Thursday, December 31, 2020

Reverse Costco Effect

“For we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus will also raise us with Jesus and present us with you. Indeed, everything is for your benefit so that, as grace extends through more and more people, it may cause thanksgiving to increase to the glory of God.  Therefore we do not give up. Even though our outer person is being destroyed, our inner person is being renewed day by day. For our momentary light affliction is producing for us an absolutely incomparable eternal weight of glory.  So we do not focus on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”
2 Corinthians 4:14‭-‬18 CSB


Years ago,

When I was able to (gasp

Go to a store,

Load up a cart,

Unload it into my car,

Move the bags and boxes into the house,

All by myself,


In that time so different from my present,

An odd thing occurred

Enough times

That it earned itself a name.


In the vast chasm of a warehouse,

I would add to my cart some throw pillows,

A doormat perhaps,

A box of frozen chipotle black bean burgers.

Among the lofty rafters

Where a helium balloon would be lost forever,

Among the aisles long enough to cheer

Any fitness tracker,

The things in my cart seemed perfectly Goldilocks in size,

Just right.


Somewhere between the store and home—

Did I pass through a magic portal?—

Those perfectly normal items transmogrified.

When I brought them inside,

They were too big for the sofa,

The freezer,

The front porch.


How had this happened?

We finally concluded

Context was key.

The warehouse dwarfed the purchases,

Making them seem smaller than they were.

Our home shrank the context

And expanded our perception of size.

An elephant overwhelms a powder room

But finds room to roam on an African savannah.

This phenomenon we dubbed

“The Costco Effect.”


These last few months,

One idea I’ve been preaching to myself,

Overwriting the false story with the True,

Is that the Bible presents a reverse Costco Effect

Regarding our sufferings.


The sorrows which seem,

And indeed are,

So great and overwhelming

In this tiny house,

One-person tent

Of a life,

Can truly be called “light and momentary”

By the apostle Paul

(Who had endured more than I)

Because he had seen them in the third heaven,

The vast landscape of eternity,

That indescribable,

Incomparable weight of glory.


“Therefore we do not lose heart,”

He wrote,

Because in the pages of our Bibles

We can see that invisible vista.

We can behold in words,

Through a glass darkly,

The shadowy pictures of how great,



The kingdom of heaven will be.


When we behold that reality

With resurrected eyes,

Walk the golden streets

With resurrected feet

And ankles that don’t need braces,

Sing praises with resurrected voices

That stay in tune

And don’t crack on E-flat—


When we trade our mourning for joy

In the presence of the Lamb

Our Savior—


Is it just possible,

That when we see the splendid sequoias

Sprung from the very seeds of our sorrows,

That we will fall on our faces

And regret

(If regret were possible)

That we had not suffered more?


Is it just possible

That the unbearable burdens

We struggle even to roll off our backs

Onto His

In this annus mirabilis

Will seem miniscule when

Dwarfed by their proper context?


Is it just possible

That gazing at that possibility

With eyes of faith

Until we can gaze

With eyes of flesh,

Will make firm our weak hands

And make strong our feeble knees

Even now,

So we can rise again when morning dawns

And keep treading

In the footsteps of our Savior?


This hope rooted in promise,

Anchored in truth,

Keeps me fighting for joy.

No tear will be lost,

No sorrow wasted,

But all are producing for us

An exceeding and eternal

Weight of glory

Beyond our best imaginings.

