Category Archives: Scripture

Definitely Talking About Me

I’ve been reading through the Bible over the past few months, but during the past week of spring break, I took a little hiatus. Galavanting across Europe and changing hostels every night made it hard to find moments alone with the Lord, much less in a state where I was awake enough to pay attention to a text. With the phrase “your love, Lord, reaches to the heavens, your faithfulness stretches to the skies” stuck in my head, I decided I’d spend the next week meditating on whatever psalm that was from. It would be a nice change of pace from my four chapters of Old Testament a day (currently in the middle of Numbers) and manageable, given the pace of our travels.

Turns out, that phrase is from Psalm 36.

1 I have a message from God in my heart concerning the sinfulness of the wicked: There is no fear of God before their eyes.

2 In their own eyes they flatter themselves too much to detect or hate their sin.

3 The words of their mouths are wicked and deceitful; they fail to act wisely or do good.

4 Even on their beds they plot evil; they commit themselves to a sinful course and do not reject what is wrong.

5 Your love, Lord, reaches to the heavens, your faithfulness to the skies.

6 Your righteousness is like the highest mountains, your justice like the great deep. You, Lord, preserve both people and animals.

7 How priceless is your unfailing love, O God! People take refuge in the shadow of your wings.

8 They feast on the abundance of your house; you give them drink from your river of delights.

9 For with you is the fountain of life; in your light we see light.

10 Continue your love to those who know you, your righteousness to the upright in heart.

11 May the foot of the proud not come against me, nor the hand of the wicked drive me away.

12 See how the evildoers lie fallen— thrown down, not able to rise!

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St. Anton, Austria

The first time I read through this psalm, curled up on my borrowed sheets in a Brussels hostel, I found myself skimming down to verse five. After all, what had initially drawn me to this chapter was the call back to the Lord’s unfailing love. As I continued reading, I was captivated by the imagery of the highest mountains and great deep; I found myself re-reading those verses as we literally drove up the mountains of the Alps. How great is His righteousness, a word here which is synonymous with justice – and how meager is my understanding of that!

Yet, I wasn’t five minutes into my exploration of the beauty of this chapter when I was overcome with a sense of conviction. It was gracious, but firm: Maddie, you haven’t even read the first five verses. My eyes had found the word “wicked” and then immediately skipped down to “love.” It wasn’t even a conscious avoidance of the verses; I had unknowingly and subconsciously bypassed them because that wasn’t what I was looking for. I was here to sit in the love of the Lord, not read about His condemnation for the wicked – what relevance did that have to me, enjoying the spoils of a spring break with my best friends? Also, I was reading for personal meditation and communion with Jesus, not exegetical bible study or teaching; skimming over context seemed to matter less.

Imagine my chagrin when scanning back up to the first five verses, I was met with this:

In their own eyes they flatter themselves
    too much to detect or hate their sin

That describes me and the posture of my heart everyday. Not only that, it cut to the heart of why I skipped over those verses in the first place. My ability to flatter myself into thinking that I’m not capable of being a part of the “wicked” people this psalm is describing means that I’m, by definition, living into that. What’s more, I’m assuming that I can jump down to the Lord’s love and righteousness without acknowledging my own sin. Except that I can’t. It leaves me with a skimpy picture of just how deep and pervasive that love and justice is. It puts it on my terms, something that I can control and comprehend. It’s only when I realize just how deeply flawed I am, how quickly I turn from the Lord that I love, and how easily I delude myself into thinking that I have less need for forgiveness, grace, or redemption, that I better understand His steadfast love. It’s only then that I can truly look upon mountains in wonder, knowing His justice spans higher and wider. It’s a convicting reality, one that clearly I’m not always great at leaning into – but such is the nature of this journey.

What a beautiful psalm that gets at the truth of who we are and who He is (even if I was initially a little hesitant about acknowledging it).

