I Remember You And Suddenly

Sometimes late at night my roommate goes to bed.
Still awake above her, I’m warm, safe, and well-fed;
But fears shimmy up me from my belly to my head.

They pause there long enough to make my eyes wet,
Pressing repeat on bad ideas I’d rather forget.
In the quiet dark my balancing act is quietly upset.

But I remember you and suddenly I’m less likely to cry.

Sometimes in a room full of voices I cannot be heard.
Even with my organized thoughts, no one hears a word.
Everything I’m fearing, I guess, must be absurd.

Defeat shimmies down me from my chest to my pit.
In the middle of my body I can’t shake the weight of it,
But if it shoots out of my mouth, then I’m the hypocrite.

So I remember you and suddenly I’m less likely to yell.

At times I’ve lost my cool and given up the ghost.
Grief like television keeps my mind engrossed
And blank to the world outside, to what I owe the most.

A whirlpool of introspection drags me down into
Vague trepidation towards what comes out of the blue.
Cowardly doubt rains on me and starts to soak me through.

Yet I remember you and suddenly I’m less likely to drown.

The world outside threatens to kill, infect, or maim.
The world inside me is prone to more of the same.
My silent killers are tyrant gods like money, sex, fame.

Nothing cures what ails me like the memory of you.
“In remembrance of me” does what other gods don’t do:
Takes these dying insides and gives them life anew.

So I remember you and suddenly I’m less likely to die.
I remember you and suddenly I’m more alive.

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it’s only words, and words are all I have

You think that I don’t even mean a single word I say.
It’s only words, and words are all I have, to take your heart away.

Words by the Bee Gees

Among God’s earthly creatures, language is uniquely human; and as any lover of poetry, or songwriting, or drama, or philosophy knows, it is one of our most glorious attributes.

Why do we talk? To survive. To be human. To express ourselves. To prove ourselves. To engage with others. To hurt others. To question. To teach.

Language is the primary – although not exclusive – means by which God communes with us, through the Bible from him and prayer from us. It is also the primary – not exclusive – way we create and sustain relationships with each other. I have heard songs written about relationships where neither person speaks the other’s language, and perhaps that happens, but I can hardly imagine a lonelier love.

God’s words are powerful. Genesis says God spoke the universe into existence. When God changed Jeremiah the priest into Jeremiah the prophet, he gave him an idea of the weight and power of his words, which Jeremiah would speak:

Then the LORD put out his hand and touched my mouth. And the LORD said to me, “Behold, I have put my words in your mouth. See, I have set you this day over nations and over kingdoms, to pluck up and break down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant.” Jeremiah 1:9-10
John’s Gospel calls Jesus the “Word.” The book of Hebrews says Jesus, the person, is the last and best way God has spoken to us. And in the words of Jesus are life, newness, and salvation:
Jesus said to the Twelve, “Do you want to go away as well?” Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” John 6:68
Our words cannot overthrow societies or raise the dead. Nevertheless, in our words there is great power.
Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruits. Proverbs 18:21

Death and life. There is death in complaining, blame-shifting, name-calling, self-defending, criticizing, distancing, gossiping, misrepresenting. In these we bring death to others and host death in ourselves. We kill relationships and malign the reputation of the Lord.

In praising, thanking, blessing, consoling, advising, supporting, confessing, rebuking, forgiving, there is life. The simplest words can change everything. “I love you;” “I’m sorry;” “We can work this out;” “There is hope.” Life-giving words are the food of authentic relationships.

No one will deny the power of words, for good or evil. At the same time, no one will deny, I think, that our language is limited. I have felt this at many times in my life, and I think it is a universal experience. There are things for which words simply fail. In this life, there will always be some distance left, some of our selves left unshared. The book of Proverbs says, “Each heart knows its own bitterness, and no one else can share its joy” (14:10). There are longings in us, “groanings,” so sharp and so deep, that we cannot even pray them, but must simply, wordlessly, entrust them to the Spirit.

For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies… Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. Romans 8:22-23, 26
The truth is, we talk too much. Too many of our words are empty and pointless and death-giving. Wise people, people who can really reach others, are people of few words. Most of their energy is spent loving with actions, not mere words (1 John 3:18). When they speak, their words have meaning. Their words echo of a higher way, a royal law, a rare sweetness – even when they are simply asking me for a favor, or telling me a story, or praying for dinner.

the stuff life is made of

The Old Testament is an amazing document, written by dozens of authors over a period of more than a thousand years, containing literature as diverse as civil codes and love songs. Its cast of personalities is equally diverse, from the humble and devoted Ruth, to the power-hungry and pathetic Saul, to the emotional and pleading Jeremiah, on and on; all of them deeply flawed and intensely human. Its style is minimalist and understated, earnest and intentional, poetic and beautiful.

Many people think that the Bible, especially the Old Testament, is mostly about rules that stuffy old men, and a stuffy old God, made up to ruin everyone’s good time. To the church’s detriment, too many Christians think and act in a way that supports this impression. Nothing could be further from the truth. If you read the Old Testament, you will find it is full to the brim of life, the stuff human life is made of, the good and the bad together. It is full of the God who is passionate about human beings and intensely involved in the life of his creation, loving good and hating all that is evil, all the sin that rots and destroys the good world he has made.

