luke 14:15-14.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: I love Lent. I love the kneading and prodding, the realization of my own scarcities and needs, wants. I love the expectation that in those holes in my soul–my scarcities and deficiencies–there will be seeds planted, and Living Water sprinkled, and flowers grown. Beauty from ashes.

We all have scarcities. Needs. Some of us are discontent. We’re anxious. We compare ourselves to everyone and everything, and our joy is stolen. We grow bitter. We are sick or in pain, worrying or fearful, lonely or unloved. Selfish.

On Sunday, I heard a great sermon on plenty and scarcity, as we are focusing on “the daily bread” portion of the Lord’s Prayer. When we pray for “our daily bread,” we are not only praying for provision of necessities, but also that God would enter in our scarcities and holey and unholy places and fill us up. As a congregation, we read aloud the parable of the great banquet from Luke, chapter 14. I enjoy hearing the more “worn” passages of the Bible from a different perspective, and this one struck me.

I’ve been taught that the rather narrow meaning of this parable is that the three guests who decline the banquet are simply declining Jesus as Savior (i.e., choosing not to believe Jesus is the Messiah, or electing not to ask Him “into their hearts,” to put it Sunday School style). But as I’ve grown up, I’ve come to such a broader, more beautiful understanding of what Jesus means when he describes the Kingdom through parables.

This one is about being so caught up in your own world that you not only totally miss the Kingdom, but you decline it, thinking you’ve no need for what it has to offer. The people at the banquet and the people who decline represent more than just those who believe in Jesus and those who do not; it’s about people who know they need what the Kingdom has to offer and people who think they don’t.

When the servants decline the invitation to the wedding banquet, they say things like:

“I would, but I just bought a tract of land, and I need to tend to it.”

“I just bought some oxen, and I need to make sure they’re doing okay.”

“I just got married, so I’m a bit busy.”

They are self-involved, full of hubris. They are saying, “I don’t need your banquet.” (Also worth nothing, they’re declining free food and drink, which is just silly. Stupid, some might venture to say.)

When we remember that Jesus is using this metaphor to communicate what the Kingdom of God is like, we realize that these banquet invitees are denying the abundance and plenty of the Kingdom because they proudly believe it has nothing to offer them. They think their own earthly “kingdom” of oxen and fields and yes, even a spouse, is enough. (Spoiler alert: it’s not.) As a result, they miss out on the abundance of the banquet as well as the celebration and joy that goes along with it.

What is a host to do? Well, he invites other people who won’t be so haughty! In fact, some might call them rather “needy” (and we all know how I feel about needy).

“Go out quickly to and bring in the poor and crippled,” he says, “and the blind and lame. We’ve got plenty for them!”

And we don’t hear for certain, but I’m sure it’s a grand ol’ time because the people who show up will not take the banquet for granted.

I like to think I fall into the humble banquet-attenders category. But I’m quite a bit like the first group of folks who foolishly say no and turn to their less important, less abundant things.

When I refuse to acknowledge that all good things have come from God my Father, I am saying no to the Kingdom, whether I know it or not. When I joke myself into thinking I can handle my physical pain or anxiety on my own, I am saying no to the Kingdom. When I actively choose bitterness over joy, fear instead of trust, worry instead of at peace, I am saying no the Kingdom. When I am proud instead of humble, judgmental instead of merciful, sinful instead of obedient, harsh instead of kind, hateful instead of loving… in those moments, I am saying no the Kingdom.

Truth of the matter is, I should definitely NOT be doing that. I need the Kingdom. Oh, I am so needy for the Kingdom.

This is not intended as a self-deprecating tirade but as a realization that I do fall short, and I’m not quite the humble, unassuming, gracious banquet-attender I like to think I am. It’s an important thing for me to realize because otherwise I’ll be stuck tending to my stupid field or walking my stupid oxen and will totally miss the banquet altogether.

The beauty of grace is that it is not fair. The invitation is extended day after day, mistake after mistake, even when I keep RSVPing no. Jesus still wakes me up every morning with another invitation to join him in the Kingdom, the celebration and the bringing of God’s will here on earth as it is in Heaven.