Thursday, December 24, 2020

Unprecedented {A Poem}


Worlds, stars, atoms, galaxies,

Spoken into being—


Roses, bluebonnets, honeysuckle, ferns;

Holly trees, and giant redwoods;

Kangaroos, giraffes, grizzly bears, hummingbirds, and dachshunds;

Swordfish, catfish, octopi, whales,

All created with a “Let there be”—


The first human shaped by God from dirt,

Life breathed into that mudpie man by the Potter—


The first rain filling the deepest ravines,

Overwhelming the tallest mountain peaks,

A lone family afloat in the quarantine deluge—


Abram called from his homeland,

His wife a nonagenarian first-time mom,

Their promised son on the altar,

The knife raised,

A ram in the brambles offered in his stead—


God’s chosen people delivered to Egypt from famine,

Then delivered into slavery to Pharaoh,

Their deliverer born in secret, raised in Pharaoh’s house,

Called out of hiding in the wilderness

To lead God’s people out of Egypt

With ten devastating plagues—


40 years of trekking through the wilderness,

Led and sheltered by the fire-cloud pillar of God’s glory—


City walls collapsing with  shout and trumpet blast—


A shepherd boy, the giant-slayer with the slingshot,

The man after God’s own heart,

Receiving kingdom and covenant—


A gilded temple whose true splendor was the shekinah glory-fire of God

Descending as the king prayed its dedication—


That temple defiled by false sacrifices to false gods,

The glory exchanged for worthless vanity—


A nation chosen by God sent into exile for her sins,

Preserved and protected even in captivity—


The sulky spokesperson cast into the storm,

Into the sea,

Into the stomach of the great fish,

Outspat upon a beach,

Given a second chance

To proclaim judgment and repentance to his people’s enemies—


Those enemies submitting themselves,

Repenting in sackcloth

From the king to the stables—


Another prophet sharing a safe sleepover with a pride of ravenous lions—


Three faithful Hebrews thrown into a furnace so hot it killed their escort,

Four men walking freely in the fire,

Three emerging unsinged, without even a whiff of smoke on their robes—


That wayward people brought back miraculously to the land of promise,

Rebuilding financed by Nehemiah’s royal employer—


Promised forerunner born to a priest and his barren wife,

Grey hair, wrinkles, and prenatal vitamins—


Very God of Very God, Light of Light,

Enshrouding Himself in an embryo,

Implanted in the darkness of a virgin’s womb,

Waiting for nine months,

Submitting Himself to the violent rigors of birth,

Submitting Himself to the authority of sinful human parents,

Submitting Himself to the unjust slander against his parents and the timing of His birth,

“The carpenter’s Son” (wink, wink)—


The God-Man living a perfect life,

Dying the death we sinners deserve,

Submitting Himself to pain and mockery again,

Rising from the tomb on the third day for our justification—


Ten dozen men and women

Praying in an upper room

Setting the world ablaze with good news

When the Spirit of their Savior lit them with tongues of fire—


In this unprecedented year,

So full of unprecedented challenges and griefs,

Let us cling to the comfort of the many times “unprecedented” has been

The signature of God scrawled across the pages of history.

May He work unprecedented glories from this unprecedented year.


Aslan is on the move, friends.

Courage, dear hearts!  


~crlm, 12/14/20

Thursday, December 17, 2020

"Lesson One" in the Graduate School of Faith

New missionary Betty Howard set about her first assignment at the mission station on the edge of the jungle of Ecuador. She had already learned Spanish and now sought to learn the indigenous Quichua language in order to translate the New Testament for the people she longed to reach with the gospel of Christ.

In answer to prayer, God provided her with the one human who knew both Quichua and Spanish. Hallelujah! This man became Betty's informant in her linguistic journey.

Then one day, as she sat at her desk with her Bible and journal, her informant was murdered within earshot. Her hopes of progress in Quichua were dashed in that wasteful destruction of life.

Betty's biographer Ellen Vaughn writes of this crisis:

"It was Betty's 'lesson one' in the graduate school of faith . . . 'my first experience of having to bow down before that which I could not possibly explain. Usually we need not bow. We can simply ignore the unexplainable because we have other things to occupy our minds. We sweep it under the rug. We evade the questions. Faith's most severe tests come not when we see nothing, but when we see a stunning array of evidence that seems to prove our faith vain. If God were God, if He were omnipotent, if He had cared, would this have happened? Is this that I face now the ratification of my calling, the reward of obedience? One turns in disbelief again from the circumstances and looks into the abyss. But in the abyss there is only blackness, no glimmer of light, no answering echo.'

