all there is

it is a divinely happy thought that, though i fail and stray and falter often, i do not stand on my own merit, be it good or bad. my righteous deeds are as filthy rags, and at my weakest point the strength of Christ is perfected, and yet i am already approved regardless of what i have merited.

approved on the life, death, and victory over death of Christ.

i have no other claim. i can claim nothing more. that is all there is.

it is a divinely happy thought.


how long, how long, how long?

i distinctly remember reading psalm 13 in high school. i remember it so distinctly because it totally confused me.

how long, O Lord? will You forget me forever?
how long will You hide your face from me? 

how long shall i take counsel in my soul,
having sorrow in my heart all the day? 
how long will my enemy be exalted over me? 

consider and answer me, O Lord my God;
enlighten my eyes, or i will sleep the sleep of death,
and my enemy will say, 'i have overcome him,'
and my adversaries will rejoice when i am shaken. 

when i was younger, no only did it seem totally uncouth and arrogant to ask such questions of God, as if this were a cross-examination to uncover His of malevolent intentions, but on a fundamental level, the inquiries seemed irrelevant for someone whose hope is in the Lord.

i mean, really!? "how long will you forget me?" come on. hey psalmist, don't you know that even if a mother could forget her own child, even then the Lord could not forget his own? our names are written on the palm of His hand? He has seen every day of our lives and can number the hairs on our head? PSH! like HE could ever forget us? why would you ask such a silly question?

and, come on, dude. get your face out of the mud! sorrow in your heart all day long? and seriously, you're ready to die because you're convinced the Lord doesn't see you? can somebody please say it--you're delusional.

or maybe you're just incredibly impatient. don't you know the Lord commands the stars to rise and the sun to set, and He is master over time and space because He created it? i mean, can't you give Him a LITTLE credit that He knows what He is doing inside of time? wait on His timing, it's obviously right. quit your little pity-party and buck up. geez.

that was the mindset of my 16-year-old self. maybe it was because i only asked such questions when i was being selfish and whiney. maybe it was because i was afraid of asking the Lord to faithfully display His own nature to me more fully. maybe it was because i had already been waiting on the Lord for three whole years (since i became a believer), and, you know, waiting wasn't turning out to be all that hard.

until it was. ten years later.

and the dull ache of loneliness starts to settle into my bones.
and the long hours, days, weeks... years of silence from the Lord starts to deafen my ears to the truth.
and the painful struggle against the temptation of habitual sin starts to seem unconquerable.
and the growing emptiness of unrealized hopes and dreams starts to numb me of all desire.
and the futility of every effort taken to repair broken relationships starts to build up walls of bitterness.
the the endless string of morning upon morning, evening upon evening, where all i can say is, "Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner in constant need of grace."

it's wearying.

and now i understand the psalmist, who undoubtedly waited so much longer than 10 years for the Lord to return, repair, restore, resurrect. i understand the plea: how long, o Lord? how long? how long? i'm not looking for an estimated wait time or a countdown calendar. i'm asking for your PRESENCE. be here, with me, now, and fix this. only You can. show up. do it. i'm DONE. i'm so stinkin' done with all this crap.  get here, now. where are you? i know, i know, you're "everywhere." but i mean, where are your purposes and where is your truth and goodness in the middle of all this waiting? i don't get it, Lord, and i'm starting to lose sight of the horizon.

but i have trusted in Your lovingkindness.
my heart shall rejoice in Your salvation. 
i will sing to the Lord, 
because He has dealt bountifully with me. 

there it is. the rooting of our souls. the foundation of our faith. the watch by which we measure all waiting. His nature. His love. His plan for salvation. He has proven Himself in the past; if only we would be reminded more frequently.

and i am not asking to accuse or to whine or to convince Him to change the plan. no, i ask because i need Him to know that i need Him today. i ask because i am so very weary and He is so very good. the only good; the best good. i ask because i need to know that this is not the final chapter, that one day He will be the dawn and the darkness will forever die. i ask because i have not forsaken the hope that He provides. i ask so that i can keep looking forward. i ask so that i can live. i ask because if i don't ask, i may die.

how long? how long? how long until this burden is lifted?
how long? how long is this the song that we sing?
how long until the reckoning?
--andrew peterson--


i'll have no other.

at the end of an empty bottle--
at the end of that ill-fitting relationship--
at the end of an entire tank of gas taken one-way west--
at the end of the roller coaster--
at the end of that first kiss--
at the end of the bowl of ice cream--
at the end of an argument you 'won'--
at the end of your maxed out credit card--
at the end of a Jane Austen--
at the end of a great job offer--

there is thing we like to call "real life." ha. whatever that is.

