Archives For abiding

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“My faith, he said, is the same faith which is found in every believer. Try it for yourself and you will see the help of God, if you trust in Him.”

So ends the book George Muller: Delighted in God by Roger Steer.

This past week my pastor taught on active faith expressed in works. I don’t know that I would have had ears to hear his words quite so well had I not been soaking in the richness of George Muller’s biography for the past few weeks. Multiple times while reading a physical sob rose in my throat and tears filled my eyes. It was not wonder at the faith of Muller (though that was there), but wonder at the God in whom he trusted and the gift of faith on which he acted.

Many nights I would dog-ear my page, close the book, set it beside me, and lay my head on my pillow begging God for a shred of his faith. Just one bit of it, I asked. But why? Why only one bit? Why not be a detective for faith? Sniffing it out, finding it, and taking it captive, looking for it?

Muller said after receiving a gift of one thousand pounds, “I was as calm and quiet as if I had only received one shilling. For my heart was looking out for answers to my prayers.”

My heart was looking for answers to my prayers.

God, I’m praying, make me a looker and a finder. Make me a seer, a hunter, and gatherer of answers to my prayers. Let me not need to pick up every rock or look under every stone—make the answers to my prayers every small thing: breathing, seeing, trusting, believing, knowing.

. . .

I sat across from two friends today, on their back porch. As I shared the burdens and beauties of my heart, the careful complexities of life, they reminded me of where I was a year ago and how they shouldered different burdens with me then. For a moment I was acutely aware of the porch on which we sat, the sound of birds in the trees behind us, the stream trickling quietly below us, the blue sky above us, the water in my water glass, the friends across from me: it was as if every sense of mine was awakened in a split second and I could see.

I read in Chronicles last night, “He did it with all his heart and he prospered,” and I weep because it was right after reading George Muller’s response to man who asked if he had a reserve fund:

“That would be the greatest folly. How could I pray if I had reserves? God would say, “Bring them out; bring out those reserves, George Muller.” Oh no, I have never thought of such a thing! Our reserve fund is in Heaven. God the living God is our sufficiency. I have trusted Him for one sovereign; I have trusted him for thousands, and I have never trusted in vain. Blessed is the man who trusts in him.”

And I think of Jeremiah’s words about the man who trusts in man, who makes flesh his strength: he will not see prosperity when it comes.

God, make me a seer. Make me a looker. My reserve is in Heaven and not just my financial reserve, but my reserve of faith. Every measure of faith I do not have today, you have stored up for me, buckets and piles and mountains of it, ready to give it to those who ask in faith without doubt with all their hearts.

Make me a looker, a seer, and one who weeps for joy at the thousands of answers to prayer you give in every moment of life.

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My friend Paul Maxwell has some words to older men from a young man on Desiring God today. As I read through it, affirming so much of it, I thought about the mentors I’ve had in my life.

In my Christian life I have rarely been without a multitude of counselors to mentor and lend me wisdom. I know that is not the portion of every person and many men and women long for godly, older people to invest in and guide them. I do not take these gifts lightly. Here are few thoughts about mentoring that I’ve picked up along the way.

1. Above I used the words “these gifts” on purpose in reference to the many men and women who have walked with me.

So often when we seek a mentor what we have in mind is a unicorn. We want them to be tender and firm, gentle and wise, learned and simple—we want a man or woman who fully embodies the Christian ideal. The problem is: that man or woman doesn’t exist. That person is Jesus, our only Savior.

There has never been one person from whom I’ve received all of what we’d call ideal in a mentor. I have had a multitude of counselors—not a singular one. If you’re holding out on finding a mentor because you’re looking for a unicorn, stop, consider the strengths and weaknesses of the men and women in front of you, and gather yourself a multitude of counselors.

This will save the men and women from whom you seek wisdom from growing burnt out on trying to counsel every area of your life, and it will save you from future disappointment when they fail.

2. Whenever I have languished around wishing and hoping and dreaming for mentors, I have found myself lacking them. Yet when I have engaged in the ministry of mentorship myself, I find myself in an abundance of counselors.

Too often we disqualify ourselves from ministry until we’ve been given the go-ahead from older and wiser people, but one thing older and wiser people know is that pouring time and investment in a sieve is not ever wise. They’re going to invest in people who are investing in people. That’s wisdom. If you long to be mentored or discipled, begin mentoring and discipling. Go to the word of God as your guide, obey what it says, humble yourself, ask for the Holy Spirit, and go! You might be surprised at the older and wiser people who begin to invest in you.

