The Parable of the Sower

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From Matthew 13

A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed,

Some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up.

Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root.

Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants. ß

Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop–a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown. 

He who has ears, let him hear.

When anyone hears the message about the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in his heart. This is the seed sown along the path.

The one who received the seed that fell on rocky places is the man who hears the word and at once receives it with joy. But since he has no root, he lasts only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, he quickly falls away.

ß The one who received the seed that fell among the thorns is the man who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke it, making it unfruitful.

But the one who received the seed that fell on good soil is the man who hears the word and understands it. He produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty, or thirty times what was sown.

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being brave

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It is Thanksgiving. I am 26 1/2 years old today.

I typically don’t celebrate or even notice my half birthdays, but I was getting ready this morning, and thinking, and, what do you know. I have six more months to be 26, and then I’m 27.

For some reason, the concept of ‘time’ has really been rampant in my life lately. I am not in a quarter-life crisis per se, but I have had frequent thoughts about being 26. Being so close to thirty. (Feeling so much closer to 20, or 15 for that matter). And after having been in somewhat of a rut for the past two years, dealing with some perplexing health issues that I am finally getting some answers about, I have this feeling that God is really trying to wake me up. Shake me free from eat/work/sleep/trudge/repeat. Being extremely tired and not feeling well coupled with days of depression and anxiety is a recipe for some low-energy pity parties for me. More trudging. Hardly noticing anything around me, just going through the motions. In the back of my mind, thinking about THIS place where I get so much joy and fulfillment from writing and discovering things that God is saying to me.

So just now, when I went to login and couldn’t remember the login and password, it was confirmed to me that this is no longer acceptable. It is no longer acceptable to forgo this well of joy and passion that is available to me, from doing what I really honestly believe I was made to do. And it’s no longer acceptable to make excuses to let time go by without truly living.

It’s really easy to fall into a pattern of living like an animal–waking up to get my basic needs met and moving on to the next day, which turns into a hundred more in the blink of an eye. And, while it has been hard because having no energy and being in pain is terrible and frustrating, this life is way too short to put off really living. God calls us to something more. The Almighty, all-knowing God of this universe, actually wants to involve me in what He is doing in the world. How could I ever, EVER, squander that?

I am finishing this book called Let’s All Be Brave, by Annie Downs. She is really cute and honest, and it’s one of those books that make you feel like you’ve just sat down with a friend to have coffee for a couple hundred pages. It is a good read, and it is exactly what you think it may be: a call to be brave, and take a step forward, even when it’s scary, which it often is.

There is no better day than today, a day to reflect upon what we’ve been given, to declare that I am ready to be brave. God actually formed me in my mother’s womb, to do the things that He has set apart for me to do. Maybe those things are huge, maybe they are seemingly insignificant, but they are mine. God gives me the strength to do anything. My life is His, and therefore it isn’t mine to waste, no matter how good I tell myself my excuses are. The fact is, I don’t have time not to be brave. None of us does. So here’s to really living these precious lives we’ve been given.

Happy Thanksgiving!

The Horror of the Same Old Thing

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Screwtape reveals a powerful tool for distraction:
‘The horror of the Same Old Thing is one of the most valuable passions we [demons] have produced in the human heart–an endless source of heresies in religion, folly in counsel, infidelity in marriage, and inconstancy in friendship. The humans live in time, and experience reality successively. To experience much of it, therefore, they must experience many different things; in other words, they must experience change. And since they need change, the Enemy [God] (being a hedonist at heart) has made change pleasurable to them, just as He has made eating pleasurable. But since He does not wish to make change, any more than eating, an end in itself, He has balanced the love of change in them by a love of permanence. He has contrived to gratify both tastes together in the very world He has made, by that union of change and permanence which we call Rhythm. He gives them the seasons, each season different yet every year the same, so that spring is always felt as a novelty yet always as the recurrence of an immemorial theme. He gives them in His Church a spiritual year; they change from a fast to a feast, but it is the same feast as before.'”

C.S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters

cleansing Judas

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The evening sun was low in the sky as the men finished their meal, dipping bread into the oil after breaking it. They sat in a spacious room upstairs, set in the middle of the city, and after a long day, they could finally rest here together. A cool breeze blew in from the back of the room and danced in front of the dimly lit stars. The sounds of the market drifted in from the street below–voices rose to meet the humming of their steady conversation at the long, sturdy table. All was right in the world because he was with them.

