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A Holy Experience

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So after dinner, she picks coneflowers in the garden.

Cradles the long stems in her apron skirt, carries them up through the picket gate.

And she turns to me on the top step of the porch, holds her apron out to me, all those purple petals — art in an apron.

Why is there all this loveliness?

She wants to know.

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I almost tell her — The World is full of loveliness because it’s full of of His love.

Isn’t that the meaning of beauty?

The fundamental purpose of loveliness — is to convey His love.

Everywhere, wildflowers, even in cracks in concrete sidewalks. Everywhere, this fragrance, this pursuit, this passion.

But I don’t know how to say that — when I know that coneflowers unfold off the porch and she stands there with an apron heavy with garden glory and the sunflowers nod yes, when planes fall from the sky, when war rages and girls are kidnapped and parents die from broken hearts.  Why is there all this loveliness?

Don’t you mean — why is there famine and why is there this shocking disparity and what is right in a world of diets and death by starvation?

But doesn’t she really have a right to question it all — the sunflowers sparking in sun flare, the light falling late through the trees, all gold like this, the phlox blooming along the picket? I see that too, on the porch. The extravagant art that makes up this world, it does jockey for an answer.

The existence of loveliness everywhere, it begs explaining.

If I raise the problem of evil in this world — shouldn’t she raise higher the greater problem of good? If evil is seeming evidence to eradicate God from our mental landscape, then doesn’t goodness, even in this apron, testify to the gospel truth of God?

How can we behold loveliness  — and say that this world looks like this if there were no God?

I don’t know if I have ever thought of this before — the great problem of good on this planet.

The philosopher Augustine had asked two questions of the world:

“If there is no God, why is there so much good?

If there is a God, why is there so much evil?”

I wonder if I have spent a lifetime murmuring under my breath only the second question?

But why don’t I first get hung up on the first question? The question my girl is bringing in with the flowers — why all this loveliness and where does it come from?

The great problem of good on this planet implies that there is a Great God in heaven.

Do we not wonder at the why of good because fundamentally all human beings presume the overspilling grace of God? That good is our intended atmosphere — and evil is the exception. Isn’t our default to ignore the expected and focus on the unexpected?

And even our deeming anything good or evil, it betrays our deep-seated beliefs —- because how can mere nature be either? Isn’t it just is?

To even assess events as good and evil reveals our true paradigm: we believe there is a moral center at the center of the cosmos, God at the axis of the universe.

But if there is really a God at the center of the universe, love at the core of the cosmos, love manifesting itself as loveliness in the garden —- doesn’t He care about children dying in the Middle East, about children being shot out of the sky, about children caught in the Iraqi crisis who are desperate for someone to remember them before they breathe their last gaping breath sometime this afternoon?

Yet if I think God doesn’t care about the hurting — aren’t I believing the chief lie of humanity?

The one hissed in the garden to Eve, the first deception that deceives us still — that God doesn’t care about the needs of His children.

And maybe this is why the world hemorrhages— if we think God doesn’t care — why should we?

Isn’t it easier to blame Him?

When I believe the Edenic lie that God doesn’t care — is that the excuse to turn away, to spread the lie that God doesn’t care — when maybe the truth is that it’s humanity that doesn’t care?

If we love because He first loved us… do we now care, because we know He did first care, has always cared, will always care and has the nail scars to definitively prove that He cares.

If all the world believed the truth of God’s character — that God cares —- wouldn’t this world become a caring place?

He cares, so we care; He loved first, so we love now.

Why all this loveliness?

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Do I tell our Hope-girl just this —

that there is enough loveliness, enough beauty, enough peace, enough love in this world — enough food in this world —- if we would just share?

I pick one coneflower out her apron, twirl it between fingers.

It’s God, isn’t it? — All this loveliness…”  All this love in the face of our warring…

She says it to me, picking out one of the coneflower to inhale deep…. her picking up the scent of God.

She didn’t need me to say anything.

There are things that need no words.

His love clearly manifests itself also in the “problem of good.”

In every cone-flower curling itself into a megaphone of mercy.

This one long echo of evidence —

A love lingering bravely and boldly on ….

