He Came to Call

Go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners. Matthew 9:13 

Jesus “came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” He came to call sinners. The Spirit has me questioning all the things I have taken for granted these many years. So, I started wondering, what does that mean – to call sinners? Here is what I came up with.1 

Jesus came to call, to call out, to call forth from the grave, “to call aloud, utter in a loud voice” like calling Lazarus from the tomb.  

He came to call us to approach and stand before him in hope, unafraid. To receive his mercy, “to embrace the offer of salvation by the Messiah.” 

He came to summon, invite to the banquet. The sinner’s name, my name, on the list, admitted and welcomed at the door. Because he came to name, to give a name to the sinner. Child of God.  

He came to call his sheep by name. He came to call us to follow, “to be his disciples and constant companions.” 

He came to call me and you, the sinners, the sinning, the sinful, the depraved and detestable. He came to call me and you, the ones who every day fall short of what God approves, who are wide of the mark, the blatant sinners. 

Jesus did not come to call the righteous, you know why?  

There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands; there is no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one. Romans 3:10-12  

Jesus did not come to call the righteous because there aren’t any. 

… for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith. Romans 3:23-25 

He is calling still, right now, today. He is calling those who know they are not righteous, the ones who long for cleansing and forgiveness and the embrace of his unfailing love. Jesus is offering you redemption, forgiveness, wholeness, peace, and new life, by his blood shed on the cross. He’s offering to remove your filthy clothes of self-righteousness, really bad choices, surrender to temptation, stinking continual failure after failure, and outright rebellion, and envelope you with the robe of his righteousness.  

It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. 1 Corinthians 1:30 

Take heart. Get up; he is calling you. Mark 10:49 

1This was written using the definitions and commentary from Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance, Thayer’s Greek Lexicon, NAS Exhaustive Concordance, and the HELPS Word-Studies found here https://biblehub.com/greek/2564.htm and here https://biblehub.com/greek/268.htm Parts in quotations are direct quotes from these references. 

Photo of tangled flotsam by Sheila Bair 

Stranger Here

There is something about home that is deep in our hearts.

To God’s elect, strangers in the world … 1 Peter 1:1 

I am a stranger on earth … Psalm 119:19 

In the summer of 1971, I was in the United Kingdom as part of a study abroad program from my university. It was the first time I had been out of the U.S. and on the 4th of July, young and stupid, some of us went out into the parking lot where we were staying and sang the Star Spangled Banner as loud as we could. We got a silent, but polite, reception to that. 

As the summer went on, the very emotional anti-war, anti-American protests going on in the United States and elsewhere reverberated in London. As part of a group of American students, I remember feeling very weird. It is a very uneasy, precarious feeling to be in a foreign country, where you have no rights as a citizen, and where, suddenly, you are the evil villain. The hostility was palpable, at least in my fearful mind. Some of us, including me, went around speaking with a British accent and trying to be blend in. 

Whenever I read the above verses about being a stranger, I think of that summer. God has a heart for the uncomfortable stranger. In Exodus 23:9 he commands: 

Do not oppress a foreigner; you yourselves know how it feels to be foreigners, because you were foreigners in Egypt. 

Yes, I know what it feels like, just a little bit, to be a foreigner in a hostile place, far from my country. All I wanted was to get on the airplane and go home. Turns out, so did a lot of other people. President Nixon devalued the dollar that summer while we were away, making our money worth a whole lot less. Luckily, we had our return tickets already purchased and we them carried everywhere we went, along with our passports, for safekeeping. They were our most precious things – who we were and where we were going. 

Unfortunately, a lot of, especially young, Americans had not purchased return tickets. They had come to Europe to wander around and “find themselves,” with no set destination, staying at hostels, and soaking up the cultures until the money ran out. These people packed the airports, sleeping and sitting on the floor, trying to get stand-by tickets back home. Some of them had guitars and many gathered around, cross-legged on the floor, and sang folk and protest songs.  

All of this sudden demand caused flight delays and overcrowding. We ended up getting to Kennedy airport very late and having to stay the night in the terminal. I found an all-night diner and sat there for a long time, drinking real American coffee and just listening, gratefully, to the wonderful New York accents. By the time we landed in Detroit, I felt like getting on my knees and kissing ground. 