But he was wrestling with dark thoughts and his mind was far away. He could feel that his heart was full–he couldn’t have loved more the friends he had in this room, and he had done all that he had set out to do. But there was that darkness, once again, that cast a shadow over the light of love–a tantalizing voice that seemed to creep in and steal what was pure. There were so few hours left to spend with them, and his heart ached.

He stood up from the table slowly and all eyes followed him, their hushed tones fading away into silence. The men chewed their food quietly and their gazes remained on him as he walked around the room. He removed some of his clothes and left them in a pile by the door, wrapping a towel around his lower body. A few of the men shook their heads in disbelief; then he poured water into a bowl.

He approached each man, one by one, taking their tired and calloused feet into his hands and gently lowering them into the clean water. Dumbfounded and exchanging glances, they relented and reluctantly allowed him to wash them. Their faces flushed with hot shame: he was the esteemed one, the great teacher who spoke with unparalleled wisdom and clarity. Surely a servant should stoop to clean the filth off their soles and not this man whose future showed so much promise, who may become the great King they’ve waited for all this time. But they had come to know that his ways were something they’d never experienced before; nothing had been the same since he came into their lives. He often made them uncomfortable, challenging everything they’d ever known to be true. He moved on again, attentively removing the dust and ash from each man’s aching feet.

He felt the sting of emotion behind his eyes as he moved onto the next man at the table. He scanned his face for a moment, looking for a hint of mourning in his eyes. He placed a hand on one of his ankles, slowly guiding it into the water as he poured the cool liquid from the basin onto his dry, cracked heels. His heart beat hard as he moved his hands along the surface of the water. He loved him like a brother, but he knew his heart. All of the days spent together, walking under the hot sun, serving people and speaking to the crowds. The bread broken, wine poured, and wounds healed. It all led up to this moment, and his heart was heavy with grief. Why do they fall for schemes of the liar and settle for so much less? he thought. Because he knew that all were loyal to him but one man: the man who sat in front of him, his heart stolen by power and greed. But before time began, his betrayal was etched into the story of the world.

He sighed. Using the towel around his waist, he dried the man’s feet and looked away. Though it was almost the end of his time here, it was only the beginning. There was so much more to be done.

“You’re not going to touch my feet,” one of the men said suddenly. He was stubborn, and had a lot to learn. He couldn’t see the significance in this moment now, but soon it would mean everything to him.

“I’m going to wash your feet, just like you should wash each other’s feet,” he said. “No one is better than anyone else,” he added with conviction, finishing and removing the damp towel from his body to place on a small table by the door. This was at the heart of everything he had shown them, but they were like children with so much to learn. Once he was gone, they would keep gaining wisdom, though with a longing in their hearts.

He replaced the bowl of water, put his robes back on, and returned to his place at the table. The night was upon them completely now, and the mood of the room had changed–the men quietly considered what he had done and what he’d said; every word he spoke was like new breath. He had shown them love and spoken love, and soon love would pour from his body and soak the earth. One man shifted in his chair; he wiped the sweat from his brow and looked toward the door.

John 13:1-17

a humble heart

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I can’t get this old woman out of my head.

She stands in front of her flattened house, describing to a local news reporter how she survived the impact of Moore, Oklahoma’s recent devastating tornado. Minutes into the interview, one of the crew spots her little terrier underneath a crumpled bed frame. “Thank you, God,” she gasps as she tries to pull him from the wreckage. Her name is Barbara Garcia, and her video interview went “viral” after her pup was found in the rubble. It’s a miracle: her life spared along with the life of her friend, who she was sure was gone forever. He reminds me of little Toto as he lifts his stiff legs to walk, a dazed look on his face.

A sweet story like this helps us to recover pieces of hope from something so devastating. It seems that there have been a lot of tragedies lately, leaving many of us grasping for something that transcends, something that breathes life into all this despair. We are forced to search for meaning when we’re met with senseless sorrow and pain. When all is lost, we’re looking for something that remains: a glimmer of hope and a flash of joy–something that whispers to us that there will be an end to these troubles and everything will be made right.