 

 

Related: 3 Things to Hold on To When Life Hurts

 

 

Tuesday, July 22nd, 2014 | 1000Gifts | Visit Post

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When the three oldest kids and a bunch of their friends and I met Jefferson Bethke – he knocked us all over with this brilliance, humour, and genuine care and warmth. He’s the kind of guy you want in your faith community, down your street, hanging out around a campfire with his wife and baby girl being real and sharing real Jesus. Jefferson has that compelling story of overcoming a painful childhood of poverty and a broken home, and this gives him a unique perspective on the grace of God and the work of Jesus in his life and the lives of others. It’s this perspective that has catapulted him into the national conversation regarding religion and spirituality, allowing his message to connect at a heart level with an audience ranging from atheists to nationally recognized faith leaders. Jefferson is quick to acknowledge that he’s not a pastor or theologian, but simply a regular, twenty-something who cried out for a life greater than the one for which he had settled. Along his journey, he discovered the real Jesus, who beckoned him beyond the props of false religion. It’s an absolute crazy grace to welcome him to the farm’s front porch today…

 

by Jefferson Bethke

Growing up I always used to think I was too dirty to come to God.

Looking back I realize how so much of my performance (whether athletic, religious, academic, etc) came from a place of me feeling like I had to prove something—to God and others.

I wasn’t good enough, so I was going to do something in hopes that someone would tell me that wasn’t true anymore.

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When I started following Jesus, and grace hit me on the head like a ton of bricks, I still struggled with letting it permeate every last part of me.

I still thought I had to attain a certain spiritual level of awesomeness before I could really receive grace.

That was until I read Roman 4:5, which I’d read plenty of times before, but that particular night God made it jump out of the page (He has a funny way of doing that at times, huh?): “and to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness.” Romans 4:5

Have you ever sat in the weight of that scripture?

Have you ever realized just how scandalous that verse truly is?

Sometimes in our sanitized, sterile, flat readings we can miss out on the completely explosive language the scripture writers are using to get their point across.

It says God justifies the ungodly.

Or in other words, He makes right  — the ones who aren’t right.

He makes holy the filthy.

He purifies the impure.

He calls the wicked blameless.

He justifies the ungodly.

What’s funny is usually if we are ungodly — we hide.

Hiding, is a natural response to sin, just like our long ago parents who once hid behind a bush and covered themselves with fig leaves. But in that same story, God’s heart has been the same. He cries, “Adam, where are you?”

Now, let’s be honest, God is God so I doubt He is really wondering what bush they hid behind.

It’s a call. A beckoning. A plea of the heart—where is my son and daughter? When will they come home?

And it’s true in this verse too, God doesn’t hide whatsoever what He is in the business of doing.

He boasts as bright as the sun that He makes right those who deserve the opposite. In a weird way it seems the only qualification for us to be justified is to be ungodly. How weird is that? It’s like God is saying the only way to qualify is to admit you don’t qualify.

What’s interesting though is what precedes that verse.

To the one who does not work.

Now, let me clarify working isn’t a bad thing. Discipline is not a bad thing.

But in regards to salvation it is a terrible thing.

You can’t work no matter how hard you try. Any amount of work we think we can add to the Cross of Jesus is in essence saying “Jesus, you’re cross wasn’t enough.”

How beautiful is that though?

You don’t have to try harder, you don’t have to be better, you don’t have to do more, you just have to stop working and TRUST in the one who justifies the ungodly!

Do you struggle with porn? Do you think you always have to give up your body to be loved? Are you addicted to the praise and approval of others?

Jesus says CUT THAT OUT! Stop working and trust in Him, who justifies the ungodly.

You don’t have to hide your filth, you don’t have to hide your scars, you don’t have to hide your shame –  because He justifies the ungodly.

Grace is a call to come out of hiding, because God, not us, makes us right and changes our heart.

How does the verse end though? It says if you don’t work, and trust in Him who justifies the ungodly, then your faith is counted as righteousness.

The minute you trust in Jesus your standing becomes His standing.

You no longer represent yourself but Jesus represents you.

Your faith is “counted” as righteousness. It isn’t earned. It’s counted.

When you trust in Jesus, God then looks at you the same way He looks at Jesus. If you are in Jesus He looks at you (even when you fall and mess up) and says “pure, spotless, blameless, perfect, holy, my son, my daughter, you’re free!”

That’s what changes a heart.

That’s what stirs us to worship.

That’s what changes someone’s life.

You don’t have to keep trying. You don’t have to hide that you’re ungodly. You just have to trust in the one who exchanged Himself for you at the cross.

He took your shame.

He took your sin.

He took your filth so that God could be both just and justifier of those who put their trust in Jesus.

He doesn’t just let you “off the hook” but rather He put Jesus on the hook for you.