Please understand, the UK was beautiful and the people were generous and gracious to me. I loved my visit. But it wasn’t home. There is something about home that is deep in our hearts. The place we belong. The place where we are known. The place we are looked for, and welcomed, and loved, no matter how weird – or stupid – we are. This trip taught me the value of home and the wisdom of having your return ticket in your pocket.

This world is a hostile place. Jesus came to bring us home, to our real home. I don’t want to trivialize in any way the deep love and sacrifice of his blood shed for us on the cross that we might live forever with him, but what he did was like giving us our return ticket. Make sure you have one.

If you don’t know if you have your ticket Salvation

For this world is not our permanent home; we are looking forward to a home yet to come. Hebrews 13:14 (NLT) 

Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them. Hebrews 11:16 

I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. John 14:6 

In the Middle of the Night

It is always day where the Savior is born. 

For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. Luke 2:11 

For unto you is born this day … We have heard over and over what the angel announced when heralding the coming of the Savior. But I read something that Kierkegaard wrote recently that made me think. 

“Unto you is born this day a Saviour – and yet it was night when he was born. That is an eternal illustration: it must be night – becomes day in the middle of the night when the Saviour is born.” — Søren Kierkegaard, The Journals, NB 14:105-106, 1849 

You know, Nicodemus came to Jesus in the darkness: Now there was a Pharisee, a man named Nicodemus who was a member of the Jewish ruling council. He came to Jesus at night … (John 3:1-2). And, in the darkness, Jesus talked to him about two things: being born and coming into the light (John 3:1-21). About being born Jesus said, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.” About coming into the light Jesus said: 

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God. 

I think that what Kierkegaard meant, at least partly, when he wrote, “it must be night – becomes day in the middle of the night when the Saviour is born,” is that we must admit that it is night for us. We must acknowledge our darkness. All the dark things we love and cling to. All our rebellions and excuses and passing the blame. It must be black midnight in the revelation of the dark places of our hearts and in our admitting our need for the Light. In that darkness, the angels are calling still, “For unto you is born this day.” It is always day where the Savior is born. 

They are calling to all of us, cozy in the dark womb of the world, not wanting to be born, afraid to give up our darkness, hiding from the light. Listen to the angels! A great Light has come. A light has dawned in answer to our darkness. Come out into the light so you can see what God is doing. Be born with the Savior. Be born again. 

The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned. Isaiah 9:2 

Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” John 8:12 

I have come into the world as a light, so that no one who believes in me should stay in darkness. John 12:46 

For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light … Ephesians 5:8 

How to be born again. 

Image, The Angel Appearing to the Shepherds by Thomas Cole. In the Public Domain 

The Face of God

Jesus endured the complete rupture of his fellowship with God – the horrible darkness and pain of God’s face turned away – so that I could dwell in the Presence of God always. 

Restore us, O God; make your face shine on us, that we may be saved. Psalm 80:3 

Martyn Lloyd-Jones wrote a wonderful book called Sanctified Through the Truth all about the last prayer of Jesus for his disciples, the prayer where Jesus consecrates himself to be the sacrificial Lamb of God that we might be sanctified as God’s people. Reading Lloyd-Jones’ book, I came across this stunning statement: 

“He [Jesus] is now submitting himself, therefore, to the most terrible thing that he ever contemplated, namely that he should be separated from his Father. He had come out of the eternal bosom. He was in God from the beginning, he is co-equal, and co-eternal with God; but here he realises, and he faces it, that in order to save and to sanctify these people he has to undergo this separation from God and to be made a curse. It means the breaking of the contact, and he submits himself even to that. He is prepared to endure even the loss of the face of God on the cross that we might be sanctified. He separates himself to this.” — Martyn Lloyd-Jones (emphasis mine) 

The loss of the face of God! “The Hebrew word for ‘face’ in the Old Testament is often translated ‘presence.’ When we seek the face of God, we are seeking His presence.”1 For those hours on the cross God would turn his face away from Jesus. Jesus would become sin for us that we could become the righteousness of God, that we might be sanctified or set apart to God. But in the process, he had to lose the face, or Presence, of God. Jesus had to endure the Face of God turned away from him, refusing to hear his cry. 

