When writers take pen to paper, they mean to convey something. Word choice, tone, pacing and imagery are like the chisel and rasp in the hands of a sculptor—they remove blocky bits and file until points are smooth. If this is true of human writers, how much more of God who breathed life into both humanity (Genesis 2:7) and scripture (2 Timothy 3:16-17).
We know from the anonymous writer of Hebrews that faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen (Hebrews 11:1).
One way biblical writers convey this sense of reality, is by choosing words and images that make invisible faith into something tangible—something we experience with God-given senses.
Sh’ma Yisra’eil Adonai Eloheinu Adonai echad. Hear, Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is One. (Deuteronomy 6:4)
The Shema given to Moses by God, is in the mouth of our Lord also, when asked to define the greatest command. How does obedience begin? By hearing.
“The most important (command),” answered Jesus, “is this, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ (Mark 12:29-31)
Or in Hebrews 3:15, where believers are commanded to listen with urgency: Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion.
Mary therefore took a pound of expensive ointment made from pure nard and anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped his feet with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. (John 12:3)
Inhale the healing scent of spikenard, an amber-colored essential oil found in the hills of India and Nepal. Rare, costly and aromatic it fills not only the nostrils of the guests—or the room--but the whole house. This is Christ’s burial anointing—a prophetic fragrance for humanity.
From signs and dreams conveyed by the prophets of old to the restored sight of many during Christ’s lifetime—seeing rightly, has long been a characteristic of faith. With sight we can sin (Matthew 5:28), confront sin in ourselves and others (Matthew 7:3) and live out new lives of faith (John 20:29).
The Passover’s unleavened bread, Cana’s good wine and the sacrament of communion: whenever you eat and drink, remember me. Faith has texture and flavor. It simultaneously helps us reminisce and anticipate. It satisfies soul hunger. Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him! (Psalm 34:8).
Read the story of the woman with the issue of blood in Luke 8. Feel her desperation. Isolation. An outcast under Israel’s law, yet with trembling, faith-filled hands, she grasps the Healer’s garment—and experiences immediate restoration.
Use your senses to enjoy God as you experience faith. It's why they exist.
(Originally written in May 2020)
For more than two months Americans have been quarantined in their homes, many masked and gloved when not, for fear of a virus that has the power to steal breath.
In the early days of the coronavirus pandemic, we were told the virus attacks the lungs—comprising the ability to breathe, particularly in immunocompromised patients. Ventilators, which help the body circulate oxygen, provide a critical last resort. And they were in short supply.
A rally cry went up and the production of these bedside breathing machines came from unlikely sources. Engineers from Mercedes developed a machine in less than a week. Tesla and SpaceX also made commitments. The need to breathe is fundamental. Human life is valuable.
Then on Monday May 25, a video showing the cruelest of ironies and the evil of systemic racism reverberated like a thunderclap.
A police officer rested calmly, his knee on another man’s neck.
“I can’t breathe.”
Crowds pleaded with law enforcement while recording the incident on cell phones.
“I can’t breathe.”
The man on the ground, George Floyd, begs for help and calls for his mother, gasping for breath--the very thing our nation has pulled out all stops, to preserve.
Racist roots have produced bitter fruit for decades—a scourge on the United States. It’s an assault on humanity and worse, a blatant attempt to undermine and deface the One in whose image both George Floyd and Derek Chauvin were made.
God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; (Gen 1:27).
Then the LORD God formed man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being, (Gen 2:7).
We are image-bearers of the living God who’ve received the breath of life—as a gift. We aren’t to imitate Cain who beat his brother dead out of jealousy, hatred and rage but like Jesus, who withstood the shame, indignity and agony of the cross to bring life.
There is no room in a Christian’s life to tend pet sins and racism is a common beast. The grace shown us isn’t merely leniency but power to grow beyond immature bigoted beliefs (1 Corinthians 13:11), repent (1 John 1:9) increase in love (2 Thessalonians 1:3) and lay down our lives for one another (John 15:13).
If there’s anyone who has the right to drive his knee into neck of sinner as breath hemorrhages—it’s Jesus Christ and he did the opposite.
Let’s go and do likewise.
The day began just like any other. I awoke expecting to have coffee with my husband before he left for work, fix the children breakfast, read stories, go for a walk—except I was troubled by a dream. It wasn’t a nightmare—but a warning. I didn’t know its significance but felt the weight of the phrase. It sizzled in my mind throughout the day.
Watch and pray.
Watch for what? Pray for whom? I spent my day wondering and contemplating as I went through our schedule. It took me three days to simply submit to this strange command and by the time I did, disaster had befallen us.
Out of the blue, my family was caught in a series of storms that threatened all we held dear. The first was a profound slashing to my husband’s salary. His employer had new obligations which resulted in a severe loss of benefits and income—effective immediately. The second was the housing crisis of 2008 which caused our precious home to hemorrhage equity—losing about 30% of its value. The third was a literal storm—a microburst that tore a 4-foot hole in the roof of our home and an insurance fiasco afterwards. Then while running errands, a car came tumbling down the highway like a bowling ball after its driver lost control. My husband swerved off the road—saving our lives but leaving us rattled. In short, every day brought new terror.
The future loomed with anxiety. The passage of time hurt. We had young children then—and there was a calendar in their room. It was a cute little thing with cube numbers that I would advance every night during our bedtime routine—it came to pass that moving that little calendar forward made me nauseous. I wanted time to stop or go backward. I did not want to endure another day.
As I reflect on these events—now more than a decade old—I still taste the fear. Feel the isolation. Remember the shame.
