The God who Nourishes Us

“…no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body.”

-Ephesians 5:29-30

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My grandma injured her leg in a fall yesterday, and I am recovering from a few overuse injuries, which happen more frequently due to EDS (Ehlers Danlos Syndrome).  I was complaining about my condition this morning, and praying for my grandma.  I voiced my fears and frustrations to God, as I opened my Bible to Ephesians 5 this morning.

 

I was surprised at the way verses 29 and 30 confronted me.  I nearly cried.  I normally think about Ephesians 5 as talking about marriage relationships.  Being that marriage is a representation of Christ’s relationship with the church, it makes sense that there would be beautiful truths, like the ones in these verses, that, while sandwiched between passages explaining how husbands and wives ought to interact, reveal pearls of truth about the way God interacts with his people.

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I care about my body.  I went into a career in health and fitness because I love the way my body enables me to enjoy the world around me to the fullest.  I love hiking and biking and running.  I love having the ability to help those in need, to cuddle, to kiss, to see, smell, taste, hear, talk, touch, and sing.  I can’t imagine life without these abilities, and yet my body tends to tear and fight me pushing it to do more.

 

I know that God COULD heal me if he wanted to, but he hasn’t yet.  Instead, he leaves me to daily wrestle and writhe, as I balance the desire and need to be active, with the uncertainty of how much is TOO much before my body starts breaking down.  These realities makes me feel like God must just not care or value the abilities of my body as much as I do.

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Then I read passages like Ephesians 5:29-30.  I am told that God nourishes and cares for me, a part of his Church, THE WAY HE DOES FOR HIS OWN BODY?!?!  Wow!

 

I don’t know why God doesn’t heal me, but if the truth is that he nourishes and cares for my body as though it were his own, I can know that my pain is not because of a lack of care or concern.   Surely God cares about himself!  And his word tells me that his care for me is like his care for his own self!!!

 

I may may not always feel loved; the truth is that I am.  The truth is that “…in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28).  I choose to believe the truth.  I choose to pray that truth for my grandma today, as she goes into surgery for her broken leg.

 

In honor of grandma, and the God who nourishes us, all the pictures in this post are from grandma’s garden ❤️.

 

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Simply Shadows

“For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.”

-1 Corinthians 13:12

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Peering out an airplane window, as we started our half hour descent, I entertained myself  by admiring the landscape below.  Based on what I could see, I created narratives in my mind of what the lives of the people living there must be like.

Before long, my thoughts were interrupted by the realization that what I had mistaken for lakes, while at a higher altitude, were in fact, upon closer inspection, merely shadows of clouds!  The clouds passed beneath me: billowing, beautiful, and full of light. Nonetheless, they created very real looking puddles of darkness on the ground below.

There was even a shadow of our airplane!

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Immediately, a quote from Tara Leigh Cobble’s book “Kiss the Wave” came to mind. She talks about the way a trip to the places Jesus lived and walked in Israel changed her perspective:

“Prior to Israel, I would pray for His return when my heart was broken or life was hard and I despaired. I only wanted Him because he was better than the bad things. But after Israel, I found myself praying for His return simply because I like Him so much. I realized: He’s not just better than the bad things. He is better than the best things. Whenever I saw a beautiful sunset or tasted a great steak, or laughed so hard my face hurt, I thought, and these are just shadows! Just fractions of the fullness of joy, given to us to point us toward Him! What will it be like to feel the form, not just the shadow” (86, Kiss the Wave).

Shadow is but a taste of the truth, or, as 1 Corinthians 13 puts it, merely a “mirror” image of reality. Be it clouds or airplanes or laughter or kisses, as Tara Leigh says “these are just shadows!”

As Plato says in “The a republic”:

“What about someone who believes in beautiful things but doesn’t believe in the beautiful itself and isn’t able to follow anyone who could lead him to the knowledge of it? Don’t you think he is living in a dream rather than a wakened state? Isn’t this dreaming: whether asleep or awake, to think that a likeness is not a likeness but rather the thing itself that it is like?”

Everything we see points to a reality beyond it. I want to see past the “shadows.” I want to “use the things of this world as if not engrossed in them,” because “this world in its present form is passing away” (1 Corinthians 7:31). I want to be storing up for the world and the one who IS eternal (Matthew 6:19-21, Revelation 22:13) In him, there is no darkness (1 John 1:5). He is the light, the source and the true “form” that every “good and perfect” thing is simply a shadow of (James 1:17)

 

Swans and Sleep

“In peace I will lie down and sleep, for you alone, Lordmake me dwell in safety.”

