Crucifying Christmas

Don’t worry.

This isn’t about Walmart greeters or Starbucks cups.

Sunday before last we had some visiting musicians at church that played “Mary Did You Know.” Now, time for a little confession…I believe that Mary Did You Know is one of the top three worst Christmas songs ever… every bit as good as Little Drummer Boy and Do You Hear What I Hear.

While they were playing the song, for the first time, I could imagine Mary there, holding that baby. I mean, we read that Mary wrapped Him in swaddling cloth and laid Him in the manger. But realistically, she must have held that sweet little thing, nuzzling Him, tracing the outline of a little nose, touching ten tiny fingers, leaning into Joseph to show him the dream that rested on the infant’s face.

I sat there imagining Mary and looked around for someone with a baby near me who i might convince to let me snuggle for a minute or two. Drats. None at hand.

After that morning I went from part time carol singing to full time, like it was my job.

This morning I went into work early this morning and hit play on some of my favorite Christmas music. Oh there was the best of them all, with its grit and its darkness, its admittance of struggle and shadow. It is a walk on a damp fall day, the smell of wet decaying earth around you, coat pulled tight around you for it is colder than you anticipated. Winter is coming.

I sing it all year long. I sing it in those aching times when I just long for His company and His comfort.

O come, O come, Emmanuel
And ransom captive Israel
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear

Rejoice, rejoice, Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel

O come, Thou Day-Spring
Come and cheer
Our spirits by Thine advent here
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night
And death’s dark shadows put to flight

Rejoice, rejoice, Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, o Israel

I could continue but these are the two verses I always pick first. Captivity. Gloom. Death. Shadow. Who is this writer that he would make such a depressing song, 4 lines of “Look at my woe!” Followed by 2 that are just the same over and over.  Over and over. Christmas should be hope and joy and love and peace. Who is this writer?

I think, perhaps, the writer is someone who knows the Bible. I think the writer is someone who knows the history of the people of Israel. I think the writer is someone who knows us.

In Matthew 1 starting at verse 18, it reads: “This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit. Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.

But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”

All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”).”

Joseph entered what should have been a time of celebration, the advent of his marriage, and he is met quickly by a reality which doesn’t match his expectations. He should have been joyful is instead overwhelmed by mess….divorce, presumed infidelity, shame, scandal, a blow to the pride, and trying to manage himself in a way that was to his standards, legal and upright in the sight of the Lord.

The angel doesn’t come and change the situation. He doesn’t say the pregnancy was a mistake and apologize for Joseph’s hurt feelings. He doesn’t stop what Joesph sees as the problem.

He just changes his perspective.

This mess, says the angel, this thing you see as a problem, it is the design of God to bring the salvation of all. It is the design to bring “God With Us.”

What of your life are you walking into THIS Advent season pleading God to come into? Captivity? Gloom? Death? Shadow?

Could this word not be for you? Could the mess you are consumed by be the design of God to bring about salvation? Change your perspective and like Joseph move in the direction of God’s command.

But changing your perspective is not nearly enough. We must also change our expectations.

We have been trained by Hollywood, like little Susan Walker, to think if we just believe in Santa enough, we will magically get a house far from 34th Street in a nice neighborhood and all will end in true love.

We are looking for the big flashy miracle to prove at Christmas that He does exist. We have been around long enough to know He does big, flashy miracles. We celebrate the biggest each spring. It is the shining moment, the Resurrection, the conquering of the grave, death defeated. Oh, it is glorious! Christmas without Easter, oh it is nothing at all.

So why bother to celebrate Christmas at all then?

Perhaps, just perhaps, it is to remind us, just as the Israelites needed to learn, that God did not come to be an earthly king. He came lowly in a manger. He came into a world without a place for him to be raised by parents who just months before were on the verge of divorce to a government hell bent on murdering Him.

All of this in the arms of Mary, she held this tiny baby. Oh Mary, did you know?  When you tipped him towards Joseph to show him this little face, I want to imagine that you had the humanity that I have, tempted to think, “This is it? This is what the angel spoke of? This is who is supposed to save us? A baby? He can’t fed himself or clean himself! How is this going to work?”

Time never turned back. There was no big showy miracle. Just a baby.

I have to ask, are you holding a baby when what you’d really like is for God to show up like Resurrection? Even if you’ve changed your perspective, you’ve said, this mess is blessed, it is of God and I’m consecrating it to Him…are you still walking around looking for the wrong cave? You’ve run inside and there are no discarded grave clothes, just this terrible box with a little baby inside who can’t do anything for Himself.

And you stand there gesturing to this disappointment, eyes upward, and yell, “I didn’t agree to this? I have some suggestions on how to sort this out. Are You listening? WHAT AM I EVEN SUPPOSED TO DO WITH THIS?!?!?”

I’ll tell you. You don’t throw the baby up on the cross! You don’t demand what God is withholding for a later date. You don’t scream for big signs and wonders while you stand before the greatest wonder of them all. You appreciate that in your captivity, your gloom, your death and shadow, oh, He came.

You cradle that baby. You lift it up and you nurture it. You hold it as a precious fragile beginning and do everything you can to protect it. You tip it to others so they might see this sweet thing the Lord has given you even if you have NO IDEA how God will use it.

He came and He stayed and He will come again!

Is it true or is it not?
Is it true?
Or is it not?

If it is not true, than go and find comfort in the fireplace and the family and put your mind to rest that it is of no consequence, now or ever.

But if it is true….if this little baby was born God with us…..If His very nature is the answer to God’s command from the earliest history of man for the conquering of our greatest enemy, that He is with us….oh it is of EVERY consequence. Everything hinges upon it!

Find Christmas, dear one, find Christmas not just where you weren’t looking for it, but find Christmas where you were specifically saying God couldn’t be there.

And find Christmas, my friend, in the little bit of life that hardly fills more than two hands, that can’t support itself, and care for the promise of God that He has already given you to tend to.

Come and worship.