The Old, Old Story (revisited)

Yesterday I posted something that I had been asked to write in one of my classes (the Old, Old Story). We were given two pieces of paper and ten minutes to write our retelling of the narrative of Scripture. While colored beads and the Roman Road crossed my mind, I ended up telling the story that I posted on Wednesday night – the story of the Bible as the story of love, as I’ve experienced it. I posted that first because it’s what I wrote first, what moved my heart first. But the significance of the assignment didn’t end there; the next week, to our surprise, the professor handed out two more pieces of paper and slowly, methodically, and gut-wrenchingly took us through the narrative of Scripture again. This time, it was through the lens of suffering. Story after story left a bitter and painful taste in my mouth. “Why does no one ever tell the story this way?” I wondered. And now that I had begun wrestling with it, in conviction and distress, I found myself crying out like the Israelites: “where the heck were you in all of this, God?” As he finished his presentation and left us in a room with our blank papers, I wrote the story again. I told it a little differently this time:

In the beginning God created

. . . everything.

He created beauty, nature, time, and space. It was so very good.

Then God created man and woman. He loved them; He loved them so very much. He loved them so much that He walked with them and talked with them, in perfect, unbroken communion. That was good too.

Then sin was introduced to the story and the Enemy of God, this fallen angel, convinced the man and woman to doubt their God. As this relationship with God is ripped apart, as God in His perfection can’t live among their sin. The world fell under a blanket of darkness. The story continues, however, it is full of much pain.

Man and woman worked the land with toil, while siblings began murdering one another. Languages are confused and the earth is flooded. There is death around every corner. The people of God wander in the desert, now dying because of famine, and the ones that live are sold into slavery. It is generation after generation of hardship and of suffering. It is the cries and tears of a people who wonder where their God is and why it seems as if He’s abandoned them.

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Yet, God allows it. He cries along, as the story continues to challenge, oppress, and hurt the ones He loves. The thing is, there is no easy answer for why He allows it. It’s not the kind of story you put in a children’s book because, for all the moments that God is faithful and pours out His love on people who continually reject Him, there are an equal number of moments where it’s just hard.

However, for all the suffering, God’s sovereignty is present in it all. He mourns, laments, and cares for His people, until, in His perfect timing, He physically enters into the scene. God – the triune, relational, omnipotent, omniscient God – takes on the form of a servant, takes on flesh, and walks as one of us.

He walks as one acquainted with all suffering. He feels for us, with us, and as one of us. He grieves the loss of loved ones, lives in poverty, flees his home, faces abandonment, rejection, and false accusations. Until ultimately, His love for us brings Him to the uttermost suffering. Physical torture, emotional strife, as the weight of every sin is placed upon Him. Bearing every punishment that we, the sinful, broken, unfaithful people deserved. He suffers not only with us, but for us. For the sake of repairing what we broke, what we deny, and what we could not atone for.

He doesn’t stay defeated, however, but rises from the dead. His power breaks death and hell. He ascends to the place of perfection – where there are no tears, pains, or suffering. He repairs the relationship so that we can enter into holistic communion with our all-loving, all-holy God. . .

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. . .and that’s where we are going to end the story for now.

It feels trivial and almost sacrilegious or inappropriate to move onto some glorious explanation of heaven, Jesus’s second coming, and the eternal hope of the world in God’s ultimate victory. Because, while that is a very important part of the story – a beautiful, integral, necessary part – it doesn’t feel fair to move on just yet. Because the whole beginning isn’t fair and there’s no way to overlook that now (although, I didn’t seem to have a problem often doing it up until this point). It’s not fair that David lived as a King while the Israelites were enslaved for 400 years. It’s not fair that everything, except Noah and the animals, were destroyed in a flood or that Abraham and Sarah couldn’t conceive a baby for 100 years. It’s not fair that Job lost everything or that Naomi’s husband and sons all died. It’s not fair that today there are 6.3 million people who have fled everything and often everyone they know. It’s not fair that Allie’s dad died of cancer or that Ezra had a brain tumor that took his little seven year old life. None of it is fair.