Here’s to hoping tomorrow I will say, “Yes,” better than I have in the past.

lent: the potter and dry clay.

I am greeted by the season of Lent amidst a week of crumbling, of dustiness, of weakness, need, and more than a couple wit’s ends. It’s arrival leaves me thankful for how soft and vulnerable the hard moments of these past couple of days have left me. I have had to loosen, become malleable as not to break.

It has been the Water of life more than my tears that have moistened and smoothed over the hard edges in and around me. The dusty cracks and crumbles of me are being filled to flowing, and the real work is to come, when He will fold in truths and graces to fill what once were cracks and crevices.

I am reminded of my own frailty; I am parched–in need, as I cannot bend at all, dried up as I am. I taste my own desperation, my own mortality. My foolishness, selfishness, weakness–rough-edged, grainy, brittle. Lord, I need you; every hour, I need you.

And I am also reminded that there is spring ahead, and with spring comes rain for this dry desert of brittle clay, and I will learn to bend and fold again under the pressure of the Potter. I’m reminded of the present, sopping truths of victory and strength, of perseverance and wisdom, of the providence and perfect timing of God the Father, of forgiveness and grace that comes from Christ, that is granted when, in expectation, I hope and wait for him to do work in my life. The dear Christ enters into the cloud of dust and ash around me, see the brittle clay that lies lost in the midst, and he washes away what I don’t need and adds life to what I do need.

I welcome Lent with the bitter, dusty taste of my own silly, struggling, sinful self still on my tongue, the beloved dust and ash of weaknesses, sicknesses, and uncertainties, and I cling to the sweet hope that it can and will be washed away by the Water.

Ashes to ashes, dust to dust, but beloved all the same; our God is a God who rains down on His people of beloved dust and who then dips His hands into the mire and clay He has created and does the work of the Divine Potter. May I be soft, malleable, ready for His work.

Take it all down; Christmas is over.

Oh, no more lights glistening, no more carols to sing.

This is for the ones who hate Christmas, and for good reason. You, for whom the Christmas season and all that comes a long with it is a hard, difficult time. For those of you that say, Finally, when calendar shows December 26th.

This is for you, who breathe a sigh of relief when the focus on family, fellowship, busyness, gift-giving, and general holiday hustle fades away. You, who sit in a gently lit room and retreat after holiday company leaves. You, who cry alone and unplug the Christmas lights. You, who lament your losses of loved ones and grieves the pain you’ve suffered this time of year, time and time again. For you, who spend Decembers saving face: beloved, let that weary smile fall from your lips.

To those of you who spend Christmas fighting back tears and choking back grief or guilt, I say: Take a deep breath. This season of night after longest night is on its way out the door.

I also say: rest and remember that Advent–and every season that precedes or follows–has room enough for your pain and grief. The world may tell you to stifle your sadness, to grin and bear it; you see, the world does not know what to do with the heavy truth of your pain or suffering, so pay the world no mind.

Look instead to the Christ Child.

Even amidst the Rejoice, rejoice! and the comfort and joys of Christmas, the Lord Himself has made room for your story–yes, even a story of sorrow and sadness. You see, the babe whose birth we celebrate each year will grow into the Man of Sorrows, one well acquainted with grief.

The hearts of man are bitter in winter, as cold as the snow that falls from above.

Praise the Lord that he has heard your cry, that the Christ Child becomes our Mighty Counselor, Emmanuel, and knows of your pain and grieves with you, for you. He has borne your griefs as well as your gladness, your sorrows and your celebrations alike.

Oh, no more lights glistening, and no more carols to sing. But Christmas makes way for spring.

It is because of the advent of Christ that there is room enough for your cold, biting hurt, the subtle stabbings of sorrow and grief. With the passing of the Christmas season, take comfort that in the midst of your darkness and that of the world’s, the Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, and Prince of Peace enters in, born to die that he might reach down into our cold, lifeless, painful winters and bring about healing and life.