-Psalm 4:8

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Yesterday, I joined these beautiful swans, sitting beside the pond on the Common (Boston Common), watching their namesake boats pass by.  Ducks, geese, and birds begged and dodged onlookers all around. Couples cuddled, nappers napped, studiers studied, and I simply sat there, taking it all in.

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In spite of the commotion all around, and the personal paparazzi they attracted, these swans slept on, paused to preen their feathers, stretched, and sunbathed, seemingly without a care in the world.

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I thought about how the Psalmist says that it is only because of the Lord’s watchcare over us that we are able to sleep “in peace” and “dwell in safety.”  Isaiah 46 tells us that this is true, even in the midst of catastrophy, and events that would seem to warrant sleepless nights and concern for our safety:

“God is our refuge and strength,
    an ever-present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way
    and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,
though its waters roar and foam
    and the mountains quake with their surging.

There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
    the holy place where the Most High dwells.
God is within her, she will not fall;
    God will help her at break of day.
Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall;
    he lifts his voice, the earth melts.

The Lord Almighty is with us;
    the God of Jacob is our fortress.

Come and see what the Lord has done,
    the desolations he has brought on the earth.
He makes wars cease
    to the ends of the earth.
He breaks the bow and shatters the spear;
    he burns the shields with fire.
He says, “Be still, and know that I am God;
    I will be exalted among the nations,
    I will be exalted in the earth.”

The Lord Almighty is with us;
    the God of Jacob is our fortress.”

Oh to trust the invisible “fortress” that is the arms of the Almighty God.  To have eyes to see the unseen armies of angels, ambassadors at God’s bidding, who guard his own (II Kings 6:17, Psalm 103Hebrews 1:14).  To rest, in the midst of all the chaos life concocts, fully assured that:

no weapon forged against you will prevail,
    and you will refute every tongue that accuses you.
This is the heritage of the servants of the Lord,
    and this is their vindication from me,”
declares the Lord.”

-Isaiah 54:17

 

Because…Love

“There is the great lesson of ‘Beauty and the Beast,’ that a thing must be loved before it is lovable.”- G.K. Chesteron

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When Chesteron penned these words, he echoed the very heart of his God-made-man Maker, Jesus Christ.  Jesus taught that all the beauty that exists only does so because it was, and is continually worked upon by love: every bird and flower is fed and clothed by the same Maker who cares for and cultivates you and me (Matthew 6:25-33).

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But Jesus did not just teach this truth, his very life, as God incarnate-leaving his throne and taking on the flesh of his creation, to live among and die for, to rise again on behalf of, to save, and to “live to intercede” for of all who come to him through faith-proved his message (Romans 5:8, Romans 8:34).  Love is what creates and sustains our existence (Acts 17:28).

In a similar way, our love can “create” and sustain existence.  Whenever I watch really young children play, I wonder at the way any of us survived childhood.  We fell, banged our heads, got up, cried, and did it again.  We put rocks, sticks, and pretty much anything we could find in our mouths.  We touched hot stoves, and pulled boiling cups of water onto our hands and heads.  How did we survive?

We only made it this far, because of love.  Someone, in love, picked us up when we fell down; again, and again, and again.  Someone dried our tears, and hugged us.  Someone took the rocks, sticks, and other objects from our hands and mouths.  Someone pulled us away from hot stoves, and moved boiling water out of our reach.  And, when they couldn’t keep us from danger in the moment, that someone was rushed us to the hospital, and cared for us as we healed from our self-inflicted injuries.

We exist today, because we were and are loved; not just once, but again, and again, and again.

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We have the power to bring life-giving love to others, but only because someone first gave it to us.  Ultimately, all of us exist and have any capacity to love, because GOD LOVES US!

“Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth…We love because he first loved us” (I John 3:18-4:19).

A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.  By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:34).

Friend, you are SO LOVED!  May your deep and abiding knowledge of how very loved you are empower you to love others with this life-giving love that you have received.  If you don’t already know Jesus, the source of love, and the archetype example of  it, may today be the day you cry out to him in faith.  May today be the day you taste a sample of the sweetness of his rich love for you.

 

Geese Gather

Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you…I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”

-John 6:27, 35

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Walking along the river today, I was overcome by the way the clouds painted the gaps between the lily pads, as the geese passed by.  Crouching to capture the moment, the lead goose, likely misreading my extended camera as an arm beckoning with bread, turned the tribe towards me.

As you can see above, Lead Goose ruined my perfect photo, just as I ruined the tribe’s perfect meal, BUT, in exchange, these geese did leave me with some lessons to share.

