Psalm 11:1-4

The last line of each stanza comes from Psalm 11:1-4.

My strength has failed, my courage weak,
My resolve has faltered, the path looks bleak,
But when clouds obscure the mountain peak,
In the Lord I take refuge.

There is a fortress that stands above all,
There is a hand that will catch when I fall,
And there’s something inside me that answers the call
So how can you say to my soul,

“There is no purpose, no point to the fight.
Careful not to miss out cause you’re chasing a kite.
You haven’t the might to attain to that height,
So flee like a bird to your mountain.

“Do as you please and live as you will,
Chase after safety or run after thrills.
Your magnificent mountain is only a hill,
And behold, the wicked bend their bow.”

The weight keeps increasing, the voices begin;
As the pressures mount up, my soul’s caving in.
The fortress’s walls appear to grow thin,
And they have fitted the arrow to the string.

I cannot see clearly with pride in my eyes.
Compared to the next man, we’ve all become wise.
I try to defeat it but still fall for the lies
That shoot in the dark at the upright in heart.

For if false was the truth then all was in vain;
I’ve been setting a pace that I cannot maintain.
I’m drifting, uprooted, nothing remains
If the foundations are destroyed.

But if faith is a seed that grows into a tree,
Then its roots run much deeper than mere man can see.
If you always answer our knock when we seek,
What could the righteous do?

The foundations are steady, barren of cracks;
You’re grace for my weakness, enough where I lack,
My refuge and compass, the wind at my back.
The Lord is in his holy temple!

Restless

Restlessness, wanderlust, ambition, dreams. This is what I tell myself I have. You point to the sky, I’m going to find myself a way to fly. But the reality of it is a lot less certain. I have dreams, but they’re pretty foggy and unclear. I want to be something–don’t we all–but I don’t quite know what.

Lately, though, I’ve been seeing the other side of this coin. When you’re a dreamer without a dream, it’s not a goal, it’s only discontent. Dissatisfaction with where you are without really knowing where you want to be, or at the very least without a way to get there.

I am the sea on a moonless night, calling, falling, slipping tides;
I am the raindrop falling down, always longing for the deeper ground;
I am the leaky, dripping pipes, the endless aching drops of light.

“Restless” (Switchfoot, 2011)

Paul writes in Philippians 4, “Whatever circumstance I am in, I have learned the secret of being content.” For years, I’ve been furious with him for not telling me what it is. Are you kidding me, Paul? You can’t just leave me hanging here! “I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need.” He’s just bragging at this point, seriously.

It’s only recently that I realized that even though he calls it his “secret,” he gives us the answer right there:

I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me” (Phil. 4:11-13).

I don’t know why, but for some reason I’ve always read that last sentence as a separate idea from all the others. Maybe because that’s the one that’s always on signs and posters and pillows. But once my eyes were opened to it, I realized he didn’t just give it to us here; he’s been telling us through the whole book.

“It is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Phil. 1:20-21).

“I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ” (Phil. 3:8).

But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 3:13-14).

So based on the revelation of this famous “secret,” combined with my feelings of discontent, it has begged the question: where am I finding my satisfaction?

Evidently, not the same place Paul is. His struggles are no dissatisfaction, because his victories are not his source of satisfaction. 

Maybe my discontent really just reveals where it is that I am looking to find my fulfillment. Paul says he knows how to be brought low, and how to abound. May the same someday be said of me.

Blessings,

Bre

On fear

Fear is going around. It’s a lot like the flu, or strep, or bronchitis, because it’s pretty contagious, and all you can do is take precautions and  wash your hands. But it’s also not really like any of those things, because it’s a lot more subtle, and a lot more dangerous.

Some fears are circumstantial. Fear of a major upcoming decision, an interview or audition or tournament. Fear of having a particular conversation with a particular person. Fear for someone else or fear simply of flying or falling or the dark.

But I think most of these circumstantial, temporary fears that surface according to impending events and then fade from memory are not so intrinsic to themselves as we’d like to think they are. In reality, they are reflections of larger, more innate fears, fears that are not so temporal or transient–the fear of the future, the unknown, fear of failure, fear of not being the one in control.