Emmanuel shall come to thee, Oh Israel.



What Even Is Holiness?

Point blank, holiness is for weirdos.

The first time I heard “in the holiness tradition” I was pretty sure I just needed to pretend it hadn’t been said. If I were to repeat that phrase to most of my friends, they’d check my pockets for snakes and tell me to go find my big white tent.

It didn’t get any better either. “Entire sanctification,” they said. I mean, come on, guys. That is neither hip nor cool. Holy Spirit talk should be reserved for Pentecost. But Pentecost came and went, and these people were STILL talking about “the power of the Spirit that lives in us.”

In my youth, after Pentecost, we put away the banners with the felted tongues of fire and began to talk about what Youth Sunday would look like this year. Growing up in a church where we prayed corporately reading lines from the bulletin, I was happy to sticker the little flames over the disciples heads and talk about how they all spoke in different languages. I could list off the fruit of the Spirit but as far as this theology was concerned that was sort of it for me.

I listened through a few years of sermons which preached from this theology and just didn’t get it. Mostly I could make everything mesh with what I already believed and rewrite the messages I’d heard to suit my viewpoint. I could hang when they referred to it as “second blessing” which was comfortable in like a folksy, NPR phraseology sort of way, but every now and then someone would say “perfection” and I’d have to sigh quite deeply to drown that nonsense out.

I sat through conversation after conversation and explained how holiness is simply spiritual maturity. It is just learning to act like a decent human being. Sometimes I could badger people into agreeing with me and feel like a conversation winner, and sometimes they just looked at me like I had two heads. Life kept moving on, I behaved like a decent human being (for the most part) and I felt fine enough going to a church in the holiness tradition, because yo, check me out, I’m super spiritually mature.

There came a day where I finally had to have a conversation with myself. “Something has changed in me. I am waiting for it to go back to what it was, but it’s not going back. I know what these people would call this from the pulpit, but I am NOT using those theological terms and I am NOT ready to address the difference publicly. I might need to take a minute and think about, what even is holiness?”

I studied. I prayed. I engaged in conversations. I listened more carefully to the sermons being preached in my presences and I got online and dug into sermon archives to see what I’d missed the first time listening through. I beat my brains against the rock of this theology trying to see just how it could be so, how what I was experiencing could be what these words were describing.

And one day it came to me….

And for the friends I have who don’t really get what I’m talking about when I start talking about holiness, this is what I’m trying to say.

I pushed out to sea in a boat built for me by God sent to carry me across the ocean which separates here from eternity. The horizon stretched out beyond me, unimaginable that I’d ever reach it. I sat in that little boat, and watched as I drifted away from shore. I peeked over the edge and could see the bottom with shells and rocks and I dipped my arm in and tried to reach over the edge to grab a particularly pretty one, but my arm was not long enough.

“Strange,” thought I,”but this ocean seems deeper than I imagined.” And that thought began to needle at me. Because I understood what the water was. The water, that which held my little craft aloft, was grace. It was cool and it was shiny and it was constantly in motion.

It started out as a shallow curiosity, just how far below one might find the sea floor. Wasn’t it Paul who’d said, “And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.” Paul wants me to figure out how deep the ocean is! Well, if anyone could figure it out, I am super smart AND super insightful, lots of people have said so.

I reached in my gear and pulled out a ruler. I’m even equipped to measure this! I reached my arm over the edge of the boat again and find that the boat has continued to pull towards the horizon. Deeper and deeper still the ocean grows and my silly little ruler is to short. The further out I traveled, the more this bothered me. This ocean…this bottomless well of His pardon….I should be able to grasp it’s depth, certainly! If thousands of years ago Paul could grasp it, surely I can with all my modern book learning.

I look up and see my Savior approaching, walking on the water towards me, and I know this may be my only opportunity. I call to Him, even when He is a long way off, “How deep is it?!?!” No reply. I draw breath in all the way to fill up my belly, “How deep is it?!!?” I bellow. He just continues to draw near.

Now all I want to do is figure it out before He reaches me. I scramble about the boat, looking for a yard stick, a fish finder, something, anything that I can use to measure better, but all I can come up with is this one limited little 12 inch ruler. It is obviously not enough, but it’s all I have. I drop my arm back in the water, stretching that ruler down as far as I can. I have to have an answer. I have to be able to properly thank Him for the depths of this ocean.

He reaches the boat and I sit up, dripping wet from all my leaning. He reaches a hand towards me, but we have a conversation to settle first and my hands are gripping that ruler tightly. It is my only means of measurement and if I let it go, I will have no way to solve this.

“It’s really deep,” I say, unable to look at Him, embarrassed that I couldn’t figure out the answer, ashamed of how stupid I must seem.

“Mm-hmm,” He replies, seeming almost uninterested in my intense theological quandary.

“I was pretty sure I could figure out how deep and how wide and how vast this ocean is, but this ruler is like, super short. I don’t want to complain about the gear in my boat, but I sort of fill unequipped to measure this.” I shifted uncomfortably on the boat bench.

“Mm-hmm,” He replies again.

“There is still time though. The horizon is still a long way off. Do you have anything with you that can help me? Sonar? One of those tiny submarines that I’ve seen on the Discovery Channel?” He looked at me quizzically and smiled. “I thought not,” I sighed.

He walks alongside of my boat while I consider my situation. After some time, minutes, hours, days, years, I don’t know which, I turn my face to Him again.

“It’s really deep, isn’t it?” I ask again.

He nods and smiles at me, “Mm-hmm.”

I look at my ruler and then at the ocean. I look at the face of my Savior and see His hand still out-stretched.

I reach once more over the edge of my boat…and release my little stick.

I don’t even notice it floating away as I place my hand in His hands, rise up, and step out of my boat. I have seen that the depths of the ocean of grace are not found by my limited understanding of measurement.

The depths of the ocean are found in walking on water in the company of my Savior towards a beautiful horizon.