And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” – Revelation 21:5

When the world feels as if it is crumbling, the awareness of God’s sovereignty can bring joy and peace. He has a plan for all things, and just when the darkness feels like it will never pass, the sun rises again.

J.R.R. Tolkien invented a term for storytelling and our Story:
“I coined the word ‘eucatastrophe‘: the sudden happy turn in a story which pierces you with a joy that brings tears …And I was there led to the view that it produces its peculiar effect because it is a sudden glimpse of Truth, your whole nature chained in material cause and effect, the chain of death, feels a sudden relief as if a major limb out of joint had suddenly snapped back…And I concluded by saying that the Resurrection was the greatest ‘eucatastrophe’ possible in the greatest Fairy Story – and produces that essential emotion: Christian joy which produces tears because it is qualitatively so like sorrow, because it comes from those places where Joy and Sorrow are at one, reconciled, as selfishness and altruism are lost in Love.”

Jesus’ disciples and followers were in the most dejected and hopeless time of their lives when Christ bled and was murdered on that cross. They mourned the painful loss of the man they had thought would be the One to finally save them. But what they didn’t see then was that in three days, He would stand in victory…ALIVE! What better example of eucatastrophe; sometimes we can be dragged to the depths of this life only to awaken to the miracle of a new day–of healing and joy like we’ve never known.

For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. – 2 Corinthians 4:17
(This verse is funny to me because Paul says “light” and “momentary” and we can scoff at his choice of words…but if anyone’s troubles were the opposite of light and momentary it would be what the Apostle Paul went through for the sake of the Gospel.)

…Weeping may stay for the night, but rejoicing comes in the morning. – Psalm 30:5b

The issue of suffering in this life is difficult to reason and it’s not something to take lightly.
In a C.S. Lewis biography, Terry Glaspey puts it this way:
“Suffering for its own sake is never good and we should try to do all we can to alleviate it in the lives of others. But pain is important because it wakens us from the illusion that all is well in the universe.”

And like all things, God uses pain and suffering for ultimate Good:
“God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.” – C.S. Lewis

Because the truth is that we are in need of Someone greater–beyond our fallible landscape, higher than this fragile earth, stronger and more powerful and mighty to save. We cry out to Him when a two-mile wide funnel drops down into the lives of Oklahomans, and we are desperate for His healing touch when floods, tsunamis, fires, and hurricanes wreak havoc on our towns. We beg Him for mercy when the lives of little ones are taken from us in the blink of an eye.

And this old woman in Moore, Oklahoma stands in front of some shredded wood that used to be her house and describes those minutes when the twister brought her home down on top of her. Just hours after it happened, she is able to speak so calmly about the frightening event that destroyed her whole neighborhood, and as far as she knew at that time, took the life of her little dog. She brings tears to my eyes because she reminds me so much of my grandmother from Oklahoma who has passed away. Her cute accent, the old-fashioned words she uses…But there’s something else that is so remarkable about her attitude that I keep thinking about: humility.

“This is life in the big city,” she says, when asked how she thinks of what happened to her home and her belongings. “It was the game plan over the years to go in that little bathroom,” she explains, as nonchalantly as if she is simply passing on a recipe to a friend or telling a little anecdote.

And I keep wondering how I would react if all of my belongings were torn to pieces around me, if I would immediately thank God for the life I still had and part with easily the temporal things that don’t matter at all. Above all things, I want to have a humble heart: open to receive, willing to give, and ready to lose everything if need be. To have a healthy perspective–this life could end tomorrow or change drastically in a moment’s time, but I must be like a child in her Father’s hands: completely trusting, absolutely surrendered, and unquestionably little.

When my tendency might be to dwell and mope and grumble and feel sorry for myself, I want to shrug my shoulders and say, “This is life in the big city!”

All I can do is say Thank You.

when hearts hurt

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bostonmourn

There is a heaviness in my heart that has been there for days now. It seems that the nation is feeling it–maybe even the entire world has stopped to hang a head down and squeeze eyes shut and let the tears come.

It was the horror at Newtown, Connecticut that not long ago cast a darkness over our lives and made it difficult to cope that something so evil could even be real. I sat at my desk at work that December morning with my hand over my mouth as the details emerged and the stories were told and precious lives were counted and remembered–innocence ripped from stunned loved ones. Covering my face with open palms I told God then, I am so sorry. I am so sorry. Look what we’ve done. Oh, God, I am so sorry that we keep breaking Your heart.

