When Looking Ahead Is Actually Wrong

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There have been just a few times God has spoken directly to me in almost an audible way. His voice is quiet — so quiet I hear him with my heart instead of my ears, but his words echo through my whole chest and head. In that moment, I feel seen and known, and those reoccurring feelings that I’m alone get swallowed up.

There was that time in college I was thinking (again) about a boy, and He told me, “Yes, he’s great, but I am God. Focus on me.” I still remember the sidewalk under my feet, and my dorm ahead of me, and the darkness all around because it was night. And that moment truly recalibrated my focus for the rest of my years at the university. Truth was impressed upon my heart so deeply I carried it into my marriage with a different guy and have revisited it over and over.

I’m sure some of you hear that still, small Voice whispering from time to time — that same Voice that spoke the world into existence but still articulates into your tiny life.

Another time for me was just last week. I’m a dreamer, and I can’t help it. I long for redemption, and while I’m not necessarily an optimist, I’m not a pessimist either. I seem to always land on what could be, and I don’t drown in cynicism if my dream is not happening just yet. I love anticipation almost as much as what I’m longing for. Traveling is my happy place, and planning a trip brings me as much joy as embarking on the journey.

I sort of throw dares out to the world — “You think you can burden me with your brokenness?! Well, take this! I’m grasping for something better, and I’m convinced there’s more than what you have to offer, and there’s no way you’re going to crush me.” I do it a lot.

So last week, when I felt His echo in my heart again, His words took me by surprise: “Stop looking ahead and look around. Stop looking ahead, Christan, and look AROUND instead.”

I immediately stopped, and I knew it was my Rescuer, for what I had been dreaming about for a couple years clearly wasn’t going to come to fruition. But I was still looking ahead. I was still longing for something else, for something that absolutely wasn’t going to happen.

Have you been there? Has your dream died, but there you are still trying to resurrect it?

“It does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live,” J.K. Rowling wrote. I’ve considered that phrase many times since my kids first read her books, but I still find myself looking ahead — in that wrong kind of way.

See, here’s what happens when I dare to stop looking ahead, and I look around instead: I still find purpose. I see brokenness and beauty, fear and hope, anxiety and trust. I remember again I was called to live in the tension, and I sit there for a while. My eyes are opened to all the work I still have to do in the communities God has placed me in, but almost more so, I re-see all He has to teach me through my present and those around me.

Are you there setting goals, striving and figuring out how to have meaning today? Are you admiring those who know what they want and are hurdling every obstacle in their way in order to move forward?

Friend, I know. I’m your companion wanting to gaze forward into what might be ahead. I’m there dreaming with you about fuller lives and a more significant identity and a purpose that quenches the thirst we can’t even describe. But I think we might need to turn our heads to the side.


Though Jesus wanted solitude, when He saw the crowds, He had compassion
on them
, and He healed the sick and the lame. Matthew 14:14

Though Christ was on a mission that afternoon to find quiet and rejuvenation and rest, when He saw the crowds, He had compassion on them.

He broke his forward gaze and looked around instead. And what He saw around Him became His ministry for that day. It happened time and time again —  like all His days on earth — His purpose seemed to find Him. And in His grace, He allowed His steps to be re-directed.


I think He offers the same to us: the richness (and comfort) of a purposeful life. Might we dare sit in the tension today and let His purposes find us? Might we bravely stop striving for self-created goals? I bet we’d learn a ton.

It’s different for all of us, for we’re scattered all over the world. Here in St. Louis, what has been simmering for weeks has erupted. London is dealing with more shock and more grief. The Caribbean and Texas and Florida are figuring out how to start re-building. California is sitting in ashes. And we’ve barely scratched the surface.

What do you see when you look around in your corner of the world? When you dare to let your steps be re-directed instead of marching forward toward those dreams?

Might the challenge to throw “off everything that hinders,” and to run “with perseverance the race marked out for us” actually include running to what we see when we look around instead of ahead? It’s time for me to stop reading Hebrews 12 through the lens of the American Dream or American Christianity. It’s time for me to stop making the Gospel about reaching and striving and becoming somebody.

And when I do, my goodness, I might see all I missed by only gazing ahead.

 

Photo by Andy Lee on Unsplash

He Transcends Time Again

Time

He did again. He transcended time.