There are no felted tongues of fire, no snakes, no tents. There is no hard to explain theological language to comprehend. Just me and Him, not worried about how strange it appears to see the two of us, wrapped up in conversation now, strolling further out to sea, foot to wave, together, hand in hand.

That, my friend…that is what even holiness is.

Just Give Me A Sign!!!!

In the past few weeks I’ve been working through a decision. Not a little decision like which socks, but one that felt big and important. Big like…is someone documenting this, because this is going down in the history books…oh…documenting my life and thoughts is my job.

People would talk about feeling peace or gaining clarity, but I never felt out of peace or particularly foggy. Close to the end a friend voiced what I’d been thinking the whole time, that really, either way I went, it really would be ok, that it wasn’t about right or wrong, but A or B. But with the process, there was this wait, and in the wait I found myself wondering, “How will I know when it’s time to decide? Will there be fireworks or what?”

I’ve been there before. It’s a natural human experience, to search for signs and wonders to direct your steps, looking outside of yourself to address your inner monologue. Even in the “follow your heart” crowd, if you watch, they interpret events, moments, conversations, chance encounters and apply them to the craving of their spirit and direct their path, good or bad, and move. It bears this note, that the casual observer can also tell if the outside influence of the action is a good or bad influence.

This isn’t a current trend, that everyone does it because everyone famous is doing it, but something that has been in our nature from the beginning. I listened to in incredible sermon a few weeks ago where Moses’s calling was outlined. It’s a familiar story, Moses is out and about doing the shepard thing and woah! There is a burning bush! And from the bush comes a voice which directs Moses to go back and get His people and free them from Egypt. Well, Moses doesn’t just take the burning bush at its word, for one thing, who even was this talking to him? And why would the bush choose him? And how exactly was this going to work, because he just was not the best guy for the job?

We find that story in Exodus 3, and there in verse 12, God has already anticipated that what Moses is looking for beyond answers to the questions, is something real and tangible that he can look to to drive home that this was real and this was trustworthy. We read, “And God said, “I will be with you. And this will be the sign to you that it is I who have sent you: When you have brought the people out of Egypt, you will worship God on this mountain.”

We know the story that follows, Moses gets on board, goes and talks to Pharoah, Let my people go, plagues, blood, bugs, more bugs and death, freedom, Pharoah say “oh shoot, what’d I do?” chase scene, staff raised and parted sea, Isreal races forward, makes it in the nick of time and the Egyptians drown. These are some pretty impressive things there. But God did not say, “This will be a sign to you, there will be locusts, like, EVERYWHERE, and I mean EVERYWHERE.” He didn’t say a word about the blood, about the frogs, about the walls of water, nothing. It wasn’t any of the powerful or miraculous things God would do through for and through Moses. But those are the things we look for. I wanted fireworks. I wanted sky writing.

What God gives as a sign is that Moses will worship, that Moses will find himself in adoration of Him. What would show him that I am sent him out is that he would find himself facing God in wonder.

So, thinking on this, I decided to stop deciding. Stop pros and cons, stop weighing out the options, stop playing out imaginary what ifs in my head. I was just going to sing, to worship God. When the thoughts about the decision came back into my head, I sang louder. I sang in the car. I sang at home. I sang doing yard work. I sang at my desk. I sang when no one was with me and I sang when others were around.

Soon enough, I could hear another voice, a voice from my childhood singing a sweet old song, “Blessed Assurance,” and there in the chorus rang out, “This is my story. This is my song. Praising my Savior all the day long.” I love a good story and I love a good song, but there in those lyrics I found my answer.

The direction I should go should be the one that creates within me a response
to praise my Savior all the day long. 

When I filled my heart, my mind and my mouth with song it became so simple to see which way lead to more worship, which way pointed me towards singing and story telling the lyrics and lines I want written about me, penned by Him.

If today you are searching for fireworks or parted seas, may I direct you instead to song. Sing, sing loud, sing off key, just sing, until you hear Him singing with you, delighting in your delight of Him.

The Faith Of My Child

Right before they leaned him back, his lips turned up into a smile, his eyes closed gently and he took a little breath. If I had known that his face would have shown the sincerity of his heart, I might have rethought my idea to leave my phone back on my chair so that I wouldn’t be tempted to take pictures and not just experience the moment. I will hold fast to the peace and pleasure written on his face for years to come.

In second grade, the kids watched a video of a friend being baptized. There were questions that followed and I answered them as carefully as I could. I know that as a parent I have the power to convince my children of most anything, and with something as sacred as their faith, I do not want them to turn around one day and say “I only went to church, I only prayed that prayer, I only sang those church songs to make Mom and Dad happy.”

Afterwards we talked about it, what baptism was, what you had to decide before you did that. Before that video, I knew they knew that Frank was baptized as a baby, and Molly was dedicated, but we hadn’t really touched the subject beyond that. In that discussion I told Frank that he had been baptized, but that if he decided that he ever wanted to be baptized again as a way to show people that he’d decided to invite Jesus into his heart, that was ok by me. It was clear that while Frank thought about God and thought about spiritual things, he had not made that choice for himself…which that was no big deal, because he was just barely 8. I told him that he would decide whenever he was ready, but he shouldn’t decide anything because his friend had and he shouldn’t say anything because he’d thought it’d please me, because it actually wouldn’t make me happy if he only said something to make me happy about God, that it should only be about him. He nodded and looked like he was thinking, but that was sort of the end of that conversation.

A few months later, he sat and watched another friend be baptized. I glanced at him to see what I could see from his face and his eyes were a little damp and his expression was of close examination. I asked him what he’d thought about it and he said something to the effect of “Good,” and no more, but it was pretty clear the idea of being in front of all those people in a wooden tub was extremely strange to him.

The summer continued and the school year began, and we didn’t discuss it anymore. Our conversations centered around my trips to Richmond to help my parents, situations at school and how they made the kids feel, what they’d been learning or whatever they were interested in at the moment. My parents both had intense health concerns and we prayed for them pretty much every night, but I could see something different about the way Frank was praying. It was not recitation of familiar verses or listing thanks and wants, but it was this honest appeal to the one he believed could heal his grandparents whom he loves so dearly.