But your iniquities have separated you from your God; your sins have hidden his face from you, so that he will not hear. Isaiah 59:2  

The face of God is what Adam and Eve freely enjoyed in the Garden. It is also what they hid from. 

And they heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence (face) of the LORD God among the trees of the garden. Genesis 3:8 (ESV) 

The loss of the Face is ultimately death. It is to be in darkness, adrift. It is to experience rejection and abandonment. The Face turning to shine on us is life and light and gracious acceptance. The light of His Face gives understanding and piercing self-realization. Isaiah’s response to seeing God was anguish at his sin, “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!” (Isaiah 6:5). 

The Face of God can cut to the heart, but He always sends grace and healing to the humble. After Isaiah’s anguished repentance, God sent the cleansing coal from the altar: And [the angel] touched my mouth and said: “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.” (Isaiah 6:6-7) 

From the Face of God we receive salvation, blessing, grace, peace, deliverance, and the knowledge of God. 

Restore us, O God; make your face shine upon us that we may be saved. Psalm 80: 3, 7, 19 

In Psalm 80, the psalmist asks God to restore them and “make your face shine upon us” three times. The word translated “restore” is shub (שׁוּב). It means turn back, return, repair, restore and rescue. The interesting thing is that it is the same word (translated “return”) that is used in verse 14: 

Return to us, O God Almighty! Look down from heaven and see! Watch over this vine … 

The Face of God turning back to us, looking down, watching over, equals our restoration, repair, rescue – our salvation and peace. 

The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face shine on you and be gracious to you; the Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace. Numbers 6:24-26 

So why do we keep hiding from him? Even if not actively hiding from Him, why is it so hard to remain before His face, in His presence? Why do I keep looking elsewhere? Why do I keep forgetting that He is right here with me when I am gasping and despairing in the midst of the storm? Why do I keep thinking I have to struggle on by myself, thinking nobody cares, no one will help me? Jesus became the sacrificial lamb and endured the complete rupture of his fellowship with God – the horrible darkness and pain of God’s face turned away – so that I could dwell in the Presence of God always. 

For Christ has entered, not into holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true things, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God (before the face of God) on our behalf. Hebrews 9:24 (ESV)  

Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need. Hebrews 4:16 (NKJV) 

1What does it mean to seek God’s face? Got Questions https://www.gotquestions.org/seek-Gods-face.html  

Image, hand-colored lino print by Sheila Bair. Copyright 2020, all rights reserved. 

Hugging the Rock*

Sometimes I feel like I am hugging a rock pounded by the waves and wind 

watching my loved one’s battered little boat being flung around

slowly sinking 

I have tried being out there in the boat with them 

but every time washed overboard  

slapped brutally back against the rock 

Now, Lord, I cry out to You 

There is no one like you, my Lord, to help the powerless against these mighty waves 

Help Lord, help this frail little vessel for we rely on you

only you 

There is nothing I can do except call out my cry for help 

a drowning cry lost in the destroyer’s roar

yet you hear 

In your name I cling here on the Rock hanging on against this vast army-storm 

You are our God, you are God of the waves, God of angel armies 

Do not let it sink 

only You can  

only You will 

bring this little boat  

to the safe haven 

*Inspired by 2 Chronicles 14:12 

Thank you to Beholding Ministries https://beholdinghimministries.org/2022/10/06/help-us-for-we-rely-on-you/  

Image from Wikimedia Commons, Seascape by Lars Wahlberg, 1945 https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Skepp_i_storm.jpg  

Formless and Void

God started in the beginning with an empty canvas – formless and void – and He, in love, started over again with a perfect empty canvas.  

God will stretch out over Edom the measuring line of chaos and the plumb line of desolation. Isaiah 34:11 

Reading in Isaiah recently two words in this verse jumped out at me – chaos and desolation. What does that mean a “measuring line of chaos” and a “plumb line of desolation”? 

