Beautiful Mess

May 31, 2018

These flowers are growing in my flower bed. I planted them a few seasons ago because my Sweetie loves daisies. I do too now. They’re very resilient and remarkably hearty.

I planted daisies so my wife would see them day after day and know that I love her.

But there are other less intentional results of planting daisies.

I see them and remember why I planted them. I see them in the winter time when everything is brown and dormant and I pull the old dead stuff away. I see them begin to come back each spring with those dark green leaves peaking through the mulch. I see them spread out and fill out and produce those little buds. I see the first flowers and know that there are many more to come.

But sometimes I just see the grass that I can’t seem to get to grow 3 feet away on the other side of the sidewalk and yet somehow thrives in the midst of the daisies. Sometimes I see that annoying nutgrass stalk that, if I pull it out, will somehow multiply and spread even more. Sometimes I see the dead leaves that I didn’t manage to get cleaned out of the flower bed very effectively.

When I look at the various parts of my life, I am beginning to realize that I tend to see the weeds instead of the flowers. I see the messes I’ve made and completely overlook the beauty in the midst of the mess.

Don’t get me wrong—I’m not saying we shouldn’t pull weeds or clean the flower beds. But I’ve walked this earth long enough to know that there will always be more mess. But the inevitable mess grows like weeds from the same rich soil that yields the flowers.

What I’m getting at is that the mess is just a part of this world. The wonder of it all is that so much beauty can grow in the middle of the mess.

I probably don’t have to try very hard to convince you that this world is full of brokenness—mess. But I also don’t have to try too hard to convince you that there is so very much beauty right in the middle of the brokenness.

Yesterday I conducted a funeral service for a very dear, sweet lady who was a very faithful follower of Jesus and tremendous prayer warrior. That loss hurts for many of us. But the joy of the memories we shared with her and even the sharing of those memories together was genuinely sweet.

Sorrow and joy are not mutually exclusive experiences. In fact, I believe most joys have a tinge of sorrow—someone we long to have share them that is not able to do so, something that we know would make it so much sweeter. And most sorrows have tinges of joy if we’re willing to see and acknowledge them—having been loved well, having experienced something precious to lose.

I think that our brother James so long ago was challenging us to train our eyes on the joys among the struggles when he wrote these words:

“Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the steadfastness of your faith produces steadfastness.” (James 1.2-3)

Look for the joy amidst the sorrows, the flowers among the weeds, the beauty in the mess. It doesn’t take away the sorrow or the weeds or the mess. But it does produce a healthy dissatisfaction with what is and a deep longing for what is to come.

And I believe that, the more we long for what will be, the more we will strive to make the mess more beautiful here and now.

Look at the picture again. Don’t ignore the mess. But see the beauty.

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Sorrow Transformed

December 19, 2017

While it’s not a particularly encouraging thing to say, sorrow is inevitable. It’s a part of the human condition.

People die. Disease destroys. Violence terrifies. Agony ensues. Hurt happens.

Sorrows come in many shapes and forms and depths and terms. We may have moments of reprieve when the clouds of heartache are thinner or more sparse, but sorrow will come. We may even live for long periods of time without tasting the depths of these things that so many around us face, but it will find us.

Often it seems people get this idea that a follower of Christ somehow gets a pass on the sorrow of life, but Jesus never said anything of the sort. In fact, he said quite the opposite.

In John 16, we see Jesus teaching his followers about things to come. He didn’t tell them they were exempt from sorrow, but He does give some desperately needed perspective.

[Read John 16.16-24]

There are some strange things here, but let’s keep in mind what John’s over-arching purpose in recording this gospel record really was—to show that God really came here into the mess of this life to show Himself to us. With that in mind, we look at this passage and find a powerful promise of transforming sorrows.

Jesus had been telling His followers that His departure was imminent. They were filled with trepidation at this news. It did not in any way fit their expectations of what He had come to do.

He said that soon they would be unable to see Him. But then, some time after that, they would see Him again. They didn’t understand.

Jesus’ explanation was not one of sunshine and rainbows.

Truly, truly, I say to you, you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice. You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy. (John 16.20)

Weep and lament? Really?

And to add insult to the injury, He promises that the world would rejoice at His followers’ suffering. He makes no bones about it, “You will be sorrowful.”

But did you see that last part of that verse? He promised that, “your sorrow will turn into joy.” Strange, isn’t it? How can that be?

He explains how.

