Category Archives: Searching in Scripture

5 weeks, 6 days

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Worship the Lord your God, and his blessing will be on your food and water. I will take away sickness from among you,  and none will miscarry or be barren in your land. I will give you a full life span. Ex.23:25-26.

Last Thursday I woke up 5 weeks 6 days pregnant. That night, I went to bed 0 weeks 0 days pregnant because I miscarried for the fifth time. This is my third miscarriage at 5 weeks 6 days. We did not plan for this baby; pregnancy was a surprise mingling anxiety and hope. I did everything right to overcome the genetic disorder that strips babies from my womb. I swallowed the vitamins and the blood thinners at the precisely recommended amounts and times. I prayed in faith on my knees, battering heaven with a request for mother-grace. But this baby emptied from me, my seventh child and my fifth to die.

I am so sorry, little one. I am so sorry that my body cannot take you past this one day in your little life. 

Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” Rev.21:3-4.

(Someday, someday, all of this will be untrue. Can I wait until that day?)

Long ago, when the world was still new, a woman named Hagar was a slave in Abram’s household. She served Abram’s barren wife Sarai. Sarai would not wait for the child of promise, so she gave Hagar into her husband’s arms. Since Hagar was considered property, not person, her child would technically belong to Sarai (a loophole in the promise?) 

In Genesis 16, the Bible says that when Hagar conceived, she despised her barren mistress. In response, Sarai mistreated Hagar, spilling out all of the rage of an empty season. Hagar fled into the desert.

The angel of the Lord found Hagar near a spring in the desert.  And he said, “Hagar, servant of Sarai, where have you come from and where are you going?”

(As I attempt to control and manage these pregnancies so that not even God can take these babies from me, He says, “Heidi, my daughter whom I love, where have you come from and where are you going? Who are you? To what have I called you? When will you live my story instead of the one you hold onto?”)

Then the angel of the Lord told her, “Go back to your mistress and submit to her.”

No thank you, Lord. 

The angel of the Lord also said to her, “You are now with child and you will have a son. You shall name him Ishmael (which means GOD HEARS), for the Lord has heard of your misery.”

O Lord, finally, some good news. You are going to fix this….

Right?

“He will be a wild donkey of a man…

Excuse me? What?

…his hand will be against everyone and everyone’s hand against him, and he will live in hostility toward all his brothers.”

WHAT??? No thank you, Lord. I didn’t ask for this. This isn’t my fault. You are supposed to fix this, not make it worse. You are punishing my children for something that I didn’t even do?  No. No. NO.

No.

I am Hagar. I live a suffering I cannot manage or control, that takes my children away from me and I cannot save them. God comes to me in my desert with no solution; only the razor’s edge of this reality, You could have saved them, but You did not…..

That is hard news, almost too hard to bear. The Via Dolorosa, the Way of the Cross, the walk of tears. The Cross before the Crown.

She gave this name to Lord who spoke to her: “You are the God Who Sees Me,” for she said, “I have now seen the One who sees me.”

(Do you see it, the deepest mystery, the paradox of glory……..?)

Hagar’s response was worship, not rage or despair or a shaking fist. God gave her no words of comfort or alleviation; He offered no earthly intervention to lift her cross. He told her to go back to the abuse of her mistress and wait to bear a child whose life would be marked by conflict and rejection.

He gave her nothing but His Presence, and it was enough.

He saw her in her desperation and he came to her with the Truth of Who He Is alongside the full weight of what He required of her….(Hagar, servant of Sarai, where have you come from and where are you going…?) .  

Suffering and glory are parallel tracks. Yes, I lose my babies whom I love at 5w6d because my body and my blood are broken in their genetic code. Yes, God could have saved each and every one of them, but He did not. Those things are true. Also, He is the God Who Sees Me, the God who reaches for me in the desert because my heart matters to Him. That is also true. Our hearts were made for glory, so we falsely believe we have to choose which is more real, which to believe.  The tension feels like it will rip us apart, but it will not if we will bear it. Suffering and glory – they are both true.

We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body….Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.  So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. 2 Cor.4:10, 16-18.

I have learned that childbearing is dangerous for most of us. We each live our own surrender story, our own version of the parallell lines. Some have too many children, some not enough. We live under fear or anger or grief or exhaustion or guilt or some combination thereof because of the brokenness of our life giving stories. What is it about this season of life that is so fragile and vulnerable? I have two healthy and dazzling children that call me Mommy. I know life as well as death. I worship in joy as well as grief.