I think a lot of us, without realizing it, are living a lifestyle of fear. Biologists would call it an evolutionary advantage: fear of dying is what makes you run when a saber-toothed tiger jumps at you. And some fears are healthy–you should have pepper spray in your hand when walking alone in a dark parking lot (better safe than sorry). But maybe we’ve let this go too far. I think we’ve let it go too far when it’s become so ingrained that we don’t even realize it’s there.

Fear is at the root of a lot of human behaviors beyond the saber-toothed tiger and dark parking lot. Fear is what keeps us from saying hi to strangers, from trying something new, from breaking societal norms. But a lot of times, fear is not so much what keeps us from doing things as it is the root cause of why we do do things. Fear is the reason for our anger at the mere mention of an alternate political ideology. Fear is the cause of our desire to hold on tightly to our possessions and keep our finances in reserve. Fear is the source of our intense drive to succeed. Fear is behind our dishonesty, our pride in reputation, our obsession with planning. Fear of being wrong, fear of loss, fear of failure. Fear of vulnerability, fear of being rejected, fear of not being the one in control.

Most people consider fear to be a negative emotion. The recognition of fear’s negative impact is already present. But the danger is that most people don’t realize quite how present it is in their lives. It’s like the disease that spreads without any symptoms until it’s far too late. And I would argue that fear is not an emotion, it is a habit. It is a habit ingrained into us since birth, by our parents (“Don’t touch that hot stove!”), by our peers (“You’re seriously going to wear that?”), and by society (“Buy this or face the consequences!”). But it is a habit that can be broken.

Maybe not completely, because this world is fallen. And maybe it shouldn’t be. The Bible talks about the “fear of the Lord,” a healthy reverence. And it’s probably smart to not touch that hot stove. But the little ingratiating ones, the ones we pass off as merely innate human desires and emotions, such as anger, pride, and ambition? Those can be broken.

It’s not like breaking a stick or a piece of glass. It’s more like chipping away at a rock. It happens slowly, but every strike weakens it. So how do we chip away at fear? Here’s what John has to say on the matter:

“There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out all fear.”

Not courage or bravery or boldness or just “sticking it out,” but love. Love casts out fear because, as John says, “fear has to do with punishment,” but “he first loved us,” long before we did anything to deserve it. That’s the kind of love that makes everything else not matter, because we don’t have to fear not being alone. We don’t have to fear not being in control, because he is. We don’t have to fear being rejected, because we are chosen. We don’t have to fear our loss of reputation, because we no longer move with the current. Our feet are planted on solid Rock.

When we fully realize who God is, all of our fears are overcome.

“Take heart, for I have overcome the world.” If our God is for us, who can stand against us? His love overcomes our fears, but more than that, it enables us to overcome the fears of others. By loving boldly, we move past our fear, and preempt the fears of those who receive our love.

And this is a choice. As much as fear is a habit, love is an action. And it can be just as addictive.

Blessings,
Bre

The importance of the insignificant

The most critical element in the practice of theatrical magic is the art of misdirection: the ability to direct your audience’s attention towards one thing so that they don’t see what is really important. This is why, if you’ve ever had the chance to listen to a magician explain his tricks, you often feel utterly embarrassed at not having caught it in the act–because more often than not, there were no fancy tricks or false compartments; your attention was simply directed elsewhere.

In a culture in which attention has become our most valuable resource, it’s easy to get misdirected. Our money, energy, and time go towards whatever can catch us the quickest and hold us the longest. This applies not just to advertising, the news, and social media, but to our schooling, careers, and relationships. We’re driven by where we choose to invest our attention, and everyone and everything wants a share in the stock.

There are magicians all around us, holding up the ball and saying, “Look at this ball!” as he secretly slips another into his pocket while your eyes are focused elsewhere. In a world where distraction is rarely farther than our fingertips, it’s easy to lose sight of what’s important: the ball that goes into the pocket.

