Archives For fear

Perfecting Faith at 4am

November 16, 2014

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So much of faith, for me, has been finding it again. Some have been given the gift of simple faith, easy, a natural bow into belief. That is not my story, nor my portion. All my faith has been wrestled for, won, lost, contended for, gained, slipped away, and shattered—again and again. Whenever I think I have found it, I find (most times) what I’ve found is myself and sometimes I am the greatest enemy of my faith.

I am not a fitful sleeper—sleep comes quickly to me and stays deep until morning most nights. But I slept fitfully last night, waking every hour. I was hot. I was cold. I was tense. I was afraid. I was contending.

Perfectionism is my vice and faith is its greatest gain. I set my sights on lesser things, sure, perfect thoughts, perfect writing, perfect design, perfect diet, perfect words, perfect image, perfect clothes, perfect home, perfect friendships. These elusive gains, for me, shadow the ever escaping faith I so desperately desire.

I ache for simple faith. I long for it. In the middle of the night I groan for it. I beg for it, pleading that he would so captivate my mind and heart, that I would be so fat on the feast He has provided in himself, that faith would slip into my heart and hands and stay for life.

But he has almost always withheld the gift of perfect faith.

. . .

For the past few weeks—at church, at small group, at our kitchen table—Hebrews 12:1-2 has been in our mouths.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.

It is nearly 4am and I have been lying there, in my twisted comforter and sheets for an hour, wrestling with the current capture of my mind. II Corinthians 10:5 says to take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ—but what about when the thoughts feel so enemy, you’re sure Christ won’t want them in his fold?

I stop on that thought: the idea that Christ wouldn’t want my rags, that his righteousness wouldn’t cover my wrestlings, that his goodness wouldn’t provide for my sin—and I remember “Jesus, the author and perfecter of my faith.”

Even my faith is not mine to perfect?

Everything in my life feels out of my ability to control, and faith is too?

. . .

Someone called me brave the other morning and I responded I have nothing to lose, but the truth is, I am brave because I am afraid of losing faith. The only way I know to keep it is to contend for it. But if Christ is the perfecter of my faith, then it is his to keep and hold—and contend for on my behalf.

I fall asleep in this truth: my faith belongs to Him, to grant to me in his time, his way, through his purposes, and for his goodness. It is his to perfect, not mine. And it is his to perfect in me—not mine to be wrestled for and won. The command for me in Hebrews 12 is to run with endurance. Faithfully asking for faith, obediently walking in obedience, gracious receiving grace. All his, perfecting in me the gift of faith.

Pockets of Treasures

November 1, 2014

Last week I rounded a corner in a Nashville convention center and came to face to face with three elders from my local church. One hugged me and I nearly cried. I haven’t been home in three weeks, and was only home about two weeks before that, and will only be home a few weeks before I leave again, this time for overseas and then other states.

I don’t know where home is right now.

Tonight I sat on the far left side of the sanctuary, where I always sit when I’m home, and I hardly recognized anyone sitting around me. We are a big church, but a small service, and I still felt the ache of everyone moving forward but me.

I told someone tonight I feel like I’m a kid with a pile of treasures, none of them making sense, all of them seeming valuable, but no idea where they belong or when.

I thought I would grow out of this.

Does everyone feel like this?

Like life is one series of mountains and molehills and ebbs and flows and you’re always waking up wondering where time went and if you’re too far behind to catch up, or too far ahead to stop now?

I don’t want to waste my life. I don’t want to waste it and I’m terrified of wasting it.

Faithfulness seems so mundane in a world ripe with success and achievements. I want to live a minimalist’s life, but I do it loudly, punctuated with images of what I’m doing and quotes of what I’m reading, hoping my simplicity will stick—if to no one else, at least to me.