Give me Hagar eyes, so that I may see the God Who Sees Me. Help me to lock eyes with you, to bear the tension of the parallel lines of suffering and glory that are both true. I choose to look up at you as Hagar did, to see the One Who Sees Me and to worship in response. I choose to believe that the death that happens deep in my body is not the end of my story, not even the defining part of my story. Show me the life of Jesus revealed in my body, in my story. What is seen is temporary; what is unseen is eternal. This life is just a shadow of the glory to come. I cannot see the glory, but I can see the One Who Sees Me. I trust You, I love You, I choose You.

Lifeless

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As for you, you were dead in your sins. Ephesians 2:1.

Jesus raised three people from the dead during his earthly ministry.

1.  Then one of the synagogue leaders, named Jairus, came, and when he saw Jesus, he fell at his feet. He pleaded earnestly with him, “My little daughter is dying. Please come and put your hands on her so that she will be healed and live.” Mark 5:22-13.  Can you imagine?  His little daughter.  You see, I have a little daughter.  She has a cough right now and it does not occur to me to fear for her life.  But if I lived during Jesus time……

So Jesus went to her bedside, but she had died while he was on his way there. Jesus took her limp hand between his own rough ones and spoke life over her little body.  “Talitha koum!” (little girl, I say to you, get up!)

And she did.  She got up. She was just alive, then dead, then alive again – within a matter of minutes.  Jesus, Life Restorer.

2.  Jesus went to a town called Nain, and his disciples and a large crowd went along with him. As he approached the town gate, a dead person was being carried out—the only son of his mother, and she was a widow. Luke 7:11-12.  The son of a widowed woman, whose future was now coated with unimaginable loss and inevitable poverty. She had lost her husband and her son; there was no one to care for her heart or body. When the Lord saw her, his heart went out to her and he said, “Don’t cry.” Luke 7:13.

So Jesus, His heart turned over within him at the sight of her suffering, helped her.  Then he went up and touched the bier they were carrying him on, and the bearers stood still. Luke 7:14. The bearers of death stood still at his touch. Death cannot move forward in the presence of Life Everlasting. He said, “Young man, I say to you, get up!” The dead man sat up and began to talk, and Jesus gave him back to his mother. Luke 7:14-15. 

3. Jesus’ close friend Lazarus died from a rapid sickness. Jesus arrived at the grave of his friend after he had been buried four days. He wept with the man’s sisters, Mary and Martha, then stood in veiled glory before his friend’s grave. Jesus called in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face. John 11:43-44.

Three dead souls, raised by the power of Living Grace. Is that not what we all fight against – old death? As for you, you were dead in your sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world …All of us also lived among them [the dead] at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath. Eph.2:1-3.

Death is the great equalizer. Jairus’ daughter, in her fresh innocence, was just as dead in the first moment that the breath left her tiny body as Lazarus decaying in his grave after four days of stink and loss. Just as dead as the ashes and bones in the graveyard I passed a few days ago. Just as dead as Jesus wracked on the cross after days of torture. Dead is dead. Ugly dead means the same as pretty dead.

When my soul was dead, before Jesus, Life Restorer, it was ugly dead, like Lazarus. Perhaps yours was pretty dead, like Jairus’ sweet daughter. But dead is dead – lifeless, inert, empty, gone….

We all fight old death. The shame, the injustice, the strongholds of our past life as a dead soul. We wonder if our old soul will rise again, like a zombie, to haunt and devour. Will the cocoon suck us back into darkness, take back our wings and colors, un-make our regeneration? 

I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. John 10:10.

Do we really understand what Jesus has done for us? He came to breathe Eden life over us. We are dust and breath, earth and heaven, a complex creation. He bought us back from the grave. We leave old death to stink and fester, while we rise above it, more than conquerers. He vanquished death. He made the grave un-true. There is no death for the saints; there is only passage. We leave this world someday for another, a better, world. We are immortal. We once were dead, now we are not. Now we live. Through Christ, the black hole of old death releases us to “life to the full.”

How to escape the fear of old death?

Jesus said to them, “Take off the grave clothes and let him go.” John 11:44.

Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, CLOTHE YOURSELVES with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.  And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. Col.3:12-14.

Take off your grave clothes. They are the rags of old death. Replace them with the white linen of virtue and holiness. Wear the clothes of the Living, not the dead. Leave the shrouds of darkness in the grave and step boldly into the light of Life.

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! 2 Cor.5:17.

Morning

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Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail.  They are new every morning; 
   great is your faithfulness. Lam.3:22-23.

