White Space

 

The other day, someone at church shared with me a picture they felt the Lord gave them. The saw a well-tended beautiful orchard that was vast, sprawling over hillsides, and producing much fruit. What particularly caught the person’s attention was how well the orchard was organized: The trees were in rows, and with perfect space between each row.

The space between the rows, they said, was particularly significant. On the East Coast where they grew up, they explained fruit trees grow, but there is no space between the trees. The trees just crowd out one another and prevent growth, similar to what happens when a tree is not pruned properly: The production of fruit is inconsistent at best.

I want to reflect today upon the space in our lives. Space has an interesting quality. It is both nothing and something at the same time. On the surface it is  useless, and yet it is indispensable. As one article on graphic design explains, “white space should not be considered merely “blank” space — it is an important element of design which enables the objects in it to exist at all; the balance between positive (or non-white) and the use of negative spaces is key to aesthetic composition.” So it is also in God’s artwork, our lives.

[White] space should not be considered merely “blank” space — it is an important element of design which enables objects in it to exist at all. So it is also in God’s artwork, our very lives.

As my friend shared with me his vision, I realized for me that space is the time of waiting. During this season God has given to me some promises that are deeply personal, and He has encouraged me to set my heart on them coming to fulfillment. Space is the time between us, like Abraham, receiving the promise and having it come to fulfillment.

Space is not only a period of time but a quality in the human heart. My children and I were talking the other day about the tendency in revival worship services for us to fake our worship: To act as though we are excited even when we aren’t. Now I am a big proponent of breaking through barriers of discouragement and worry and other things in order to worship authentically. There is good in that form of intentional worship. But in whatever environment we find ourselves, there is a tendency to act as though we are full when in fact we are empty. We want to give the appearance of fruit when in fact we are presently in the space between.

My wife often quoted a saying about the twelve-step program: “Those who progress in this program are those willing to sit with their uncomfortable feelings and take them to God.” In other words, those who progress are those who learn to be comfortable with space. And this pertains to the spiritual life in Christ as a whole.

We are a tapestry of fruitfulness and space, but if we seek to fill the space with other things — fakeness, striving, addiction, escape, busyness and so forth — we end up affecting the fruit we now possess. We prevent future fruitfulness.

My encouragement to you and me this morning, this Labor Day weekend in the States, is to be comfortable with the space in your life. Allow God to meet you in that place. Rest in His presence; rest in His promise. God does not waste a single moment in our lives. In the space where nothing seems to be happening, God is reaching down to bring healing and to bring forth something beautiful.


Photo by Scott Webb on Unsplash

 

Faith is not a Statistic

In the past several days God the Father has been taking me to a place past the point of words — or at least my ability to freely express them. I have regularly and literally been pinned to my chair (or bed, or floor) by the tangible presence of God in utter silence and  tears. It has made penning a new blog post difficult. Continue reading “Faith is not a Statistic”

The Women of Bethel Music

In the past several weeks I have found myself listening to a myriad of worship songs. In the process, those that have been most meaningful (life-changing actually) have come from Bethel Music.

And of those, interestingly enough, nearly all were songs with —as the movie industry likes to say — strong female roles. That is, the lead vocalist and worship leader was a woman.

Now I am in many ways rather orthodox in my view of men and women compared to what passes as modern views on gender roles. Put simply, I believe men and women are different, and they are created different. And that difference is, for lack of better words, by design and beautiful.

But I also believe women were created to lead. They simply lead differently. That is, when they enter the world of society (be it corporate America, church or otherwise), they do not lose their uniqueness.

By saying this of course I have touched upon the primal fear of our modern culture. We are really afraid if we recognize any differences between men and women, it will be used by men as basis for oppressing women. And so what we find is a desperation to claim, and portray, women to be just like men, and men just like women.

But uniqueness does not mean oppression. I hope we can slow down our modern brains long enough to recognize this. That is to say, women were not uniquely created by God to be oppressed, nor were they created to be men; they were uniquely created by God to be the full and complete expression of who they are.

I mention all this because in the modern climate of debate over women leadership, what has arisen within the revival church culture especially in the area of worship is a strong presence of women leading with the full expression of who they are. And to be honest, I am not sure any man could lead as they have led. And their contribution in this area has had a tremendous impact upon me personally in this season, so this is my tribute.

The Women of Bethel Music

I think of Gretzinger
Carrying the presence more than anyone can handle
Lit up like a Roman candle
Reckless as the love of God
Tearing God knows what darkened worlds apart
to take us deep into the Father’s heart

Or Helser, declaring a child of God
Am I: No longer slaves,
With an audacity — like Cooke — with David to go
Out beyond the shores into the tossing waves

Or Dimarco, who can tell
us there is a love hidden deep inside waiting
to be set free, a hope realized
And through it all to trust and let go
for they still know His name: The wind and waves
And no matter what my present situation: It is well.

And then there is Walker-Smith who reminds
Me how jealous God is for me:
His love like a hurricane, and all my regrets a tree
Which loomed so large but suddenly finds
No more root, cast into a drowning sea.

And McMillan — who among this lineup should
be included — who says You are good, good, good
Like a steady battering ram unending
Reminding us that when the night is holding on,
God is holding on harder still: All my fears rescinding

And Jobe, and Heiligenthal, and so, so many more,
Not least of which Johnson, who from the beginning
Her voice piercing the darkness like a punch to the gut
and for at least ten thousand reasons more —

I thank you. For through it all,
With uncompromising violent voice and song,
You have led us, led us, led us all:
Led us all along.


Photo by Courtney Clayton on Unsplash

 

Separation

Can anything separate us from the love of God poured out for us through Christ Jesus?