this is our real life:

we pay high prices to assuage the aching emptiness. we sell our resources, our relationships, our dignity, our time... just for a moment's peace. just for an escape to some sense of perfection, one that's gone in a blink.

andrew osenga sings it this way: "almost every girl i've ever kissed is married//it's not a lot of weddings, but it's sure a crazy thought//now they all seem like someone else's story//i wonder what we paid for what we got."

i wonder what we paid for what we got. 

when will we see? the price is too high and the prize is not worth it! how long until we cry 'uncle,' until we say, 'Enough!'

the things that are real will endure. only the unshakable will remain. and i examine what i've bought with my resources and relationships and dignity and time, and i realize: i'm not gonna have much when it all shakes out. not much at all.

Oh, that You would cure my heart of its bent to passing pleasures. Oh, that You would stay my heart from straying to a quick fix. Oh, that You would be my vision, and that, beholding You, all else would fade away. there is only One true. there is only One good. be all mine; i am wholly Yours, and i'll have no other. 


when only the unshakable remains

most of our lives are lived very near to the surface. we can't plumb the existential depths of human life for very long before we need to come up for air. we get stuck in the cycles of work, eat, sleep, play... and it's easy to stay busy at that level.

until. until something within us is pricked, or pushed, and all the things that hide in the darkness of our depths are brought up to the light.

here's what i mean: i was driving down I-64 on my way to work a few days ago. i was trying to merge, i had just had a jerky driver nearly cause an accident, my day had started with an emotionally draining phone conversation, and i was stressed out about arranging my upcoming move. suddenly, my phone rang. it was actually a really good friend of mine who i would normally love to hear from. but instead of answering, i shut off the ringer and i primal-screamed at the top of my lungs.

my heart is like a tube of toothpaste. if you apply enough pressure, what's on the inside is inevitably going to come out. and sometimes, it's not going to be very pretty.

this little volcanic temper tantrum is indicative of the last few weeks of my life. i'm not gonna lie: it's been a little rough. i have had the limits of my patience tested. i have been accused of having no moral fiber. i have met resistance when trying to accomplish good. i have lost one of my closest friends. i have fallen into foolish traps of temporary pleasure. i have watched something that i love dearly and have invested a lot of my life into begin to fall apart completely. i have received bad news about several family members. i have considered if it is time to totally cut of the most damaged and damaging relationship in my life, where i had once hoped with expectation to see restoration. i have cried. a lot. and i really don't know if i have ever felt more alone.

where shall i go from your Spirit? or where shall i flee from your presence? if i ascend to heaven, you are there. if i make my bed in sheol, you are there. if i take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me.if i say, "surely the darkness shall cover me, and the light about me be night," even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is bright as day, for the darkness is as light with you. 

 this is a bit of a mystery to me: it is right here, in the middle of everything falling apart, where the love of God is made known to me. yes, i know His love in the sunshine and spring of all good and pleasant things blooming around me. yes, i know His love in the blessings of a prosperous life and in the provision of all life-sustaining things. yes, i know His love in the peace and security of solid relationships. all of that is pretty easy; all of that feels good.

but even when the sun isn't shining, even when the accusations are flying, even when relationships are falling apart, even when i've effed everything up beyond all recognition... even there, Your hand will lead me, and Your right hand will hold me.

and You know what? You have. i don't know why you still do, i don't know how You still can, but i know that You love me. grace upon grace, this is the love of God that surpasses all knowledge. and don't i know it.

this is love: not that we have loved God, but that He has loved us, and has sent His Son to be the atonement for our sins. not that we have loved God. but He has loved us. He is loving us until it hurts, until there's nothing on this earth we love more than Him. His touch is devastating as he shakes out all that can be shaken, until only the unshakable remains. it hurts to be shaken, but what i will be when all the shaking is done is worth it.

so yeah, i'm being shaken. and maybe i'm falling apart right now. and maybe... it's the best thing that has ever happened to me.


proof of what is possible

i have a friend who is known for saying, "you can't argue with a changed life."

yeah, that's the truth. tonight i was encouraged to hear the story of a changed life. and i got to thinking about all the people i know who have the miraculous story of a changed life. a life redeemed from certain destruction. i got to thinking about the true reaches of this power i profess to believe, the power of resurrection, the power of death becoming alive. i got to thinking about how little i believe for those lives around me who are in desperate need of becoming the story of a changed life.

i have a friend who was an addict. violent. angry. divorced. bankrupt. estranged. and now he is clean. gracious. loving. patient. forgiving. employed. becoming a father again. seeing the work of God's grace in his life.