The words translated chaos and desolation are in the Hebrew tohu (formlessness, confusion, unreality, emptiness) and bohu (emptiness, void). I was surprised to learn that there are only three places in the Bible where these two words are used together, and the first one is in Genesis, chapter one. 

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless (tohu) and empty (bohu), darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. Genesis 1:1-2 

Formless and empty or void. Like an empty or blank canvas. God, the artist, hovering over it with the pigments of creation. The third place this duo is used is in Jeremiah. 

I looked at the earth, and it was formless and empty; and at the heavens, and their light was gone. Jeremiah 4:23 

Both Isaiah 34 and Jeremiah 4 are warning of coming judgement. A judgement so passionate and powerful that the canvas would be wiped clean and the Creator would start over. “It was as if the earth had been ‘uncreated’ and reverted back to its erstwhile primeval chaos. Order seemed to return to confusion.”1 Like the Potter starting over with the marred pot in relentless love. Wiping off the canvas and starting over, as with Noah, a consuming fire, unchanging, passionately zealous, tireless, one-track, His focus on the goal.  

So I went down to the potter’s house, and I saw him working at the wheel. But the pot he was shaping from the clay was marred in his hands; so the potter formed it into another pot, shaping it as seemed best to him. Jeremiah 18:3-4 

God is always creating, working, moving from chaos and desolation to something wonderful. But we always seem to want to turn back, turn away. In God’s great, mocking commentary on idols and idolatry in Isaiah 41, He calls the idols in our lives “less than nothing” and “utterly worthless.” And then declares, “Their deeds amount to nothing; their images are but wind and confusion (tohu).” 

Do we actually erase our real lives when we try to create them ourselves? Are we, in rebellion, wiping off God’s artwork from our canvases? Are we then painting with our own inferior, or even imaginary, pigments? 

I remember on the brink of surrendering my life to Christ, a terrible fear overwhelmed me. What would God make me give up? What would He take away? I didn’t see that my canvas was formless and void, already empty; I didn’t see that the pot I had been shaping was marred. But I sensed the Artist’s hand hovering over me, passionately waiting to make me a beautiful new creation, filled with a new Life. 

For it is by grace you have been saved through faith, and this not from yourselves; it is the gift of God, not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance as our way of life. Ephesians 2:8-10 

God saw that my canvas was ruined, that my pot was marred. And He saw that I could not fix it myself. And so, He started over for me – for all of us. God started in the beginning with an empty canvas – formless and void – and He, in love, started over again for us with a perfect empty canvas.  

Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus:  

Who, existing in the form of God,  

did not consider equality with God  

something to be grasped,  

but emptied Himself 

taking the form of a servant,  

being made in human likeness.  

And being found in appearance as a man,  

He humbled Himself  

and became obedient to death— 

even death on a cross. Philippians 2:5-8 

The word above translated “emptied” – Christ Jesus … emptied Himself – means “to empty out, render void.” Jesus became tohu, empty and void, so that, in Him, the Creator God could start over in our lives.  

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. 2 Corinthians 5:17 (ESV) 

We are His workmanship. He starts over from scratch with us when we receive Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross on our behalf. We are new creations in Christ. A blank canvas. Clay in His hands. Our lives are very much chaos and empty.  But then God. 

Nothing before, nothing behind; 
The steps of Faith 
Fall on the seeming void, and find 
The rock beneath.  

John Greenleaf Whittier
excerpts from the poem “The Soul and I”

See, I will create new heavens and a new earth. The former things will not be remembered, nor will they come to mind. Isaiah 65:17 

Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. Revelation 21:1  

… so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it. Isaiah 55:11 

For God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases him. Philippians 2:13 (NLT)

If you want to start over as a blank canvas with God. If you want to be a new creation. Give yourself to Him. Salvation 

1Thompson, J.A. The Book of Jeremiah (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1980) 

Photo, MOMA: Empty canvases, by Dan Nguyen https://flic.kr/p/7PbhBC  

Even When

In their hunger You gave  

bread from heaven  

and in their thirst You brought  

water from the rock 

But they 

but they 

Forgiving God  

gracious and compassionate  

slow to anger and abounding in love 

You did not desert them  

Even when 

even when  

You did not abandon them in the wilderness  

the pillar of cloud did not fail to guide them   

the pillar of fire to shine on the way  

You gave  

Your good Spirit to instruct them  

You did not withhold  

manna from their mouths  

You gave  

water for their thirst 

Your compassion delivered them

Even when 

even when 

But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. Ephesians 2:4-5 

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. John 3:16 

From Nehemiah 9:15-20 

Image by Derek Bair

My Song

Jesus is the song, the song that God has been singing since the beginning of creation, the song that God gave to the world.