For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8)

It does not appear to be so. It is interesting in the above passage that the Apostle Paul finds it necessary to mention that not even life can separate us. Perhaps he has in mind life as in the opposite of death, but I like to think he has in mind “life” as in the daily grind of life, that place where we experience it. Not even what we experience in life, both good and bad, can separate us from God’s love.

Which is an astounding thought. Don’t take this the wrong way, but in many ways I have felt my life to be a complete failure. I have accomplished much, but I also feel I have failed at life in the most significant way possible, according to the only perspective that really matters: I have failed to live a life pleasing to God.

And I have come to this realization in the daily grind of life, where it is experienced. There, I have learned what stuff I am made of. And I have discovered it isn’t pretty. Like the Apostle Paul, I discovered with no small degree of anxiety that “in me, there is no good thing.” But unlike Paul, it has been hard for me to be okay with that. How can anyone be okay with that?

Growing up, I was always told that as long as I did my best, that was good enough. That is a good personal philosophy that produces a great work ethic. But somehow it does not work so well when we turn to the spiritual life. There is something that happens when we compare our lives to Jesus, knowing He is our example, that makes the wheels fall off “at least I am doing my best.” When God opens our heart and we see our motivations for what they really are, doing my best seems to lose all meaning. Doing my best actually becomes part of the problem.

But this I feel is part of the process, and in fact the beginning of the solution. The journey with God — unlike any other task we face — is not one where we work for God but rather God works in us. He is repairing us. And that process is not so much Him quickly fixing whatever keeps us from doing the things that please Him as it is understanding — despite whatever real failure in our lives we encounter, whether in plain sight or hidden from view —we are just as pleasing to Him.

Processing failure, I feel, is a critical part of my journey with God. For there is one thing that can separate me from the love of God, and it is myself: Particularly how I perceive my own failures. Does my failure, in the particular or general sense, change how I feel about myself? Am I still deserving of the very best God has to offer? Is He still extravagantly generous toward me if I feel I have failed to keep up my end of the bargain?

This is where an overactive work ethic, with all its good, can get us into trouble. Excelling in life is good, and God desires us to live fully-functioning lives where we accomplish great things. Because this is how He has made us to function. But if our ability to function becomes the criteria for our right to be accepted and loved, things begin to break down. The way it works in God’s kingdom is that first we are loved and accepted, then we function. In fact, we only function as we were truly designed to function to the extent we know we are loved.

I begin then to realize what God is really working on is not my ability to achieve but my capacity to be loved, even (and especially) in my failure. Nothing can separate me from the love of God. And I suppose in the final analysis, not even myself. For God simply loves me too much to keep me on the shores of failure when, in truth, an entire ocean of His extravagant love awaits me.


Photo by Tim Foster on Unsplash

Rest

 

I awoke this morning in Long Island. Our cousins were sweet enough to open their home to us as we, this week, celebrate a family reunion with Catherine’s side of the family. I have never been to their house and so my first order of business was to wake up before anyone else, of course, and explore every room in the house.

That may not exactly be true, but it is what I did — at least downstairs. And I had the assistance of the two or three cats who live here, and who were more than happy to oblige.

As I did so, I was struck by how peaceful it was. We West-Coasters tend to think New York is all about the city, and it is if you are in Manhattan. But escape just across the water and you find a different world, a small piece of Heaven nestled among trees: A place which despite the busy trappings of modern life has a memory long before you and I were born, let alone before the smartphone was invented, a place inviting you to rest.

I come from a long line of religious followers who believe devotion to God is anything but restful. On the contrary, it can be quite stressful: Making sure that the Creator of the Universe is happy with you. It may not be too stressful if you avoid Him in the hallways of life. But run into Him in a private room and things can be quite tense. You can wish you were someplace else.

And this can be true even in the “best” of church traditions. Some traditions of course seem to enshrine this distance, keeping God in a place of unrelenting holiness and us in a place of fearful and reverent devotion. But I am thinking of those traditions who have embraced the message of the Bible that God, in His holiness, actually chose to come close in mercy: Becoming a man and taking upon Himself the reason for the discomfort we feel in His presence.

For the church traditions I have in mind, “faith” is a big topic. All the blessings of Heaven are available to us through faith, and so a lot of emphasis is upon “having faith.” But more times than not, be it the way they have approached it or I have received it, “having faith” has been more stressful than the standard “fearful and reverent” devotion. If I am already having difficulty at the religious duty thing, I will certainly fail (trust me) at the faith thing.

But here is the amazing thing: God requires neither. Whatever act we feel we must do or moral quality we feel we must possess in order to feel perfectly comfortable in God’s presence, Jesus has provided. “God made him who knew no sin to be sin for us that we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthains 5). He has made the private room comfortable.

The natural outworking of faith, then, is rest. It is not the solemnity of a cold cathedral instilling a sense of uneasiness, nor the tireless striving of faith-based Bible-believer attempting to “live by faith.” It is the quiet of a Long Island morning. It invites us.

Such rest causes me to see things differently, though nothing in the fabric of my circumstances has changed. I see beauty where I could not see it before: In the early sunlight, in the dew that covers the grass, in the birdsong — even in the cat that nuzzles up against my leg. I realize this beauty was made for my pleasure — for I am deeply loved.

And then something begins to happen — I cannot explain how. The polarity in me shifts from my fearful and futile efforts to reach God, to God’s inexhaustible ability to reach me. My heart, my mind, my body — my very circumstances are all candidates of His unfathomable love. And no matter where I am in life I realize: My life has just begun.


Photo by Tucker Good on Unsplash