This morning I wake early, while darkness softly dissolves into daylight.  I creep downstairs in the sleepy stillness, brew a steaming mug of coffee, curl into the squishiest corner of the sofa, cuddle deep in my favorite blanket.  In the dew of little things the heart finds its morning and is refreshed. Kahlil Gibran.

This wraps arms of sustaining grace around my day:

The Grace of the Cross

O my Savior

I thank You from the depths of my being

For Your woundrous grace and love

In bearing my sin in your own body on the tree.

May your Cross be to me

as the tree that sweetens my bitter Marahs,     (Ex.15:22-27)   

as the rod that blossoms with life and beauty,      (Numbers 17)

as the brazen serpent that calls forth the look of faith.      (Numbers 31:4-8)

By your Cross crucify my every sin;

Use it to increase my intimacy with Yourself;

Make it the vigor of my love, thankfulness, graces;

And by it give me that rest without rest,

the rest of ceaseless praise.

O my Lord & Savior,

You have also appointed me a cross to take up and carry,

a cross before you give me a crown.

You have appointed it to be my portion,

but self-love hates it,

without the grace of patience I cannot bear it.

O blessed cross, what mercies do you bring with you!

You are only esteemed heavy because I shirk my load.

Teach me, gracious Lord & Savior,

that with my cross you send promised grace

so that I may bear it patiently,

that my cross is your yoke which is easy

and my burden which is light.

From The Valley of Vision:  A Collection of Puritan Prayers and Devotsions by Arthur Bennet.  

Life surges through me, settles my mind and heart, recalls a thousand renewing mercies.  Once again, the Way of the Cross does not seem so hard.

Generations

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These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised, since God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect. Heb.11:39-40.

It is cold.  I shiver as I sit upright in bed, my Nook screen glowing into the darkness.  I cannot put it down; I am entranced.  I read a long book, a redemption story.  This story is about a young man raised in a dysfunctional home, battling to be free of childhood pain.  I studied Psychology in graduate school and the intricacies of his relational dynamics fascinate me.  Generational fallout wafts its poison around this young man’s life and he breathes it in, making it a part of him.  Deception, manipulation, greed, revenge, secrets, rivalry, betrayal, anger, selfishness.  The family waded through a generational quagmire of scheming ambition and relational distrust.  Children compete for echoes of lost love.  Sisters and brothers betray each other for tokens of divided attention.  Parents see only their own scars.  This young man grew up twisted, bent inward to dreams.  He experiences a long redemption after leaving home, but he carries scars that occasionally seep out the embedded poison.  His story ends with forgiveness and wisdom, deep resolution that eternally shapes the successive generations.

I read the Bible.  Genesis 30-50.  The story of Joseph, the last Patriarch.

After the flood, the Patriarchs begin with Abraham, who marked the world with a mighty faith, then circle outward to Isaac, then Jacob, then Joseph. If you have never read their stories, O my stars, do it now but not with a weak stomach or a legalistic theology. The black thread of generational sin, specifically deception, begins with Abraham then twists its knife deeper into each new generation, creating sticky problems that they try to solve with other forms of moral decay, which divide and overwhelm the family line.  Honestly, the fact that God chose these wrecks to be the foundational covenant-bearers of the history of redemption is so unexpected as to seem wildly ludicrous.
 
I finish the morally muddled history of the Patriarchs as I always do, stunned and introspective. I wonder again that legalists ever read the Bible.  It is not a book for the dogmatically religious.  As wise Pastor Kelly says, the Bible will mess with your theology.  Adultery, deception, nepotism, incest, violence, ambition, rape and division characterize God’s story.  These flawed characters connect, entwine, wind around each other to form a transcendent redemption, but the details are sordid and the key players often despicable.

So how do we fit what we know of Abraham, our first father in the faith, into a new way of looking at things? If Abraham, by what he did for God, got God to approve him, he could certainly have taken credit for it. But the story we’re given is a God-story, not an Abraham-story.
What we read in Scripture is,
Abraham entered into what God was doing for him, and that was the turning point. He trusted God to set him right instead of trying to be right on his own.”  Romans 4:1-3.  The Message.

Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.  Romans 4:2. NAS
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It hits me late in the night, a heavy weight of glory, the glory of matchless mercy.  Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph – they are exactly the right family to undergird God’s story of redemption.  They are cracked into pieces, just like you and me.  This damaged family produced a series of unlikely heroes, beloved and chosen, not by merit, but by mysterious grace.  Abraham believed in his role in God’s story, which set off a chain reaction of redemptive splendor that continues today.  I emerge from the history of the Patriarchs with no desire to justify their dysfunctional choices or to whitewash their flawed history, as I have heard many Bible teachers attempt to do.  I simply see my own broken reflection in the mirror of God’s word.  They were selected and redeemed by the same mighty grace that woos me.  Therefore I can walk with their limitless confidence in God’s character reflected onto me.  We are all unworthy of our destiny, but O, I am dizzy with gratitude for it.  “I am my Beloved’s and He is Mine.  His banner over me is Love.”(Song of Songs 2:4).  

I pray to be like Jacob, post-wrestling.  His name means “deceiver” and he lived up to it more than any other Biblical figure except the Devil himself.  But God changed his name to Israel, which means “God Strives.”  Mercy, yes.  On His deathbed, Jacob, the manipulative mastermind behind thirteen broken children, four desperate, conniving women and a bounty of riches gained through ambitious schemes, prayed this prayer of blessing over his grandchildren.

May the God before whom my fathers
Abraham and Isaac walked faithfully,
the God who has been my shepherd
all my life to this day,
the Angel who has delivered me from all harm
—may he bless these boys.
May they be called by my name
and the names of my fathers Abraham and Isaac,
and may they increase greatly
on the earth.

Genesis 48:15-16.

To see a legacy of faith instead of works, to believe in the Promise more than the past, to walk humbly into an endless vortex of grace…..

Yes.

Seeds

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Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how. All by itself the soil produces grain—first the stalk, then the head, then the full kernel in the head. Mark 4:27-28.

I ponder the meaning of grace.  Undeserved favor, clemency, mercy, reprieve, pardon.  I live a life soaked in grace.  Some souls live prideful, unaware of the cost of the mercy that shelters them.  Not me.  I breathe fresh grace in constant awe since I come from the dank history of repetitive failure.  Grace sustains me because I need it so much.  I want it to define me.

This morning I curled up with my coffee and read this,

“By our own natural strength and understanding, we human beings cannot take one step on the road to Heaven.  We cannot do our own growing.  We cannot grow our spiritual lives any more than we can grow our bodies.  True, we can eat and drink; but we eat and drink primarily because we are hungry and thirsty, not in order to grow.  Growth is a phenomenon that happens behind our backs, when we are not looking.  It happens the way seeds sprout in the earth.”  Mike Mason, The Gospel According to Job.

In spite of my regular prayers to walk in grace, this is a truth that sparkles new to me today.  Grace (undeserved favor, clemency, mercy, reprieve, pardon) is the fountainhead of holiness as well as salvation.  Yes, I must nourish myself in the rich soil of study, prayer, community, good deeds, confession, healing, meditation.  These provide the necessary environment for the hidden work of holiness – and they are fulfilling in their own right. But, after all, neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. 1 Cor.3:7.  If we earnestly desire spiritual maturity, our souls must strain upward for His presence, not inward to our own striving.

“In the life of faith one of the hardest things to do is to refrain from laboring and spinning and instead to see ourselves as being like flowers or grain, growing not by our own efforts but by the grace of God.”

This truth consumes me.  There is no holiness without grace, no righteousness without the hard Way of the Cross. I do not earn or deserve my own sanctification any more than I earn or deserve my own salvation. But nothing, nothing is impossible with God.  His extravagant and scandalous favor re-invents me.  To Him be the eternal glory that shines from this mysterious conspiracy of divine Love.

O, how I love my Jesus.

 For as the soil makes the sprout come up 
   and a garden causes seeds to grow, 
so the Sovereign Lord will make righteousness 
   and praise spring up…

Is.61:11

Tantrum

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And after the fire came a gentle whisper. 1 Kings 19:12.

I sit in Barnes & Noble, creamy Earl Grey tea steaming next to my left hand, my Bible unfolded to 1 Kings 19 as it has been for days as I drink it into my parched spirit, over and over.  I have started this paragraph & deleted it – many times.  I do not know what to reveal, what to protect.

I will speak frankly.  I am in the midst of a bloated, messy, bloody temper tantrum with God.  

I beg Him to intervene for my justice, for my calling, for a redemptive outcome in a whirling vortex of circumstances over which I have no control.  (Child, perhaps My redemption will unfurl in an unexpected way.  I see you.  Do you see Me?)

I hesitate, because there is much at stake.  I want a specific outcome, a safe outcome, an outcome that costs something but not everything.  We may step into the redemptive healing of the outcome we believe is right; but we may not.   We must simply wait to see.

