Easter Hallelujah

April 7, 2009

God the Father desires to forgive us.

He loves redemption and restoration. He looks for ways to withhold His righteous judgment, as evident in this passage from 2 Peter 3: “The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.” The story of Hosea illustrates that God’s love always precedes his wrath. 

He looks for ways to satisfy his holy wrath and set us free from bondage. In the death and resurrection of Jesus—in Easter and everything it represents—two facets of God’s character emerge.

Think of the seasons. Spring follows winter, rebirth follows death. Summer, harvest, and feasting follow rebirth. Though different, ice and snow and warm rain and sweat both bring cleansing.

God does not send his children out into the desert to die. He plans to call them back into his gardens better prepared to choose a life by his die.sunset

I also think of the cities of refuge in the Old Testament where fugitives could seek refuge. I think of fields left fallow so that the nutrients in the soil might replenish and the celebration of Jubilee every fifty years to forgive debts and redistribute wealth—to give everyone a clean start. 

God has woven into every process and practice of the natural world and Judeo-Christian culture ornate designs of death, cleansing, and rebirth. We will see baptism in every minute detail of our existence if God opens our eyes.

The prostitute Rahab is in the genealogy of Jesus Christ. Moses killed an Egyptian in a fit of rage then led the Hebrews to the Promised Land. David seduced Bathsheba, had her husband Uriah, one of David’s Mighty Men, killed, and then conceived Solomon with her. Solomon built the temple. 

God redeems prostitutes, murderers, and adulterers. His power is most evident when he restores those people with the most rotten souls. Every one of us is “the worst of sinners,” and every one of us has hope. 

God can turn pedophiles, rapists, and cannibals into saints. He loves pornographers, pimps, and you.

Accepting Jesus is a lifelong confession of our sins, our bloody hands and our need of a sacrificial lamb and a joyful surrender to God’s ineffable love, the power of the Holy Spirit, and the sweet grace of an empty tomb.

Hallelujah.

You can change

March 31, 2009

You can change.

You are not simply a product of your past or environment, bound with invisible chains to your sins, failures, and family secrets.

Grace means transformation. Grace is real. Grace is true.

The fire of the Holy Spirit can sweep through your life and burn up all the garbage. You can live in freedom. You can taste purity and peace.

What you treat as unbreakable bonds are cobwebs to the risen Christ.

You can change. He can make you holy—washed white and entirely new.

Start asking, and he will come to your desire for him like a moth to a candle.

Foxes from the last several days: 

· I talked to a good friend from Nashville on Sunday night. How strange it is to know someone your whole life yet only brush the surface. Each one of us is a mystery. Each one of us is created Imago Dei—in the image of God. I’ve known her my whole life, yet “for who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the man’s spirit within him? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God.” We surprise each other, we surprise ourselves. Our minds and bodies both make us human. Together they contain the galaxies of our souls. What a simple pleasure to make forays into someone else’s galaxy!

· This friend and I are both writing children’s books. Mine is entitled “Grabbling.” I drew from a story that my grandmother tells about fishing with her hands in Mulberry Creek. When I read the first draft to her, she just laughed and laughed—one of my favorite sounds. Putting the story down on paper and thinking about it brings me great pleasure. Also, the prospect of receiving Rachel’s book in the mail to read for the first time. E-mail, cell phones, Facebook, and Twitter are poor substitutes for receiving a package in the mail.

snake

· I spoke briefly with my friend John tonight. He and I haven’t talked since Christmas. When I think back over a sequence of minute events over the past two weeks that led to our conversation, I remember that I no longer believe in coincidence. We needed to talk, simple as that. Some of my stories and scars may give him hope. Thick trees and cool grass and bright flowers put down roots in the scorched places of our hearts. Ash feeds the soil. Our suffering feeds our own sanctification and can even be a catalyst for healing in other people’s lives.

· A tiny garden snake on the sidewalk in front of the house.

· A pedal falling off my bike and Lindsay coming to pick me up.

· Listening to my friends Aron Wright and Daniel Ellsworth play the WDVX’s Blue Plate Special.