3. No matter how old you are, you are both an older person and a younger person. There is no magic age when you suddenly have it together. Be an older person to a younger person, and be a younger person to an older person. Do it now. There’s no better time.

. . .

Your Father longs to give you good gifts, but sometimes you won’t spot the gift He’s giving because you haven’t feasted your eyes on what is good. Know what a godly man and godly woman looks like. Read the book of Titus. Again and again. And again and again. Be and do and seek those things, see what God does.

I.

I am not like those Israelites in the wilderness, the ones who handed over their riches to make the likes of a golden calf. I clutch to my idols in their original form. I do not trust a maker of any sorts with my valuables, I trust only myself. I adorn myself in them.

II.

I wonder sometimes if all the Israelites gave Aaron their jewelry on that day, or if there were some who held back because an idol in their hands was better than one melded with a hundred thousand other idols.

III.

Remember when Rachel hid the idols of her father’s household in her satchel? She carried them with her just in case. Just in case God failed her, just in case He didn’t come through, just in case the unseen God wasn’t as dependable as the seen gods. Just in case He didn’t give her what she wanted.

IV.

Sometimes the only way you can spot an idol is to have it wrenched from your hands. Empty hands can reveal idolatry.

V.

Sometimes idols in the ancient Near East were the big kind you envision in temples, massive stone or golden statues with people prostrate around them in every form. But common ones were small ones, pocketed bits of clay and wood and rock—things they could pull from their pockets at a moments notice, to fill the void, cure boredom, feel validated, and seek answers from.

VI.

The message to the idol worshipper is the same as to the law worshipper, the same to the younger son as to the elder, the same to the Gentile as to the Jew: that idol and that law will only reveal your need for a Savior and a Father.

VII.

Underneath the gold and silver plated idols was the stuff of the earth: clay, wood, rock. All that glitters is not gold. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.

Then you will defile your carved idols overlaid with silver and your gold-plated metal images. You will scatter them as unclean things. You will say to them, “Be gone!”
Isaiah 30:22

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A few weeks back I sat across from one of my pastors while he delivered the news of my deficit. The words came in a halting tumble, the words of a messenger, not the accuser. “Do you see evidence of this in your life,” he asked. I let out my breath because no accuser is louder than the enemy in my own head. I am all those things and more, the list never stops, never ceases; pile on the claims and I will swallow every one.

“I have heard the claims,” I said, and I’ve been checking my heart and home and hearth to see if there is any wicked way in me.

He leaned in as I recounted the weeks leading up to this moment and when I finished he said, “Why didn’t you tell me?”

“I didn’t want to bother you,” I said, because it was the truth, but also because I was afraid.

. . .

I don’t remember when it was that I realized if God knit me together, with all my parts and pieces, then he knit me together with all my proclivities and purposes. That the same careful attention he gave to my shape and my size, he gave to my mind and my heart.

For the girl who had only ever known a deep and turning angst in her soul, this made a poem out of a pauper. I had always wrested with depression, anxiety, an unnerving panic at inopportune times. But I had also seen purpose and beauty and a haunting art to all of life too. The horrible badness about me cut me deep enough to let the piercing lightness all the way in.

Even the mundane moments, the 10,000 little moments, all of them little crosses, little funerals, the little concerns rising—these all turn me again and again to Him.

. . .

“There is an impulsivity to you,” he said. “It’s part of what makes you a treasure to us. You’re, what’s the word, bohemian? Never going to go with the flow, always on the fringe, an artist. As you submit your weaknesses to us, I don’t want you to lose the treasure of those perceived weaknesses. It’s what makes you you.”

. . .

It has taken me a very long time to learn—and I haven’t learned, but am learning—that the world is full of people to whom one way makes sense. Wrestle this way, no, not that way, this way. Be this way. Stand over here. Be this. Eat that. Don’t go there. Advice is a thousand times more common than real affirmation and real affirmation is so heavy laden with flattery we most times can’t see anything straight.

And this we know: in our weakness, He is glorified. In our weakness, He is made strong. In every way we cannot do, it is because He has done. In every “I don’t know,” or “I have failed,” He says, “Come to me all you who are heavy laden.” And in this we rejoice.