This dark time—which would stretch out over two years was my dismantling. Reckoning. I have never been the same since.
And that’s the point.
Just as those who are infected and recover with the Coronavirus are expected to develop antibodies to prohibit or limit future infections—affliction and suffering have the potential to do the same.
Today, COVID-19 threatens our economy, health and human relationships. Twelve years ago, my family endured a similar ravaging—only we weathered the storm in isolation—the mercy of our closest family, dearest friends and the living God our only salvation.
I trembled throughout that entire ordeal, unconvinced God saw, cared or loved. I remember saying, I believe God for eternal life, but rent’s due on the first! I didn’t believe him for that. Despite growing up in church my whole life, I didn’t even know who God was.
I was a Christian with a secular mindset. Seeing God as existing to serve my desires—especially when they were flavored with 'Jesuspice'. I thought he wanted me to be healthy, wealthy and influential. That’s what I wanted.
In truth, I didn’t value his wisdom or understand that he works all things according to the counsel of his will (Ephesians 1:11). All things.
I was furious (and curious) as to why God hadn’t stopped calamity from finding me—yet I had no authority to demand a divine explanation because all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, and (God) does according to his will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand or say to him, “What have you done?” (Daniel 4:35)
I was powerless to save myself and powerless to condemn God. And in that wretched, fearful weakness he said, through his Word, something profound.
My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness. (1 Corinthians 12:9)
The pride and self-reliance I nurtured my whole life was ground to dust. I was dust.
We moved from the Midwest to Washington State to live with my parents. Once I got lost and drove through a rough part of town stopping in front of rundown house with tattered shutters and peeling paint. The yard was littered with trash. I thought two things: I would never want to live there. And, I couldn’t even afford to live there. I wept bitter tears that day.
But what I mourned most was the loss of a false reality and fallen gods . If my ability, education or spouse couldn't save me--I would be forced to rely on God and who knows what he would do to me! Upon reflecting, it's clear I had structured my life to avoid needing God at all.
They told me to succeed I needed a good education. I got two degrees.
They told me to marry a man with a future. I married a doctor.
They told me faith is important. I went to church.
I wasn’t promiscuous or addicted. I didn’t smoke or get drunk. I paid my bills on time and showed up early. I played by the rules of society. And I wanted my reward. Prosperity. Health. Happiness. And a side of Jesus. Obviously.
But Jesus didn't want to share me. So, his Spirit moved like a wrecking ball through my life. Disabling me, exposing the lies I believed and allowing devastating loss—including a career I had spent my life pursuing.
Today I know, it wasn’t really a wrecking ball but a scalpel that cut stone from flesh. And during post-op, God breathed life into me and my family again. Made us a strong and allowed us to love him and others in ways that weren’t possible before. And he let scars remain. Once you lose everything you know it can happen again.
Twelve years later—I’m on the precipice again. Only this time it’s not a personal pay cut and a microburst but a global pandemic that is devouring the economy and many lives. The Coronavirus is bad enough—but that little adjective ‘novel,’ imparts next-level fear—for this terror is something new, something we’ve never seen.
It took less than this to overcome my family last time—I don’t underestimate its power to snuff out lives, swallow the economy and leave an ugly scar on the face of the earth. I don’t doubt that I could be a casualty of this virus—or our business that we worked so hard to grow.
The difference is, today I know my God. And by his grace, I will fight fear every second with faith. Last time I walked the plank with limp hands and weak knees and today I stand with the old prophet Habakkuk and say:
Though the fig tree should not blossom,
nor fruit be on the vines,
the produce of the olive fail
and the fields yield no food,
the flock be cut off from the fold
and there be no herd in the stalls,
yet I will rejoice in the Lord;
I will take joy in the God of my salvation.
God, the Lord, is my strength;
he makes my feet like the deer's;
he makes me tread on my high places. (Habakkuk 3:17-19)
The sound of thunder from the mouth of a beast is fearsome to even the brave. The lion is an adversary wild and ferocious. Menacing. Intimidating. Before him, most recoil or flee. Who can prevail against this night hunter; the destroyer who roams, seeks to devour? How do we, in a sense, become undevourable? A foreign object lodged in the trachea that causes the beast to sputter, gag and spit us out—as Jonah’s fish did, exactly where we ought to be.
It’s a valid question because as our weak knees are strengthened by God’s Spirit to walk straight paths, Hell will roar. Leave your Bible unopened. Keep your mouth closed. Drift preoccupied, in culture’s current of trivial and fleshly desires and you will not hear the beast. Not because it’s not a threat but because you are already in its mouth.
The mouth of a lion is no place for a woman who desires life. Regardless of whether we’ve been swallowed by some grim circumstance or stumbled into a death-trap, Jesus Christ issues the same command he once offered a friend.
When he had said these things, he cried out with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out.” John 11:43, ESV
Come out! A tomb is for the dead, a lion’s mouth for the nearly dead, but our God is God of the living.
So, we’ll read the Word. We’ll open our mouths to give Him praise. We’ll fill our minds with that which is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable and praiseworthy. We’ll focus on that which is above and higher and better because the wisdom of God is eternal. We’ll repent. Forgive. Love.
And when that ancient beast of old rears its ugly head to spew venom laced with fear and doubt and condemnation, we’ll bow feeble knees, clutch trembling hands and call to our Redeemer as David did:
My soul is among lions;
I must lie among those who breathe forth fire--
I will cry to God Most High,
To God who accomplishes all things for me.