Lord, there is no sin in the outcome I desire.  We have been through so much pain.  We have seen Your glory.  You have done the work. Please do this for us.  

Beloved, I know all of that. Will you trust Me with it? Keep your eyes on Me.  I see you.  Do not look to the right or to the left.  Do not look at the rocky ground beneath you or the swarm of hoverers around you.  Look up at Me.  I see you.  

1 Kings 19 tells the story of Elijah’s heart after a staggering miracle God had done through him.  Elijah had challenged 450 prophets of Baal to a battle of worship.  They lost.  Elijah commanded the convicted Israelites to kill every one of the pagan prophets, effectively purifying God’s people from corrupt worship and lifting a (literal) drought on the rebellious land.  The rains fell on the parched land after the pagan slaughter, washing away judgment.  A clean start for God’s people.  All because of Elijah’s faithful obedience to the God of Israel.

Did Elijah rejoice wildly in the work of God?  Did he throw a giant party?  Did he kneel in thankful worship?  Did he relish the healing that God had done through Him?

Nope.

He threw a bloated, messy, bloody temper tantrum with God.

Huh.

Queen Jezebel (boo. hissss.) threatened to kill him for murdering her prophets.  Elijah was afraid and ran for his life. 1 Kings 19:3.  He fled to the desert, where he flung himself under a tree in empty turmoil.  He came to a broom tree, sat down under it, and prayed that he might die. “I have had enough Lord,” he said.  1 Kings 19:4.

Yes. Elijah is my homeboy.  A mighty work of God, followed by a mighty big fit.

God’s response?  Judgement?  Lightning bolt?  Stern reminders of the miracles for which He had consecrated His beloved prophet?  Get your head back in the game, Elijah!  Stop being such a baby!  Maybe you aren’t cut out for this……

No.  None of that.

As a Father has compassion on His children, so the Lord has compassion on us; for He knows how we are formed, He remembers that we are dust. Ps.103:13-14.

The Lord sent angels to serve Elijah.  He tucked him in for days of restful sleep.  He asked him for his grievances, then listened to his heart. His God spoke over him in a gentle whisper, the only language that a defeated Elijah was able to receive in those cloistered moments.

Then the Lord showered Elijah with grace. In those quiet whispers, God promised Elijah a smoother path under the leadership of his life.  He promised him a partner, Elisha, a companion in his lonely mission.  The grace of leadership, the grace of community, the grace of a God who sees us in our most desperate hours and shepherds us with tender strength and intervening mercy. 

Nothing can hinder the Lord from saving, whether by many or by few.  1 Sam.14:6.

Right now I sit under the broom tree. I have had enough, Lord. But I fix my eyes wholly on the God of the gentle whisper, my Jesus who remembers that I am dust in a fragile vessel, merely earth and breath.  My eyes fill with tears as I remember who I am and the cost to redeem my broken life.  I bow before Who He Is, my El Roi, the Strong One Who Sees Me (Gen.16:13), who knows me, who shelters me and speaks tenderly to me.

Spill out your temper tantrum, beloved.  You are safe with me. But lock eyes with me – and trust me.

Yes, Lord.

What does He whisper to you?

Clearing

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Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, “This is the way; walk in it.” Is.30:21.

I have been blog-silent for almost a week.  I sat down to write last night, but the words did not fit together. Rolling my eyes, I snapped my computer shut at 11pm.  I sat still on my couch for a moment, massaging my temples.  Then, this – You aren’t writing your heart.  You are filling space.  That is not My calling for you.  

I do not want to write empty words, but the words that mean something to me right now are unfinished.  They are disconnected strands.  I think I might see the tapestry that God is weaving, and it is dazzling, but so far unresolved.

Today severe wind whips snow violently through our city. Dreamy Scott sits on a plane to (of all places) Oahu, Hawaii for a meeting.  In a few minutes I will bundle myself and my kids in snow clothes and shovel away the blizzard’s heavy droppings that coat my driveway and walkway.  It will be hard work to clear a path. Sometimes blogging through an unfinished story is like that.  Truth and life buried under a pile of emotional weariness.

We emerge, a bit dazed, from a week of intensity, both exhilarating and excruciating.  The Lord is building an edifice of grace in our family, our church, our city; but it is hard work to clear the heaviness and find the way. We slog through phone calls and meetings as we sort through how the Lord wants us to move forward into the clear calling He has on our little family.  Dreamy Scott and I shrug blankly some moments, then bend our knees, listen, act.  The Enemy (who mistakenly believes he has a claim on us) creates obstacle after obstacle, blinds us with smoke screens, fills us with doubt.  We choose to let it fall beside the path.  We set our faces like flint, confident that if we keep our eyes on our mission, the Lord will clear a straight path.