I did not rejoice, sitting there, across from a pastor who loves me, knows me, who is for me, and, which is more, who is for Christ formed in me. Who of us rejoices when we hear our accusation? But I rejoiced later and 10,000 times since. Every day a reminder that I have miles to go before I arrive at eternity’s door. Every day a reminder that God knew what He was doing when he knit me—just as I am and full of so much more.

As he passed by,
he saw a man blind from birth.
And his disciples asked him,
“Rabbi, who sinned,
this man or his parents,
that he was born blind?”

Jesus answered,
“It was not that this man sinned,
or his parents,
but that the works of God
might be displayed in him.
John 9:3

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Dear Father,

It’s been a week. Or two. One for the books. I know you have them all the time, but I’m just me and a human and never more aware of my limitations than after a week—or two—like this. I looked at the calendar this morning—while scheduling yet another meeting—and realized we’re nearing the month’s end.

February, the shortest month, seems shorter than ever.

The burdens I carry are never mine and this is the lesson of my life I suppose, even the ones that feel like mine aren’t mine. I compartmentalize life these days, turning off and turning on from one meeting, one phone call, one conversation to another. I go to bed tired these days, awake too late, awake too early. I have never struggled to fall asleep, but I’m asleep a moment after I close my eyes and I sleep well because I am learning to give my burdens to you as soon as I have picked them up myself.

Father, I remember the words of Jesus to Peter, “To whom much was given, of him much will be required,” and sometimes I wonder if I’m asking for it. When I survey the landscape of the life you’ve given me, it is much rocky soil, thorny ways, and knee-deep mud, and I wonder sometimes, “What fool would knowingly choose this terrain?” I tell a friend the other day that pressing back the darkness means walking first through the darkness. Or groping my way through it is more like it.

I’m grateful for your word these days. I’m living on it like bread more than I ever have before, because, God, I’m hungry. Jesus said his food was to do the will of him who sent him, and that’s you, so I eat your words and they taste sweet. Obedience, even cheerful obedience, is hard sometimes, but your word washes it down and I believe you. I trust you.

God, help me to eat life one morsel at a time, to subsist on today’s manna, and not try to horde tomorrow’s, to manage tomorrow’s problems. I trust you to give me what I need, whether is it bread and wine or body and blood or wisdom and peace—I trust you. Jesus, you have the words of eternal life, so I can only pray in your name, Amen.

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The quietest voice in my life this time last year was God’s. He was saying, “I have more for you in your singleness,” but I didn’t trust Him. There were louder voices, more immediate voices, more pressing ones—even my own voice, certain that if I did not get married on March 16, I would lose my chance for marriage forever.

See how nagging the voice of doubt?

The belief that God won’t come through. That He will leave me without the thing I want. That He will give me less than what I desire. That He hasn’t heard my specific prayers and requests. That He doesn’t care about my proclivities and inclinations and desires. That everything I love and desire is simply an idol, with nothing good in it. The belief that He has gotten it wrong.

Tim Keller said, “Worry is not believing God will get it right, and bitterness is believing God got it wrong.”

This is the creeping doubt that festered in my mind most of 2014. The voices around me seemed louder and more persistent than God’s voice and I felt myself sinking under their demands to be heard. I was the wave of the sea driven and tossed by the wind, unstable in all my ways (James 1:6).

But the small voice persisted: I have more for you in this.

I feared that His “more for me” would be a life of begrudging singleness, alone, fearful, unloved, unseen. I feared His “more for me” would mean pretending to enjoy something that wasn’t enjoyable, and felt eternal and long. I feared He would call me to a life of celibacy and I wouldn’t be able to say with the Apostle Paul that it was better.

. . .

It has been a strange seeing that has happened this year. Singleness ceased becoming the lens through which I viewed life, and it became the thing that I have found myself most grateful for this past year. I fear even saying that because it may sound like I have resigned myself to a life I still would not choose for myself. But the truth is I have seen the great gift—and goodness—of my singlehood.

I may have said before that marriage was an equal blessing to singleness, but I struggled to believe that in my heart of hearts. How could having less ever be equal to having more?

. . .

This morning I was sorting through emails—requests for writing, speaking, interviews, job offers—and one persistent theme in them all is that I am a woman and I am single. I have never thought my womanhood not a gift, why would I think my singleness not a gift? Just as God in His sovereignty made me a woman, He made me single today. The same attention and care that went into knitting me together in my mother’s womb, with brown hair and blue eyes, this mind, this heart, all five foot one inch of me that I would someday become, He put that same attention and care into making me who I am today, February 19th, 2015, unmarried.