It’s also not fair that Jesus died on the cross for the sins that we deserved to pay an eternal price for. It’s not fair that Jesus repaired the relationship that we broke – that we continually break. It’s not fair that God Himself would be acquainted with suffering, suffering that He didn’t deserve. He didn’t owe us anything and yet He felt for us, with us, and because of us. It may not be fair, but it’s just, and His sovereignty overarches it all – whether it makes sense to us or not. It’s not fair, but it’s love. And love seldom makes sense.

This is a story of incomprehensible love and suffering. Both love and suffering contain some level of meaning and philosophical reasoning (the class I’m taking this semester on Suffering proves that). But it doesn’t mean that we need to move on from the affective just yet. Because when I look into the eyes of a refugee who has just lost their home, family, and freedom, I can’t just jump to the glory. The narrative of Scripture itself doesn’t just jump to the glory. The point is that glory has come at an incredible price – sometimes the price of our sin, the sins of others, or the price of a world that groans because this is not the way it was created to be. We need to be okay with sitting in that, lamenting in that, for a minute. That was the whole point of what I learned at the Home of Hope and wrote about in “because I’m with you.

It’s okay that we can’t move on to, “but glory!” just yet.  It’s actually necessary. Not only would that diminish painful experiences, but it also neglects a view of the Gospel that highlights the empathy and embodiment of Jesus. The incarnation was not simply about Christ becoming Love and redeeming our sins unto Himself; it was also about walking as one of us, suffering and being tempted as we are (Hebrews 2:18, Philippians 2:8).

It is a sad reality, one that I have clearly, albeit non-consciously, fallen into. The reality that we only see the Gospel via the lens of beauty. While it is a true and necessary lens, it is incomplete if it ignores the pain of millions of people (if I allow it to ignore my own pain), including our Lord, past, present, and future. There is a necessity in lament that we, as American evangelicals, or perhaps as humans, are often uncomfortable with. It is why we prefer movies that have resolution, move on quickly from news articles that end in depression, or get squirmy when people cry in front of us. This narrative, this old old story, has the most glorious, pervasive, incredible ending and victory that we would imagine. However, that does not mean we need to jump there just yet. To overlook or brush past suffering is to discredit and delegitimize so much of our human experience, including the experience of our Lord. Lament is heavy, but it’s beautiful and it’s an important lens that we need to look through. It allows us to see ourselves and the world with a heartbreaking reality, to cry out for God with the same kind of gut-wrenching cries He used, and it ultimately frames hope in its magnificent, brilliant, eternal light.

The Old, Old Story

In the beginning, God created . . .

. . . and He created everything.

Every star, every blade of grass, every rock that has eroded into the sea. Night and day, every animal, every insect, every wave, He created. It was all beautiful and very good. Then, He created man and woman. He loved them and He was in relationship with them. God walked with them, talked with them. He loved them so very, very much.

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But, then sin is introduced to the story, as the Enemy of God, this former fallen angel, distracts man and woman away from their First Love. God, in his perfection, can’t tolerate this sin. Yet He loves His people, so thousands of years pass as He constantly draws His people back to Himself. It makes Him sad and angry, but He loves these people so much. Sin keeps getting in the way, but story after story God faithfully and relentlessly draws near to the ones that He created, sustains, and loves.

Then we reach the climax of that love – God the Father, in His mysterious, triune, relational nature, sends His Son, and extension of Himself, to walk among us. To be like us. To serve us. To be tempted in every way. To model the heart of God for us. Ultimately this Son gives up His own life and perfection to die a humiliating, horrific death, as the blameless sacrifice, as we could never atone, to repair the relationship. He brings us into the fullness of God’s infinite love for us. Jesus took the punishment we deserved, because of His great love for us.

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Yet it wasn’t merely His death that is significant, for three days later He rose from the dead, defeating both death and sin, repairing the breech, and drawing us into communion with God. He left His very Spirit, His Holy Spirit, to indwell us, that we might know and remain in fellowship with God, even on earth. The perfection of this fellowship that we will ultimately come into, as we step across eternity and live in eternal relationship with God in Heaven (or when Jesus returns to completely heal the earth).