I want to share details, but they are not yet clear.  The picture is not in focus; it is fuzzy, bleary, but drenched in sparkling grace.  That is why I tried to write empty words last night. Instead, I write vague ones (for which I am sorry), but they are my heart.  I will tell you more specifics as the Lord pulls the pixels together.

Yesterday I spoke with Julie Gorman; new friend, lovely woman of God and Executive Director of Women Inspired.  We dreamed together, prayed together, planned together.  (As the Lord clears our vision and shows us how to build Women Inspired in our city, I will record it here.  I hope you will join us.)  She prayed these words over me:

Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, “This is the way; walk in it.” Is.30:21.

How could she know that that very verse has been life and breath to me over the past four years as He asked us to do hard things for His glory and our healing?  I have not thought of that verse once this week, so her reminder was a lightning bolt of mercy.  It was not only Julie who spoke this verse’s invitation to faithful surrender; it was the Holy Spirit, reminding me that underneath the heavy wreckage of dreams deferred and reborn, there is a pathway to glory.  He keeps His promises; He whispers the way to hearts attune.

Sometimes we live in seasons of unfinished stories that crave the kiss of Isaiah 30:21. Perhaps these are merely opportunities for a deeper grace, pathways into a mighty work of God.  He will clear the way before us.

Do not fear, for I am with you; Do not anxiously look about you, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, surely I will help you, Surely I will uphold you with My righteous right hand. Is.41:10.

Loaves

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I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world. John 6:51.

I made bread today.

I start by grinding wheat.  I feed the kernels into the mill.  The mill grinds them into powder, pulverizing what they once were into nourishment.

They are more whole after they are decimated, because it is only as flour-dust that they can feed the five thousand.

Lord, how many times will you ask us to die? How much longer, O Lord, will you grind us into dust? It is very hard that wholeness comes in pieces. 


Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. John 12:24.

I pour hot water into the mixer. Steam rises in ghostly rivulets as I pour. The heat will soak through the dough, unlocking the yeast.  There is no risen bread without the power of the nearly-boiling baptism.

Once, two of Jesus’ disciples asked him an audacious question.  “Let one of us sit at your right and one of us on your left in your glory.”  To sit at either side of The King of Glory? A staggering request.  

You don’t know what you are asking, Jesus said. Can you drink the cup I drink or be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with?  Mark 10:38.

That baptism is too deep for me.  I am merely earth and breath.  The cost of resurrection is a baptism too great to bear. Give me grace for only this day, only this step forward. Hallelujah.  You are the risen bread.

Oil and honey are next.  The Spirit and the sweetness.  They mingle with the crushed wheat and the singeing water.  They hold it together.

Lord, in this life all that is good is grace.  You blend joy and suffering in the mystery of transformation.  Our honey coats us with sticky joy – we are the most blessed of your Beloved.  O Jesus, we raise our faces in sated thanksgiving.

For the Lord your God is bringing you into a good land, a land of oil and honey; a land in which you will eat bread without scarcity, in which you will lack nothing. Deut.8:7-9.

A tablespoon of salt for seasoning.

Season all your grain offerings with salt. Do not leave the salt of the covenant of your God out of your grain offerings; add salt to all your offerings. Lev.2:13.

Salt = covenant.  God’s faithful promises are the flavor, the seasoning, the preservation of the Bread of Life.

Lord, may I always salt my ways with your covenant. “This is my body, which is broken for you.”  Your bread-body, broken in fulfillment of your everlasting promise to preserve a people for Your own possession.  Salt me with your faithfulness forever.

I sprinkle yeast evenly over the bowl.

I push the button to mix.  The curved metal hook scourges the contents of the bowl, forcing the dry powders into the steaming water. The spinning claw merges the separate elements into a gloppy mass.  I identify bubbles at the edge – the yeast begins to do its work.

Yeast, also called Leaven.  Activated by the burning baptism, the yeast infiltrates the doughy mass, creating tiny pockets of air that expand, expand, expand the dough.  It begins to grow.

The pages of Scripture whisper the secrets of leaven through two opposing metaphors –

Be on your guard against the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy. Luke 12:1.

or

 Jesus asked, “What shall I compare the kingdom of God to? It is like leaven that a woman took and mixed into about sixty pounds of flour until it worked all through the dough. Luke 13:21.