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I thought about the way these geese responded to me taking the position of a person they were accustomed to receiving sustenance from: a slight postural change inspired an instantaneous response! Before long, I was surrounded!

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The geese hurried toward me when they thought I was their food source, though I had nothing to offer.  In the same way, we hurry towards many things in life that promise pleasure or sustenance, but will never really satisfy.

Pastor Curtis Cook spoke on the invitations of Lady Wisdom and Lady Folly from Proverbs 9 this past Sunday.  You can here the sermon here.  Both Wisdom and Folly issue an invitation to come and eat their food.  Of Wisdom’s invitation, verse 11 says, “through wisdom your days will be many, and years will be added to your life.”  Of Folly’s, however, verse 18 says, “But little do they know that the dead are there, that her guests are deep in the realm of the dead.”

Sometimes, I get tired of waiting for the provision that comes from God, because, well, I have to wait for it, and I don’t like waiting.  Someone comes along and claims to offer the thing I want sooner, and I’m tempted to chase it.  But I’ve come to learn, from the Bible AND from experience that:

“Unless the Lord builds the house,
    the builders labor in vain.
Unless the Lord watches over the city,
    the guards stand watch in vain.
In vain you rise early
    and stay up late,
toiling for food to eat—
    for he grants sleep to those he loves.”

-Psalm 127:1-2

I do not want to run after “sustenance” that “spoils,” and I certainly don’t want to be the one who leads others in such a “wild goose chase” (yeah, pun totally intended :-P).  Thankfully, if I keep my ears tuned to the voice of the Word and Spirit of God, I won’t have to worry about that (Proverbs 9:10, Isaiah 30:21, etc.).

I thought I’d close with a quote from C.S. Lewis’ conversational narrative between Senior Tempter “Screwtape” and his nephew and tempter-in-training “Wormwood,” that Pastor Curtis Cook cited in his sermon as well:

“You are much more likely to make your man a sound drunkard by pressing drink on him as an anodyne when he is dull and weary than by encouraging him to use it as a means of merriment among his friends when he is happy and expansive. Never forget that when we are dealing with any pleasure in its healthy and normal and satisfying form, we are, in a sense, on the Enemy’s ground. I know we have won many a soul through pleasure. All the same, it is His invention, not ours. He made the pleasures: all our research so far has not enabled us to produce one. All we can do is to encourage the humans to take the pleasures which our Enemy has produced, at times, or in ways, or in degrees, which He has forbidden. Hence we always try to work away from the natural condition of any pleasure to that in which it is least natural, least redolent of its Maker, and least pleasurable” (44, Screwtape Letters)

 

 

Ripples and Waves

“As soon as you began to pray, a word went out, which I have come to tell you…”

-Daniel 9:23

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About a week ago, I went for a long walk along the river.  It was a hot day, but a shady walk, and few people were out.  The stillness beckoned me to stop and soak it in, so I found a bench, and settled on my back: hands under my head, knees bent towards the heavens, breathing the fresh air and listening to the birds and occasional bicycles go by.

The sounds were monotonous, and might have lulled me to sleep, until a boat passed.  It was distant, and, its mellow buzz was not loud enough to jolt me out of my happy stupor, but, about 30 seconds after its passing, the entire dock in front of me, filled with little boats, began shaking vehemently.

For whatever reason, Daniel 9:23 came to mind.

Daniel’s prayer, like that boat passing, inspired an immediate response.  However, he wouldn’t get to see the effects of his prayer right away.  In this analogy, the “ripples” would not reach the “shore,” until some time later.  They would absolutely produce change, but it would take time.

This concept then brought to mind the image in scripture of “the prayers of God’s people” being kept in bowls before the throne of God.  I’m not sure how exactly it works, but I know that they are preserved in God’s presence, and then, all at once, poured out to produce change on the earth:

“Another angel, who had a golden censer, came and stood at the altar. He was given much incense to offer, with the prayers of all God’s people,on the golden altar in front of the throne. The smoke of the incense, together with the prayers of God’s people, went up before God from the angel’s hand. Then the angel took the censer, filled it with fire from the altar, and hurled it on the earth; and there came peals of thunder,rumblings, flashes of lightning and an earthquake.” (Revelation 8:3-5).

In a sermon about this passage, John Piper says “What God wants us to believe about our God-exalting prayers is that none of them is lost. None is wasted or pointless. They are stored up on the altar of God until the proper time when God pours them out on the earth to accomplish his great purposes of judgment and redemption.”