He will send from heaven and save me. Psalm 57:4, 2-3
Death was forced to loosen its grip on Lazarus when Jesus called him to life. Soon after, death’s head was crushed by His bruised heel. And now, that holy Spirit is ours, in Christ.
Grace. And power.
“O God,” David cried, “shatter their teeth in their mouth; Break out the fangs of the young lions, O LORD. Let them flow away like water that runs off.” Psalm 58:6-7, NASB
Against Heaven’s Champion, exposed by the light of His glory, the fire-breathing beast is but a wet, writhing cat stalking in shadow; hissing deception.
So, let that de-fanged lion roar—it is as nothing to the woman in Christ. Let the sound only be confirmation, that our eyes are fixed on Jesus and our feet are in step with the Spirit. Stand firm. It can only chase you if you run.
“Hear, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord is one! You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. These words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your sons and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise-up. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand and they shall be as frontals on your forehead. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.” (Deuteronomy 6:4-9 NASB)
This is the first part of the Shema, an ancient Jewish prayer that is so enduring, it’s still said today. The Shema is the focus of morning and evening Jewish prayer tradition and even if you’ve never heard it by that name, the words probably sound familiar to you.
Scot McKnight wrote about the Shema in The Jesus Creed: Loving God and Loving Others and The Bible Project has videos that can help you learn more.
This truth is simultaneously foundational and climactic. Simple to understand and beyond the scope of comprehension. The love of God is profound. Once you see it here, you’ll see it everywhere.
My prayer is that this scripture will do for you, what it’s done for me, namely, create a new framework to hang life on. A newer and truer way of hearing God and loving him by loving people.
The Shema, however, doesn’t start with God’s proclamation of love for us, but a command that we love him. We’re going to discuss a command, a problem and a promise.
Part 1: The Command
Shema means “hear” and Jewish concept of “hear” means listen and obey. God is holy and has extended Himself mercifully and mightily to the nation He built from a seed planted in the womb of an aged, barren woman. He has given Himself freely and worked powerfully on behalf of Israel and He expects a response: Uncompromising obedience to His law.
The Shema is a succinct expression of the main ideas of Judaism:
Does God have the right to command our love?
It’s fascinating that God has granted humanity such a complex essence, that we even ponder a truth the rest of creation submits to unquestioningly. All of creation does what it’s told--except us. God built us with the ability (and responsibility) to make choices--
Which is why it’s wise to acknowledge Deuteronomy, the “second-law giving” is ultimately a book about grace. God’s laws are not burdensome but exist preserve our joy in Him. His commands create and protect life. And the longer we walk with Him and the Spirit re-orients our loves, the more we’ll live out this “real” reality.
The Shema is the command, the call, the reminder for Israel—as they stand on the banks of promise, to orient their affection on God and nothing less. And everything else is less.
Their hearts are to be devoted; their foreheads inscribed. They belong to YAHWEH alone and His presence dwells among them.
They are the redeemed, the delivered who knew well the story of God striking down the first- born of Egypt, those with unbloodied doorposts who did not obey the LORD.
God is creator and deliverer. Lawgiver and lawkeeper. The Book of Hosea gives us the metaphor of God as husband who seeks intimacy with His covenant-partner and desires the best for her and her children. My mom often quotes a friend who said, If I want to know what people truly think of me, I watch how they treat my kids. The Shema shows that God WANTS to bless our children and blessing often
comes through our obedience to His Word.
The blessing is God’s presence and all the power, contentment, fruitfulness and giftedness he extends to generations. Israel is to hear the call of her Beloved and respond with utter devotion--because through this tiny nation will come the GREATEST blessing for ALL nations.
This one God, desires one people who are wholly-holy and as they stand on the cusp of a new Eden, abundant and delightful, Moses offers a remedy for their self-destructive desire to serve anything or anyone but YAHWEH: the Shema.
We might read “love God with your heart, soul and might” like it’s a sentimental, moral ideal. But it’s so much more. Here’s what heart, soul and might mean in Hebrew. Feel the weight of the command:
My translation is this: Hear O ’Israel: The LORD is our God. The Lord is ONE. You shall love the LORD your God with all understanding, your whole self and every desire and you shall love Him with FORCE.
Part 2: The Problem
While some submitted their hearts to God most didn’t. God told Moses the people would break the covenant and Moses acknowledged that if Israel was rebellious during his lifetime, they would be worse after his death. (Deuteronomy 31:27)
According to the Shema, the routines of life are supposed to express devotion to God yet so often, they fall flat. Are we “shema-ing” the commands of life? And if not, how do we start? Can we ring love out of our hearts, like water from a sponge? Pray more? Give more? Give-up because it’s impossible?
Part 3: The Promise
In Mark Chapter 7 we’re told of a man who’s deaf and has a speech impediment. His friends bring him to Jesus, begging for healing. Jesus takes the man aside privately, puts his fingers in his ears, spits, touches the man’s tongue. Looking up to heaven, Jesus sighs and says “Ephphatha” which we’re told means, “be opened.” And he was. (Mark 7:31-37)
Notice the intimacy.
Jesus moves the man to a private location, so he won’t be scrutinized or shamed. Then he communicates in a way the disabled man will understand. The man can’t speak well or hear--but he can see and feel. Our Lord touches him. “Here?” The man nods. Just imagine them standing face to face. A disabled man before the God-Man. Imagine their eyes locking, tears streaming down cheeks as the broken man is seen, known, and loved in his sorry condition. Then looking up to Heaven, Jesus exhales. This is Psalm 121: “I lift my eyes up. Where does my help come from? From the LORD, the maker of Heaven and Earth.”