The leaven that infiltrates my life is my choice.  Hypocrisy or the kingdom of heaven? Fallen lies or eternal Truth?  With which leaven will I sprinkle what I make of my life? What will the savage mingling of elements bubble up in me?

Life or death.  That is the what is at stake with leaven.  Whatever we choose will create a rising, an expansion, a slow inflation in who we become.  The other ingredients remain the same – but the legacy is in the Leaven.

Don’t you know that a little yeast leavens the whole batch of dough?               1 Cor.5:6.

The dough is ready, after a long season of violence.

Kneading

Shaping

Shaping

Ready to Rise

Dough before rising

Risen dough

Battened dough balls transform under the heavy heat of the oven.  The closed door, the sealed tomb, does its terrible work, but death buckles its knees to Resurrection Life.

Fragrant loaves rest fresh and hot on the counter, plump invitations to a deeper nourishment.  Resurrection Loaves.  Bread of Life.

I am the Lord your God, who brought you up out of Egypt.
Open wide your mouth and I will fill it.  Psalm 81:10.

Later, I consume my portion in a small sanctuary of worship.  It is only a piece of homemade bread, after all, but today it is Communion.

Eucharisteo

And is not the bread that we break a participation in the body of Christ?       1 Cor. 10:16.

Pilgrimage

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Blessed are those whose strength is in you, who have set their hearts on pilgrimage.  Ps.84:5.

We chose almost five years ago to stay at our church where I did this.  The aftermath was a beautiful and a terrible shattering.  I lived frightened as I watched a life scatter away when the sinews of my strongholds were laid bare.

I tried to hold them all, but my hands are weak against the gusting of hot winds.     There is a kernal of dying in me – an ambivalence that calls to fragile escapes.  

God engulfed me in mercy during my season of sifting.  He stooped down to rescue me when I shook with fear that I might be broken beyond fixing.  He saved me, healed me, spoke tenderly to me.  He invited me to be brave, to live in the Light.  Foremost of all, He covered me with an everlasting atonement long long ago, on a Golgotha cross, long before a scarlet L exposed two opposing futures:  grace vs. performance.  

Grace or performance?  Nothing divides the two like facing what grace really means.  When Jesus bore the ugliness of my sin, His heavenly father turned away in sickened disgust.  As Jesus hung on the Cross, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. And at three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”  Mark 15:33-34.  That should be my darkness. Those should be my words, my shuddering loss as God forsakes me in my sin.  Have you ever lived the ripping agony of really looking at your lost soul? God, literally, could not for the life of Him leave us in that aching void without reaching for us.  He paid the wages of our sin so that we would never feel what He felt in those three hours of darkness.  

In Old Testament times, the temple was the dwelling place of God.  I have chosen and

The temple in Jerusalem

consecrated this temple so that my Name may be there forever. My eyes and my heart will always be there. 2 Chron.7:16.  In those days, God’s beloved had to journey to the temple to be in the His Presence.  Pilgrims would walk a treacherous journey to seek shelter under the holy covering of the temple.  They offered costly sacrifices and desperate prayers from needy hearts.  They knelt at the altar in the outer courts, soaking in the intimate Presence of God for those precious moments.  Their sacrifices, of course, did not wholly redeem their sin.  They were merely symbols of a Sacrifice yet-to-come, foreshadows of the Cross. Those pilgrims did not come to the temple to buy salvation, but to throw themselves on God’s mercy.  They were on a pilgrimage of grace.

Blessed are those who have set their hearts on pilgrimage. Ps.84:5.

Today the temple is no longer a building, but a spiritual presence.  For we are the temple of the living God. 2 Cor.6:16.  

I am on that same pilgrimage.  I do not journey to a temple made with human hands, but to a sanctuary within my own heart.  I have firmly decided to live out my days under the shelter of grace.  Will you be a fellow pilgrim?  As we come out of our seasons of sifting into vistas of peace, there will still be those who appeal to us to prove ourselves, to demonstrate that we deserve a second chance.  We could respond with increased effort, but it would be chasing after wind.  Simply put, we do not deserve a second chance.  I deserved the depths of hell long before my sin was exposed, and I deserve it still. Striving means nothing in the beating heart of Grace.

All my stories are about the action of grace on a character who is not very willing to support it, but most people think of these stories as hard, hopeless and brutal.  Frederick Buechner. 