The LORD is my strength and my song, and he has become my salvation; this is my God, and I will praise him, my father’s God, and I will exalt him. Exodus 15:2 (ESV) 

This is part of what is known as “The Song of Moses and Miriam.” The Israelites sang it after they had been rescued from the pursuing Egyptians who wanted to re-enslave them. They sang it to celebrate their deliverance after they had walked through the sea on dry sand, but the waters had closed over their enemies. And, I just realized that this song is repeated three times in the Bible. It is recorded here in Exodus, in Isaiah 12:2 and in Psalm 118:14. Wonderfully, it appears in both Isaiah and Psalms in chapters prophesying the Messiah.  

But what captured my attention here is the phrase “my song.” That God is my strength and salvation I understand. But how is He my song? Charles Spurgeon explained it this way: 

… “The Lord is my song” that is to say, the Lord is the giver of our songs; he breathes the music into the hearts of his people; he is the creator of their joy. The Lord is also the subject of their songs: they sing of him and of all that he does on their behalf. The Lord is, moreover, the object of their song: they sing unto the Lord. Their praise is meant for him alone. They do not make melody for human ears, but unto the Lord. “The Lord is my song.” Then I ought always to sing; and if I sing my loudest, I can never reach the height of this great argument, nor come to the end of it. This song never changes. If I live by faith my song is always the same, for “the Lord is my song.” Our song unto God is God himself. He alone can express our intensest joy. O God, thou art my exceeding joy. Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, thou art my hymn of everlasting delight.” from Jubilate, Charles Haddon Spurgeon, October 25, 1885 

Jesus is the song, the song that God has been singing since the beginning of creation, the song that God gave to the world, the song He commanded us to sing. Not the song of the world that we had been singing. This is the new song about a new hope, a new covenant, the new wine poured into new wine skins. Jesus is our Song. He is the song we sing in the desert place, pursued by our enemies, backed up against devouring impossibilities. 

The LORD is my strength and my song, and he has become my salvation. 

The heart that has been changed by the gospel sings the praise of the Savior. For only in Jesus, we have been redeemed. We have been saved from our sins that have separated us from our God. We have been raised from our spiritual death to walk in the newness of eternal life. We have received and have been sealed by the Holy Spirit, the guarantee of future and final redemption. We have been called out of darkness and into his marvelous light to proclaim his praises. He is our new song.” — K. Jason French1 

But I will sing of your strength; I will sing aloud of your steadfast love in the morning. For you have been to me a fortress and a refuge in the day of my distress. Psalm 59:16 (ESV) 

By day the LORD commands his steadfast love, and at night his song is with me, a prayer to the God of my life. Psalm 42:8 (ESV) 

Because you are my help, I sing in the shadow of your wings. I cling to you; your right hand upholds me. Psalm 63:6-8 

Let the trees of the forest sing, let them sing for joy before the LORD, for he comes to judge the earth. 1 Chronicles 16:33 

Let the trees sing. Let us all sing, for He is our song. And, the Song has arrived. 

This is my story; 

This is my song. 

From the heights of heaven’s glory 

To the depths of earth’s despair, 

Came a love song in the darkness, 

Came a song beyond compare. 

And from the humble stable 

God sang His lullaby, 

A song of peace, as song of joy, 

The music of the sky. 

This shall be my alleluia; 

This shall be my highest praise. 

Let my every word and deed proclaim it; 

Let me sing it all my days. 

This shall be my benediction; 

This shall be my dying phrase. 

This shall be my alleluia; 

Jesus is my song of grace! 