I had encouraged those prayers and agreed Amen and Amen with him, but I became discouraged about my parents health situation. Then as I was sure God was not going to bring the healing I so desperately wanted for them, I was afraid I’d set Frank up for incredible hurt and anger that he would direct towards God. Maybe I should have said something about how He should pray “thy will be done” or “not what I want, but what You want.” But no, I had told him to ask, ask honestly what he wanted from the God who was listening and who loved Him and whom he could trust to do big miraculous things. I was sure that not only would I soon have to walk him through incredible loss, but I would have to walk him through incredible anger. I turned to God, struggling to form good sounding paragraphs that would express my willingness to submit to suffering, petitioning for healing and help with my child. It was mostly just short statements and questions. “What are you doing? I can’t handle this. What have I done?”

On and on Frank continued to pray, and miraculously my parents both received words like “recovery” and “remission.” These words I never thought possible, but Frank prayed earnestly for. How that taught me about the faith like a child. How that taught me about how He cares about us. How humbled was I that my son had stayed trusting praying “Help them”  while I gasped for enough air to croak out “Help me.” My cousin, who has worked tending to the care of patients who went through what my dad went through and personal experience with her family facing the same battle my mom has faced took the time out to call me and make clear that what my parents went through and their coming through the other side was nothing short of a miracle. It was medically ridiculous, but it was truly miraculous.

We continued on, Frank would pray for their continued strength and now he had other things to pray about, and his prayers were filled more thanksgivings than nearly anyone’s I’d ever heard. He started every prayer with all of the things he’d appreciated about the day and credited them to God, thanking Him for allowing those good things. He’d say “Thank you God for this great day. Let tomorrow be even better than this one!” And the following evening he thanked God again for the day, just as sincerely showing that he believed that God had indeed made the day better. Even on days I knew he’d had rough days, he thanked God for the day and found things that were good about it. That positivity and remembrance to give credit where it was due spoke so much to this mother again.

One night Frank was climbing the ladder to his loft and turned around and said “Mom, I want to be re-babatized.” I was a little taken aback. I asked him why and he explained that I’d said before that if he decided he wanted to do that, he could. Well, sure, I’d said that, but I’d sort of expected it to be something he did when he was maybe 17, you know, the same age I was when I decided to make my faith my own. I asked Kermit about it, was he too young to decide this? Kermit said “Well, 9 is young, but if the Spirit tells him it’s time to do it, then it’s time to do it.” Man. Look at everyone in my family being more right on than me.

Frank waited patiently for the baptism date to arrive and read his baptism booklet. There on the back was a spot for his testimony. He stopped on that. He asked if we could come back to it. Sure. But when we came back to it, he didn’t get it. I tried to explain what a testimony was, but he kept answering “Why do I want to get baptized?” instead of “Why did I ask Jesus into my heart?” I told him probably ten convoluted examples of what a testimony was and he looked over my shoulder and made silly faces. Finally I said here is a pencil, take this to your room, turn off the tv, sit down and write why you decided to ask Jesus into your heart.

I came back to check on him maybe 10 minutes later and he was watching tv. I asked him what happened and he said he’d finished and given it to Daddy. He’d written…

“I was sitting in church thinking of God and decided to follow Him so I could understand him better. I chose him in my life because one, no two people. My mom and dad. My family believes in him so much I couldn’t resist but to get baptized. I know he did some risky miracles, but nothing he does ever goes wrong.”

     My heart, right!!! I told him it was perfect, and inside it made me feel so much better that he’d gone and written it alone so that I didn’t wonder if I’d influenced it. The last bit made me chuckle thinking through Jesus’s miracles and which would have been the risky ones. Probably walking on water. At bedtime I asked him “Which of Jesus’s miracles was the riskiest?” Frank answered, “In my life?” I was a little surprised, because I expected a bible story, but I said “Ok, sure, in your life.” He talked about how God had healed his grandfather, and how He’d helped Grandfather start living a healthier lifestyle, but in order to do it God used a big scary health problem.

And I saw it, the path that Frank had traveled in the past year, from the times where he watched his friends being baptized and knowing that about baptism the way he knew about anything else “bibley.” He’d been taught about it, he’d read about it, he’d heard about it. But faith is not faith that is on paper or words floating from a speaker to your ears. Faith is found in experiencing God and His might and majesty and finding no other alternative worth choosing.

Today Frank was baptized, something he’s waited and wanted to do for a few months. That smile as he slipped beneath the surface and came up, it came from deep inside. We have many more years ahead of us as parents, to guide him, to direct him, to speak truth to him and to encourage him to continue to choose this faith as his own…on his own. But what a gift we have in this day, to remember that our boy has a heart for the Lord and is tucked so sweetly in the arms of our Savior that he can whisper his prayers right into His ear.

Happy Baptism Day, Frankie!


Pentecost and the Trinity

    Praise God from whom all blessings flow. Praise Him all creatures here below.
Praise God above ye heavenly hosts. Praise Father, Son and Holy Ghost.

     Growing up I sang the Doxology and had enough Sunday school to get the basic idea of the trinity. Three in one….all each individual and yet not separate. There was a children’s moment where the children’s pastor used a banana to illustrate the trinity, showing that if you press your finger into the top off a banana it will separate into three parts, all three fully banana, but individual sections. It stuck, that banana example.

But it was still a bit of a mystery. Because, God the Father I could understand. He made everything and made me and my family.  God the Son I could understand. He was Jesus who died on the cross and took our sins. God the Spirit? God the Holy Ghost? What was that? Was it like a transparent Jesus? Or like God with a Charlie Brown holey ghost sheet on? And what was with the tongues of fire? It was almost like I was looking at the banana, and the first two pieces were banana and the third piece was like, I don’t know, kiwi in a banana shape? Just confusing.