Then the command that creates life: “Ephphatha!” Be Opened! (Remember, God’s commands ALWAYS lead to life!)
You know that Jesus’ blood saves—but his spit is powerful too! There are three recorded miracles of Jesus’ healing saliva (Mark 8:23, John 9:6) Even so, this healing is unique and specific. Don’t you love a customized healing? Jesus knows what we need to be made whole!
With a face set towards the cross Jesus secures our salvation with his own blood. He ascends to the Father promising that the Great Helper will come next—and he does in fire and power igniting the hearts of blood-bought sinners empowering them with gifts to serve the common good. (1 Corinthians 12:4-7)
The command of God becomes a promise in Christ.
In Christ the command “You MUST love God with your heart, soul and might” becomes the promise, “You WILL love God with your heart, soul and might.”
It will happen because He will do it: partially now, fully in eternity. Only God can obey God’s commands perfectly. Only God can satisfy His own judgment on sin. Only God in Christ can save. And that’s precisely what Jesus does. On the cross, he bled like a man but like God alone, his blood makes filthy souls white. And when a person grasps that by faith-- all Heaven breaks loose.
Remember Esau who sold his birthright for a bowl of stew? This is the opposite. For our little bowl of faith, our modest scoop of obedience that we offer back to God we gain a “new-birth right” in Christ. Faith links generations. We the children’s children to whom the Shema was to be taught.
Here’s a foretaste of your inheritance:
Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. And night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever. (Revelation 22:1-5)
The Shema tells us, our God is one, that we’re united to Him and one another as we live out this sacrificial, kingdom-inspired, lifestyle-of-love, wherever we are, whatever the cost. We’re supposed to talk about it, write it down, tell our kids.
Loving God with our whole self involves serving Him with all the good stuff He’s blessed us with. Making space for others in our homes, at our tables, in our lives. But the Shema commands total surrender, total exposure, so God wants the “ugly” too.
He asked or for it, right? Bring Him your trauma, doubt, fear, disappointment, regret. Bring Him the “Lord if only you’d been here—” Bring Him the questions, “Why have you allowed this?” “Will you heal?” “Do you really care?”
He does care. He is the God of unsurpassed compassion.
He can heal and still does. Ask Him. Wait for Him. And trust Him when the healing you seek doesn’t come when you want or the way you want.
The Lord is our God. The Lord is One. We will love him with all our heart, all our soul and we’ll do it with power. That’s Jesus’ promise to us.
“Fostering is not for the faint of heart,” I said, instantly regretting my cliché response. In a world where anguish and uncertainty are served in heaps and hope rationed, it’s easy to assume only the strongest families, the most spiritual servants, the most gracious givers are best equipped to wade through the murky waters of the foster care system.
I think most people assume that. And most people are wrong.
If I had any notions of saving the world, one child at a time (and I did), fostering has done a fine job of scrubbing them away. Fostering is mainly about people and relationships. And both are decidedly complex.
The good guys aren’t flawless. The bad guys aren’t beyond redemption. And who's who, anyway? The big picture is revealed in pieces. The tension is thick as is the desire to dig in, dole out blame and demand justice. But what is justice? Can something even be made right after it's been wrong for so long? Fostering is not only about children in care but the families they come from.
Our kids’ parents are in prison, addicted, homeless, marginalized, afraid, confused, ricocheting through the courts like pinballs. Poverty is often a factor but it's not the kind of financial duress that can be solved with money alone. There is an impoverished skill set: Reading a pediatrician's prescription, negotiating with a landlord, even internet access (and all the information and efficiency it provides) can prove challenging. There are impoverished relationships: Familial connections and social circles have all too common struggles with unemployment or under-employment, discrimination, financial disparity, addiction, mental health, isolation, lack of modeling and mentors, spiritual desolation. There may even be an inability to dream and plan: Forethought, goal setting and creativity can inhibited due to existing in ‘survival mode.’ And on and on.
Even harder to bear, our kids’ parents were once where our kids are today. Listen to their stories and it’ll quickly be apparent that they are the strong ones. The fierce ones. They survived horrific sexual abuse and severe neglect. They cared for siblings best they could. They took the hit. Went without. Got laughed at. Figured it out. Survived hell. But the thing is, nobody emerges from hell unscathed.
Sure, I got a bit of a back story—but not that back. I actually rejoice in every bit of pain, insecurity and fear I’ve felt because it’s helped me feel, understand, get (or at least try to) the perspective of the parents we serve. I want to see what they see. Feel what they feel. Understand what matters most to them.
And this is precisely why foster parenting is for the weak. Because once you see, you can’t unsee. Once you understand, you are overwhelmed. Once you feel, you break.
It’s not unlike storming a castle to rescue captives then getting disoriented in dimly-lit corridors that twist and turn. How does one escape an ever-shifting labyrinth with everyone they love in one piece? The answer of course, is they don’t. They break in a thousand pieces and so does everyone else. Fostering is about people and relationships. We are all connected.
We demonstrate love of God by obeying the Son and Jesus teaches that loving God is synonymous with loving people. Because He is supremely valuable and we desire Him most of all, we love the ones He has made. And He made us all.
Christ's invitation of love extends across the tracks to the biological family. It goes up court steps beckoning judges, attorneys, social workers. It calls to the addicted and sober alike. The rich and poor. It reverberates from broken hearts that barely beat like it shone from Christ’s pierced body that still lives!
In Him, you are a blazing light that shines in the dark. A light that cannot be overcome.
