the Gospel.

Like any “good” thing, however, authenticity and holiness can be perverted. I can, as the author points out, turn my “‘being screwed up’ into a badge of honor, its own sort of works righteousness.” If I’m acknowledging my sin and struggles to point to ME, and if I use my sin and struggles to recommend myself (to you, to me, to God), then I am indeed turning my authenticity into my righteousness. But if I’m acknowledging my sin and struggles AND looking at the Cross, then my authenticity is, well, “real.” The author says we should “stop speaking of ourselves in such ‘we are scum’ terms. In Christ, we can be more than scum.” Yes. And why? Because Jesus became scum FOR us. There is no authenticity without the Cross.

And how about holiness? Like authenticity, there is no holiness apart from the Gospel of Grace. I can, and certainly should, choose to be holy. But I can’t manufacture holiness; it must grow out of my relationship with Jesus (which is based on what He has done for me, not what I do for Him). To say we should be holy instead of authentic without connecting the Gospel to either one is simply trading one work for another.

In a sense, the only thing I can ever bring to the Table is my sin. The Great Exchange: my sin for His righteousness. That’s the Gospel. So my sin doesn’t define me; rather, it points me to the Cross, where Jesus screams, “It is finished!” And that outrageous proclamation is my motivation, my fuel to be holy.

More could be said and, no doubt, will. One closing comment: the author’s audience is the Church, and he rightly challenges us to examine our hearts. But what about those outside the Church, those to whom Jesus gave the right to evaluate His claims based on our lives, our love for each other. Many non-Christians perceive the central message of Christianity as, “Be good. Christianity equals moralism.” As Tim Keller says, “Non-Christians will always automatically hear gospel presentations as appeals to become moral and religious….” Authenticity (as presented by losers like Anne Lamott, Donald Miller, et al.) begins to deconstruct that view. Authenticity can and SHOULD be rooted in the Gospel—my sin, His righteousness; my failure, His triumph; my shit, His grace. THAT’S Good News for those outside—and inside—the Church.

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O Christmas Tree!

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It’s time to get the Christmas tree, and I’m reminded of the Tree Saga from 2006. It goes something like this (actually, it goes EXACTLY like this):

Somehow, this year I couldn’t bring myself to do the “tree” thing. Maybe I was overwhelmed with schoolwork, house work, homework…whatever. But I truly did NOT want a tree. Didn’t want to have to rake a spot in the living room for it. Didn’t want to drag out the lights that typically don’t work and require a trip to Wallie-World to buy lights that typically won’t work this time next year. Didn’t want to haul boxes of ornaments up the steps, sift through them, find a spot on the tree, knowing that “Georgie” the Wonder Cat would most likely climb the tree to attack a particularly enticing glass reindeer or fuzzy sheep. And most of all, didn’t want to go through my neurotic “Does the tree have enough water?” routine that obsesses me and amuses the boys.

So I told Sam and Nate, “No tree this year. I’m not up for it.” Stunned silence. I continued, “If YOU want a tree, by all means, go get one. And set it up. And put the lights and ornaments on it. And clean up the mess when you’re done. And, most of all, water it every morning and every night. OK?” Stunned silence.

I don’t know if they were in shock because of my mini-rebellion, or it they realized that they didn’t want to mess with that litany of tasks either. For whatever reason, they quietly accepted my edict.

One friend told me, “It’s ok. You don’t HAVE to have a tree.” Another said, “You’ll be sorry.” I held my ground.

Then Thomas came home. “Where’s the tree?” he asked, looking at the usual spot which was occupied by a spiky palm looking plant with several strands of tinsel flung across the fronds.

“We’re not getting a tree this year,” I said with confidence.

“What?!” Ta asked, incredulously. “No tree? I’m pretty sure that it’s unbiblical to not have a tree. Are you ok?”

I laughed (nervously). “Yeah, I just don’t want to mess with a tree this year. You can, if you want to.”

That was Thursday. Friday I went to Greenville to see a dear friend, spend the night and do some shopping. We had a blast, feasting at Bonefish Grille, chatting till 2am, hitting a dozen stores in about 3 hours, and ending up at Whole Foods Market, which is just a cool place to hang out. On the way home, I realized that I felt…refreshed, rested, ready to consider a tree.

In fact, as I pulled in the driveway, I secretly hoped the boys had decided to surprise me and do the “tree thing” in my absence. Surprise! No tree. I was disappointed.

Revelation: I wanted a tree after all. So on Sunday, after lunch, Jeff and Ta and Phil (my Jewish son) trekked down to the Sertoma lot to buy me a tree. No sign of Sertoma anywhere. I guess they sold all their trees to cheerful folks who knew they wanted a tree two weeks ago. Not willing to accept defeat in the face of my “tree repentance,” the threesome headed up to Merry Christmas Tree farm in Norris, where they slayed a lovely 7-foot Leland Cypress and dragged her home. All five boys finagled the tree into the holder, made sure it was straight, filled it with water, and draped it with 2 strands of white and 1 strand of colored lights. Beautiful!

By this time I was inspired to to put the ornaments on all by myself. I even had the Christmas music going. As I was admiring the tree, Nate said, “I was really upset we weren’t going to have a tree. It’s just not right.”

I laughed. Now that the tree was up and beautiful, it seemed right to have it. A good tradition.

UPDATE: Of course we’ve never had a tree that was trouble free. And this happy story is no exception. I got home from the Perrys last night to find all the water drained out of the tree (and you KNOW how stressed I get about the water) and many of the gifts soggy. Before I could get hysterical and say something stupid (like, “I KNEW we shouldn’t have a tree this year!”), all five boys were in the living room, lying on the floor, assessing the problem, offering solutions, etc. Truly. And now “I” was amused at “their” obsessing over the water in the tree. The troubleshooting session revealed a leak in the tree holder. So Jeff and I trudged to Wallie-World at 10:00 last night (which, by the way, is probably the best time to go there if you have to go there), and the tree was as good as new (almost) by 11:30.

ONE MORE THING:  I suppose you’re wondering about “Georgie” the Wonder Cat. Well, he went in for “brain surgery” today, so hopefully he’ll be too preoccupied to notice the tree….for a day or so anyway.

Posted in Holidays, Life | 1 Comment

Happy Halloween

In honor of Halloween and to all those who think they are NOT dressing up for the occasion, I offer this, one of my favorite poems:

“We Wear the Mask”

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We wear the mask that grins and lies,
It hides our cheeks and shades our eyes,–
This debt we pay to human guile;
With torn and bleeding hearts we smile,
And mouth with myriad subtleties.

Why should the world be overwise,
In counting all our tears and sighs?
Nay, let them only see us, while
We wear the mask.

We smile, but, O great Christ, our cries
To thee from tortured souls arise.
We sing, but oh the clay is vile
Beneath our feet, and long the mile;
But let the world dream otherwise,
We wear the mask!

(Paul Dunbar, 1872-1906)

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