In the early years of my adult life, I understood that those urges, the pulls on your heart which give directions to your steps, separate from whims and desires had something to do with the Spirit. But I probably also attributed that like nice feeling you get when you’re singing at church or like the feeling of the wind on your face when you sit outside at a retreat as the Spirit. I was aware that there were people who talked about the Spirit provoking certain responses in them that I wanted no part of and I saw stories on tv about snakes that just made the idea of being too involved with the Spirit sound kind of dangerous and weird.

So I lived the first decade and a half of my adult faith like
FATHER, SON, and the other guy.

     I saw some unhealthy things attributed to the Holy Spirit and I saw some intriguing things attributed to the Spirit, but nothing ever interested me enough to stop and say, “What exactly are you all talking about?” I would read about and think on the gifts of the Spirit and the fruit of the Spirit, but the Spirit still remained distant. It wasn’t until my 30s that I sat in churches where I heard good scripture on who the Spirit is and about the daily impact of the Spirit on a person’s life and our world, not fantastical promises of supernatural worked up frenzies expressed through sensational emotional highs. I heard about surrender. I heard about releasing control. And these things peaked my interest.

By the time Pentecost rolled around last year, I was excited about this. A day to remember when the Spirit came and the church was born. The day was almost upon us when I realized something.

In the Old Testament, God was introduced as “the God who sees me.” He was watching. He was observing. He was manipulating the outcomes of human affairs, but He was separated behind a veil.

     Then came Jesus, and at Christmas we meet Emmanuel, “God with us.” God stepped out from behind the veil and drew closer to humanity, willing to step into our dirt and mess and clean us.

Then came the Holy Spirit. And He was now the God withIN us. The Spirit was the final piece in God moving as intimately into our lives as He possibly could, to go from being behind a veil, to being present next to us, to being inside of our hearts.

     It was a beautiful thought, one that I treasured over the past year. That God would want to be so close to me and that the Bible told this story from start to finish of growing intimacy with Him. There was this terrible separation at the beginning of the book when Adam and Eve were send out of the garden, but God had a plan to restore that relationship, to bring back the closeness where man could stroll in the garden with God and feel no shame. It is like this embrace that gets tighter and sweeter as the story concludes.

Last weekend I was visiting with my mom and she was telling me about a book she was reading and some conversations she’d had with one of my cousins and she presented this to me. God in the Old Testament was the God who was invisible to us. Then Jesus came and made God able to be seen by man. And then the Spirit came and enabled us to make God seen by others.

Oh, how that pleased me! In the spring, my life group (see: small group, bible study, cell group, etc.) read Forgotten God by Francis Chan and discussed the Holy Spirit, His person and His impact. The thing that I was surprised to find was that the first effect a person displayed after an experience of the Spirit was almost always a vocal one. To worship, to speak a foreign language, to pray, praise, sing or to tell people about the gospel. When we can’t find the words, in Romans 8 we read that the Spirit speaks for us. The very obvious job of the Spirit is to make God known to as many people as possible.

That embrace that drew me closer and closer into His presence reversed.

In the same story about the sweetest intimacy we can experience is the story of the greatest extension available. As His arms gather us in each alone to Himself, He offers to place His Spirit inside us so that we may in turn, turn and embrace others. Through the Spirit God offers us each the experience of making Him known to us as our whole world, as well as the privilege of making our whole world know Him.

       Like breathing in and breathing out, the blessing of the Trinity and Pentecost is the inhalation of intimacy and the exhalation of love. There is a song that came out a few years ago that says it like this…

It’s Your breath in our lungs
So we pour out our praise
We pour out our praise
It’s Your breath in our lungs
So we pour out our praise to You only.

Praise Father.
Praise Son.
Praise Holy Ghost.


Invisible: Part 1

Invisible boys. Invisible girls. Invisible women. Invisible men. Invisible people.

        They’re all around you whether you know it or not. You may even be one yourself. These are people that don’t want to be seen and go to great lengths to hide themselves away, to go undetected, to blend in and be grey. These are people who do whatever they can do to be noticed for one aspect of their life to distract from another. These are people who no matter how many times they reach out for help, they fall through the cracks until they learn not to reach out anymore.

       No matter if you want to be invisible or if invisibility is thrust upon you, I promise you this. There is one who sees you. He is the one who knows you at your core and who longs to comfort you. He is the one who will follow you wherever you go and will sit and stay with you wherever you hide. He sees you. He will come and find you and offer you healing and help beyond your wildest dreams.

         But there are others who walk alongside the invisible people. They are the unseeing. This is for both those who cannot be seen and those who do not notice. Read and find healing. Or read and find vision.


   It was Hagar who introduced me to El Roi. I have for many years marveled in her story, her experiences and her bravery. She is a bit of a mystery woman who isn’t given as much text as some other people in the Bible, but what is there is so rich and full, I have gone back over and over to the content and gained from it for years.

    We first meet Hagar in Genesis 16 where the writer introduces her as Sarai’s Egyptian slave, who is the solution in Sarai’s eyes to the no children problem that has been in front of Abram and Sarai for years. If you have a copy of the Bible handy, feel free to open it up and read this powerful chapter in the life of Abraham’s family history and then click “Read With Me” and let’s read together!

Read With Me – CLICK ME!

    The first thing I want you to see about Hagar is that she is unseen by Abraham and Sarai. Certainly she is favorable enough that Sarai figures she can utilize her to get the ball rolling on producing an heir, but when we look at how Sarai and Abram speak about her it is always, my slave, your slave, her or she. She is valuable as an object, but not as an individual.

    What Sarai suggests is socially acceptable and perfectly legal at that time, when a woman could not bear children to her husband, she could give her slave to her husband and then the child would be hers. But this very act depends on one useful item, a producing womb housed in someone who can’t say no. As we meet Hagar, we are introduced to a woman who is without power over her life, her circumstance, and most basically, no power over her own body.