I’ve never seen the brokenness of this world like I saw on that day, when hot tears streamed over our faces and questions were asked and anger struck hard that those families are forever left to endure a pain and a shattering that no one should have to experience. Even as a distant witness I trudged home and curled up and wept until it hurt, and that Sunday with our church family the tears flowed and the whole room and the world was full of pure ache and pure beating heart that I’ll never forget.

Now this week, first reading of the Gosnell trial and then the terror in the streets of Boston and the death and destruction in Texas had me feeling the weight of the world and a burden of grief. And it made some of us think and remember the lives taken in Oklahoma City years ago and it was that same feeling I felt walking through the memorial, the swallowing hard and the pit in my stomach and pain behind the eyes. Oh yes, I thought, this is that broken world again that I’ve been trying not to face.

On Friday as Boston stood still, we watched and prayed for no more devastation and no more murder. And sick to my stomach, I felt confused and wondered how these people I’ve never met and these events hundreds of miles away could strike such a chord in me and in the hearts of all of us. And, terrible as it may be to give it thought, my mind lands on a nineteen-year-old boy in a backyard, bloodied and dying but not backing down from his mission to destroy people he’s never met because of the lies of the evil one that he has believed. I feel the tragedy of darkness and of sin and how it wounds the world.

“…I wanted to wish it all away, close my eyes to sin and not bear witness. But in bearing witness, we bear the weight of glory, of God who bears sins and rises, and redemption requires testimony.” – Ann Voskamp (aholyexperience.com)

It is something odd to be heartsick when tragedy strikes in the lives of strangers, but in a world of unlimited information it’s become commonplace to feel and experience the joy and sadness of the whole world. It makes the world small and it makes headlines irrelevant because people are real. I can mourn with those I’ve never known because we are all connected by our suffering. We can’t reach out if we don’t enter in–and when we enter into pain we realize what is important, what is real, what is life, and what it is to be human. It reminds us that there is an ugly, devouring, dark force in this world that we desperately need to be rescued from.

Most of all, when we enter into pain we see what it means for God to be God. He is everything that heals and bandages, comforts and brings peace and saves. He is the soldiers and first responders and volunteers running into the chaos to aid victims, He is the stories of heroism, bravery, and selflessness; He is the loving memories of lost lives and the outpouring of support to a city trying to breathe again. A refuge in times of trouble, and can you think of any more troubled times than these? And now on a day when some are celebrating and praising Earth, my head is turned away from the beauty and trembling unpredictability of this created planet and my eyes are fixed on the constant, steady, Rock of the Creator, who speaks Justice, who suffered here with us and who heals like no one else can.

Sin runs deep, Your grace is more.

a heart that beats

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heartreal

It happens to me often.

Lying in bed in the dark and quiet, usually at the end of a long day, perfectly still for the first time in hours–it catches my attention.

Badum. Badum. Badum.

It’s my heart. Beating. Steady rhythm and buried. When I look closely, I can see it pulsing underneath the skin.

And then I’m focused on the labor of my breath, filling my lungs with oxygen and letting the air out again, and then a deeper breath, and quicker because I’m giving it thought, listening to see if my heart changes its pace. I get a closed-in feeling–I press my wrist to feel the pulse there, and can I feel it near my throat? Mostly it’s the boom in my chest and it causes my upper body to slightly flinch each time. Surely it’s not beating like this throughout the day.

My mind races–but, it is, actually, beating like this throughout the day. Badum. Badum. Badum. Over and over and over again. For hours, and days, and weeks, and maybe even for eighty years it will beat like this. And then I’m all heart. I’m waiting for it to stop suddenly, because the idea that a heart can beat constant through my hours straight of sleep and my doubled over laughing and my rolling eyes and my running late and my stressed out–the idea that it can do that, with no effort from me, is too much for me to really grasp. Badum. Badum. Badum. Can a heart be humbling?

Lying there, listening to my heart beat, the heart that will keep me alive until it doesn’t anymore, I have to let go. Earlier, I might have been wanderer or mistake-maker or complainer or doubter, but in that moment I am awed by the created, and God, I am thankful. Thankful for a heart that beats.