If that is true, that He is just as attentive to my womanhood as He is to my singlehood, then I have to see it as a gift. One unique thing I bring to my local church is my womanhood—and all the proclivities and oddities that make me me, but I also bring to my church my singlehood.

Yesterday I had a meeting with one of my lead pastors to talk about how we can do better in caring for women at our church and as the meeting was coming to an end, he asked a question about singles and if any of our blind spots in regard to women might be related to our blind spots in regard to singles. I left that meeting thinking, “What a blessing to be able to be a woman and a single today!”

. . .

Whatever it is you’re afraid of today, whatever you’re holding on to, despite God saying, “I have more for you in your lack than in your envisioned plenty,” consider letting it slip through your grasp. Sometimes less is more. God’s equations and equality cannot compare to ours—think of Christ, who of all men deserved to be exalted and yet did not count equality as something to be grasped, but became obedient to death, even death on a cross (Phil 2:6).

Singleness is not a cross to bear. The final cross has already been born and because of it, we have been set free to count all things as loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Him (Phil 4:8). Whatever He is asking you to trust him with—job loss, singleness, barrenness, moving, your life—count it as loss, one tear, one painful pull, one crashing moment of grief at a time.

Knowing Him surpasses it all.

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When I was in high school I read the A.W. Tozer quote, “The most important thing about a man is what he thinks about when he thinks about God.” There’s no way I could have known that what I thought about God then, and would think about him for the next decade, would run my shred of faith straight into the ground.

I cannot begrudge my misunderstandings. Sometimes we have to subtract until we’ve reached negative space before we can add what is true and holy and right and good. I would dive back into the depths of darkness once again without a second thought if I knew I would surface with the riches I found in 2010. And those riches?

His character. Namely, what I thought about when I thought about God.

Since 2010 these attributes are my buoys, my buffers, my strong-tower, my defense, my comfort, and my control. When all around me is sinking sand, I know who my God is in His unchangeableness. He is immoveable, unshakeable, ever present, and always good.

Whenever what I think about God is incorrect and it informs how I think about everything else, I sink and quickly. But when my soul feasts on the truths of his character and his attributes, I am sustained. The most important thing about a man is what he thinks about when he thinks about the most important things about God.

Joe Thorn’s new book, Experiencing the Trinity: the grace of God for the people of God, does such a fine and succinct job of displaying God’s character and I hope you’ll consider grabbing one of these small books for yourself. Actually, what I hope you’ll do is what I’ve done with his small book, Note to Self, and buy fifteen copies to give away. So many of us are limping along in our faith, with our eyes set on circumstances or ourselves. How much better to forget ourselves and see Him, robed in truth and beauty, splendor and goodness?

Lift up your eyes to the hills,
where your help comes from,
the maker of heaven and earth!
Psalm 121:1

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I have always owned a Bible, scribbled and tattered, ignored or forgotten, but always one somewhere. For most of my life my Bibles were reminders of ways I’d fallen short, paged taskmasters holding the ruler of law over my head. I knew they were supposed to contain the words of life, but mostly they felt like death.

It was a surprising conundrum, then, when the words of the Bible that first preached the gospel to me came from the first verse of the first chapter of the first book. Genesis 1:1. In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.

And the girl who loved words suddenly loved the Word.

Whenever people ask me when I was saved, the easy answer is before the foundations of the earth I was known. The more difficult answer is that I don’t know. I don’t have a calendar date, a circled number to celebrate. I do know I did not understand the character of God until a hot night in September of 2010, on the front row seat at my church’s old campus. And, which is perhaps more, it was the first night I understood that I would never understand the character of God. That His character was as limitless as His creation, as limitless as the “beginning.”

In the time it took to read those ten words, words I had known almost the entirety of my life, I knew my life would never be the same. Through the most rudimentary verse, the one every Christian and most non-Christians can quote, the one we have all read on January first a thousand times over, the Lord opened the eyes of my heart and gave me the slightest glimpse of Him.

I cannot explain it. I cannot explain what I was before—someone who had much knowledge and practice of faith—and what I became after that night. But I was changed.