It is the grandest story of love – of a God who created everything in love, who drew an unfaithful people to Himself in love, who chose to walk as one of us in love, who paid the price for the sin that we deserved, in love.

Love who rose again, defeating death and sin, who sent His Spirit to testify to our souls of that love.

This is our God, who daily, minute by minute, is displaying, speaking, and proclaiming His great love for us.

We confess that we are sinners in need of a Savior. We repent of the ways in which we reject Him and His love. We believe in who He says He is and all that He’s done for us. We go out and continue to tell people of this great love of our great God!

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The Sinlessness of Jesus = Grace

The other night, my She Reads Truth Bible reading plan had me in Hebrews, specifically the following verses from chapter 4:

Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. Hebrews 4:14-16

It’s a relatively common verse among Christian circles, highlighting the humanity of the Savior and the encouragement to draw near to what is described as the Throne of Grace. Yet, as I approached this passage, acutely aware of my shortcomings that day, something struck a different chord in my heart.

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This passage mentions that Jesus was tempted in every way but never sinned. It goes on to give us a prescription for our lives based on this truth. We can’t miss the significance of this pretense, which is perhaps more easily done by looking at what this passage does not say. This passage could offer condemnation. It wouldn’t just be fitting but completely justified; Jesus was temped and yet remained sinless, so we too should strive for the same.

Therefore, run from sin. Pursue righteousness like Christ. Strive towards holiness. Be better, try harder. If He can do it, so can you, right? After all, His very Spirit indwells us. At the very least, the Author would be justified in telling us to try – For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then . . . strive towards the same perfection that was demonstrated in Christ. 

Maybe that would be the American version, and perhaps more terrifying, the version we often preach to ourselves. Yet this verse offers nothing of the sort. After describing the sinlessness of Christ, we don’t get condemnation or conviction; we see grace. We aren’t told that we need to approach the Throne to receive assistance in our obedience; we, with confidence, approach the throne of God Almighty to to receive grace and mercy.

What is this, that our holy, perfect, omnipotent, Creator and Sustainer God

who became incarnate and lived among us

tempted and tried in every way

gives us, not only permission,

but a confidence to approach Him

for unmerited, unearned, pervasive, infinite grace?

Christ’s sinlessness leads us to grace, not a litmus test by which we must face scrutiny and failure in measuring up to. Yes, grace is active and we must holistically engage with our ongoing sanctification. Yet, how often do I reject the Throne of Grace, in favor of approaching some self-sufficient standard of goodness that I’ll never ultimately measure up to?

The question I ask myself in this is: am I clinging to grace with the same authority that this passage describes it as having? Or do I find myself more concerned with judging myself by some impossible standard of holiness and obedience (often one that I’ve created myself or perceive others as having created for me) that I’m striving to measure up to? What would change if I approached the Throne of Grace, instead of my throne of self-righteousness?

Reflections on Car Church

“Time for car church!” The four boys in the front seats pulled out their Bibles, while the three of us girls, crammed in the backseat of a friend’s SUV, wiggled to grab our backpacks. We were a solid 10 hours into a 22 hour road trip for Spring Break. And it was time for car… Read more. . .

Whatever is True

Miss me? It’s been quite the week, y’all. Finals, coming home, general exhaustion. But I’m sitting by a fireplace with a cup of tea (that my sister made me) and a Christmas tree, so all is well. This is another post is I’ve been wanting to write for awhile. It’s something I think about and… Read more. . .

Casting Nets on an Ordinary Day

“Walking along the beach of Lake Galilee, Jesus saw two brothers: Simon (later called Peter) and Andrew. They were fishing, throwing their nets into the lake. It was their regular work. Jesus said to them, “Come with me. I’ll make a new kind of fisherman out of you. I’ll show you how to catch men… Read more. . .

Mary of Magdela

During an impromptu break from homework, I decided to research the meaning of my name. Madison is derived from several other names – including Matthew, Matilda, and Madeline. I remembering looking it up when I was in 3rd grade, after I was traumatized to discover that there was another Madison, a boy Madison, in my… Read more. . .