When you get alone with God in the middle of the business of life today, remember that, on an individual level “as soon as you (begin) to pray an answer (is) given.”  Your prayers produce ripples, and you will see the effects of your prayers at some point, but it may take time.  Also, remember that, collectively, your prayers are being stored in the presence of God, along with those of your brothers and sisters in Christ around the world, who pray and long for the same things you do: for love, mercy, peace, redemption, healing, and for the kingdom of God to come and his will to be done on earth as it is in heaven (Matthew 6:10).  There will come a day, when those collective prayers, like one mighty wave, will be released in power to produce change on the earth.  Until that day, we wait and watch for ripples.

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Eternity in the Human Heart

“He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.”

– Ecclesiastes 3:11

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I have long pondered passages such as Ecclesiastes 3:11, Psalm 19, and Romans 1-18-20.  In the past, I’ve followed them into debate, but lets circumvent all that today.  Look instead at the surging inside that says, “YES! I know EXACTLY what this means!”

It’s that same swell you’ve felt atop a mountain, sweat gathered on the way up, all at once chilling your skin in the altitude, as you see and breathe beauty so rich and tangible it can only be describe as “drinking it in!”  You sense the same sacredness when the world slows and comes to a halt, because a child you are cradling, has fallen asleep in your arms.   You intuit the presence of something greater than biological reality alone, when one human being gives up his or her life, for another, perhaps even a stranger.

Bathe in that beauty for moment.

“We do not want merely to see beauty, though, God knows, even that is bounty enough. We want something else which can hardly be put into words—to be united with the beauty we see, to pass into it, to receive it into ourselves, to bathe in it, to become part of it.

That is why we have peopled air and earth and water with gods and goddesses and nymphs and elves—that, though we cannot, yet these projections can, enjoy in themselves that beauty grace, and power of which Nature is the image. That is why the poets tell us such lovely falsehoods. They talk as if the west wind could really sweep into a human soul; but it can’t. They tell us that ‘beauty born of murmuring sound’ will pass into a human face; but it won’t. Or not yet.

For if we take the imagery of Scripture seriously, if we believe that God will one day give us the Morning Star and cause us to put on the splendour of the sun, then we may surmise that both the ancient myths and the modern poetry, so false as history, may be very near the truth as prophecy.

At present we are on the outside of the world, the wrong side of the door. We discern the freshness and purity of morning, but they do not make us fresh and pure. We cannot mingle with the splendours we see. But all the leaves of the New Testament are rustling with the rumour that it will not always be so. Some day, God willing, we shall get in.

–C. S. Lewis, “The Weight of Glory,” in The Weight of Glory: And Other Addresses (New York: HarperCollins, 1949/2001), 42-3.

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Approve what is Excellent

Sometimes we think of being “blameless” in terms of what we avoid. But being passive in life, out of fear we will do or say the wrong thing, does not lead to a blameless life.  In Matthew 25:14-30, it was what the man with the talent DIDN’T do that offended his master.

I was reading Philippians 1:9-10 this week, and a few words struck me:

“It is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.”

The prayer is about being “pure and blameless” by what we “approve,” rather than what we avoid!

This reminded me of Derek’s webb’s song “T-Shirts,” or Andrew Peterson’s “Come, Lord Jesus.”  I want myself, and other Christ-followers, to be known, not primarily by what we are against, but by what we  are “for.”  I want us to be known by our love (John 13:5).

In the parable of the good Samaritan, the people that walked by the helpless man were on their way to do things that were good and right (Luke 10:25-37). The problem was that, in their lists of right and wrong, they did not make room to “approve what is excellent” in the moment.   They did not make room for discernment or love.

Making room for love and discernment, does not mean that we do not obey God’s laws; it means we obey them more fully.  In Matthew 23:23, Jesus says:

“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices–mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law–justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former.

The teachers of the law and Pharisees had the same thing in common that the people that passed by the hurting man in Luke 10 did: they had the cut and dry rules down, but not the “more important,” but less defined, ones.  Giving “a tenth of your spices” requires no further thought.  “Justice, mercy, and faithfulness” require that discernment we talked about.

To walk in love and discernment, and to “approve what is excellent,” requires actually having a relationship with God, and listening to the Holy Spirit’s voice in the moment (Isaiah 30:21).  It may require us changing our plans, even if they are good plans.   It most certainly will require more effort!  BUT, may we “approve what is excellent” today!

 

Eye Contact

Nichole Nordeman’s newest album “Every Mile Mattered,” has not yet been released, but there are 4 songs available for download, with the advanced purchase of the album.  One of those songs, “Dear Me,” feels incredibly personal.