Since then my thirst for the word, not as a map or guide, nor a dictionary or textbook, but as life has never stopped growing. It is the method, the joy, the comfort, the truth, and so much more. In its pages contain the truest things ever existing: the character of God communicated to his people through every generation. Every verse tells of the gospel if we look hard enough, every book shouts of the plan of a master storyteller.

From the beginning until the amen, it gifts God to us and us to God.

And it will change us.

Tonight my church is beginning a series in the book of James and I cannot wait. The book of James is what my parents would make me write, in its entirety, every time my mouth ran away with itself (which was nearly every day for two years of my childhood). Those composition books were filled with angry scribbled transcriptions and I resented my parents for taming my tongue in this way. But now, twenty years later, those words have become life, the discipline of faith and works, patience and action, words and quiet, they point to a more true thing than a curbed tongue. They point to the sanctifying work of a God who takes a very, very long time to grow us up, make things clear, and bring us into paths of life, to Himself.

His word is a lamp to our feet, no matter how far they have to travel. His word is a light to our path, no matter how long it seems to ramble on.

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Our living room is dark. I have already done the nightly ritual of light-switches and locks. The blankets are folded in their corner basket and the kitchen is cleaned.

Every night we put our home to sleep and I pray over it. The kitchen that nourishes our bodies, the dining room that nourishes our souls, the front room that nourishes our friends, the living room that nourishes our minds, and our bedrooms that nourish our rest. We know the role of a home is not for us to serve, mastered by it and its demands for bigger and better, but a home is to serve us and the ministry before us.

These days the ministry before us is one another and we are not always faithful, but we love one another, love well and hard.

. . .

“Do you ever cry,” one of our honorary High Chapel House girls asks me yesterday. I think hard because the truth is she saw the tears in my eyes only moments before, where they rise every day without fail as she and the other girls come home one by one. “I cry,” I say. “But not for very long or very hard. I ask God that he would give me tears though. Sometimes I could use a good cry.”

This afternoon I pulled in our driveway, walked into our empty house, and I felt the tears welling up in my eyes. “Is this it?” I asked God. “All this time and you’re going to make me cry over a silly, impersonal exchange I had today? Something no one else thought anything of?”

But something about home stopped those tears and planted peace there instead.

. . .

There is nothing magical about our home and we are plenty flawed, trust me, each one. Yet in this home there is no onslaught toward us, we are for one another and for the hope the gospel offers today and the sanctification the gospel offers tomorrow. I am reckless in how much time I give to the girls in that way and some judge me for it. But I have seen nothing but good fruit in it, the steady, faithful work of the gospel taking root in all of our lives day by day, degree by degree.

There are no fast tracks to discipleship here, just a present peace and a palpable purpose, and today that peace and purpose disciplined me. Reminded me of who Christ is and how He saves and sanctifies and redeems within the hospitality of a home. And how the essence of the gospel is hospitality, and therefore home.

Tonight as I pray for our home and the bedded bodies in it, I pray that we would use our home to serve others and one another, but that our Father would use our home to serve us, his beloved children.

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The muse used to keep me awake at night, pestering me with sentences too lovely to ignore, ideas too undeveloped to leave alone. Every conversation was his food, every challenge his dessert. He was relentless in my ear and eye, every “common bush was aflame” with possibility, every pedestrian thought was flint for his fire. I couldn’t not write. To not write was to not breathe.

The muse bedded himself a year or more ago. He comes out sometimes, when the moon is too lovely to ignore or my breath catches at the end of a poem, but mostly he hides. He is petulant and I want to drag him out, but a muse cannot be dragged.

Anne Lamott says the main work of writing is “butt in chair,” and that is the truest thing I know about writing, but I wonder sometimes if it is not so much the discipline of being still as much as it is the muse can find me better when I am still.

I am so easily distracted, like the Lewis quote everyone always mentions, “playing with mud pies,” ignorant of the offered holiday at sea. The mudpies feel more my style, the distractions, the things I know I can fill my time and energy with, but they mostly steal my time and suck my energy. They are not givers, not like my muse was once a giver. He was generous with his giving.

The muse comes most often when I listen for him and then give him permission to speak and then obey his words, no matter the cost. I have fit myself into a mold of writing because I listen more to the reader than the muse, and everyone says this is what we must do: to be writers we must write to the readers. I love my readers—I love you—but I loved my muse more, selfish as that sounds. I trusted him because I knew him and he knew me and we knew how to make beauty together. I have missed the beauty he knew how to knit and spin and bring, the poetry he made of everything.