Christmas makes way for spring in the midst of winter, bitter and weathered as our hearts have become. As Christmas passes, let pass with it your pain and bitterness, your sorrow and grief. The hopes and fears of all your years of silent suffering are met in Christ, and he carries all of that dankness and dark to the Cross for you.

As December fades away, let the Son of God, Man of Sorrows, comfort, warm, and envelop you. His Advent brings with it the good news that He is able.

We’ve had a good year; let’s have another.


*Lyrics in italics are from Relient K’s “Boxing Day.”

as we wait: thoughts on advent

Advent is here.

And so we wait.

It wasn’t until last year that I understood what Advent means, the arrival or the coming of. The only time I’d ever heard the word advent before last year was in the phrase advent calendar.

Jesus was born. Yes. The wise men, the shepherds. Yes. But spending a month waiting, praying, pondering, and preparing for the celebration of his birth? Huh?

I am so glad my perspective on Advent has changed. I am learning the beauty and grace found in waiting. In the waiting, I find a greater appreciation for the awaited.

John explains that Jesus “was life, and the life was the light of men.” The light Jesus brought to the world shone brightly against a dark world that was not ready for him, but was in such dire need of him. They heard, but did not believe. They saw, but chose to turn away.

Is our world now any different?

The Son of God, this Messiah, borne of Mary but conceived of the Holy Spirit, came to his own world and was rejected.

John explains in his gospel that the world did not know Jesus (v. 10). They were not ready. God’s people waited for His arrival; when he arrived, they did not accept him. They were told of his coming. They were expecting Him, yet they weren’t prepared. Jesus was born into darkness, pain, and he was greeted by an anxious, wary people. He was not born into a world at its best behavior. It was at its worst. His adventus comes in the pitch blackness of sin, pain, confusion, chaos.

Cosmos in chaos. Jesus, meet World. World, meet Jesus. Dirty and Destitute, meet the Savior for whom you’ve been waiting. Divine, meet the Dirty and Destitute who need you but won’t accept you.

May we be different.

Long before He sent His Son, God spoke to his people through the prophet Isaiah, crying, “Israel does not know! My people don’t get it!”

I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams, and the fat of well-fed beasts; I do not delight in the blood of bulls, or of lambs, or of goats. [. . .] When you spread out your hands, I will hide my eyes from you; even though you make many prayers, I will not listen; your hands are full of blood. Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your deeds from before my eyes; cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause.

Written some 730 or so years before the birth of Jesus, the book of Isaiah paints a grim picture of God’s relationship with His people. 300 years or so later, the prophet Malachi speaks similar words of frustration and doom.

And then, nada. The world hears not from the Lord for the next 430 years.

In this darkness–the hopelessness, the weariness, the anxiety, the silence–Jesus enters. John says the darkness of the world cannot overcome the light Jesus brings to the world–hope, peace, love, joy, truth, expectation, grace, mercy, and glory, glory, Alleluia.

Many of His people still did not get it. After all that, and they do not understand that Jesus was the Hope they were waiting for.

And what have we learned? The world is still dark, still doubting, still denying.

My thoughts fall on Ferguson and the narratives that so many brothers and sisters have that I will never have. Fear, anxiety, frustration. The things they have to teach their sons and daughters that my husband and I have never had to think about.

Come, Lord Jesus, come.

My thoughts fall on my parents, who live daily with pain, depression, stress, and discrimination because of their socioeconomic status coupled with the fact that they take prescription pain medication.

We wait, Jesus.

My thoughts fall on church corruption, anger and hate-mongering amidst believers, selfishness, bigotry, and false teachings flying from pompous pulpits.

How have we not learned? We are Israel, and our princes our rebels, our offerings empty.

And this is why we spend Advent preparing ourselves. So we might be ready. So we might understand. So we get it.

We spend a month acknowledging our great need so we can better understand how our needs are met in the person of Jesus. These are indeed tidings of great joy. The people who once walked in darkness have seen a great light!