But I do want to live a quiet life, and sometimes I resent the Lord for not allowing me the wallowing permitted to those who live behind closed doors and high fences. I dream of a house on a mountainside or an ocean inlet surrounded by pines. I dream of poetry and a fire in the fireplace and dinner on the table, a husband-partner, and children too. I have always dreamed of those things, unwaveringly since I knew how to dream. And those things have always been withheld because He knows those treasures are not what is best for me today.

Frederick Buechner said, “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet,” but the questions I’m always asking are, “Where is my deep gladness? And what are you hungering for, world?”

The world’s hunger, as best as I can see, is to behold His beauty, and this I find is my deep hunger too. And if my gladness is found in his temple, his Holy place, then it turns out the pile of treasures in my pocket are not many, but one. Just one thing: to dwell in His house, to behold His beauty, to meditate in His holy place. This is the one thing I need and the one thing for which the world hungers. This is the unwasted life.

Silent Sanctification

October 15, 2014

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I’ve written here, more than a decade’s worth of doubts, fears, concerns, questions, deaths, heartbreak, joy, moving, lessons, and learnings. In many ways this place is the very public working out of my salvation. Were you to peruse the archives you would find much poor theology and even more narcissism. This page has been my heart splayed out for anyone to read and I’ve bled myself dry for it.

Last night I said to a friend: sometimes silence is the best sanctification, and I numbered all the things happening in my life right now that I can’t talk about publicly. At least not this publicly.

There’s so much of the blogosphere that lauds transparency and authenticity, but even that is rife with trophy stories and humble brags and I am strangled by the fear that I will join their ranks if I so much as whisper the words aloud. The truth is that even good things bring with them deep breaths and open palms. I do not know how this or that will turn out and I can’t even guess. And I don’t want to give you the opportunity to guess. Because I am selfish? Perhaps. Because I am fearful? For sure. But also because some things are best worked out in quiet, gentle, and still ways. Sometimes our rest is found there, in the stillness, in the peace.

Sometimes writing in this place has been the best sanctification for me. But today silence might be my best sanctification.

In returning and rest you shall be saved;
in quietness and in trust shall be your strength.
Isaiah 30:15

Cut

October 5, 2014

I said no to a lot of things this year and in every direction branches have fallen. Good, seemingly healthy branches and dead ones too. Their absence has left me feeling naked and exposed, broken and wondering: what did I do to deserve the axe to my soul?

I learned long ago to not make plans, partially because nothing in my life goes according to one, but also because they become a breeding ground for resentment when I am disappointed in their failure. There were seeds of doubt in me this year that grew into fear and developed into anger. Not anger at others, but anger at myself, mostly, and anger at God. Maybe others knew I was being pruned, but I felt unjustly ruined.

It has been a strange dichotomy for me. Before 2010 I lived most of my life perpetually mistrustful of God, with a brooding anger at him. Since 2010, though, his goodness and prevailing trustworthiness has been steadfast and immovable. I have never known anything like it and still am in awe of what a constant God he is when not encumbered by the caricatures and Sunday School stories we make him out to be like. 2014, though, has been a year where I have seen my glaring disappointments and failures front and center. If there were places of pride in my life and heart, places I thought on the brink of full sanctification, this year has wrecked every one of them.

Jill Andrews has a song called Cut and Run where she says, “And it’s just like me // to walk away so early.” All my life that is my propensity. I walk away early instead of digging in deep. But this year He wouldn’t let me. He made me wait, long past the time when everyone else said to walk away. He stayed me, and then still cut me. It felt unfair, the antithesis of his goodness.

Nothing has gone unscathed.

Making the decision to stay in Texas was an act of faith for me three months ago. I felt physically nauseous when I signed our lease; it felt like a death warrant for me in some ways, and I am not prone to exaggeration. It was in part an act of submission to leaders in my life who are wiser than I, and in part submission to the Lord who presses deep on my propensity to run when the going gets tough. I began to submit a thousand small things to others too, in a way I balk against naturally. There have been times in my life when I felt suffocated by submission, no part unscrutinized by others. And there have been times when I have soared in submission, being set free under good leadership who wanted good for me. But this season of submission has felt both restraining and freeing.