· Eating the last of Justin’s candy cigarettes.

Ebenezers and Deserts

March 14, 2009

I was a month into my first semester at Lipscomb University.

After sleeping in, I walked over to the Student Center to check my mailbox. Through the glass on the rectangular brass door I could see the card. I already knew what this card meant: my new satchel from L.L. Bean had arrived. It was going to be a good day.

The person behind the desk in the small office handed me my package. I opened right there, threw away the mailer and bubble wrap, and walked upstairs. No one was around. Strange. Uncle Dave’s and the coffeeshop and the bookstore should be humming with activity. Where was everybody?

My grandmother, who was working in the bookstore back then, must have seen me walk by because she caught up to me while I was standing underneath the portico looking out on Bison Square and wondering why it was deserted.

“Did you hear the news?” She touched my shoulder then wrapped her arm around my waist. I put my arm around her shoulders. This is the way we’ve stood every since I grew taller than her.

“No. What news?” Now I felt my stomach turn over with the first hint of anxiousness.

“Some people flew planes into the twin towers and the World Trade Center.”

My mind failed to wrap around this information. She had to repeat herself and explain that the videos were on every news channel. Where had I been?

What alarmed me more than anything else is that after she shared this news—events that changed our world and the very fabric of our lives forever—I felt nothing. No fear. No sadness. No warm rush of compassion. I was devoid of emotion. She may as well have told me that the cafeteria was serving corndogs. Hundreds and thousands of people had just died and more would die to save the survivors, but I found no response in my heart but a curious emptiness.

This apathy disturbed me. I wondered what had happened to harden my heart, and that day, I began praying a prayer that I continue to give to the Lord:

“Let my heart be pierced with other people’s suffering. Soften me, open me, to their pain and fear, their insecurity and pressing need to be loved even while their lives are wastelands. Give me the strength to roll up my sleeves and work alongside you to turn the rubble into temples, ebenezers, altars of praise. When their hearts and faith are scorched, may you bring them hope through me.”

I have a bad habit of praying prayers before I fully understand their ramifications. The same thing happened two years later when my friend Taylor and I decided to pray for humility. He prayed for my humility, and I prayed for his. We knew enough about how sanctification works to know that brokenness leads to humility, and neither one of us could pray for brokenness with sincerity. God answers such prayers, I guess because they align with His Perfect Will for our lives.

He desires that we walk with one another through the valleys of dead bones, through the dark nights of our souls. He has certainly answered that prayer from my freshman year of college by resensitizing me to a groaning world full of hurting people. I struggle not to feel overwhelmed by such deep need. We are all so needy. Everyone I know is starving for love, and here God offers his love as a free gift and a way of life that leads to peace and wholeness—to shalom—and we pluck out our own eyes even as we pluck out the eyes of others.

O! I am filled with such a longing to be in the temple of God, ringing His praises off the flagstones, and O! I am eager for the return of Christ when his kingdom will come in its fullness and he will use the corner of his white robe to wipe away every tear.

Sometimes, I just don’t know what to do with myself because I feel like what I have to offer is never enough, and I can never cry enough tears to answer the thirst of every parched soul. God answered my prayer, and perhaps the pendulum has swung to the opposite extreme, and I am now too sentimental, too tender-hearted. I live in a new kingdom, and I don’t feel cut out for life as an alien in the old kingdom. 

Oh, Lord, thy kingdom come…Please let thy kingdom come. Before we all perish. Before fear, blindness, and pride, before the world we have created consumes us all. Give us water to transform every desert.

Please do something right now. We have nowhere else to turn.

Ambergris

March 3, 2009

I have resisted blogging.  It’s too popular.  The internet has enough mush without my awkward starts and stops.  I put up a few posts on my now weed-choked Myspace account, but too many recovering sorostitutes with web-cams wanting to be my friend milked my patience and my checkbook.  Just kidding.

Obviously, I caved.  I need a writing rhythm.  I don’t want to look back two years from now and realize I’ve neglected my passion.  My Myers-Briggs profile is ENFP.  Apparently, I get very excited about dreaming up projects but leave them half-finished on a hardrive or dusty in a journal at my parents’ house.  Mr. Myers and Mrs. Briggs also informed me that if I follow through, the results can be spectacular.  So, here’s to spectacle.