The Word became flesh. The Light is here, and the darkness will not overcome Him. I read the words of John the Baptist said so long ago: “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord!'” His voice reaches from then to now, and I realize:

This is the preparation, the getting-ready for Advent. We see the dark; we feel it; we walk through it. We live it.

And we also prepare; we make straight the way. We wash our hands, seek to do good. We correct oppression, and bring justice. We lift our hands, knowing we are not worthy. We offer all we have at the Lord’s feet. Our uttered prayers come from the deepest parts of us, heart-cries. We ready ourselves to truly, wholly grasp the significance of Emmanuel, God with us in a dark, doubting, denying wilderness of a world.

The birth of Jesus is the Light of the World descending to dwell in a dark, lost, and confused world–cosmos meeting chaos. It’s a reality that is happening now just as it was at his birth years ago.

And so each Advent, we wait, expect, and prepare to experience anew and again the hope, peace, love, joy, expectation, grace, mercy, and glory, glory, Alleluia of Jesus. And we pray we are changed.

The prophet Isaiah prophesies in chapter 9, verses 2-3 the very thing we celebrate today, years after the birth of the Light of the World:

The people who walked in darkness
have seen a great light;
those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness,
on them has light shone.
You have multiplied the nation;
you have increased its joy;
they rejoice before you
as with joy at the harvest,
as they are glad when the divide the spoil.

As people who have once walked in darkness but have now seen the light, may we experience His glory this Advent season–the glory of glories that can only be of the Son from the Father, full of beauty and grace and truth, the great Light that alone increases our joy and celebration.

Hope Deferred

Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a desire fulfilled is a tree of life.
Proverbs 13:12 (ESV)

There are times that I feel absolutely hopeless, rejected, incapable. It isn’t logical because I know who I am in Christ. Yet, there are nights that I cry myself to sleep, or lie awake, or panic, or hate myself even as I am telling myself the truths about Christ’s love for me and who God has made me to be. It’s like the lies are screaming louder than the truths sometimes.

During those times, I often wonder where my hope went. Did it leave? Did it disappear? Did I lose it along the way somehow? What do I have to do to get it back? Is it really gone? It can’t be true that I am actually, literally hopeless. Even in my hopelessness, I have to believe that hope is there, buried somewhere or hiding or blocked by the smog.

At the small group my husband and I attend, we discussed the first half of Romans 5. Hope, peace, and reconciliation are huge themes in that passage, and the group was somewhat fixated on verse 4-5: “…and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame.” Some translations say that “hope does not disappoint us.” People mentioned that it seemed contrary to what society often tells us–to not get our hopes up because we’ll be disappointed. People referenced situations in their lives where they were hopeful and then sufficiently disappointed when things didn’t work out. How can we have hope that doesn’t disappoint when it is known fact that reality often does not match our hopes for reality?

Worldly hope will always disappoint, someone said. And that’s part of life. That suffering we experiences from hopes that disappoint us produces endurance, and the endurance produces character. Our hopes are deferred, and we suffer, and as we suffer, we develop character. And that character in turn produces hope (see vv. 3-5)–but a different kind of hope from the hope that initially disappointed us.

The hope Paul is talking about in verses 4 and 5 is not the same kind hope we have for a new job, or the hope for a raise, or the hope that it won’t rain on our wedding day–because those kind of hopes will inevitably disappoint.

But the hope that doesn’t disappoint or put us to shame is the eternal hope that we have that is rooted in Christ. It’s the kind of hope that is always at the back of my mind even in my despair. It’s the kind of hope that hopelessness, depression, anxiety, fear–you name it–cannot, will not touch.

It’s the kind of hope that wipes the tears from my eyes when I cry myself to sleep. It’s the hope that gives me the strength to get up in the morning even when I don’t see the point or when my body hurts. It’s the hope that gives me some unknown will to live. It’s the one hope that matters–the hope and trust that comes from knowing God’s intentions for me. The hope that comes from the love “God poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit” (v. 5b). Even in my most disappointing, seemingly hopeless moments, I still have hope.