The other night my closest Texas friends and I sat around a fire for half a night. The moon rose behind us and the coyotes howled. I didn’t say much, which is not unusual, but I listened a lot. I listened to laughter and sorrow, stories and life. All the things God uses to bring us to today.

He has been healing some things in me in the past few months. Not growing new branches yet, but healing the cuts from the old ones. Signing that lease, living with the four souls in our home, going to my hometown in Pennsylvania, good conversations, intentionally digging in at my church, working on projects that bring me joy, putting aside projects that steal my joy, choosing home more than choosing traveling, saying no to so many things, so I can say yes to what is most important: sitting at the feet of my good and faithful and kind Savior—the true vine, the true root, the true tree.

Unchangeableness

September 29, 2014

When the sands beneath my feet shift and I fumble for nonexistent footing, when in every direction there is another soul to disappoint, another person to fail, another fear to face, this is when I need the unchangeableness of God.

I am no stranger to failure and no one sets the bar higher for me than I. My name means victor, or crowned with laurel, but I know the wreath will never set on my head. I’ve kicked it out of the way, refused to beat my body and bring it to submission, to run the race with endurance. I am a loser because I lost before I began.

This is my great sin. I give up. Give over. Give in.

I read in A Long Obedience in the Same Direction a few days ago,

The lies are impeccably factual. They contain no errors. There are no distortions or falsified data. But they are lies all the same, because they claim to tell us who we are and omit everything about our origin in God and our destiny in God. They talk about the world without telling us that God made it. They us about our bodies without telling us that they are temples of the Holy Spirit. They instruct us in love without telling us about the God who loves us and gave himself for us.

And in Somewhere More Holy this,

It’s a subtle poison that seeped into her skin, as it does many children. It’s acidic, etching into your mind: these good things are not yours to have. If anyone tells you what a fine job you’ve done, think instead on your failings. When someone gets angry at you, instinctively assume he is right to do so. If someone offers you love, remember that he doesn’t really know you. Maybe that’s what keeps so many of us running from God–His awful claim to know us, as he peers out from beneath his blood-stained brow, whisper with thirst-swollen tongue that he loves us even now, even as He hangs on his man-fashioned cross. We run away shaking our heads and bitterly chuckling, thinking nobody in his right mind can look into the black hearts we secretly carry in our chests and still love us that way, that we can be lovable only so long as nobody really knows us.

My pastor says it this way:

The enemy is telling you the truth about your sin, but you tell him the truth about your God.

Tonight I read in the book of Hebrews, a truth not about me—because all the things I believe about me fail me time and time again. Tonight I read of his unchangeableness:

In the same way God,
desiring even more to show to the heirs of the promise
the unchangeableness of His purpose,
interposed with an oath,
so that by two unchangeable things
in which it is impossible for God to lie,
we who have taken refuge would have strong encouragement
to take hold of the hope set before us.
This hope we have as an anchor of the soul,
a hope both sure and steadfast
and one which enters within the veil,
where Jesus has entered as a forerunner for us.
Hebrews 6:17-20

This is a race I gladly lose, a forerunner I gladly fall behind, and an anchor amidst the shifting sand.

A friend and I have been talking about the little moments, the decisions we make with each movement, namely that necessary organ we generally consider the seat of our emotions: the heart. He quoted Paul Tripp the other day: “The character of your life won’t be established in two or three dramatic moments, but in 10,000 little moments,” and I couldn’t help but think of the 9,999 little moments in my life and day that seem to careen me completely opposite from where I want to go.

I read a quote from William Blake last night, “If you would do good, you must do it in Minute Particulars.” I’ve already quoted it here so forgive me the vain repetition; but perhaps it will not be so vain after all.