They understood earthquakes. Felt the tremors. Watched dirt crack as the ground’s muddy mouth opened wide. Mothers lunged for children. Men grasped the dirty, sweaty hands of fellow laborers to hold them safe. A trembling earth was terrible but familiar. But that day, it was not the earth but the sky that quaked. Thunder growled. Storm-sounds from a nearly cloudless sky. The heavens split and earth’s pulse paused until a voice exploded from the expanse, sounding something like honey salted with fire.
“You are My beloved Son; in You I am well-pleased.” Mark 1:11
In You I Am.
Son of God. Son of Man. Died the death of His beloved but also lived the life she should have.
Jesus, the Anointed One of God, incarnate God, is the new Adam; the new Israel. He is the restorer, redeemer, reliever and re-doer. He is the new you.
The stars in the night sky number Abraham’s offspring (Genesis 22:17) and one star of a myriad lead magi from the East to worship at the little feet of one descendant (Matthew 2:2).
The first man eats then falls before the serpent in the garden (Genesis 3:6) yet the God-Man abstains from food and confounds the dragon in the wilderness (Mark 1:13).
Moses fasts 40 days before returning with the Law and a glow (Exodus 34:28) yet Israel’s heart remains stony so for 40 years they walk it out (Joshua 5:6). And all this time is reclaimed by Christ.
Immediately after His baptism by John, the Spirit impelled (forced, urged, sent) Jesus into the wilderness where one day for every year Israel wandered, He is tempted by His foe, faux, surrounded by wild beasts and angels. He doesn't succumb like they did but smashes the beast’s demonic histrionics like eggshells, returning not with heavier laws but limitless grace. He's not seeking robots or puppets, but lovers. A code of conduct can't make a stony heart beat but the Hound of Heaven* can.
And the cross. Death's defeat and the King's coronation. The One who is faithful and true reigns with justice and mercy. Bleeds like a man but like God alone, His blood makes filthy robes white (Revelation 7:14). His holy death births our holy life.
Jesus untangles sin’s knots and makes crooked paths, straight. He is God and the way back to God. The Cartographer of the new heaven, new earth. The Architect of the sacred city that comes from above.
God saw all that He had made, and it was good. True, a tongue-twisting traitor spewed venom on creation, taking unique interest in the image-bearers of the One he hates most. But God’s good is always good. So, God dressed himself in flesh and set out to redeem His bride and rid their house of vermin.
In You I am.
The Father speaks this to the Son. And then the son pours out his Spirit on you. “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be my witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria and even to the remotest part of the earth” (Acts 1:8).
Therefore, be a witness of this truth in the strength the Spirit supplies. God’s good is always good. If you are in Christ, the Father’s authority abides in you. The earth may tremble under your feet, the sky may quake and set your heart racing, a slick-tongued serpent may even whisper lies in your ear.
Just remember if you’re in Him, the power of the almighty God is in you. Go in peace. And power.
*Francis Thompson's The Hound of Heaven, https://www.poemhunter.com/poem/the-hound-of-heaven/
I was 14 years old, buried in a heap of fractions when one of my best friends bounded into second period math.
“I want arms like Linda Hamilton!” she said. My friend Jaime went to the movies weekly with her dad and seemed to know what was trending long before the rest of us. Months later the film migrated from the Silver Screen to the TV screen—and that’s when I got to witness firsthand the Sarah Connor of Terminator 2: Judgment Day. I’ve loved her--arms and all, ever since.
“I called Linda. She didn’t want to be the little waitress she played the first time. She said, ‘I want to be crazy.’ ” James Cameron, producer, director and co-writer of the film said of Hamilton regarding the second installment. Arnold Schwarzenegger was already on board—Cameron wasn’t interested in recasting the role knowing the story centered around the relationship of Sarah and her son. And that’s the first reason why she rocks.
She was a committed mother. Literally.
In 1984 a human soldier, Kyle Reese, is sent from the future to protect a young Sarah from a cyborg assassin who has been sent to kill her because her son John (not yet conceived) will lead the human resistance against the self-aware machines. The scripted future plays out as Kyle and Sarah spend one night together. Months later, John Connor is born.
Sarah loves her boy fiercely but she’s not packing healthy lunches and taking him to T-ball. Instead, she’s preparing him for war. Weapons training, computer hacking, engine repair and constant preaching that one day he’s going to be a great military leader. John finds the whole story incredulous. When Sarah’s deep convictions land her in Pescadero State Hospital and John in foster care—she remains unapologetic. John is resentful.
As a mother I am in awe of her determination not to raise a nice boy, but a leader who would save the world. Her parenting strategy was singular and had glaring deficits—but her eyes were fixed on future glory.
She was more concerned about people’s lives than their opinions.
“Three billion human lives ended on August 29, 1997. The survivors of the nuclear fire called the war Judgment Day. They lived only to face a new nightmare, a war against the machines.”
Sarah saw Hell and it changed everything.
With this new perspective, she was like a prophet warning of impending doom if change didn’t occur. The police didn’t believe her. Neither did Dr. Silberman and his cronies, or the orderly who sexually assaulted her while in restraints (the one she later beat senseless with a broken mop handle). Even her beloved son doubted her story. She paid for her beliefs by being ridiculed, incarcerated and separated from John.
But Sarah wasn’t looking for converts, fans or likes. She was trying to save three billion lives.
This was a woman of conviction and passion. She knew what she believed and if she had to go down, she’d go down fighting.
She was resourceful, focused and forgiving.
It’s been said when people really want to do something, they find a way and when they don’t, they find an excuse. Sarah Connor had no time to whine. She used 6 months of confinement in a California State mental hospital to build a physique that would match her mental acuity. (Remember the chin-up scene?) She used a syringe of rat poison as a hostage-taking weapon. She sought no comfort in food or drink or shopping or sex because personal comfort was unwanted if the world was ending. She wasn’t a woman who delighted in distraction—but extreme focus.