I hope people will read what I write.  Why put writing on the World Wide Web if I don’t intend for strangers to read it?  I hope my writing will be worth their time.  

Here’s a paragraph from Chapter 92 in Moby Dick, which I read for the first time this past summer:

“Ambergris is soft, waxy, and so highly fragrant and spicy, that it is largely used in perfumery, in pastiles, precious candles, hair-powders, and pomatum.  The Turks use it in cooking, and also carry it to Mecca, for the same purpose that frankincense is carried to St. Peter’s in Rome.  Some wine merchants drop a few grains into claret, to flavor it.

Who would think, then, that such fine ladies and gentlemen should regale themselves with an essence found in the inglorious bowels of a sick whale! Yet so it is. By some, ambergris is supposed to be the cause, and by others the effect, of the dyspepsia in the whale.

…Bethink thee of that saying of St. Paul in Corinthians, about corruption and incorruption; how that we are sown in dishonor, but raised in glory.”

Melville can be a bit long-winded.  Let me recap.  Either as a result of indigestion or to aid in digestion, sperm whales develop a substance called ambergris that some enterprising dandies in Europe and beyond began using as a fixative in perfume to make the fragrance last longer.  

What does this have to do with anything? Ambergris is to sperm whales what belching is to college-age males.  Yet, ambergris sells for $10 or more per gram, and may be in lumps of 50kg (100lbs.) or more.  Do the math.  Ambergris is precious.  Reread the last sentence of the Melville passage.  Our suffering becomes our glory.  Our suffering is precious because of what it becomes, what we become if we cling, as I do,  to the belief that suffering can be redemptive.

I don’t want to suggest that I have the answer to the problem of suffering in the world.  “Why?” I have asked God.  He met me with silence.  We have two responses.  We can dismiss God entirely, or we can cling to Him as Job did.

russ1

Fly, Man, Soil, Girl

February 24, 2009

Two foxes from yesterday:

· A dead house fly on the sidewalk, his abdomen a lacquered black and his legs sprouting from it like tiny, crooked weeds. How did that fly survive so long in the cold? Where did he come from? Why did he catch my attention?

· An older homeless man with the heebies jeebies. By heebies jeebies, I mean his body was gyrating and twitching as he was walking south on Broadway. I’ve seen him before. Summer or winter, he is always wearing the same clothes—a long-sleeved blue button-up shirt tucked into dark slacks. Black leather shoes. He has charcoal skin, and his hair is gray wool. The way he’s dressed, you might think he was going to make a deposit at his bank, but if you watch him, you will think immediately, “He’s not right. There’s something wrong with him.” He gesticulates, throwing an arm into the air as if to punctuate the climax of an oration. He quivers, and his head jerks to one side. His flesh always seems to be moving. Something tortures him, writhes inside of him. He reminds me that scripture talks about demons. I want to pick him up and carry him somewhere safe. I feel my powerlessness every time I see him. Once, I walked right past him, huddled underneath an awning at Three Rivers Market, his shirt soaked to a dark blue, rain coursing down his face. He held his thin body and

doorway1shivered, and I wonder, What is God’s answer to the question of this bankrupt soul? What is my answer to that, my own question? I am not the Good Samaritan, but I want to be.

Two foxes from today:

· Workmen on Market Square came with tillers and churned the pale, withered grass and packed earth into a rich brown. Spring is coming, and I feel my spirit rise like sap.

· A yellow school bus held up the right lane of traffic as it stopped in front of Knoxville Area Rescue Ministries. A slender girl ran off the bus into the arms of her older sister. I’d never thought about that: homeless families with children who go to school and when their classmates ask, they have to say they live at KARM. They have to say that they’re homeless. I ask God, “Why are children homeless?” knowing that He may never answer. I may never understand, yet I believe that the Father desires that I ask and still trust His Goodness. Mysteries of Mysteries. Lord, please come lift that girl and her family out of poverty. How can I participate in your works of redemption here and now?