Stop working to do something that Jesus has already done. It is finished. If you trust Him, you’re faith is counted as righteousness.

And just like a wound, that when the bandage is taken off and can receive sunlight and air, it actually starts to heal.

When we stop hiding —  we can start healing.

 

“I have heard that men who hate the cross bring it against God that He saves wicked men and receives to Himself the vilest of the vile. This Scripture actually accepts the charge, even more it plainly states it!

By the mouth of His servant Paul, by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, He takes to Himself the title of “Him that justifies the ungodly.”

He makes just those who are unjust, forgives those who deserve to be punished, and favors those who deserve no favor.

You thought … that God’s grace was for the pure and holy who are free from sin? It has fallen into your mind that, if you were excellent, then God would reward you; and you have thought that because you are not worthy, therefore there could be no way of your enjoying His favor.

You must be somewhat surprised to read a text like this: “Him that justifies the ungodly. ”

I never cease to wonder at it.” C.H. Spurgeon

 


Jefferson Bethke just flat-out loves Jesus in an authentic, down-to-earth, unpretentious way. He’s  married to Alyssa. He likes writing &  his channel is one that creatively connects. And he owns a candle company, called Claro Candles, that brings light to social injustice

In Jesus > Religion, Bethke highlights the difference between teeth gritting and grace, law and love, performance and peace, despair and hope. With refreshing candor he delves into the motivation behind his message, beginning with the unvarnished tale of his own plunge from the pinnacle of a works-based, fake-smile existence that sapped his strength and led him down a path of destructive behaviour. We made  Jesus > Religion a family devotional read, that we read together as a family, and let the startling reality of Jesus justifying us messy, busted-up people really sink in and surprise us into ridiculous joy and hope.Know some tweens/teens/family or anyone just desperate for some real soul relief?  Jesus>Religion is an absolute five star read. 

 

Monday, July 21st, 2014 | Guest posts | Visit Post

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Aerial photographs from around the world.  This life is a gift.

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Dutch physicist has created an extraordinary collection of artwork using coloured X-rays - must see

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He saved a man’s life – but couldn’t save his own. Then this happened. And what his dad said… 

and yes, yes, yes — the whole earth is full of His glory …

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 what happens when people care for a stranger in Lowe’s 

“I thank the guys and they look at me and say, ‘It was our honor…’” – beautiful

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when you just want to walk on clouds 

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…  changing the way we look at things.

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what happens when a dad who has lost his little girl appeals for someone to photoshop away the tubes

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what happens when you’re an Olympic Gold medalist — and you become a paraplegic

“This is my new life. I have no other choice.”

Inspiring – gather the family for this one.

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Long-Lost Photos Show What Hasn’t Changed About Motherhood In 50 Years

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can’t stop thinking about what Ginny Sheller said:

Be still. There are no winners in the race to get it all done.

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25 really brilliant inventions

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Aging with grace: Three sisters. 98, 96, and 101 years old.  And what they attribute their long life to 

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one kid. one dog. one unforgettable story. 

so…. how determined are you to win your race?
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Blended : one baby, one family, one adoption — the beauty of blended

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Post of the Week from these parts here — yes. 

Why You Really Need to Be Done with Living Safe

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Napping? Can dramatically increase learning, memory, awareness and more –

This! How you can make this weekend like this? 

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Let your heart rest: you’re already enough…

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Stranger knocks on door and does the unheard of for a  mother of 4 

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How to Bloom right where you are 

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What’s on the stack here at the farm:

The Momentary MarriageMarriage… is mainly about displaying the covenant-keeping love between Christ and his church.

It is a momentary gift. It may last a lifetime, or it may be snatched away on the honeymoon. Either way, it is short.
It may have many bright days, or it may be covered with clouds. If we make secondary things primary, we will be embittered at the sorrows we must face. But if we set our face to make of marriage mainly what God designed it to be, no sorrows and no calamities can stand in our way. Every one of them will be, not an obstacle to success, but a way to succeed.
The beauty of the covenant-keeping love between Christ and his church shines brightest when nothing but Christ can sustain it.

Gift from the Sea: an annual summer read for me, words of such depth and clarity and wisdom.

 
“The sea does not reward those who are too anxious, too greedy, or too impatient. To dig for treasures shows not only impatience and greed, but lack of faith.
Patience, patience, patience, is what the sea teaches. Patience and faith. One should lie empty, open, choiceless as a beach—waiting for a gift from the sea.” 