    Sarai most likely obtained Hagar while they were in Egypt and Sarai was given to Pharaoh by Abram who was afraid the Egyptians would kill him in order to have her because of her beauty. This is a woman who had limited control in her own life. And certainly having decades of struggles with infertility, when culturally that was as a woman your greatest area of contribution, Sarai must have struggled with her own sense of lack power over her body.

     Sarai exercises the small amount of power she has over Hagar and brings her to Abram who sleeps with her. When Hagar conceives what a blow that must have been for Sarai as it served as confirmation that the blame lay with her and not Abram. Abram could produce children, it was her who couldn’t.

      We read, when Hagar conceived she despised her mistress. I have to wonder what the future looked like in Hagar’s eyes, now connected to this old man who couldn’t be bothered to speak her name. I have to wonder just exactly how sullen or prideful or foul tempered Hagar would have had to have been to break Sarai and send her to Abram for permission to respond.

      Sarai approaching Abram speaks in itself to another shift in the balance of power as Sarai had been able to bring Hagar to Abram, had been able to cook up this scheme and set it into play of her own accord, but she has to seek out permission to deal with the slave girl now. Granted permission to deal with Hagar as she deems fit, she “mistreats her.” What that means, physical abuse, withholding supplies and care, we don’t know.

      It is enough to drive Hagar to the desert, to send her away from food, shelter, water, a mat to lay on, the few comforts afforded to her in her station to set out into the wilderness, risking death every step of the journey and return to her homeland a pregnant single woman of uncertain past and uncertain future.

    One might think that invisibility existed since the garden, hiding from God in shame, and in some respects it does, but never before has one person been so utterly alone, without a partner, without a past or a future, without any power or value. Eve had Adam. Noah had his family and all of his pets. From father to son, husband and wife the Bible accounts humanity to the arrival of the slave girl.

 This is Hagar, the first invisible girl in the Bible.



 1. Can you identify with Hagar? Are there areas of your life that you feel utterly powerless to control? Perhaps a boss with unreasonable expectations or a power struggle within your family?

2. Can you identify with Sarai? Are there areas of your life that you feel you exercise power in not the healthiest ways? Perhaps with work teammates or over your children?

3. In 5 words, describe Hagar at this point in her story.

4. In 5 words, describe Sarai at this point in her story.


                                  Want to read more?  Click to read Invisible: Part 2

The Next Task…

    Driving from Grottoes to Richmond and back again with God riding shotgun, I revisited the accounts of the week. I was given the opportunity to share with some people about the idea of waiting on the Lord in regards to their call on their life. I’d asked directly for someone to speak into what they saw for me, but they didn’t have an answer. When the conversation between me and God lulled, I selected a sermon from my church in Ohio and listened to Pastor Bruce speak in his old familiar tone, but the message was anything but habitual. He spoke about revival and about the new church in Acts. He spoke about his hope for that church to be a church that raises up leaders and sends them to the ends of the Earth to make disciples. I felt pleased to hear it. Surely that is just what my family has been, raised up in that church and sent out.  

     In January, when I first began this time of reflecting on what God is calling me to and ultimately how He will use me to His glory, I ask God to task me. And He did, very specifically, over and over. That season lasted about 8 months of steady intensity where each task was clearly laid out and had defined edges. Stuff Easter eggs. Sit at the front desk. Schedule volunteers. Paint a set.

    As the season came to a close, my heart ached for the approaching change. My mother used to sing “In The Garden” and the final verse reads

I’d stay in the garden with Him,
Tho’ the night around me be falling,
But He bids me go, thro’ the voice of woe,
His voice to me is calling.”

     It was a very recognizable sensation, like I had spent months in sweet fellowship and now I was being bid farewell and called out of the garden, but as both the song and scripture assures me, He will walk with me.

       I stepped into this new position and have been sweetly blessed by going just where I knew He was taking me, but it has left me wondering what happened to my tasks.  While I do this new work He’s brought me to, how do I continue to walk towards where He is leading me? Of course, by remaining in conversation, and by staying in the Word, doing all I can to fall not into step with Him, but to tuck myself into His shadow, placing my foot inside his steps. To strive to take hold of Proverbs 16:9 “In their hearts humans plan their course, but the Lord establishes their steps.” The closer I can wrap myself in that safety, the more certainly I can trust each move.

      Pastor Bruce continued to preach and the message he felt he’d been given to deliver that day was, “There’s more.” My mind drifted to a passage, Isaiah 55:9 “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” What He has planned for me, for my calling, is so much higher, so much more than I can imagine. Not so much more for me. So much more for Him.

      Then I remembered a task I’d been given a number of months before, one which led me set up my blog. I was standing at the front of our church here in Harrisonburg and Pastor Kerry, then barely knowing me, outside of a handful of awkward conversations where I stumbled through basic social norms, as well as some writings which I’d permitted to be passed to him through someone I trust very much. He walked about 20 feet to the right of me, made eye contact and said “Sarah Kinzer. The writer.” He took a few more steps and then added, “Keep writing.”

     There was my task, which I walked in for a number of months, at the time of that drive to Richmond left untouched for nearly a month. I’d sat down and started a number of posts, but none that have made it to that final button click to share with the world. This was my old task, brought around again, with fresh life to it. This is where the course is and where I will step as He directs, trusting His ways and His thoughts to continue to task me, post to post, letter to letter.

      I hope that you will step with me as I create this bible study, for if a writer places an X on a page and no one reads it, does it make a sound? I would love for people to follow along while I journey through this study, however if this only ever exists between Him and me, then I trust that it is for my edification and His glory, and delight in the opportunity to have spent this time in His word studying and documenting what He has to teach me hidden in His Word.

Why We Hate Holiness

       Holiness. Surely it’s antiquated and weird, something for out of touch snake stomping weirdos who can’t function in today’s society.