Despite originally being her enemy, Connor partnered with the “800 Series” Terminator (Arnold Schwarzenegger) to defeat the nearly indomitable T-1000 (Robert Patrick). Forgiveness is a weapon as powerful as any and by collaborating with Schwarzenegger’s character, she was able to accomplish a goal she couldn’t have alone.
She discovered the value of human life.
Anyone who’s felt passion’s flame also knows the blinding quality of its light. In pursuit of something noble and good, we’re often blinded and can become what we abhor.
It occurs to Sarah that Judgment Day could be avoided if she murders Miles Dyson, the Cyberdyne Systems engineer who further develops the technology that becomes Skynet and initiates the holocaust. Kill him, save everyone else.
If you could go back into time and put a bullet in the body of a young Adolf Hitler before he had the chance to kill two-thirds of the Jewish population in Europe, would you? Would his murder, in cold blood, be justified?
Sarah Connor ultimately says, no.
Imagine a balance scale with all the people who are or would be on one side and a single person on the other. Imagine the big group of people are victims and the lone wolf is a potential killer. The scales remain balanced.
It seems that fatally condemning someone before their violent acts have been committed or murdering one to save many—doesn’t work in Connor’s mind and heart. But that’s not to say she didn’t try.
First, she used a CAR-15 laser-sighted sniper rifle to take Dyson out. When that failed, she charged his house with a .45 caliber side-arm and shot him at close range, in the shoulder. Seeing the terror in the man’s eyes as his wife and son looked on reminded Sarah of her humanity. Life matters. She is not a terminator.
In 1999, The Matrix gave us freedom-fighter Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss). In 1997 Demi Moore famously shaved her head and got jacked in G.I. Jane but back in 1991, a character like Sarah Connor had never been seen. Her power wasn’t in her beauty—but her convictions. She didn’t sacrifice it all for love of a man—but love of humanity.
She was flawed. And aggressive, untrusting, struggling with both legal and mental health issues, yet she didn’t seek her solution in a glass of wine, greater self-care, a vacation or a quick tryst. She didn’t ‘Netflix and chill’ or compare her life to peers on social media. She didn’t spend energy hating her body or complaining about loneliness or bemoaning the state of her affairs. She gave her life to something greater.
And she’s coming back!
A new story to tell.
Schwarzenegger, Eastwood, Willis, Stallone and others have had epic action-hero moments in their silver years—but I can’t recall a 63-year-old woman given the same honor. Hamilton and Cameron are changing the paradigm—again.
Linda Hamilton sat out three Terminator reboots: Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (2003), Terminator Salvation (2009) and Terminator Genysis (2015), though since James Cameron wasn’t an integral part of any, I’m not sure they should be considered part of the cannon.
Hamilton never thought she’d return to the franchise, preferring instead of a “quiet, normal life” beyond the borders of Tinsel Town. But she “saw an opportunity” and there was a “deeper story to tell, at (her) age.”
Terminator: Dark Fate opens November 2019. In the trailer we see frighteningly advanced terminator pursuing a young woman and a girl. All appears lost, until an 80-Series Toyota Land Cruiser (with an aftermarket brush guard) squeals to a halt and an armed and determined Sarah Connor steps out.
She's dressed for the occasion: all black fatigues accessorized with a Serbu Super Shorty shotgun and leg-mounted holster, a few grenades, a small revolver and the absolutely necessary LAW rocket launcher. In the war against machines, it works every time.
She’s a “bad grandma with a shotgun,” Cameron says of his muscled muse.
To be clear, the world doesn’t need more literal Sarah Connors. Her lack of interpersonal skills, singular focus and legal woes would bury her positive attributes but as an icon, the Sarah Connor/Linda Hamilton legacy is profound.
She isn’t a superhero with Amazon blood coursing through her veins. She wasn’t born with Mystique’s shapeshifting abilities or Black Widow’s super-human strength. Sarah Connor was extraordinary, precisely because she was ordinary. Even her name belies her normalcy. Yet this common waitress, when given a revelatory vision of the future and against insurmountable odds—becomes the woman she was destined to be. And saves the world.
The sound of sobbing overflowed from the backseat, spilling into the atmosphere. My own eyes had become fountains as a host of emotions, many never previously encountered, coursed down my cheeks. I’m not even sure how my husband got us home that day—his heart like a team of wild horses had long since gotten away.
Our family laughed loudly on Space Mountain at Disney World. We belt out song lyrics in our living room. We pray together. Laugh together. Work to solve problems and a thousand other things families do. But this was the first time we wept together.
It wasn’t the loss of a family pet or the passing of a beloved grandparent that had gripped our hearts. In some ways, it wasn’t a loss at all. We had all participated in a miracle. A big one and a bunch of smaller ones. And when you encounter God’s Spirit in such a way—something has got to give.
We were driving away from a tiny rented row house. Not the kind of home you would see featured on HGTV. The kitchen was only the size of a large closet. The living room, family room, bedroom were one. The hot water tended to run cold. And yet in this modest space lived a woman, a champion who fought for life and clarity and freedom. And won.
We were there to deliver the prize: Her daughter.
Many people outside the world of foster care assume bonding with and then returning a child to their birth family is a heartache too great to bear and fear of farewell likely keeps families from serving in this capacity.
The War Between Fear & Love
John, “the apostle of love” writes perfect love casts out fear (1 John 4:18). I remind myself often that the opposite is also true: fear casts out love.