Ruth is the heroine I fancy not for marriage advice (who wants to encourage girls to lay at the bed of their desires?) nor for life advice (who of us would be content with the leftovers from anything?), but for these words: “Where you go, I’ll go.”

It is the minute particulars, the 10,000 little moments, the one foot in front of another, the going that makes the difference in our lives. I have been learning, or letting God do the difficult work in me, of the little things, the small life, the life that may make no noticeable difference whatsoever. The life that may only be a hand on top of a roommate’s head, to let her know I am here and I love her, the life that may make the same two eggs and pile of spinach every morning, the life that wouldn’t be missed if it was gone because it pointed to the One who never leaves. The small life.

The small life is made of counting those moments, going where He goes, and this is the life to which I am not predisposed. I feel lost in details, confused, self-shaming and God-doubting. Give me the mountain top and let me run free of cares and commitments and I will shine. But in the valley there are rivers to navigate and trees to see around and torrential rains and hills blocking my view of the light. In the valley the small details matter because there is no way up but around them.

Richard Wilbur used the words, “The punctual rape of every blessed day,” and it catches me every time. Such vulgarity to describe such meniality. But isn’t that what it is? A thousand times a day we feel the scraping of world against flesh and flesh against spirit. We know what it is to be taken advantage of and shamed in every direction. How then do we live? How do we see past the minute particulars?

We, like Ruth, say,” Where you go, I’ll go,” and then we do it. One foot in front of another, one painful lift of atrophied muscles after another, one stalwart look after another, 10,000 times until we have arrived on eternity’s shores and look into the blessed face of our Kinsman Redeemer.

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It isn’t so much that I feel he will let go of me, but that I will let go of him. That I will grow so discouraged with repetitive mistakes and ambles into sin, that I will lose sight of the Most Glorious and fix my eyes on the lesser things. It creeps in inopportune ways and places, times and moments. It snags itself on my heart and won’t let go, a constricting weakness—an oxymoron if there ever was one. I know I am certain and sure in him, but only because I know HE is certain and sure in himself.

It is comfort, then, that it was Jesus himself who prayed for Simon Peter, that his faith would not fail. Jesus knew what waited for Peter on the other side of things and it was not a life without sacrifice. Jesus warred for Peter on his behalf that his faith would not fail.

I am of little faith. From the outside looking in, you see strength and consistency, but the inside of this heart is rotted with the stink of faithlessness and fear, doubt and condemnation, discouragement and self-pity. But Christ wars for me? He holds me fast? He cannot deny himself? This singular note is my only praise:

You will hold me fast. 

We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul,
a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain
Hebrews 6:19

. . . . . . . . . . . . . .

A few weeks ago someone tweeted a link to a song called He Will Hold Me Fast and I have been listening to it on repeat. Listen here.

When I fear my faith will fail,
Christ will hold me fast;
When the tempter would prevail,
He will hold me fast.
I could never keep my hold
Through life’s fearful path;
For my love is often cold;
He must hold me fast.

He will hold me fast,
He will hold me fast;
For my Saviour loves me so,
He will hold me fast.

Those He saves are His delight,
Christ will hold me fast;
Precious in his holy sight,
He will hold me fast.
He’ll not let my soul be lost;
His promises shall last;
Bought by Him at such a cost,
He will hold me fast.

For my life He bled and died,
Christ will hold me fast;
Justice has been satisfied;
He will hold me fast.
Raised with Him to endless life,
He will hold me fast
‘Till our faith is turned to sight,
When He comes at last!

Psalm 16 for Pilgrims

June 30, 2014

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I learned to draw perspective in fourth grade art class. My teacher had a tangle of salt and pepper hair with a shock of white near her left ear. I cannot remember her name. We drew roads, black and yellow, and buildings with angular windows, using our rulers with one eye closed. After that everywhere I went I saw triangles. Roads, stores, cars, floors, tables. Perspective made of triangles.