I recently finished reading Anonymous by Alicia Britt Chole, in which she writes about the importance of hidden years and anonymous seasons. While we see Jesus at his birth, and once when he’s twelve, we don’t encounter him again in Scripture until sometime in his early to mid-thirties. What happened during those unrecorded, unapplauded years? Chole doesn’t speculate beyond the obvious: God was preparing him for what was to come. Otherwise, why not begin his ministry at eighteen or twenty? No, that time was spent invested.

And for us, the hidden things are not inherently unvaluable; in fact, they are invaluable. Unapplauded does not mean unproductive; unrecorded does not mean insignificant. Chole actually gives us a mathematical formula to describe the phenomenon. She calls it the iceberg equation:

10% visible + 90% invisible = an indestructible life

You want your life to be indestructible? You want your impact to be indelible, your legacy to be untarnishable, your imprint to be uneraseable? Then buckle up for several seasons of anonymity–of humility, invisibility, and insignificance.

The world is misdirecting our attention toward the unimportant: the applause that fades in seconds, the profitable career that eats your most valuable years, the status obtained by striving to fit a mold. Culture values busyness, profit, and results, where God gives  quietness, contentment, and growth.

Chole writes about the maple tree, whose leaves are stripped for winter: not to steal her beauty, but to prepare her for the coming season, in which care for those leaves would steal nutrients from where they are needed to sustain her. Instead, those resources can be redirected toward strengthening her foundation and spreading her branches to bear the snow without breaking.

Andy Stanley wrote, “It is our direction, not our intention, that determines our destination.” I’m currently at a turning point, a transitional season: the closing of one chapter and the opening of a new one. Amidst all the chaos involved in that, I’ve been challenged to check my direction. Am I moving forward, or just moving? 

I’m realizing that it’s not just the few big decisions, but the thousand little daily ones that make up who I really am. I am right now becoming who I will be; my prayer is that that is someone worth the effort.

Blessings,
Bre

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On Honor

The term “honor” seems to belong with “valiance” and “chivalry,” in the linguistic land of “thee”s and “thy”s and “thou”s, collecting dust alongside ancient armor and rusting swords. Maybe, however, it’s time to put the armor back on.

The concept of honor carries with it the impression of audacious integrity, dauntless virtue, and courageous character. Honor is not overawed by ostentatious opinion or societal sanction. Honor plants its feet on solid rock, and its anchor will not be moved by the waves. However, while firm in its foundation, it carries with it the connotation of deference to others. A person of honor is one who chooses to think less of herself and more of others.

But how can we get there? The thing is, honor is not an innate trait, but a practiced discipline. Aristotle famously said, “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, therefore, is not an act, but a habit.” As with forming any habit, practicing honor requires hard work at first, but with time and repeated effort, gradually becomes a natural part of one’s character. It’s part of the “training in righteousness” Paul talks about in 2 Timothy 3:16. Much as an athlete trains for a sport by repeating her exercises over and over and over again until they are ingrained in her muscle memory as automatic actions, so honor is ingrained in our hearts by continued, deliberate decisions.

Because of this, pursuing honor is something that has to be intentional–and we cannot do it alone. In Proverbs 27:17, Solomon writes, “As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.” God helps us grow through his Word and through the Holy Spirit, but also through the people he places around us. I want to be surrounded by others who are pursuing honor intentionally by building each other up and sharpening our iron against one another day by day–maybe enough to ignite a spark that could fan into a flame.

Paul’s challenge to the Romans was to “outdo one another in showing honor.” As Christians, we are to not only exhibit honor, but to fall over ourselves in trying to each show more honor than the next. What would it look like if our churches took this challenge seriously?

Would it mean we stopped pointing out the specks in each other’s eyes and started working on the logs in our own? Would it mean we stopped worrying about the political divide and being the hypocrites they say we are and started loving without asking questions? Would it mean we actually went out of our way to do something nice for somebody, just every once in a while? Would it mean we saw service as something noble, rather than something “for somebody else”? Would it mean we stooped to Jesus’s level and started washing the feet of our betrayers?

Maybe.