i have a friend who was a gang member. drug addict. poser at a christian college. God brought him to his knees, to his face, literally. and redeemed his life from the pit. gave him grace to be a leader, leading countless people to the Lord and working to be an agent of justice in a broken world.

i have a friend who was unfaithful. and subsequently rejected. abandoned. and now is whole and complete, lacking nothing.

i have a friend who was ruled by an eating disorder. and now is free.

i have a friend who was bitter with the Lord for her lot in this life. and now is joyful at the wisdom and providence of what God has given.

i have a friend who was angry, prideful, never admitting she was wrong. she estranged all friendships and most family relationships. she nearly broke apart her family. she was depressed and out of control. and now she is learning how to say, "i'm sorry, please forgive me." how to control her temper. how to maintain even the most difficult relationships. how to love those who have hurt her.

i have a friend who dared to speak the unspeakable word, "divorce," for the lack of hope for her marriage. but she put her hope instead in the Lord, and was able to watch Him transform her husband and her marriage into something better than it ever could've been before.

i have a friend who was betrayed and broken by a fiance's broken promise. she waited on the Lord, and He delivered to her something better, something that could not have been so sweet if it had not been framed by the heartache.

time would fail me to finish the stories of redemption, were i to continue. but you get the idea.

this, today, is not the final word. this is not the end of the story. you may have seen yourself in one of the stories above; i can see myself in nearly all of them. and so come with me, let us put our hope in the Lord, the only One who can bring life out of death, who can bring something out of nothing. this is the proof of what is possible with the Lord: you can't argue with a changed life.


useful sin

a confession: i don't practice confession very well. (too much irony?)  but really, i don't. actually, i brought it up in my member interview at Sojourn this past week. my community group and close friends therein have been great examples of how God uses good confession to heal and sanctify us. i've experienced the goodness of the discipline. i am just not intentional or, honestly, all that glad about practicing it.

one reason i don't regularly confess is that sin immobilizes me. i feel paralyzed when i consider my sin. look, i've been at this Christian thing for a long time now, over a decade actually. you might think i'd start to get a little better at it. but i'm not. sometimes i think i'm worse than i've ever been. so when i approach the confessional, i do not hear the ringing truth of God's sufficient grace. i hear the sirens wailing, pulling up my very tainted track record.

then it becomes a spiral: i remember other errs, grievous ones, ones from last month, last year, even 15 years ago. things i did and words i said to people who needed to be loved. and i am crushed. is that who i am? it's certainly not who i want to be, but it's starting to look like that's who i am. that's what my life is reflecting. and it's got a lot of ugly. i'd rather not get into it, thankyouverymuch.

is this starting to get depressing? i hope it is. because it's true, and it's the human condition. cognitive dissonance can only go so far; at some point we have to face the music.

this is why i need confession. i need to know how ugly this really is. i need to get into it.

because i need to know how far this grace must come. 

it's like i'm digging a hole in the ground: with each confession of sin, i'm digging out the poison and casting it away, that part of me is taken away and it no longer has any bearing on who i am. so i dig, and dig, and dig some more. i dig until i break a sweat, until my arms are sore, until i'm covered in dirt and bruises and smell like i haven't showered in a week. i dig until i think i've gotten it all. then see i haven't; and i dig some more.

and then it rains.

and it doesn't stop raining until the entire hole is filled.

it is sufficient.

sin makes me feel useless. i stop participating in the work God is doing when i wallow in my own sin.

but sin is useful: it reveals my need for God, and it reveals the depth of His great love for me. "at the right time, while we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. for a righteous man, someone will rarely die, and for a good man, someone might possibly be willing to die. but God demonstrates His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us." romans seven : six - eight.

this unthinkable love is true. and every time i practice confession, i claim it as my covering. confession is the starting place for the love of God to be fully known in my life.



sometimes i feel like it's too tall an order, this business of becoming who i am... becoming who i already am, becoming who i want to be.

i get so scared of messing up that i don't even want to try. i get so discouraged by my repeated failures that i just want to quit. it's too hard! it's too much work! it's insurmountable! i'm so far away from the goal. how will i ever get there? what could possibly sustain me?

what could possibly sustain me?

what could possibly sustain me to see the vision realized, to see the goal met?

and it's there, right there in that place, that it is proved:

i need You. i do.


professor horner's bible reading system and other medicine man miracles

i mean, really? is there a better way to imagine the signage for professor horner's bible reading system than as the weathered advertisement on the side of a traveling circus wagon? but i digress.