I’ve never said goodbye to a child we’ve cared for without tears in my eyes—even when their leaving is the result of answered prayers; even when they’re leaving at our request. The emotional impact reverberates through us all—child, biological family, foster family and our extensions (grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins, teachers, friends, co-workers, etc.) who have walked portions of the journey with us. Regardless, I can say with confidence, loving is always worth the cost. Always.
But this isn’t a story of overcoming and reunifying. It’s a story of transformation. And not from the perspective of the bio or foster parents or the child in foster care, but of the foster siblings. And the renovation of hearts who have only experienced the good things in life.
You Have Been Loved, to Love
We have three biological children. They were loved before they were born. I imagined them long before they came to life—and I named them. Prayed for them. Called them forward.
They were more than we could have hoped for. And like every parent who adores their children we offered them opportunities to develop. Our home was filled with melodies as little fingers plunked the piano and tiny voices begged not to have to practice. The deep romantic swell of the cello was there too. And the beat of drums. There was gymnastics and seasons of traveling to competitions. Then musical theater and every Disney ballad sung on and off key throughout the house. School work. Homework. Housework. Church. Chores. Choices. The stuff of life.
We had done a great job of building them up and loving them strong. But we hadn’t yet made space for them to practice doing the same—to love others strong, build others up. As parents, the call was clear. It was time for us turn around and go back.
For us, that meant a ministry of foster care. It meant our kids would be friends with the kids of doctors, pastors and entrepreneurs but also addicts, felons and those on state assistance. It meant that they would study well in school knowing that we’re not primarily seeking A’s but to develop abilities to serve others.
Our kids would have to share time, attention and resources sacrificially. Practically, this looked like sharing their bedrooms, toys and time with us. Getting up a little earlier or going to bed a little later to help manage a house that at times was exploding with children and the needs of children. They answered difficult and sometimes insensitive questions from peers who didn’t understand why our family looked different or what foster care really means.
And we’ve witnessed heart-expanding beauty. Like the time our hours-new foster daughter accompanied me to the gym to watch practice and our daughter’s entire gymnastics team (who had been anticipating our new arrival) stopped practice to smile, wave and introduce themselves. Or watching our teenage son scoop up his two-year-old foster sister and play silly games with her just to make her giggle. Or hearing our children call non-biological “placements” who came to our home as strangers, brother, sister. This is inclusion. This is love.
In varying degrees, we’ve watched our biological children move from being self-focused, peer-pleasing receivers to compassionate givers, leaders, who have the capacity to make decisions, walk independently and have a deeper understanding of their purpose in the world.
They’ve developed resiliency, empathy, responsibility while being able to witness, not experience the first-hand effects of society’s most devouring beasts. Drug and alcohol abuse. Unsafe sexual practices. Homelessness. Domestic Violence. Poverty. I’ve seen this miracle repeated in the homes of our friends who foster also.
Our biological children have become better humans because of foster care.
Honestly, my husband and I don’t know how to raise compassionate, grateful, Christ-loving human beings who live sacrificially and love fully. But we can create space for these attributes to flourish.
When our daughters were learning back-handsprings and stride-circles in gymnastics or our son was learning scales on the cello—it wasn’t the occasional comment or demand “You should really do it like this” that helped them learn. It was practice in the gym or on the instrument. It was time. It required their attention, effort, dedication and passion. And for us parents, it required commitment and money.
So why do we think merely telling our children to be grateful or demanding they act with compassion will do anything to transform their hearts? It’s impossible. That’s not how people learn. That’s not how we change. Furthermore, we do a disservice to our kids when we make their lives as cushy and comfortable as possible because that’s not an accurate portrayal of life. Life is harsh and for some, extremely so.
Creating space where parents and children are compelled to practice soul-skills is where power is forged. That’s where transformation and growth flourishes. It’s the garden where love blooms.
It’s difficult. Messy. Loud. Frustrating. Uncertain. Frightening. And necessary.
Weeping with my family after returning their sister, our daughter of eleven months, to her mother was a pivotal moment in our family’s history, legacy. We all loved that child, according to our roles in her life and she changed us. Made us better. Many years later and my soul is still bearing fruit from our time together.
There are many ways to rescue. It may be formal or informal, for a season or a few, but let me encourage you parents—the ones who love their biological children, and have given them everything possible, to allow them to receive what you cannot give. Consider becoming a foster family. The gains and losses will transform the hearts of those you love best in the couple of ways I mentioned and 10,000 others that time will reveal. Consider making space for your children to learn what you cannot teach—lessons the soul and heart must experience for itself. Consider creating space for one more.
There is much in life you cannot know—even fewer things you can know well enough to perform proficiently or understand well enough to explain. It’s the finite condition of the human being. We are limited. Amazing, but limited nonetheless.
The good news though—indeed very good news, is that we can know God. That reality should cause a geyser of gratitude, humility and relief to gush from within.
God is not made of the stuff we are. In fact, God wasn’t made at all—he simply is. Absolute reality. The first sentence in the first book of the Bible is Genesis, Bereshit, in Hebrew. It plainly states, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.”
It is a rock-solid foundation on which a comprehensive theological structure will stand. It can be accepted or rejected, neither action adding to or subtracting from its veracity.
“This is your last chance. After this, there is no turning back. You take the blue pill – the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill – you stay in Wonderland, and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes.” Morpheus to Neo in The Matrix, 1999
Neo had questions—and assuming you’ve taken the proverbial red pill, you do too. The essentials will be answered but others you’ll wait for. Waiting for revelation, that’s another phenomenon of the human condition. We can’t know it all, understand it all or experience it all at once. We are supposed to chew, and slowly—swallowing the nutritious and spitting out the gristle.