"'It was a long time before I came to the realization that it is in our acceptance of what is given that God gives Himself.'" (Ellen Vaughn and Joni Eareckson Tada, Becoming Elisabeth Elliot)

Not so very long thereafter, Betty Howard became Betty Elliot. This hard lesson was one of God's preparations for the harder lesson of her young husband Jim's violent death at the hands of the Waodani people. Of the five women widowed by that event, she was the one tasked with writing the martyrs' story for publication. It was then, on the cover of her first book, that she became known to the watching world as Elisabeth Elliot. But first she was just Betty, in the jungle, wrestling with God's painful providence that seemed to be at odds with God's calling on her life.

The lessons she learned then and recorded in her journals are still helping me decades later:
"It was a long time before I came to the realization that it is in our acceptance of what is given that God gives Himself."

May the Lord bring us all to the open-handed acceptance of God's gift of Himself.

Monday, December 14, 2020

Sehnsucht Season

Sehnsucht: noun (German), yearning, longing, pining

The weary, watching world,

An empty womb,

Awaits with longing the Coming One

We love yet have not seen.

We long for the Yule-less winter

To break into carillon peals

And joyful carols:

“Behold! Our beloved Bridegroom comes!”


The yearning overtakes us with lengthening darkness,

A sweet, painful wistfulness

That stings as we inhale the fragrance of a rose--

When we gaze at clouds like angel’s wings

With rainbow-fragment nimbus--

Or hear the clarinet melody that feels

Like homesickness for a home

I’ve never inhabited--

Or feel the hint of Great Lion’s mane

Brushing against my arm

In some obedience of love--

Or hear the faint tinkle of our High Priest’s

Bells between the pomegranates

At the hem of His robe

As He continually intercedes for us--

Or catch the merest hint of athelas on the wind.

The numinous encroaches on the fringes of our thoughts,

Alluring our hearts on pilgrimage

To a better country,

And a heavenly one.


Abiding in this emptiness,

Dwelling in the lamentful longing,

Feeling the exquisite ache

Without rushing to fill the hollow

Of sehnsucht

With earthly anodynes:

This is our Advent prayer.

Friday, December 11, 2020

C. S. Lewis on Longing for the Far-Off Country

"These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. [14] For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. [15] If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return. [16] But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city" (Hebrews 11:13–16, ESV).

 "In speaking of this desire for our own far-off country, which we find in ourselves even now, I feel a certain shyness. I am almost committing an indecency. I am trying to rip open the inconsolable secret in each one of you--the secret which hurts so much that you take your revenge on it by calling it names like Nostalgia and Romanticism and Adolescence; the secret also which pierces with such sweetness that when, in very intimate conversation, the mention of it becomes imminent, we grow awkward and affect to laugh at ourselves; the secret we cannot hide and cannot tell, though we desire for something that has never actually appeared in our experience. We cannot hide it because our experience is constantly suggesting it, and we betray ourselves like lovers at the mention of a name. Our commonest expedience is to call it beauty and behave as if that had settled the matter. Wordsworth's expedient was to identify it with certain moments in his own past. But all this is a cheat. If Wordsworth had gone back to those moments in the past, he would not have found the thing itself, but only the reminder of it; what he remembered would turn out to be itself a remembering. The books or the music in which we thought the beauty was located will betray us if we trust to them; it was not in them, it only came through them, and what came and what came through them was longing. These things--the beauty, the memory of our own past--are good images of what we really desire; but if they are mistaken for the thing itself, they turn into dumb idols, breaking the hearts of their worshippers. For they are not the thing itself; they are only the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never yet visited. Do you think I am trying to weave a spell? Perhaps I am; but remember your fairy tales. Spells are used for breaking enchantments as well as for inducing them. And you and I have need of the strongest spell that can be found to wake us from the evil enchantment of worldliness which has been laid upon us for nearly a hundred years. Almost our whole education has been directed to silencing this shy, persistent, inner voice; almost all our modern philosophies have been devised to convince us that the good of man is to be found on this earth. And yet it is a remarkable thing that such philosophies of Progress or Creative Evolution themselves bear reluctant witness to the truth that our real goal is elsewhere. When they want to convince you that earth is your home, notice how they set about it. They begin by trying to persuade you that earth can be made into heaven, thus giving a sop to your sense of exile in earth as it is. Next, they tell you that this fortunate event is still a good way off in the future, thus giving a sop to your knowledge that the fatherland is not here and now. Finally, lest your longing for the transtemporal should awake and spoil the whole affair, they use any rhetoric that comes to hand to keep out of your mind the recollection that even if all the happiness they promised could come to man on earth, yet still each generation would lose it by death, including the last generation of all, and the whole story would be nothing, not even a story, for ever and ever."