A simple chalkboard message God gave me in June was really for a mystery I would face in July. Oh, why does He love me so? Why does He hold my tender heart again and again?


The Author has done it since the beginning of His Great Story…

… a thread of redemption woven throughout centuries. Centuries.

A timeless God, perfectly planning events.  Perfectly planning time.

I’m amazed at His pursuit of us. I see God’s intentional love story planned from the first day His heart was wounded by His own creation. I marvel at His crimson thread woven throughout generations, stitching together a masterpiece of grace. I see His tenderness preparing our hearts for what’s to come.


And here I am — humbled — when I think of my own story, my own little mural, as compared to God’s huge rescue plan. And yet this timeless God, the Planner of events and healing and restoration, does it again and again. He prepares our hearts in advance for what we face today. 

I believe deeply in God’s sovereignty and His big picture and a story larger than my own. I find comfort as I meditate on these beliefs and my smallness.

We moved this past spring, and in June I hung our 20 year-old slate in our new dining room. I didn’t know what to write on it, so I penned these words from a Hillsong United song. It seemed strange that this particular phrase came to mind, for I don’t really have trust issues — especially with God. But the words are poetic, and the song is beautiful, so I went with it. Several times over the past month, I challenged myself to erase it and write something more relevant to me or my family, but nothing came to mind.

God’s grace.

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You see, He had me write myself an encouraging note a month ago because He knew I’d need it this week. We didn’t face a huge tragedy or crisis, but just enough of a disappointment to remind us of our frail hearts. And our need for Him.

I love how He works like this. I love how He transcends time.

There have been books picked up again – after being ignored for months – whose truth spoke to present circumstances. I’ve journeyed with friends through their pain, only to discover later their path would become my own. I’ve written words in the past to encourage others whose messages would later heal me. I ponder at how He prepares our hearts – so tenderly, and then not-so-tenderly other times.

“Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne?” God asks His people.  “Though she may forget, I will not forget you!  See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands; your walls are ever before me.” (Isaiah 49:15-16, NIV) Carved on His hands. Etchings transcending time. My walls – my days – my salvation and forever security are on the forefront of His mind.

Oh, His thread of redemption pierces me with truth and weaves a larger beauty I could never create myself. I’m covered by this masterpiece. I hide in its comfort. I wrap myself in His grace.

And once again, I’m amazed at His timeless grace evidenced in this very time.


photo source: Murray Campbell on unsplash

Preparing for Easter (Saturday): The Borrowed Tomb

tombNow there was a man named Joseph, from the Jewish town of Arimathea. He was a member of the council, a good and righteous man, who had not consented to their decision and action; and he was looking for the kingdom of God. This man went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Then he took it down and wrapped it in a linen shroud and laid him in a tomb cut in stone, where no one had ever yet been laid. Luke 23:50-52 

And they made his grave with the wicked
and with a rich man in his death,
although he had done no violence,
and there was no deceit in his mouth.
Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him;
he has put him to grief.     Isaiah 53:9-10a ESV 


When He walked the earth and breathed our air, my Lord said He had nowhere to lay His head. And here in death, here He lays in a borrowed tomb. A man of means came forward to preserve my Savior’s dignity and lay Him to rest in the earth He Himself created before the start of time.

The mystery… it’s too much for me to understand, too much for me to reconcile.

The very God who wrote a love story at the beginning of time included His own suffering in the darkest chapter.

The very God who wrote a love story at the beginning of time included His own suffering in the darkest chapter.  

I look around, and I see myself reflected in the eyes of my brothers and sisters in Christ. I see their brokenness, and it mirrors mine.

I see the violence in my heart – an unkind thought, a judgment, an annoyance, a scorn. But my sweet Jesus – there was no violence in His hand, and none was found even in the deepest crevices of His heart where no one sees.

And I find myself deceived over and over again by a culture that clashes with the truth. I cringe as I hear myself speak error not only to others, but to myself, as I whisper doubt and end up believing lies. But my Rescuer, there was no deceit in His mouth. He spoke no wrong. He gave no empty threats, no empty promises.

But here He lay in that borrowed tomb after enduring my cross.

My Jesus, the Author of the greatest love story — He could have defeated and even prevented His own suffering. But He wrote chapter after chapter in which He Himself was misunderstood, and mocked, and tortured, and betrayed. And here He lay abandoned. Here he lay alone, crushed by the very story He wrote to save me.