A few years ago, back in Ohio, Pastor Bruce shared a sermon series while the book of the month was The Hole In Our Holiness. He began presenting the premise that even among Christians in a holiness church, many take the attitude that holiness is akin to polka music; fine for those people, but not for me.

In those days I listened, quizzically, understanding holiness at the shrug level. Sure,   Pastor Bruce, that’s interesting, and sure I believe God wants us to live a holy life, but this passion you have about it, this excitement and this notion that it is somehow better than what I’ve got now, that’s fine for you, but it’s not for me. At best I was apathetic about the whole holiness thing.

This past Monday I sat in a room enjoying the privilege of hearing more preached about holiness at my church at Sack Supper Saturation. It is an amazing experience each month to go and wonder if Pastor Kerry will ever get to the other end of the binder he brings in with his notes about holiness. Or if he will ever get to Hebrews 12, because that to me is the height and depth and width, the beauty and the breath of holiness, and dagnabit I want to hear a message on it!

This time, Pastor Kerry shared out of Genesis 22, and then put out the pondering statement of (loosely quoted) “You have a Holy God, the Holy Bible, the Holy Spirit, but people don’t want holiness? I don’t understand it!” And I know he grasps the sad concept as to why people shy from it, but there in Genesis 22, I really believe the hard answer stares us in the face.
                                                            We hate holiness. 

Our fallen sinful nature can not stand to be next to it and fights against it tooth and nail.

There are those who turn completely away from anything to do with holiness, but so many of us stand and sing songs about the Holy Spirit, listen to sermons about a Holy God, and then walk out into the world and miss so much. Why?

                                                          Holy God demands holiness.

                                                         It is not God’s way to be ONE OF.
                                                      It is God’s way to be ONE AND ONLY.

The story of Abraham being asked to sacrifice Isaac, to put him on the altar and offer him as a human sacrifice, and then at the last moment the angel of the Lord stays Abraham’s hand and  God provides a ram in place of Isaac. Abraham names the place “The Lord Will Provide” and the angel of the Lord says “I swear by myself, declares the Lord, that because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore. Your descendants will take possession of the cities of their enemies, and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, because you have obeyed me.” When he is at the foot of the mountain Isaac asks where is the lamb and Abraham tells him that God will provide. It’s true, but how surely does Abraham know it?

It’s a powerful story and there is much to be used there about God teaching Abraham that he is not to engage in human sacrifice like other religions of the day and the comparison to the sacrifice of Jesus and God providing the lamb for the ultimate sacrifice. And even though we see that God does not ask Abraham to do something He is unwilling to do himself….this story still carries a bitter taste.       

     Because why did he ask such a cruel thing of Abraham and Isaac? Imagine how scarred Isaac had to walk out of that experience. Imagine the sickness and the terror that Abraham had to push through to put one foot in front of the other. What kind of God would ask that of a person? People do not like this story. How could God do that? It is vile and cruel. It is detestable. I find myself apologizing for God and promising that He is loving and pointing again and again to the fact that He provided the ram. Refocus. Look away from what God demanded of Abraham.

                              But the fact of the matter is that IS what God demands of us. 

         Holiness is living in the very center of one and only. But in order to arrive at the center of one and only, one must climb the mountain with Abraham, leading the child of promise, Isaac and carrying the sacrificing blade. We must arrive at the altar and lay down everything we’ve worked so hard to drag along behind us. We’ve grown attached to what is in the sack and in our hands, but you must unload everything, your marriage, your children, your possessions, your job, your passion, your hopes, your dreams, your plans and your future and prepare for them to be irrevocably cut out of your life. And after all the laying down is complete and the blade is in the air, a Holy God asks you to climb atop the pile, lay down and wait for the blade to fall.

    And there tangled up in the bush is the ram, the provision of God, His best offered to you in the place of your all, your everything.

         But to get there you have to stand at the foot of the mountain and drag all of your life up a mountain, and deep down, if we’re brave enough to admit it, we’re not quite sure that we like a God who asks us to do this. And we don’t know how to explain a world watching and disgusted at the demand and boggled by our agreement to walk into it. Can we convince Isaac to believe that God will provide the sacrifice? Can we convince ourselves?

Holiness is expensive and we have had a whisper in our ear our whole life that God and is enough. God and family. God and work. God and things. Even the best ands, God and our holy passion. God and our calling. God and our promised future. Surely God doesn’t want us to lay down the good things He’s blessed us with and the places He’s called us to. But He does, because if there is one thing He is clear about, He is and only. The only acceptable AND to God is this. God and only God.

The deeper I fall in love with holiness, the greater truth I see in the words I heard from Pastor Bruce years ago….

“Here’s my fear as a pastor… in a holiness church… watching the current Christians in our community… We all jump and shout when we talk about what Christ has saved us from… but we grow deaf and dumb when the conversation shifts to what He saved us to.”

And follow it with the concept presented last month by Pastor Kerry, that in answer to those who argue that we can not experience holiness until we get to heaven, Jesus offers us eternal life…starting today, not in the vague unknown time of when we reach eternity. Certainly this is a beautiful depiction of holiness, to live and enjoy fully grasping the eternal life that Jesus offers.

But how to speak louder than the scream of “It’s not fair?” How to offer the sweet taste of holiness to someone still choking back on the sour taste of the demand? I wish I knew more. In this moment the best I can do, I suppose is run back down the mountain and tell about the ram, and help bear the weight of the load of my brothers and sisters as they ascend. All I can do is tell them over and over, like Abraham, “God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.”

Let’s go.

What’s For Breakfast?

At life group tonight we were talking about how things are easier if you spend time throughout the week with God, read the Bible, pray. This thought came out of that.

Of course it’s easier! It’s hard to maintain a marriage if you don’t talk to your spouse every day. But beyond that, it’d be nearly impossible to maintain a marriage if we treated those we love like many people treat God.