The Lord is my chosen portion and my cup;
you hold my lot.
The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places;
indeed, I have a beautiful inheritance.

Two Fridays ago, my mother marries the man she’s shared a home with for nearly a decade. As I watch them pledge their troth to one another, I cannot help but think of perspective: how mine has changed, how hers has. Then I am in a pool, staring up at the covered lanai, made of squares, but not one of them a proper square, no matter how I looked. Then to a conference with 4000 other women, with stories and lives so very different than my own. Now I am back on the road again staring at the triangle-road stretched out, thinking about perspective.

I bless the Lord who gives me counsel;
in the night also my heart instructs me.
I have set the Lord always before me;
because he is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken.

No matter how far or fast I drive today—over the Gulf Bay and Lake Ponchartrain, Route 10 over acres and acres of swampland, from the pine forests of Pensacola, through the cotton fields of central Louisiana, to the urban sprawl of Dallas—the widest part of the road always seems to be right in front of me.

All of the opportunities before me now feel broad and pleasant. I want to dip my toes in a thousand pools and test the water in every one of them. But farther ahead, where the road narrows and crests, it all seems scary and unknown. I know what to do today, but what about the thousands of tomorrows after that? It is not perspective I need, but perspective.

Therefore my heart is glad, and my whole being rejoices;
my flesh also dwells secure.
For you will not abandon my soul to Sheol,
or let your holy one see corruption.

God is for me, who can be against me? God is sovereign, who can thwart his purposes? God disciplines his children in love, why would I avoid it? God is on the crest of the hill, at the narrowest part, preparing a wider path of more joy than I can even hope for. This is the perspective I need. This is the perspective he gives.

You make known to me the path of life;
in your presence there is fullness of joy;
at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.

fruitI caught of a whiff of longing this morning. I’d almost forgotten what it feels like. I stood in the parking lot and let the Texas breeze wash over me—and I felt a burst of hope inside of me: I’m going home!

I am sitting at the table with two dear friends the other day, an elder from my church and his wife, one of my first friends in Texas. They are New Yorkers, upstaters like me, and they have loved me well in my time here. This year has been one long shove, I said, a pushing away from all the reasons I would have to stay here. But are you running? they ask. Is it still running if you’re going home?

New York is a big state, divided into sections. The City, Upstate, the North Country, the Adirondack Region, the Finger Lakes Region, the Thousand Island Seaway, the Catskills. It’s all New York, but so much more than just The City. I’m not moving to the same region from which I hail, but I’m moving to the state I call home. Is it still running if you’re going home?

When I first visited New York I was 18 years old, a sullen teenager whose parents wanted to buy an old farmhouse and homestead it, growing organic vegetables and raising animals. I was born and bred in an affluent county north of Philadelphia. The earthiness of our new home didn’t bother me, but the humbleness of it did. It was a bigger, grander house than the one we’d left, but the life we now lived was simpler. I never felt at home there.

New York took from me, from beginning to end, it seemed. The timeline of my time there is dotted with its thievery. Home, life, family, security, finances, faith. By the time I left, my small car packed with every earthly belonging, I would have been glad to never return.

I tell one of my girls this morning that it was the lonely, poor, and rejected times where I now see the providence of God. It was not New York that stole from me, it was God who pruned from me. Cutting off what didn’t bear fruit. My first three years in Texas I felt strong and tall and healthy, free of the dead branches. But new branches grew and they have to be pruned too. That is the truth I am learning: to bear healthy fruit, even new branches have to be pruned.

One of the most painful lessons God’s children must learn is that we are not God, and our strength is only as strong as our dependence on Him. He is our strength. That which bears fruit in us, is born of Him. He is the producer, not us. He is also the farmer and the vine-keeper. He decides what is not best, what is not fit to produce.