On January 29, 2016, I got a concussion at work.  A year and a half later, I still struggle with headaches, sensory overload, and other symptoms from the traumatic brain injury (TBI).

On the outside, I look healthy.  I smile, and try to enjoy life, in spite of the pain I feel within my body.  Sometimes, this outward appearance of health leads people to believe that I don’t really have pain inside my body.

The pressure to LOOK sick, in order to be believed, can be stifling.  It hurts, perhaps more than the headaches, because it’s an attack on my very being-on my integrity-and one that I’m powerless to confront.  I used to always be believed, but, then again, I used to always be above average, capable, and helpful.  Now, I’m a little less so.  This past year and a half, I was even a burden.  I was easier to write off.  If I wanted to be believed, it felt like I had to let my illness rob me of my joy; and, even then, it was just me hoping that these able-bodied skeptics, with seemingly all the power, would either believe me or just give me the benefit of the doubt.

That’s when it hit me: I USED TO BE THE ONE WITH THAT POWER!  Sometimes, I still AM the one with that power: the power to affirm another human being!

Before the concussion, I would carry around granola bars in a bag, because the Bible says  “give to everyone who asks you” (Luke 6:30), and I thought that was a simple, clever way to obey.
I did invite a homeless woman to join a friend and I for lunch once, but, honestly, I didn’t believe she’d actually come.  She asked for money, I didn’t have granola bars on me, and we were heading to eat, so I invited her to join.  She declined, and I insisted, believing that her reluctance was proof that she really just wanted money for some sketchy reason.  Finally, she agreed to come.
It was only when we were ordering, that I realized that the reason she declined was because she had no teeth, and was embarrassed to eat in front of us.  She ordered something soft, explaining that she had a hard time chewing.  Then, when the food arrived, she got up to leave and sit at another table, so she wouldn’t spit in our food. Obviously, I insisted that she stay and eat with us, and I ate my food-spit and all-along with my arrogance.
But I still hadn’t learned my lesson.  Not yet.
After over a year and a half of struggling to be believed, and finding such freedom in the friendship of those who did believe me, I do finally see things differently.
The day before yesterday, it was a 90 plus degree day, and there was a small-framed, nearly-toothless woman, crumpled under a wool blanket, begging on the side of Boylston street in downtown Boston.  Normally, I would have either walked by, or stopped, purchased her something, and walked by.  But I’m not the old me.  This time, I got her the drink she requested, and I got one for myself, and then I sat next to her and talked.
We had an amazing conversation! As we sipped and slurped, she shared about her Neuropathy, which is why she likes to keep the wool blanket on her legs.  She pointed out people she knew walking by, and told me about the “family” she’d made on the streets.  She shared about her day, and we had some laughs.
I couldn’t help but think to myself “I used to miss this?! I might have walked by this beautiful woman that you (God) created, and given her a granola bar, rather than paused and enjoyed her company?!”  My heart swelled as she spoke on and on.
“…Do you remember now the things I said I thought that I deserved
My flag, and safety, a place to learn
The things I know I didn’t earn
And ‘bless their hearts, I’m sure it’s hard, but handouts don’t help anyone’
And all the talk about ‘the system’
‘I sure hope someone can fix them’
I said those things
Dear Me
This is a letter to the girl I used to be
You’ll see, you’re gonna take the long way
And there is nothing you could do or say to separate you
From the love of God who made you just exactly as He meant to
And you cannot imagine all the places you’ll see Jesus
But you’ll find Him everywhere you thought He wasn’t supposed to go
So, go
Go
And hold all the mothers, whose babies bleed from bullet holes
And feel all the hunger, the bellies and the bones
Shout for the prisoner, cry for justice, loud and long
And march with the victims, as Jesus marches on
And sit at all the tables, ‘cause Jesus eats with everyone
And dance to the music, if you can’t sing its’ native tongue
And cry for the wombs, the mothers and the empty arms
And hold high the warriors, fighting now for freedoms’ song
And love, love, love, love like it’s your own blood
Love, love, love, love as you have been loved…his name is love”
-from Nichole Nordeman’s “Dear Me”
When I was getting ready to leave, I asked if I could pray for this woman, Joanna, and she took my hand, laced our fingers together and tucked my arm next to her body. “Let’s pray!” she said.  I could have cried!  (Which, since the concussion, isn’t exactly news, but it was a beautiful moment :-P)  We prayed together, and I left.  I’m glad she stopped me.  I’m glad I stopped.  I’m glad that God is always more than I currently know.  I’m glad that there is more change he is working in me, and more beauty that I will experience as a result.
“I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”-John 10:10