“I have this against you,” Jesus said, “that you have forgotten your first love.” He was speaking to the church at Ephesus and speaking of the things they had loved once more than they loved themselves, namely the Holy Spirit. I have not forgotten my first love but I have forgotten how he roams in quiet places and times and is a giver and lover and comforter and helper. And how he helps with even the small things like writing and keeping my butt in my chair and seeing beauty in every thread of this steady, monotonous, straight line of a life.

“To be feminine is to nurture, not merely respond.”

I read this quote in a book and was warmed by its presence. In a complementarian culture it can be tempting to tout the party line, “Men initiate, women respond,” as though the complexities of human nature and God-ordained orders can be summed up in pithy four word statements.

What about all the women we see in scripture who initiated and the men who responded? “Yes, but order!” the dogmatic pounds his fist and says with the full authority of Paul and the early church behind him. But what about Eve, the mother of all living, the nurturer of life (Gen 3:20)? Adam may have planted the seed, but it was Eve who did all the work. Isn’t this the nature of nurturing? And isn’t that also an initiating, sustaining work?

The real work of a woman is to be long-suffering. To see what is—but also what can be, and then to nurture it every step along the way (Prov 31). This is an initiating work if there is one because all around us the message is to stop when the going gets tough, make time for me, to treat ourselves, to omit or abort what is inconvenient. The real work of the feminine woman is to work and to keep and to tend and to pioneer forward in the face of risk and uncertainty and what is frightening (I Pet 3:6).

The real work of the feminine woman is to initiate kingdom work on earthly soil, to sleep by the seeds deep under the dirt, and to burst with anticipation and then at last joy when her work is born (Rom 8:22).

Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.
Galatians 6:9

lovesaves

This morning I tweeted a link to an article I thought was written in a heartfelt, honest way. It was the raw feelings of one young man when he found himself in a roomful of a thousand other similarly feeling people. He and I disagree on a myriad of things, not the least of which was at the heart of the conference at which he found himself. I shared the article because he made one point we do agree on: the need for the Church to hear people out.

A few people responded, pushing back mainly against the article’s thesis (that hope for the future of the church is found in the love and affirmation of all people). I disagree with his thesis. The hope of all people is found in the cross, the Savior who died on it, and the resurrection that followed. All implications fall from that hope, regardless of how loving we are with anyone else. Love does save the world, but Love’s name is Jesus and not the Church. The reason I shared the article is because occasionally it is good for the Church to hear others out—not to reach an agreement on the issues at hand, but simply to walk alongside hurting individuals, offering them water that satisfies.

One pushback came from one of my dearest friends, though, and she said, “A believer has to wade through some messy theology to reach the conclusion you’re aiming for [by sharing the article without a caveat].”

I responded, “And more believers should wade through messy theology, I think.”

. . .

A few weeks ago a guy came up to me after church, knowing I write about cultural issues sometimes, asked me my advice on how to walk with a friend of his who identifies as a gay Christian. “Does she believe the bible is inerrant?” I asked. “No,” he responded. “Does she believe the gospel as we understand it?” “I think so,” he said. “Well then my answer to you is the same answer I give to myself when I walk alongside those struggling with—or those embracing—same-sex attraction: The whole point of the gospel is that we are intrinsically distinct from God. The gospel wouldn’t count if we had the righteousness of Christ on our own. We needed someone wholly righteous to pay for our absolute unrighteousness. If the design of marriage is to reflect the gospel, two members of the same sex cannot mirror the intrinsic picture of the gospel.” That is perhaps a simplistic argument, but it is the only one, I’ve found, that cuts through all the messy theology and gets to the heart of the issue at hand.

But the presence of the gospel doesn’t change the presence of messy theology. In fact, the presence of the gospel sets us free to work all things out in submission to a singular reality: broken beyond repair in our sinfulness, the Father sent the Son to suffer, die, resurrect, and leave the perfect love of the Holy Spirit with His children in order that we might have a helper to bring us into all truth.

The gospel is the whole picture, and the messy theology is sometimes the way we get to the gospel (it was for me), and the messy theology is sometimes the thing we find after we’ve gotten to the gospel (it is for me). But either way, sorting through theology, saying what we believe, why we believe it, opening ourselves up to critique and correction, getting things out of our heads, making them sayable (the whole point of this site!)—this is the working out of our salvation that must happen.

