No Muck, no Miracle

I grew up two blocks from the famous “Grand Strand” of the South Carolina beaches, and just across our street stretched a long finger of marsh from the tides toward the inland highway. Its where we hunted for small bait (we called them fiddler crabs, since they “fiddled” their way sideways across the sand). I remember stepping into the mushy, wet sands and sinking down past my ankles. I can still hear the sucking sounds as I dislodged my feet from the muck! (My brothers, always encouraging, informed me there were hidden stretches of quicksand nearby waiting to gobble little boys whole.)

The psalmist writes that he found himself in “the slimy pit” and waited patiently for God’s clear path toward a firm footing (and everyone knows from the movies never to struggle in quicksand since it makes for a speedier demise.) He was stuck in the “mud and the mire” with no footing below and no way forward. And he did what any of us would do – he cried out, “help!”

We love the promises! When God gives a promise in the Bible, it nearly always is in the context of dire circumstances. Try a search on Top 10 promises and read them in context. God promises he will be near, that he never changes, he will strengthen us, uphold us, bless the work we do, save us, pour out his grace, and give us wisdom. The promises are truth, yes, but they are delivered in the quicksand of loneliness, pain, threats, fear, sin, hopelessness, and grief.

Today, and all week, my prayers have turned to a family I knew, worshiped with, and served alongside back in the states. The godly couple stood strong as an example of servanthood, leadership, and self-sacrifice. And they were lost to a careless driver’s bad choices this week. And there are kids, friends, church family, and more left behind.

In our hurt and in our prayers, we ask God to hear the cries that arise from the slow murkiness of grief. We ask him to provide a moment of firm footing in the midst of the swirl of questions. We ask Jesus to stretch out his hand and pull His kids back up onto the Rock.

It’s interesting what happens when the psalmist finds his footing in the Lord. Not only does he stand firm, but he breaks into song. Not a song from the canon of worship already learned and enjoyed. But, one that brings new comprehension of how much God cares and how near he is. It’s a new song, fresh from the experience of God’s provision and presence. And, through it all, as we wait, as we cry out, and we reach out for his presence, the psalmist says “many will see and fear the Lord and put their trust in him.”

On solid rock.


Does this hurt?

We avoid pain (no-brainer). We run from it unless there is a higher payoff – improved game, better abs, new baby in our arms, a bill paid off, a binge weekend of “Glee.”

My son, for his first dozen or so years, came to me and announced “Does this hurt?” Then he would pinch, punch, pull, twist, or otherwise separate tissue from tendon. It came in the form of a question: it was really a warning. Pain was imminent.

Next to inclusiveness and tolerance, pain avoidance is right up there as sacred. In fact, some preach that, if we experience pain, we must be out of God’s plan for our lives – if God’s plan is wonderful, how could pain be involved.

I remember when my kids were younger, that they would start down a road to pain and punishment. (Don’t get me wrong: they were good kids. But also living proof of humankind’s fallen-ness.)The first action received a warning, the second a sterner warning, and finally the pain that halted the path they’d taken. It almost seemed like they were asking for punishment (my dad’s two phrases – “Do you want a spanking?” “Sure, sign me up.” and “This will hurt you more than me.” “Uh, yeah.”)

Good pain comes at the right place and for the right reason. Maybe I ask for it (discipline) or maybe I don’t.

Have I ever seen a branch ask for a good pruning? A smart branch knows a good pruning will make it better and healthier. More fruit, less dead weight, more pleasure in the purpose of growing and living. Jesus prunes what he cares for. So, in the pain, trust his hand and his love.

Lord, prune me. I am good with the pain if it makes me more alive. I can take the lopping off of the dead weight I carry. Snip, saw, and drag it away so my heart, life and fruit can be yours and spilling over.

Not finished yet,

The Impossible Calling

Some things Jesus said make following Him sound impossible. I understand it, for the most part, but don’t see how I can meet the standard. Most religions give a code of conduct, or a place to visit, or some chant or posture, and you’re in.

But Jesus asks too much! Like in this passage – Turn from selfish way I get; I can’t do it, but I get it. Then … die. Take up  a cross, and die. After all, that’s what a cross is for.

In case this isn’t clear enough, he says it another way: give up your life. That’s die, again, right?

Don’t get too discourage. It helps to read on a few verses. The upside down logic is a call to be a “living sacrifice.” To die is defined like this: live for Him, live for others, and value following Jesus above stuff that takes His place as Leader. Consider yourself dead to what takes His place in your life. And it only takes a couple of seconds to identify what this is, right?

Islam has the sacrificial death of suicide bombers. Daoism has seppuku, the ritual disembowelment because of shame. Buddhism has self-immolation. And Hindu widows throw themselves on their husbands’ funeral pyre in sati ritual.

These “calls to die” lead to death. Whether it’s to get reward in the afterlife, cover shame, protest a hopeless situation, or avoid grief, the death religions call for is self-seeking and self-attentive.

Jesus’ “call to die” leads to life, and life to the fullest measure. He offers, through His life, death, and resurrection hope for the hopeless, mercy for the shamed, comfort for the grieving, and real life for those facing or contemplating death.

He calls us to live as long and as passionately as possible,  as His own sacrificing followers, impacting our world with Hope.

Put Him first. Live to serve others. Leverage life in ways that point to His offer of life over grief, shame, self-consumption, and hopelessness.

It’s better by far to know Him, gain our soul, and give up on hanging onto life without Him.

Hanging on to Him,

Not Good News, but God’s News

Sometimes, the best thing we can tell someone is the “not good news” life brings. A friend is battling cancer, right now, and he’s losing the fight. A relative has chosen to leave her spouse, because she feels she deserves better. A church copes with the sin of a pastor who left them for another bride. All these things are happening. And, for someone, it’s not good news. But it is truth.

Jeremiah was pulled from the dungeon to come to the king’s chamber secretly. The king asked for news about what God was doing or saying. Jeremiah assured him the message had not changed: Babylon will defeat you.

Jeremiah: “A dungeon? Really? Why?”
Zedekiah: “What’s God up to? What’s he saying to you about me?”
Jeremiah: “All is lost. You will be defeated. There is no hope for rescue coming.”
Zedekiah: “No, I want to hear the good stuff God has to say.”
Jeremiah: “You aren’t listening. It’s all over.”

The truth hurts. The church is hurt by the truth about the wayward pastor. The spouse and kids suffer due to the truth of a selfish act. The first visit of a hospice worker pierces the hearts of the wife and kids (and friends.) God’s news can hurt.

The balance? God hurts with you. He knows the pain of loss, of abandonment, of rejection, of death. And because he knows, he hears. And he hears because he is near.
God’s news can be painful and “not good news;” but it’s always good news that he is near, he hears, and he knows.