I have some fears about moving back to New York, going home to a state that took from me, a place where my faith withered and died. I have fears that feel paramount today. Fear that some will think I am running away. That some will think I will never settle down. That I am making a mistake. That there, where I am known, I will slip into old patterns and ways of thinking. Deadly things.

But at the bottom of those fears, I land on one solid truth: He prunes. He takes away and gives something better. And he does it over and over and over and over again until we are his likeness. Because He is the vine and the vine-keeper, and truest fruit-bearer.

Moving

June 4, 2014

Processed with VSCOcam with t1 presetWhen I first moved to Texas, it was hot. It was 100 degrees the mid-September day I crossed into the metroplex of Dallas-Fort Worth. I was on a mission. The church I knew I’d be calling home was holding a quarterly event we call Group Connect and I knew if I wanted to make this place home, I’d need a group.

I drove ten hours that day and got there late, didn’t find a group, but talked to a person who put me in touch with Jen Wilkin who taught Women’s Bible Study. I only wanted to know one thing: is this the kind of women’s bible study where weepy women cry and complain and take prayer requests that sound like gossip? I was assured it wasn’t and so I went.

And God, that hidden man, the monster of my heart, the one I feared, at times hated, and rarely trusted, split the veil in two. This temple, for the first time maybe ever, knew what it was like to approach the throne with confidence, to be full of the Holy Spirit, to cease sacrificing the lamb of self and to trust Him. I was home.

It was a new kind of home for me, the vagabond pilgrim. I’ve always been the girl who moved a lot. Comfortable with risk and averse to complacency, I’ll nomad my way through life if it means more treasure in heaven and less on earth. But this kind of home, in Christ, in the gospel, it was new and different. It fit. I never liked Texas, but I was home. Inside the doors of my church I found a people who became my family.

This past week my pastor had a few of us stand during Elder Led Prayer (a once a month prayer meeting at my church, mostly attended by covenant members and staff) and receive prayer. I didn’t see all those who had hands on me, but I felt them. I felt the hands of my family and the prayers of the saints. I left that night and felt so full and so at home.

But, dear reader, all has not been right in this temple-home of mine. Some of you know all the details, some of you have suspected, some of you guessed, but this year has been hard. Hard in hard ways. Ways that make me wonder daily what I’m doing wrong, or what God is doing right.

I have known since I moved here that Texas wasn’t the long-term plan. I moved here with the intention of staying six months. Six months has turned into four years and they have been four good years. But it has become increasingly clear to me that my heart is back in the northeast, that my soul yearns for four seasons, for the darkness of winter, the light of spring, the death of fall, and the life of summer. Even more than that, my heart yearns for the people of the north. I love those people. I love their wild eclecticness, their independence, their fierce can-do-itiveness. I love their ideas and philosophies. I love how hard they are, and how soft, how welcoming and how hard to win they are. I can’t get the northeast out of my blood, out of my soul. I get them because I am part of them.

When I moved here four years ago it was a fluke. Texas was nowhere on my list or mind. A certain mid-sized city in New York was my aim and then one day I knew it wasn’t, couldn’t be. I have never regretted that decision. He brought beauty out of the ashes. He taught the pilgrim how to pilgrimage.

Blessed are those whose strength is in you,
whose hearts are set on pilgrimage.
As they pass through the Valley of Baka (Valley of Weeping),
they make it a place of springs;
the autumn rains also cover it with pools.
They go from strength to strength,
till each appears before God in Zion.

That was the verse God gave me to meditate on before I moved to Texas and I have seen how he has taken my weeping and turned it to joy, a dry land and made it bear fruit. He has given me strength after strength, given me men and women who have pushed on those strengths and called me to deeper and stronger places. Everything he has done with the gifts he has given me, has surprised me. He has shown me his character in a fullness I never knew possible, he has put a new song in my heart, a song of praise to our God. That is a blessing I know I will never understand fully. All I can do is be grateful.

And I am.

