Morning Star

This poem took some time and comes from my recent season of walking through grief to new hope, which I have written about here and here.

A word about the imagery: For those familiar with the Bible, you should know the morning star depicted in this poem is not necessarily Jesus. Instead, it is something that comes to us in our lives that reflects God’s providence.

Scientifically, a morning star is usually the planet Venus, which literally is reflecting the light of the sun which is about to rise. So the morning star here is the thing in our lives that represents a promise God has given to us, and also the fingerprints of God throughout our lives which reflect a Kingdom “whose increase has no end” like the morning daylight.

But in a sense God’s fingerprints are not mere reflections; they are first fruits, representing the fact that the veil between us and God, and Heaven and Earth, is now torn asunder, and we are now (not one day) partakers of the divine.

P.S. I am in Ireland at the present moment. Pictures to follow 🙂


Morning Star

In the early hours after a dark night
while blackness still clung to silhouettes
and I could still see my breath
I saw it from afar

just above the horizon glistening,
with all the silent morning listening,
with hope the newborn daylight christening:
A bright and morning star.

My heart stirred
and whatever loss of light
had accompanied those darkest hours of night
Was lost upon that heavenly body before me, burning bright.

But knowing well how lines get blurred
in the early hours of twilight
where thin is the celestial veil
and ordinary things take on divine reflection

And the night upon my heart still clinging
in those early hours of dawn,
with all the hope that solitary star was bringing
I feared I could not go on.

But then that lonely wanderer on its course
with one small glimmer showed me it derived its source
not from itself but from a greater Light reflected:
One veiled by momentary night, now being resurrected.

And so I watched in silent admiration
among the shadows around me already shifting
my twilight companion toward its final destination
declare an end to darkness already lifting . . .

O soul: No matter what dark night
or place or thing has momentarily eclipsed the light
of His unconquerable grace,
or whatever tomb now hides His face

Know that nothing can keep the break of day
from those belonging to the One who’s rolled the stone away:
We who dwelled in darkness now walk in the light of new birth
in Him who’s torn the celestial veil, bringing Heaven to Earth,

Whose blood and body cover
in a victory that’s already won:
Your life is far from over.

No, it’s just begun.


Photo by Josh Felise on Unsplash

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

 

Good Grief

I had the opportunity last weekend to take a road trip with my daughter. Our destination was Bethel Church in Redding, California — our former church for several years. But the trip gave us the opportunity to detour ever-so-slightly to a hidden gem of a place called Lake Almanor.

Nestled in the California Sierras, Lake Almanor is a quiet vacationing spot just south of Mount Lassen National Park. Besides being absolutely picturesque, it also carries sentimental value for us: We lived there for two years, enjoying about 140 inches of snow each winter. Days before Christmas one year, two feet of snow fell, transforming the landscape into everything you would imagine a white Christmas to be.

Our visit to this mountain community last weekend was brief but memorable. While I cooped myself up in a book store in town finishing up work, my daughter journeyed around the lake, visiting some favorite spots to take in the scenery. In her words, she had one of the best times of her life.

I suppose I mention all this because lately I have been thinking about mystery in the Christian life: That dimension of our experience that defies explanation. Most of my readers know, for example, that my wife and closest friend of twenty-five years passed away unexpectedly less than three months ago. That would qualify as one of those mysteries.

But what is also mysterious is that my daughter and I would retrace the steps of our past, clearly embedded with memories of now-departed mother and wife, and not be overcome with grief. Instead, we had the best time of our lives. That, too, is a mystery.

There is such a thing, I am discovering, as good grief. Good grief is a grief that processes the loss of a close loved one but does not succumb to despair. Now in saying this, I must make two disclaimers. The first is that everyone processes grief differently. And based on what I have observed on the grief support groups I joined on Facebook, some are downright distraught after the death of their loved one, even years later. So if that is you, I mean no disrespect and am deeply sorry for your loss.

The other disclaimer is that by good grief I do not mean grief without tears. I have had my share of tears. I have made it a point to shed them. In fact, I have made it my goal to allow myself to feel all I am feeling, and to think all that I am thinking and express it, good or bad, to God. So the grief process, whether good or bad, comes with tears — and must, as far as I can figure, in order for the loss to be processed.

But I have been witnessing some strange things during this season. For example, my daughter was feeling very sad one day over the loss of her mom and asked God for strength. God spoke to her and said, “You are sad not because you miss your mom but because you are believing the lie that your mom is gone and your relationship with her has ended. She is not gone, and it has not ended; you still have a relationship with her, and you will see her again.” Immediately her sadness lifted.

Or the time I was feeling distraught, but something did not feel right about it. And I know enough by now to know that when I am feeling that “this does not feel right” feeling, God is wanting to say something to me. So I asked Him, and pretty clearly He said, “This is not the type of grief I have for you. You will grieve, but your season of grief will be characterized by hope and joy.” Immediately any feelings of being distraught lifted, and they were replaced with joy for my wife for where she was now, and hope not only of seeing her again but also the future that lay ahead of me.

Experiences like this have, needless to say, dramatically changed the grieving process.  It has given us the ability to leave the house and go on a road trip retracing our past and have the best time of our lives. Yes, my wife’s absence has left so much empty space in our lives. But I am absolutely confident God intends to more than make it up to us. He knows how to bind the brokenhearted; He knows how to empower those who sow in tears to reap in joy.

We are all affected by grief at some level. It may not be the loss of a loved one, but we have all lost something. We all are familiar that dimension of life we could not explain called mystery. To this I would like to suggest that whatever your loss, God is more than able to sustain you through it, and is also able to more than make it up to you. That area of your life shrouded in mystery is not over: No, it is just beginning.


Photo by Levi Bare 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”

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