~C. S. Lewis, "The Weight of Glory," The Weight of Glory, pp. 31-32, emphasis mine

Monday, December 7, 2020

Exile. {A Poem}



To Babylon—

Daniel glimpsed the eternal kingdom,

Ancient of Days,

In the collapse of his own.

Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah encountered

Christ before Bethlehem

In the furnace of sevenfold heat.

Ezekiel beheld shekinah glory of God

And the Temple yet to be

From the banks of the Chebar canal.



To Patmos—

Excluded from the gathering of the church,

Extracted from home and kin,

John witnessed the worship of multitudes.

The glory of God invaded his exile

With visions of the new Jerusalem,

The Lamb its light and temple,

Where no more salty sea can separate,

Where no more salty tears are shed.


Exiled, they encountered their God.

Exiled from earthly home, they glimpsed the heavenly.

Exiled, they dwelt enfolded in God’s wings,

Enclosed in His embrace.


Shall I go on?

Abraham, Joseph, Moses,

Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther—

And the Lord Jesus Christ Himself—

All testify from the great cloud of witnesses

To God’s faithfulness

In the land of their sojourn.


Exiled—not from home

But to home—

Exiled from society

To disorienting, familiar walls,

Same places,  new purposes;

New rhythms, routines, habits, hardships;

New calendar—

Time stretching, contracting, collapsing in on itself.


In exile idols topple;

Sins bubble over.

Dross rises in the heat of tribulation,

In the crucible of confinement.


In exile, will we encounter God?

In exile, will we long for heavenly Home?

In exile, will we rest enfolded in His wings,

Enclosed in His embrace?

Or will we rebel like the Israelites

When God said, “Yield: trust me,”

And they fled to Egypt for help.

We will not emerge unchanged in any choice.

(No caterpillar ever emerged from a chrysalis.)


And emerge we will.

Likely not after seventy years

Or four hundred thirty, 

As Israel did,

But in God’s time He will again 

Extrude us into formerly familiar

Rhythms, routines, habits, hardships.

What will we carry with us out of exile?

Dross or gold?

Bitterness or the blessing

Of an encounter with the glorious God?


God’s exilic faithfulness

Could engender

Enduring fruitfulness

To the transformation

Of untold post-exilic generations.

Thursday, December 3, 2020

The Unchangeable Love of God


“The love of God is like himself—


                                  Not capable of augmentation or diminishing.

It is like the sun,

               Always the same in its light,

               Though a cloud may sometimes interpose.

On whom the Father fixes his love,

He loves unto the end....

“As God manifests a sense of his love to us

It seems various and changeable;

              Sometimes more, sometimes less;

Now he shines

Then he hides his face,

              As it may be for our profit.

Our Father will not always chide,

                          Lest we be cast down;

He does not always smile,

                    Lest we become full and neglect him:

but yet, still his love in itself is the same.

              When for a little moment he hides his face,

Yet he gathers us with everlasting kindness....

“He loves us because he will;

There was and is nothing in us for which we should be beloved.

His love is unchangeable:

Though we change every day,

Yet his love does not.”

~John Owen, Works, 11:29-34, quoted in Voices from the Past, Vol II