Imagine for a moment that you haven’t spoken to your husband or wife except to say “Good morning” and “Good night” for an entire week and then you get up Sunday morning and walk in to the kitchen, look your beloved in the eye and say “What’d you fix me to eat?” They hand over a beautiful omelet made with cage free hormone free local eggs and cheese that they aged themselves, juice fresh squeezed by hand and fruit grown in the garden. You sit down and stare at your phone while you eat and then walk away from the table and leave the dirty dish just sitting there. Someone has called you on the phone and without so much as a thanks for the meal, you’re off to talk to your friend.

Imagine even in the context of friendship, you see a friend on Facebook whom you haven’t spoken to since college. You look them up online and find their address, go and ring their doorbell. They are so excited to see you, to reconnect and they invite you in. You walk directly into their kitchen, open the fridge and say “So, whatcha got that’s good to eat?”

When a person shows up on Sunday, expecting to be fed spiritually, God will provide the meal. He will. But it is up to us to sit down and engage at the table with Him. You will only get out of the dining experience what you’re willing to put into the experience. If you don’t take a bite, you won’t get full. If you don’t take part in the conversation, you won’t feel He’s listening. If you don’t listen, you won’t hear.

If all you want is a Sunday experience, that’s your right to choose that, but there is so much more there to be had! You wouldn’t ignore your spouse who loves you so dearly, so why would you ignore the God of the universe who loves you more than we can fathom? There are meals to be had all over the place, not just in the pew on Sunday morning, and God is supplying the ingredients.

He is calling you to the table.

Sit, eat and enjoy.

Do You See This Woman?

We just came through revival season at church. I think that’s how you say it…”came through” and “revival season.” I’m picking up the jargon as I go. In college I passed a church’s marquee that advertised a revival with dates and times. It struck me as a little strange. I was confused about the concept of setting a date or time, like you’ve called and left a voicemail that says “What’s up, Holy Spirit, we’re showing up at 7. Be there or be square. If you’re hungry, there’s a carry-in before. Your last name starts with S, so you bring a side dish.” I always thought to myself, who are they to tell the Spirit when to show up? How can you set a time and a date for that?

This was my first time going to something called revival, and I think I understand it better. Our pastor said at the beginning of the first night that this would perhaps feel better described by the word retreat, which is something I am very familiar with. I have very fond memories of going off on church retreats, have sessions to talk about the Bible and time to wander in nature and soak in some peace and tranquility. When I thought of those retreats which were so a part of my church culture growing up I began to comprehend the concept.  The time and date is set. The word of God will be there, worship will be there and willing hearts eager to learn will be there, and where those three things are, the Spirit will inevitably be there as well. It’s not about setting a time and date and dictating the Spirit’s schedule, it’s about dictating your own schedule to show up to where the Spirit already is.

At the revival there was lesson after lesson about different women in the Bible, different women Jesus met. Mary Magdalene, the woman at the well, the adulterous woman, and others. One of the things that made Jesus radical was his interactions with women. He not only saw and spoke to them, but he touched them and allowed himself to be touched by them. He removed the huge barrier set in front of women in their ability to approach God. And he almost in every occasion does it in the same manner. He acknowledges her and then points her out to others and helps them acknowledge them as well.

In Luke 7 Jesus is invited to a nice meal and is seated among respectable people  when in comes this woman, well, perhaps this whore. She is at least “a woman who lived a sinful life” but the picture as I understand it from sermons preached my entire life is that she is a prostitute. There as they sit at the meal, she comes and anoints his feet with her perfume and washes it with her tears. She drys them with her hair. The whole act places herself in the role of servant to him.  And as she is doing it, the others notice her.

They say, if he was a prophet he would know who this person was touching him. How often is that not the words from our lips? If our friend understood what type of woman she was talking to on the field trip, she would avoid her. We should tell her. If our teacher knew what kind of parents this other child had, then she’d understand why that kid is such a mess. We should tell her. If our sister knew that the guy who asked her out, years ago dated this other girl who is totally “that kind of girl” she’d never date him. We should tell her. We have all been there. Do you see what kind of person you are talking to? Let me enlighten you!

Jesus replies not by addressing the woman, not by using her as an immediate example, but speaking to the men there about men who owe money. Men and money. These are ok things to use for examples. Men. Money. (Insert Tim Allen caveman noise.) If two men owe a debt, one big and one small and both debts are forgiven, who is more grateful? Of course the one with a larger debt.

And then he says it….

Wait for it…

Do you see this woman?

What a question. Of course they see her. I can only imagine she is making somewhat of a spectacle of herself. They noticed her before Jesus gives her attention, but as His words draw their eyes from his face to his feet, he asks if they SEE her.

And he calls her woman. Not prostitute. Not whore. Not woman who lives a sinful life. Not any of the terms used to describe her by the Pharisees at that meal or the pastors in the pulpits for the next couple of thousand years. He doesn’t qualify her by her behavior, only by her created nature.

Do you SEE this woman?

Do you?

He follows this question by clarifying who she is, and he NEVER throws her former self back in her face. He shows her to be a devoted servant and the only evidence that there had been great sin, is not the discarded clothes on the floor of her bedroom, but the discarded tears she laid down proving her vast comprehension of grace and gratitude.

Do you see her?

Because I do. I see her everywhere, in the men, women and children around me. In the school where my kids attend. In the pews around me. In the check out line at Dollar General.

Jesus asks us over and over again to look at people and see them. In doing so, he speaks to what I think is the sweetest face of God. Hagar saw it and called God “the One who sees me.” God from Genesis on until today has been seeing humanity, in its worst moments and vilest forms and not looking away.

If we are to strive to be more Christlike, then I propose that this is where we begin. We turn our vision upon the least of these, upon the outcast, upon the dirty, upon the unwanted…and maintain the gaze. We don’t qualify people by their actions and their history, but by their created nature, that they are simply women or men, simply beings created who may not by any merit of their own deserve to be loved, but who were created to be loved anyway. Who is this person for you? Can you picture the person you don’t take time to consider?

Do you see her?

Do you see him?

Now don’t blink.