Too often we’re parrots of a status quo instead of wading deep into the pool of muddied water, and letting what is sometimes dirty and always messy do the healing work in us it must. Jesus used mud to heal a blind man’s eyes and I never want to be above both allowing mud to be put on my eyes, and being a healing handler of mud for the eyes of others. It was not the mud that healed, it was Jesus. The mud was just the mechanism He used.

If we believe God is sovereign over all (and God, I hope you do), then we have to believe that He is protecting the Bride, purifying her, setting her apart, and presenting her spotless, without blemish. No messy theology will cling to her when she is at last presented to her Groom. Not one bit. This sets us free to worry less about articles we disagree on and think more about the messy ways God brought us to Him—and how we are all other beggars along that path for someone else.

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We’re an ambitious lot, you and me. Armed with our five and ten year plans, our budgets, our ideas, our visions. We stockpile shortcuts and wisdom and switchbacks, the fastest and easiest routes to success. We set high goals and adhere to rigorous demands and diets and designs in the pursuit of domination over some thing in our lives. We determine to win.

Yesterday a friend and I talked for a few minutes about the plague of ambition in Christianity. He talked in military analogies and I think I disagreed until we came to an agreement. We agreed, at least, that some of us need to learn to slow down and some of us need to move forward.

In the translation of I Thessalonians 4:11 I have memorized, Paul says to make it our “ambition to live a quiet life and attend to our own business and to work with our hands,” and I love that. Yet it is one of the few times the word ambition is used in the Bible. And every other time it’s used, the word is tied to negative adjective: selfish.

The ambition to the faithful act of quietness, the faithful plot of my own business, the faithful work of my hands—this is an ambition we are less than hopeful about putting on our faith-resumes.

Let’s be ambitiously quiet today. Ambitiously faithful to our plot. Ambitiously working with our hands. Let’s see what God does with the opposite inclination of our society and culture.

Let’s still.

 

Today is her first day of school. Orientation, really, but I have learned to count the small blessings. She crawled into my bed last night and we talked about everything until I was falling asleep and she was too giddy to sleep. “Thank you for bearing with me,” she said. And of course it’s okay, I said, it’s my joy, but what I was thinking was how long the paths to life are and how very thorny along the way.

This morning I woke up to make her breakfast, toast and eggs, runny like she likes them, and I thought of the person who made me go to college orientation a dozen years ago. I was a wounded bird in those years and the thought of a classroom frightened and intimidated me, but at her urging I went. I was out of place, older than all my classmates, wildly unprepared for the liberal atmosphere, and I thrived. I sent her a message this morning: thank you for making me go to school, for sticking with me.

. . .

Some friends and I talked late last night about discipleship and long-sufferingness. The long road is, as I said, thorny along the way and we are too often softened by psychology and words like “healthy boundaries” and “my time.” To disciple is to make and to mature, but it often seems a far more glorious thing to make than to mature. We grow lazy and pass people off, as if they were the baton we pass instead of the message we ought to be passing.

This morning I think about how Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and how desperately we all long for that. But he did it at home, in his father’s house, sweeping the sawdust, listening to his mother, caring for his siblings, learning to craft furniture and construct buildings, learning Torah. He did it for years and years and years and years and years, in faithful discipleship from those around him. And others did it with him—even those who knew his true nature as Messiah.

Haven’t we grown weary though? In doing good? Doesn’t our good so often seem to fall on deaf or dumb or fear-filled ears? How long, oh Lord, until we see wisdom and stature from train-wrecked marriages and wayward children and unrepentant friends and, God, my own heart? How long?

Love is long-suffering, though, suffering long. The way is thorny and marked with setbacks plenty. We will administer correction or challenge or wisdom, or walk so long with someone through darkness it feels like the end is never coming.

. . .

I sit with someone yesterday and talk about how a seed can’t grow to maturity if we keep digging it up and replanting it. It has to bed itself deep in the dark earth, it needs the musky darkness to break open and grow, and then it needs light and water and time to grow into maturity and we cannot rush that process—no matter how difficult it is to stay, to be long-suffering, to enter in, to do the difficult work of people.

We need stayers in the kingdom, those who will do the difficult work of discipleship, who walk with the weak as they grow in wisdom and stature, in spiritual things and physical things, in intangible ways and tangible ways. Long-suffering makers and maturers.

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