You can know God, because God has initiated revelation of himself. He already knows you. Indeed, he’s always known you. Now it’s your turn. Person meet your creator! This is the most valuable relationship you’ll ever have.
“Wait!” you say. “I’ve got questions. I’m not sure God is real. Or good. If he wants a relationship with me than why have I suffered, doubted, feared or been oblivious like I have?”
In the beginning God.
The Story of All, isn't about you. Not in the way you want to think. You're a unique part of creation though and get to image God in your neck of the world.
The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork. Psalm 19:1
All that exists beyond your window is pointing to and telling of its maker. The trees full of leaves or barren of leaves. The flowers in their glory and demise. The breeze that blows gently or fiercely. The seasons in their rotation. Gravitational force. Thermal Energy. Other people.
The infinite doesn’t fit inside the finite. We can’t squeeze complete knowledge of God into our bitty selves any more than a pail can hold the Pacific. But we can begin to hydrate our parched hearts—Christ promised as much. Here’s four ways God has initiated revelation of himself.
1. God reveals himself through the natural world. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. Romans 1:20
According to Paul the author of Romans, we learn that even though God is invisible—his goodness, namely his eternal power and divine nature have been seen, on some level, by everyone, always. That is staggering! A honeybee in lavender and a skyscraper in Dubai testify to God’s power and divinity. Furthermore, this revelation extends to all people groups—from modern Americans to Norse seafarers to Babylonian kings.
2. God reveals himself through conscience. My children and their friends were sledding recently and were interrupted by older children who were vaping and cussing. They didn’t feel comfortable, came home and told me as much. In our bible study time I asked how they knew cussing and vaping weren’t normative and they were wrong for not participating. Their expressions were priceless!
We could ask this question of ourselves. Why is rape wrong? On what basis are school shootings evil? Why do we cringe or weep upon learning of the abuse of a child? How do we know the rapist, shooter and abuser are acting reprehensibly and it’s not the other way around? They are living out “their truth” “following their heart,” “doing what they want and not caring what others think.” Why aren't we celebrating their ability to throw off the repressive conventions of society? (I feel gross even writing this.)
Romans 1:20 works again. We’ve clearly perceived the divinity of God woven into life and it bears witness to truth. Humans are valuable because they are made by an infinitely valuable creator. God requires our love and we show our love for him by loving people. Raping, murdering and abusing the people God made is inconsistent with love—and therefore wrong.
3. God reveals himself through the Bible. There was a time before God’s word and law was written and codified. There was a time when there were only five books. A time when prophets were speaking on behalf of God and scribes were writing holy texts and people had to wait for revelation. And there’s today where biblical translations and formats abound. NASB, ESV, NLT and non-English translations in Mandarin, Tamil, Arabic and 666 other languages. (That was correct as of 2017, let's hope for a new translation soon!) There are phone apps and websites dedicated to accessibility of God’s Word.
This is good! The Bible was made to be translated. How else could the multitude representing every nation and language in Revelation 7:9 exist? God’s desire to be known is no secret. God initiated contact with one man, grew a family, built a race and extended grace to all the families of the earth.
Yet despite these three revelatory invitations—the party isn’t as full as God desires. Something opposes the delivery and interpretation of knowledge: Sin. Or more specifically, God’s judgment against it.
This is bad. Soul cancer needn’t be acknowledged by its host to thrive. In truth, it grows fastest when undetected. Unsuspected. Ubiquitous.
Sin gouges out eyes and deafens truth’s cries. It causes us to exchange, repress and deny. It makes us forgetful and boastful. Selfish and illogical. It distorts. It defaces. It is diabolical.
So, we misinterpret the signs of the natural world. Instead of the sun pointing us to the Sun Maker, we worship the sun or throw our hands up and deny the existence of the Sun Maker altogether.
Our consciences become seared and callous. There was time when our heart was pricked and bled but we’ve learned to numb it—gag it, so it beats only to the rhythm of our will.
I define right and wrong. My will be done.
Sin is the impediment to knowing God. Creation can’t overcome it. Conscience won’t cure it. Even the inspired words of God, if inactivated by God’s Spirit fall before it. Sin needs a destroyer. A warrior unhindered, unashamed, untainted by sin’s darkening stain.
4. The epitome of God’s revelation about himself is his son, Jesus Christ.
You know that he appeared in order to take away sins, and in him there is no sin. 1 John 3:5
An intentional understatement. Christ brings clarity where there was confusion. Confidence where there was doubt. Courage where there was fear. Cleanliness where there was filth. Compassion where there was indifference.
Humanity may have exchanged God’s sober truth for sin’s drunken deception, but Christ our Redeemer came to exchange his righteousness for our rags. He is the only one who could bridge the chasm, eradicate the cancer and get everyone to the party.
Now we can know God the way we ought—first in part, one day in full.
Knowledge of God begets love of God. And loving God requires obedience. God defines good and evil. His will be done! Indeed, this is the essence of being God. And obedience to God—as unbelievable as it may sound, is freedom.
Christ sets us free from sin’s entanglements so we can resume our divine purpose. What is the chief end of man? To glorify God and enjoy him forever. *
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.
*Westminster Shorter Catechism
Bible Doctrine for Younger Children Book A, James W. Beeke
Systematic Theology, Wayne Grudem
"Lay aside every weight and the sin that so easily entangles and run with endurance the race set before you. "