When a woman is giving birth, she has sorrow because her hour has come, but when she has delivered the baby, she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a human being has been born into the world. So also you have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you. (John 16.21-22)

Whoa… that’s what I would call a truth bomb. While at first it doesn’t make sense that sorrow could somehow turn into joy, Jesus gives the perfect, almost universally familiar, illustration.

I’ve witnessed a few babies’ births. It’s one of the many reasons I very plainly own the fact that my wife is so very much tougher than me. She’s a superstar. But there’s no denying that it involves an intensity of pain and struggle that is unique and profound.

But Jesus was, of course, spot on in saying that, once the baby is born, the pain and struggle fade almost entirely out of mind because of the overwhelming flood of joy that comes with welcoming the precious child.

Jesus seems to be teaching us that the heartaches that we will experience in this world, despite how very real and painful and intense they may be at times, will fade out beyond recollection when the joy that is to come finally arrives.

Jesus goes on to say that, while He would not longer be there in person to ask, by His Spirit within us we could and must boldly approach the Father in His name and have confidence in His answers that would be for our good and for His glory. For, when we are genuinely filled with His Spirit, we will pray for the things that bring Him joy and fill us with purpose. We will seek what draws us and others nearer to Him.

The end of all of this reality is a great and glorious promise summed up in the final words of verse 24: “that your joy may be full.”

The sorrow of separation through the inevitable vale of death will be transformed into the joy of His everlasting presence.

The sorrow of disease wreaking havoc upon these bodies will be transformed in the wonder of a body made entirely new.

The sorrow in the ripples of the violence of this age will be transformed in the eternal, unbreakable reality of a peace beyond our understanding.

The sorrow of agony from fractured relationships will be transformed into unity with one another and oneness with and in Christ.

The sorrow resonating from the constant hurt in this broken world will be transformed as the last remaining tear is wiped from our eyes.

There’s no “get out of sorrows free” card, but there is a promise of sorrow transformed.

And, like the agony of labor pains, it will be worth it.

But Wait… There’s More

December 18, 2017

I have on a number of occasions been in a position to sit with a family while they conferred with a doctor about the difficult diagnosis of their loved one. In those moments it is important for me to listen well to what is said and to help make sure the family is not simply listening with their emotions. In such times it is often very difficult to swallow the news and the pain of the situation can keep us from understanding clearly what is going on.

In times like those, I have witnessed some wise doctors trying to be as plain and simple as possible. I’ve even seen a few instances where they had a nurse come with them or an assistant that might be better at explaining things in a more understandable or accessible way. Its an important role to help them understand, amidst the all of the emotion of the moment, what is really being explained to them.

When Jesus was preparing his disciples for His pending departure, He was trying to prepare them by assuring them that their circumstances, thought they could not understand it yet, would be better. He has assured them of the coming of His helping, comforting Spirit to dwell in them—which is most certainly better.

But Jesus offered more insight:

I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you. (John 16.12-15)

It must have been overwhelming to them. The things Jesus was telling them, though they sounded like amazing promises, were surely strange and uncomfortable for them to hear. But do you see what He promised that the Spirit would do?

The Spirit would guide them into truth and help them to recognize what was and was not from God. He would speak anew to their hearts so many of the things Jesus had said to them already but could not possibly understand.

The Spirit would, according to Jesus’ teaching here, always shine the light on Jesus the Son according to the very will of God the Father. The Spirit would be their means of having an all-the-time and everywhere connection with Jesus. The Spirit would help them see, understand, and process things through the lens of spiritual truth.

So Jesus was promising His disciples that, with the Holy Spirit living within them, they would have an ongoing relationship with God that could not be separated by distance or circumstance… or even by death.

But did you notice how that passage started? He said, “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.” He had imparted to them so many rich, powerful, wonderful truths… but their tender hearts couldn’t stand much more.

Though He taught them much about how things would be, He seems to say, “But wait… there’s more.”

Walking with Jesus—which every one of us as believers in Him are called to do—is a life of hearing that sentiment time and time again.

He has blessed us so incredibly much with life and breath and wonderful people with which to share the journey.

But wait… there’s more.

He has given us the Scriptures, His very Word, to help us know Him.

But wait… there’s more.

He has promised us a home with Him forever without fail.

But wait… there’s more.

He has promised to place His Spirit within us to teach us, guide us, and show us the way.

But wait… there’s more.

How has He lavished His love upon you today?

Wait… there’s more.