 

Girl at the End of the World: My Escape from Fundamentalism in Search of Faith with a Future

Girl at the end of the world:  is a barn-burning fast read.

Elizabeth Esther ignites the pages from the first chapter and the book burns with honest revelation and bold transparency right till the last page. A story of one woman’s life growing up in a religious cult — and her walk toward healing and forgiveness and God. A brave spiritual memoir. 

Collected Poems:

Jane Kenyon:  The lyricism of these poems sways the loveliest through these summer evening:
“To the bottle in the ditch, to the scoop
in the oats, to air in the lung
let evening come.

Let it come, as it will, and don’t
be afraid. God does not leave us
comfortless, so let evening come.” 

… what is happening to all your broken places.
Ellie Holcomb is a favourite on repeat here at the farm. Perfect Saturday laundry music.

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Must watch. Make today the difference between existing and living.

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At the end of week… just this:

In the midst of all the setbacks — God is setting everything up for the comeback of your joy. 

That’s all for this weekend, friends. 

Go slow. Be God-struck. Grant grace. Live Truth.

Give Thanks. Love well. Re - joy, re- joy, ‘re- joys’ again

Share Whatever Is Good. 

Saturday, July 19th, 2014 | Link Wanderings | Visit Post

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When you meet Annie Downs, you feel like you’ve come home. Home to realest and honest and funniest friend you didn’t know you had. No one meets Annie and doesn’t want her as their best friend. Annie’s spent the last few years focused on writing for teen girls and their leaders, but she never has forgotten her friends. The ones who are in college, the mamas, the singles, the husbands of her best friends. In Annie’s newest book, Let’s All Be Brave, she hopes to inspire these, her friends- men and women, to identify courage in their own lives, embrace it, and watch as brave moments change the world.

~text by  Annie Downs
I cried when the mailman drove past my house on my first full day in Nashville.

To be fair?

It didn’t take much to make me cry in that season- living in a brand new town as a single 28-year-old, having no friends and no sense of direction, I felt more alone than I ever had.

And when the mailman drove by, I realized no one knew my address.

So I cried.

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DIY Suitcase Table

Moving to Nashville was the bravest thing I have ever done in my life.

I don’t mind admitting that, because there’s a chance that may have been the peak of my courage. (Hopefully not, but maybe.)

And, to be fair, I only moved from Atlanta, Georgia- a mere three and a half hour or 250 miles (that’s 400ish kilometers for you Canadians). So it wasn’t across the world.

But I left MY world for a foreign world and it broke my heart.

In ways I had never known before in my faith walk, God became my best friend. And at the same time, He brought me people who taught me to be brave.

You can’t be brave alone.

I learned that early in the move to Nashville. I remember a blog post from Ann way back in the 2008s – in it, she told me to hold on to Jesus and He would be enough. I held on to that sentence, with all my guts, and begged Jesus to be enough.

That’s the beauty of the internet, isn’t it? Friends can be anywhere and if they will speak into your heart, you can be brave.

Love given is courage gained.

Jesus is enough, but God gives us people to love and encourage and beg us to be brave, whether it’s a face to face conversation, a text, or a blog post. If you see someone else be brave, or if you know where to turn when you feel the fear (but don’t want to listen to it) —  you can be brave too.

I’ve lived here in Nashville six years now- I’m less comfortable and more confident as the days go by.

And now there are people who know my mailing address and people who share history with me and people who call me to be brave.

God always knew this was the right next spot for me, but without my people speaking truth, cheering me on from the sidelines, and holding me when I cried, I would have never been brave enough to see it for myself.

In Let’s All Be Brave, I tried to honor those friends and family that stood so close, and continue to encourage me to Be. Brave.

Whether you’ve got a cheerleading squad or just one blog post that moves you to be brave, like Ann’s did for me in 2008, I hope you will see who your people are today –

and thank them for making you brave.

 

 

 

 


Annie F. Downs is an author, blogger, and speaker based in Nashville, Tennessee. Flawed but hilariously funny, she uses her writing to highlight the everyday goodness of a real and present God.

An author of three books- Let’s All Be Brave, Perfectly Unique, and Speak Love, Annie also loves traveling around the country speaking to young women, college students, and adults. Her book is for such a time as this, because really — you are called to be courageous, right where you are: Let’s All Be Brave.

Friday, July 18th, 2014 | Guest posts | Visit Post

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Friday, July 11th, 2014 | Guest posts | Visit Post

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