From the golden streets of heaven, 

To the shores of Galilee, 

Came a love song for all people, 

The music of eternity. 

And from a wooden cross, 

God sang His song of grace, 

And filled the world with the sound of hope 

And everlasting praise. 

This shall be my alleluia; 

This shall be my highest praise. 

Let my every word and deed proclaim it; 

Let me sing it all my days. 

This shall be my benediction; 

This shall be my dying phrase. 

This shall be my alleluia; 

Jesus is my song of grace! 

— “Jesus Is My Song of Grace,” by Joseph Martin2 

1 God Put a Song in Your Heart  https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/god-put-a-song-in-your-heart  

2 Listen to this wonderful song here Jesus Is My Song of Grace 

Photo of trees by Jessica Dillon

Broken Hearts

broken hearts 

broken hearts everywhere you go 

walking through crystal shards 

cutting again 

bloody feet 

bleeding hands 

jabbed with flashing slivers  

working deep 

rending despair   

yielding 

relentless 

 hope 

… he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound … Isaiah 61:1 (ESV) 

He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds. Psalm 147:3 

But one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once there came out blood and water. John 19:34 

Image by Peter.Lorre https://flic.kr/p/3yeriz  

Who Am I?

Bonhoeffer’s anguish and self-doubt ring so true they capture me.

Who Am I? (a poem by Dietrich Bonhoeffer) 

 Who am I? They often tell me 

 I stepped from my cell’s confinement 

 Calmly, cheerfully, firmly, 

 Like a Squire from his country house. 

Who am I? They often tell me 

 I used to speak to my warders 

 Freely and friendly and clearly, 

 As though it were mine to command. 

Who am I? They also tell me 

 I bore the days of misfortune 

 Equably, smilingly, proudly, 

 like one accustomed to win. 

Am I then really that which other men tell of? 

 Or am I only what I myself know of myself? 

 Restless and longing and sick, like a bird in a cage, 

 Struggling for breath, as though hands were compressing my throat, 

 Yearning for colors, for flowers, for the voices of birds, 

 Thirsting for words of kindness, for neighborliness, 

 Tossing in expectations of great events, 

 Powerlessly trembling for friends at an infinite distance, 

 Weary and empty at praying, at thinking, at making, 

 Faint, and ready to say farewell to it all. 

Who am I? This or the other? 

 Am I one person today and tomorrow another? 

 Am I both at once? A hypocrite before others, 

 And before myself a contemptible woebegone weakling? 

 Or is something within me still like a beaten army 

 Fleeing in disorder from victory already achieved? 

Who am I? They mock me, these lonely questions of mine. 

 Whoever I am, Thou knowest, O God, I am thine! 

This is the most beautiful poem about self-doubt that I have ever read. Written in his jail cell, it was one of the last Bonhoeffer wrote before his execution by the Nazis for his ties to the July 20, 1944 conspiracy to overthrow the Nazi regime. Bonhoeffer’s anguish and self-doubt ring so true they capture me. I cry out together with him. How many times have I found myself holding down contempt, prejudice, judgement, anger with one hand and blessing with the other? How many times am I harboring fear, hopelessness, even despair in my heart, but praising God with my mouth?  People say, “Oh what a wonderful person!” But I know the truth. 

Isn’t this what Paul meant when he cried out “what a wretched man I am!”? 

For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord! Romans 7:22-25 

Yes! Thanks be to God, He has delivered me from my self through Jesus Christ my Lord! I know (at least in my head I know, but it is working its way down into my heart!) that I am not part of the “beaten army fleeing in disorder from victory already achieved”- the victory achieved by our Lord on the Cross. I know, along with Bonhoeffer, to whom I belong. 

Yes, I know the truth about what is in my heart, but so does God. He knows I am a terminal mess in my flesh, but that my path is doggedly along the Narrow Way. I may be crawling through the mud most of the time, but He knows I am moving towards Him. My heart is wanting Him. He knows that whoever I am, I am His. 

Photo, Inside Looking Out, by José Eugenio Gómez Rodríguez https://flic.kr/p/pz1jrM  

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