And yet I am leaving, heading back up to the northeast, to the people who I love with my whole heart, to lilacs, rivers, lakes, and mountains, small churches with great needs, to gospel-dry places with gospel-rich people.

Will I be home there? I don’t know. But I know for sure He is at home in me.

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If you are a Villager, or you podcast The Village’s sermons, this weekend Matt is preaching from II Corinthians 5. If you struggle with doubt, I encourage you to listen. One of the things I love about my church is that it is a safe place to wrestle with sin and the brokenness that sin brings into our lives. As I’ve been reading Spiritual Depression by Martyn Lloyd Jones, I’ve been so freshly encouraged to be honest not only about my sin, but also the brokenness that trickles down as a result of it. Note: if you haven’t read Spiritual Depression, I cannot recommend it more highly.

From Chapter III:

What is the cure for [spiritual depression]? For the moment I shall give principles only. The first principle is evident: above everything else avoid making premature claim that your blindness is cured. It must have been a great temptation to this man to do that. Here is a man who has been blind. Our Lord puts spittle upon his eyes and says to him: ‘Do you see?’ The man says: ‘I see.’ What a temptation it must have been to him to take to his heels and announce to the whole world: ‘I can see!’ The man, in a sense, could see, but so far his sight was incomplete and imperfect, and it was most vital that he should not testify before he had seen clearly.It is a great temptation and I can well understand it, but it is a fatal thing to do. How many are doing that at the present time (and are pressed and urged to do so), proclaiming that they see, when it is so patent to many that they do not see very clearly and are really still in a state of confusion. What harm such people do. They describe men to others as trees, walking. How misleading to the others!

The second thing is the exact opposite of the first. The temptation to the first is to run and to proclaim that they can see, before they see clearly; but the temptation to the second is to feel absolutely hopeless and to say: ‘There is no point in going on. You have put spittle on my eyes and you have touched me. In a sense I see, but I am simply seeing men as if they were trees walking.’ Such people often come to me and say that they cannot see the truth clearly. in their confusion they become desperate and ask: ‘Why cannot I see? The whole thing is hopeless.’ They stop reading their bible, they stop praying. The devil has discouraged many with lies. Do not listen to him.

What then is the cure? What is the right way? It is to be honest and to answer our Lord’s question truthfully and honest. That is the whole secret of this matter. He turned to this man and asked: ‘Do you see ought?’ And the man said, absolutely honestly: ‘I do see, but I am seeing men as if they were trees walking.’ What saved this man was his absolutely honesty.

Now the question is, where do we stand? The whole purpose of this sermon is just to ask that question—where do we stand? What exactly do we see? Have we got things clearly? Are we happy? Do we really see? We either do or we do not, and we must know exactly where we are. Do we know God? Do we know Jesus Christ? Not only as our Saviour but do we know Him? Are we ‘rejoicing with joy unspeakable and full of glory?’ That is the New Testament Christian. Do we see? Let us be honest; let us face the questions, let us face them with absolute honesty.

Grumbling & Complaining

April 5, 2014

My heart has been a grumbling one recently. I could give you a few reasons I think why my grumbling is necessary or warranted, but the truth is that even talking about those situations would invite more grumbling.

People talk about it being necessary to say how we feel, but I usually think there is more merit to say less about how we feel, and more about who God is in spite of our feelings. Disagree or not, I don’t think the Bible makes a case for us to all sit around and talk about our feelings to one another.

Paul, however, does have something to say about grumbling. In his letter to the Philippians, he says:

Do all things without grumbling or complaining, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast to the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain.
Philippians 2:14

Do: It’s an action word. Often we want to passively let the disciplines of the Christian life just happen to us. But Paul is saying, no friends, you gotta do this. It’s not going to happen without some elbow grease.

All: It’s an encompassing word. It’s inclusive, including all things. Not just hard things or bad things, but good things and seasonal things. It means in every situation—hard or not—this verse applies.