The Old Testament celebrates and endorses the raw stuff of human life when it is not tainted by sin’s perversion and instead expresses “shalom,” the fullness of peace God wants between himself, people, and all of creation.
Gideon built an altar to the LORD there and named it Yahweh-Shalom, which means “the LORD is peace.” Judges 6:34 (NLT)
“The webbing together of God, humans, and all creation in justice, fulfillment, and delight is what the Hebrew prophets call shalom. We call it peace but it means far more than mere peace of mind or a cease-fire between enemies. In the Bible, shalom means universal flourishing, wholeness and delight – a rich state of affairs in which natural needs are satisfied and natural gifts fruitfully employed, a state of affairs that inspires joyful wonder as its Creator and Savior opens doors and welcomes the creatures in whom he delights. Shalom, in other words, is the way things ought to be.” – Cornelius Plantinga

God created the physical world. He created sex and wants his people to enjoy intimacy with their spouses instead of ruining themselves with sexual sin (Proverbs 5:18-23). He uses sex as a picture of the love-relationship between Jesus and his people, calling the church the “Bride of Christ” (Ephesians 5:31-32). He created food and drink and wants his people to enjoy them without indulging in excess, which deadens their joy (Nehemiah 8:10). Jesus instituted bread and wine as the constant symbol of his selfless love and describes the coming world as a wedding feast (Revelation 19:9).

Some pervert these good things with carnal indulgence, which the church is well-known for rejecting. Others pervert them in another way, however: by forbidding the gifts of God with artificial regulations and rules. Paul said,

If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations—“Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch” (referring to things that all perish as they are used)—according to human precepts and teachings? These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh. Colossians 2:20-23

Elsewhere he wrote,

For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, for it is made holy by the word of God and prayer. 1 Timothy 4:4

One of the many reasons I love all the stories and poetry of the Old Testament is that they include all the elements of human life, “everything created by God,” giving our lives real dignity and validating our diverse experiences. They are spiritual, but – rather, therefore – concerned with this life. This list serves as just a small example:

  • Love and sex in marriage – Song of Songs
  • Family life and children – Genesis, Proverbs
  • Artistic creativity – Psalms
  • Intense sorrow and depression – Lamentations, Jeremiah, Psalms
  • Searching for meaning in life – Ecclesiastes
  • Friendship – Ruth
  • Work and leadership – Ezra, Nehemiah
  • Facing obstacles and opposition – 1 Samuel, Esther, Daniel
  • Suffering and oppression – Exodus, Micah, Amos
  • Questioning God – Job, Habakkuk, Psalms

The church ought not deny or belittle authentic human experience, ever. Christianity does not stifle; Jesus said, “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly” (John 10:10). A biblical view of the world gives life to, is inspired by, illuminates, and celebrates all the stuff life is made of. God gives redemption and raises our eyes to heaven so that we can be truly human in the very fullest sense of the word, for his glory, for our joy.

thirsty souls and the God who satisfies

Come, everyone who thirsts,
come to the waters;
and he who has no money,
come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
without money and without price.
Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread,
and your labor for that which does not satisfy?
Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good,
and delight yourselves in rich food.
Incline your ear, and come to me;
hear, that your soul may live;
and I will make with you an everlasting covenant,
my steadfast, sure love for David. Isaiah 55:1-3

Isaiah 55 is one of my favorite chapters in the Bible. God is a stunningly beautiful poet.

“Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.” Salvation and relationship to the living God are completely free. No one can pay in willpower, good attitude, or busyness. Likewise, no one who comes is ever disqualified, for “though your sins are like scarlet, they will be as white as snow” (Isaiah 1:18). Grace cannot be earned. It cannot be earned, it cannot be earned, it cannot be earned. The invitation is to simply surrender.

“Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy?” How many people do I know who are doing everything they can, using everything in themselves, to find some kind of happiness and peace in this world; young people looking for something to live for, old people looking for some reason to keep going. How many people do I know who want nothing more in life but to be loved by somebody, anybody; who commit crimes and destroy relationships in futile attempts to choke out love from their parents or friends; who hide behind false personalities, desperately hoping for someone to break in, inwardly crippled by the overwhelming fear that no one ever will; who exert every ounce of their willpower trying to live up to human-imposed religion, terrified they will never please God, empty inside because of broken promises. How many people do I know? How many people do you know? Are you one of them?

I lived like that completely, not long ago. Four years ago, Jesus broke through to me. For four years I have thanked God for the difference between that life and this one. For four years I have grown each year and each day in love for and satisfaction in the God who broke into this world in the person of Jesus Christ. I promise you, there is a different way to live than the life of desperation and emptiness. There is a life of satisfaction and joy and peace, because there is a God who offers himself to you, freely. That God says, “Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food. Incline your ear, and come to me; hear, that your soul may live; and I will make with you an everlasting covenant, my steadfast, sure love for David.”

While on this earth, Jesus called himself “living water” (John 4:10) and “the bread of life” (John 6:35). “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day,” he said (John 6:53-54). Graphic, isn’t it? He intended it to be. He wants your attention.

Jesus is the “food” for our hungry souls of which Isaiah spoke. He is what every empty, loveless life is missing. He is the promised son and Lord of David, the Messiah, the hope of nations, the Savior of screwed up people. He wants nothing to do with fakers who pretend they are all right or hypocrites who condemn others without feeling their own shame. No, he wants broken people who put their “money” away and drink the “water” of his grace, grace which he purchased once and for all with the precious payment of his own life, sacrificed on his cross.

God ends the Bible, and I will end this post, with a final plea for you to consider Jesus and the life to which he invites you. “The Spirit” – of God – “and the Bride” – that is, the universal, invisibly united church – “say, ‘Come.’ And let the one who hears say, ‘Come.’ And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires take the water of life without price” (Revelation 22:17).