"Prof. Horner’s Bible Reading System is meant to be an intense foray into every part of the Bible. This system will have you reading ten chapters each day if followed properly. The intent is to read quickly through each chapter, being careful not to “skim” or “dig-deep” into any single section. Good luck!"

i've tried a reading plan or two in the duration of my enlightened life. this is the only one i've ever wanted to recommend... or even commend, for that matter. perhaps it is the ease of accessibility on www.youversion.com, including the youversion app on the iphone, but i have had a higher success rate than expected. the best part: even when i don't succeed at keeping up with the daily reading, i can tell youversion to "catch me up," and i don't have to wade through four day's worth of 30-60 minute readings. (four days? who am i kidding. try seven. i hope my honesty helps to free you of your religious, self-righteous guilt for not cracking your good book yesterday.) you can even have youversion email you the daily reading, or subscribe in your feedreader via RSS. i mean, this is the lazy man's best study friend.

i am really enjoying the juxtaposition of the OT and NT in this reading plan. i'm especially enjoying the order that the plan dictates: not all OT then all NT, but back and forth between the two. not only does this keep my mind fresh (hey, who doesn't love a good chapter-full of geaneologies?), but it is helping me to see the common thread woven through all: that is, the gospel of salvation by God's hand through Jesus Christ alone for the ultimate glory of God. 

all that to say: if you're looking for a plan that is more-than-five-minutes-comprehensive yet attainable, user-friendly and guilt-free*, try this one on for size.

*guilt-free only comes with the "by grace alone" package, though, so you might need to take that pre-requisite before diving in.


justification and old-school derek webb

this was the song all the christian college kids liked to learn on their acoustic guitar--i mean, the lyrics included "whore" and "bastard" but you couldn't get in trouble for saying them because it was still about Jesus. you know, kind of like the Bible.


anyway, i was listening to "wedding dress" while i was driving around town today, and i heard it in a new light.

at lunch with my community group, a question was posed about how best to teach the doctrine of justification. we discussed different analogies and how it had been best described to us, and it was a fairly illuminating conversation. here's what i gleaned: we have been given, regardless of merit but rather by the work and power of Christ, the identity of Christ. it's something that is put on us like clothing, in the same way that the prodigal son is given a robe and a ring--signs of power and authority even though he squandered his inheritance and ran away. "the clothes make the man"-- and we are clothed in righteousness, we are called righteous by God, and so we are. we didn't DO it, and yet we ARE, because He said so. He creates life by His breath, certainly he can make us justified with the same.

after our lunchtime theological discussion, i was listening to derek webb. i've liked the song "wedding dress" since the first time i heard it. to me it meant many things, but i never quite grasped what exactly was his intention or message. then, a few years ago, i stumbled upon a youtube video of derek introducing the song, and he explained that he had written it in response to the craze over the book "the prayer of jabez." he was responding to the church being soured by the american consumerist mentality of entitlement and comfort. it was about idols, and materialism, or ... something like that. honestly, it kind of cheapened the song for me. i had found it really profound, as a confession of my sin and a cry for grace to come. but now it seemed a little hollow--almost political, perhaps only a commentary on the modern american church. such a commentary is certainly not a useless exercise for a songwriter, but it was not what the song had meant to me previously.

but then, as echoes of our lunchtime conversation bounced around in my head, i heard something new in the lyrics. i heard justification, by grace alone.

if you could love me as a wife
for my wedding gift your life
should that be all i'll ever need, 
or is there more i'm looking for? 

God makes me His, and that is all i need to be perfect. it's not Jesus, plus ______. it's only Jesus. i don't need to jump through rings of fire or sing pitch-perfect church choir solos or even be baptized or be nice or pay my bills on time to be perfect. i am His, because He said so, and so i am perfect.

'cause i am a whore, i do confess
i put you on just like a wedding dress 
and i run down the aisle, i run down the aisle
i'm a prodigal with no way home,
i put you on just like a band of gold
and i run down the aisle, i run down the aisle
to you

you see? i'm a whore. i'm a sinner. but God says i'm His. and so i am. that's how the whore puts on the wedding dress, and how the debt-ridden prodigal takes the golden ring. it's grace from start to finish; no more, no less.

what is beautiful to me about this picture of justification is our response: i run down the aisle. i can feel the urgency: this is too good to be true, let me seal the deal before He realizes what He's getting. the runaway son can turn around and come home, because he is accepted in spite of his former rebellion. the promiscuous woman can march down the aisle and take the vows, because she is loved and desired as a wife in spite of her 'tainted' life.

bottom line: come, ye sinners. 

Let not conscience make you linger,
Not of fitness fondly dream;
All the fitness He requireth
Is to feel your need of Him.