And dare I ask Him why?! Dare I ask Him to interpret His mystery? His thoughts are not my thoughts, neither are His ways my ways. As the heavens are higher than this earth, higher than this cold, cold tomb, His ways are higher. His thoughts are higher. His story is much, much deeper and intricate than I could ever write.

So do I trust Him? When I am crushed, do I trust the God who wrote suffering into His own plot? When I choke on grief, do I surrender to the One who poured Himself out as an offering to mankind, spilling His grace everywhere?

Sweet Jesus, my Rescuer, my greatest Hope, I lean into the mystery I can’t understand. I collapse into your redemption plan. But I grieve as you lay there bruised and alone.

Preparing for Easter (Wednesday): The Game of Mockery

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 Two others, who were criminals, were led away to be put to death with him. And when they came to the place that is called The Skull, there they crucified him, and the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” And they cast lots to divide his garments. And the people stood by, watching, but the rulers scoffed at him, saying, “He saved others; let him save himself, if he is the Christ of God, his Chosen One!” The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine and saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” There was also an inscription over him, “This is the King of the Jews.” Luke 23:32-38 


He was one of three. One of three Persons in the Holy Godhead, Jesus was one of three crucified on an execution hill, too. Numbered with the transgressors, He identified with the broken and the outcast even in His death.

Can you hear the crass celebrating of the crowd? Can you sense the soldier’s hatred and the misaligned pursuit of justice? There was the arrogance… and the fear of what they didn’t understand… and the reality of being a pawn in the Roman army.

Directing imprisonment and torture and execution day after day, the soldiers trivialized their work, escaped the reality of their orders, by making a game. Casting lots, they hoped to “win” the criminals’ garments as those hanging on crosses were losing their lives.

And the rulers, the leaders, stooped low like the common masses. They jeered and scoffed and made a mockery of the One who came to save them from a captivity they didn’t even know had chained them. “The Rescuer can’t rescue Himself… the Giver of Freedom can’t free His own body… The Son of God, the Chosen One, is insignificant and forgotten now!”

“Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do… Spread your grace over the oppressors. Flood the ignorant followers with your forgiveness. Restore the unbelieving Jews.” In his last moments on earth, Jesus concludes His ministry by pouring out His blood, spilling His redemption everywhere.

Maybe you’re the transgressor, or the arrogant, or the avoider who’s trivializing pain, or the skeptic. His broken body, his spilled out blood, it’s for you. His forgiveness and grace and redemption – it’s all for you.

Can you humbly surrender to His pursuit?

Can you enter His great Love Story?

Preparing for Easter (Monday): The Immigrant’s Path

Narrow street in Jewish Quarter Jerusalem26 And as they led him away, they seized one Simon of Cyrene, who was coming in from the country, and laid on him the cross, to carry it behind Jesus. Luke 23:26


Do you see him? Do you see that man from the countryside, common and random, thrust into the drama of an execution? Originally from North Africa, Simon the immigrant had journeyed into a new life in Israel, only to walk yet another path — this one stained with blood.

He followed Jesus from behind, struggling to balance a heavy beam as his mind raced to find an explanation. Splinters dug into his neck, but fear kept him moving as he looked straight ahead at the tortured Man, avoiding the soldiers’ glare. What in the world had that Man done to deserve such a beating? To earn such a humiliating death?

Power and oppressive force had yanked Simon into the day’s events, as he navigated the scene. Carrying the burden of death on his shoulders, remnants of blood stained his cloak while his mind and heart were forever scarred. The suffering and the mystery captured him, wooing him into a Love Story even he didn’t understand at the time.

The Man was known and cherished, as commoners in the crowd wept hard and grieved His suffering.

Will we surrender to God’s plan, to the path chosen for us?

We walk through life, busy with determination for ordinary tasks and plans, but God calls us to more. Might we gaze beyond ourselves and see burdens we could carry? Are we willing to be pulled from our daily routines and thrust into something bigger than ourselves? Are we surrendered enough to get dirty and soiled and participate in redemption?

Culture exalts power and independence, but Christ-followers are called to journey deeper into self-denial, positioning others’ needs over our own. Friend, let’s stay faithful amidst the brokenness. Let’s serve at a moment’s notice, gazing ahead to the purpose God has ordained for us.

Like Simon of Cyrene, let’s follow.