The beauty of grace is that it transforms.  If we walk a pilgrimage of grace, it will change us.  We will become more holy, more loving, more courageous, more deeply steeped in the intimate Presence of God.  We will develop a face set like flint on our mission and eyes that see only the One who Sees Us.  My steps forward in grace have been the safest and holiest I have ever taken.  It is the adventure of a lifetime.

Will you walk a pilgrimage of grace with me?  

Offering

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Trust in him at all times, you people; pour out your hearts to him, for God is our refuge. Ps.62:8

Here is what the Bible says about King Hezekiah:  Hezekiah trusted in the Lord, the God of Israel. There was no one like him among all the kings of Judah, either before him or after him.  He held fast to the Lord and did not stop following him; he kept the commands the Lord had given Moses.  And the Lord was with him; he was successful in whatever he undertook. He rebelled against the king of Assyria and did not serve him. 2 Kings 18:5-7.

Sennacherib

During Hezekiah’s reign, the King of Assyria was a man named Sennacherib.  You probably studied about him in ancient history, because he was a superstar, ancient-history-wise.  He was rich, powerful and brilliant.  And extraordinarily evil.  The Assyrians were known for flaying their victims, which means peeling their skin off, then immersing them, screaming and flailing, in boiling water. Assyria was an endless black hole of suffering and destruction.  Throughout the Old Testament, Sennacherib and his Assyrian kingdom were symbols of ultimate evil.

Sennacherib threatened the kingdom of Judah.  His vast armies swarmed over Judah’s territories like dark locusts, decimating its fortified cities.  The conquering Assyrians reached Jerusalem’s walls, breathing the foul stench of violence and evil over God’s holy city.  He sent a message to King Hezekiah:  Say to Hezekiah king of Judah: Do not let the god you depend on deceive you when he says, ‘Jerusalem will not be given into the hands of the king of Assyria.’ Surely you have heard what the kings of Assyria have done to all the countries, destroying them completely. And will you be delivered? Did the gods of the nations that were destroyed by my predecessors deliver them?  Is.37:10-12.

The Bible says that Hezekiah tore his robes and put on sackcloth, the clothes of grief.

He knew that Assyria had defeated every obstacle in its path to world domination.  He

Assyrian Warriors

knew that the Assyrian army had left a trail of defeat and horror in its bloody wake.

He knew what Sennacherib’s fierce armies had already done to his people in the surrounding cities.  He knew that the suffering in Judah was a black pit, deep and dark. He knew that his tiny, broken nation could not win against such a mighty force.

He also knew that Egypt hated Assyria.  He knew that Egypt was powerful, and it sought an alliance with Judah.  He knew that the Egyptian Pharoah would rise up to defend Judah. Who besides the Lord do we call upon in our most desperate hours?

This is what King Hezekiah did with the message from Sennacherib.

Hezekiah received the letter from the messengers and read it. Then he went up to the temple of the Lord and spread it out before the Lord.  And Hezekiah prayed to the Lord. Is.37:14-15.

I can see him in my spirit.  The faithful king, his soul wracked with sorrow over his people’s suffering, his heart twisted in fear of his nation’s annihilation, clothed in the ragged sackcloth of mourning and woe.  I see him bowed under the weight of his leadership, laying prostrate in the Holy Place, face in the dust where priests and kings have cried out to God.  Like his ancestor, King David, he clung to the not-so-secret access key to the heart of God:  You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it; you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings. My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart you, God, will not despise. Ps.51:16-17.  

Am I Hezekiah?  Do I turn my suffering into offerings?  When the armies of darkness invade my fortified territory, do I spread their diabolical lies at the altar of my God and cry out to Him?

Or do I turn to Egypt?  Do I crumple to dust under the pressure of external attack? Do I hide in a house of cards? Do I forfeit trust in the face of opposition?

I confess that the answer is: both.  My history is a dizzying strata of triumph and failure. It is perhaps something like yours.  (Without forgiveness and grace, we are all undone.)  As the Lord expands my heart with a longing for holiness, I also confess that that is no longer enough for me.  I want to be like Hezekiah, of whom God’s Word says, there was no one like him among all the kings of Judah, either before him or after him.  He held fast to the Lord and did not stop following him. 2 Kings 18:5.  

It is a legacy that takes my breath away.

I want to reject Egypt’s empty refuge, to shake my fist at Assyria’s obscene mastery, to grieve every ounce of evil that corrupts those I love, to transform every moment of suffering into an offering to my heavenly King.

Truly my soul finds rest in God; my salvation comes from him. Truly he is my rock and my salvation; he is my fortress, I will never be shaken. Ps.62:1-2.