Things: It’s a noun. A person, place, or thing—which, I’ll betcha is where most of your grumbling is directed. Who’s bothering you? Where is it hard to be? What is rubbing against you in a difficult way? That’s exactly the thing Paul’s talking about.

Without: It means an absence of. It means no sign of, zero, zilch, none. There shouldn’t even be a hint of this in your life.

Grumbling: Murmuring, even under our breath, to ourselves. This is what grumbling is. It’s preaching a gospel, a false gospel, to ourselves about ourselves. It’s heresy—the opposite of good news.

Or: I like this “or” right here because I’m usually guilty of one of these, but not the other. I don’t know about you. I usually think it’s okay to grumble to myself, even if I don’t complain to others. But Paul is saying, nope, neither is okay.

Complaining: Sounding off, letting off steam, gossip, sometimes even “asking for prayer about this particular situation”—these can all lend to complaining. Is there some situation of discomfort in your life? Seek encouragement from others, but don’t let it terminate on idle negative talk.

I’m challenged by all those words today. Challenged to shut my mouth, even if it means awkward silence around others. Challenged to guide my heart, even if it means I don’t get to entertain or indulge my thoughts toward another person or situation.

Let’s hold fast to the word of life—Christ’s words and what they offer—for they far outweigh our momentary grumbling or complaining.

The Good Ground

March 29, 2014

It is a good place where one can say, “I do not trust you,” to God.

These are the places where God becomes real. Realer than theology books and good sermons, more real than dark nights and soul talk, realer than heaven and hell and all the variances in between. To stand barefoot by the burning bush of your life—or the Spirit—and to say, I do not, I can not, even maybe I will not. These can be good places.

There is a realness to the God of that moment, a reckoning with all the ways in which we have felt the realness of life hurt and bruise us. It is, in some ways, the moment of coming to our senses. It is touch, sight, sound, scent—the aching reality that this is hard, so hard. Harder than it was ever meant to be, and yet, the only way we could come at last home.

Whenever I find myself in the company of one who doubts, I know I am on hallowed ground. Holy ground. I want to take off my shoes and stand there with them for a while. The ground is often a pigsty: it smells, it is muddy, full of animal waste and the rottenest fares of the richest feasts, but it is the place of coming to.

To say, “I do not believe, but God, I want to,” can be the first step toward coming home.

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My friend Trillia Newbell’s new book United has hit the shelves this week. Trillia is a wise and kind woman whose words regarding race and unity are much needed in the church—especially from a woman. After reading her book, I watched The Loving Story on Netflix, which I’ve highly recommended several times this week. I am also partway through Letters to A Birmingham Jail, edited by Brian Loritts, with contributions by Piper, Chandler, and more.

This week I have been so struck by the importance of ongoing conversations regarding the Civil Rights movement and how they affect current movements in our culture and world. As I read and watch these stories, and learn to how parse this ongoing history (because that’s what it is and will be for a long, long time), I am having to consider freshly what our response to things like gender roles, same sex attraction, homosexual unions, abortion, and even Church and non-profit polity needs to be. These words will be recorded someday in biographies and documentaries. Whether we like it or not, our words matter and they do hold weight.

One thing I was deeply struck by while watching The Loving Story was the original content, first person narratives, film of actual an actual couple being persecuted for their marriage to one another, young and eager lawyers making history in 1968 regarding interracial marriage. In 2014, more than ever before in history, we are content factories.

Some day, and not very far in the future, our children and their children WILL use our words for better or worse. That makes me want to be very sober-minded and slow to speak, slow to give opinions, especially ones that have not been tried or put through the fire.

There are a number of polarizing situations at play in the world, just today I can think of three huge ones concerning religious liberties, homosexual unions, and abortion—oh, friends, let’s be careful, very, very careful of how we respond. Not in fear of what will someday be used against us, but in wisdom for the sake of future generations.

These are not simply ideals and ideas—they are people, real people.

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