Archives For gospel

The gift of hindsight is a blessed one in the life of faith. A friend told me once that faith isn’t faith if you can see where you’re going, so the presence of Ebenezers in our lives is a proof God knew we’d need them. “Oh, look!” we can say, pointing at the thing God did back then, “We know He must be aware and present and caring for us now just as He was then.” And then we breathe and walk on through the storms and circumstances of today. Hindsight vision, in the Christian faith, is always 20/20.

It was with this expectation that I began a discipline in January of this year. When I began, I expected all the life-change we’d experienced in 2015—dating, engagement, marriage, moving, new church, new job, job loss, miscarriage—would begin to settle in 2016. I was wrong. 2016 brought more of the same, and much more difficult internal hardship than the external change of 2015. I look back now and see how God put this simple discipline in my path at exactly the right time and for exactly the right year. Never has there been a year of my life when what I would need most were small, simple, faithful disciplines.

In December of last year Ann Voskamp offered a free print-out of twelve verbs for the new year. Pursue, be, expect, give, and so on. You added the nouns yourself and so I did. I wrote out twelve index cards with twelve challenges on them and when the first of each month came, I prayed for wisdom about which one to choose next.

There were months this year, are still months this year, when breathing itself felt hard. Panic took ahold of my heart and mind, rendering me powerless against fear, insecurity, failure, stress, and sadness. I am no stranger to this panic and it was a close enemy of mine for years, but it has been far from me for the past six. In 2016 it came back with a vengeance and left nothing untouched. Normal, everyday acts become fearful. Faithful commitments have become difficult. Simple relationships have been terrifying. Much of that had to do with the instability of our lives the past year and a half. I have been afraid to move my feet in any direction, even planting them deeper, for fear. There’s a lot people don’t know and many have made assumptions about our direction, church search, the reasons we want to be planted in one home for at least two years, our desire to be out of D.C., and more. It has often felt like even voicing my fears brought more judgement and so it was just better to be quiet. These small disciplines again and again and again reminded me of the One Thing I could do today by the Spirit’s help.

I don’t know where you are or what kind of year you’ve had or want to have. I don’t know how unmoored and unanchored you feel. I don’t know what you’re afraid of or excited about. But if you’re struggling to pick up your feet, your head, your eyes, or your heart, this might be a small discipline you can do with the Spirit’s help. He helped me this year. I tacked these index cards above three different sinks in three different places we lived this year and every day when everything around me was shifting and turning, I would remember and breathe and do what the card said.

If you’re looking for a small, simple, easy way of pursuing stability in an uneasy world, here’s Ann’s post with the free printout from last year. Below are each of my cards, and how the Lord worked in my heart with the discipline on them. Feel free to read on, or stop now. I record them here mostly for my own benefit and remembrance, but also because I hope you are encouraged by my Ebenezer.

January

J A N U A R Y  :  Live with Less
We were nearing the end of our savings account after four months of Nate’s unemployment and no job on the horizon. Pinching pennies everywhere. I have always been frugal, but I had never had a mortgage or a husband to be so affected by our financial situation. Learning to live with less in every way pressed into me not simply with a budget, but learning to ask the question: do we actually need this? or have we just grown used to having it? Things like good coffee, craft beer, grass-fed meat—these were luxuries we just couldn’t have. And we were okay. God was our provision, we would say to one another often in January. Not my paycheck. Not Nate’s. Not our savings account. God alone.

February

F E B R U A R Y  :  Let go of expectations
In early February, although we tried hard, the only job offer was in D.C. We bought our house in Denver planning to stay there forever. As we began to pack boxes and explain our early departure, I was mourning deeply in my heart, not only my own expectations, but others. It was during this month Nate and I began to say to one another almost daily to this day, “We can only be faithful to the Word of God, not to an outcome.” We had many expectations during the month of February and I think it’s safe to say not one of them happened in the way we wanted it to, but God.

March

M A R C H  :  Embrace Limitations
March came in like a lion and went out like one too. We spent five weeks living above a stranger’s garage on the edge of D.C. Everything was new and foreign and frightening for me. Nate was gone from dusk until dawn. We knew no one. Everything took longer because traffic was nuts. I was trying to learn the metro system. I was afraid of being home alone and was home alone all the time. We heard gunshots and sirens at all hours of the day and night. All of our stuff was in a storage unit in a dangerous part of town so, once again, we were living out of suitcases (less than eight months earlier, we lived out suitcases in an AirBnB for six weeks in Denver too). I felt my limitations in a way I’ve never felt them before and just had to learn to embrace them. God was teaching me to drop my expectations of what our life would look like, and put my hope in Him.

April

A P R I L  :  Believe God’s faithfulness
By the end of April, we had five different buyers sign a contract on our house in Denver and all five backed out with little to no reason. We were hemorrhaging money at this point and were looking down the road at foreclosure. Everywhere we looked it felt like we were being taken from, stolen from, and lied to. I look back now and know with absolute confidence no one had malicious intent, but have you ever just been in a place where you felt like that? That’s what April felt like. The poet said, “April is the cruelest month,” and for us it seemed true. I had to remind myself daily that God was faithful, and all that was required of me was to believe His faithfulness, even if I didn’t feel it.

May

M A Y  :  Learn to garden
I have not always liked to garden and have not learned to do it well, but a wise man once said, “If you work with your head, sabbath with your hands. If you work with your hands, sabbath with your head.” So much of 2016 was me alone with my head and I knew I needed to just do something with my hands. We were still bleeding finances though, and even buying a small packet of seeds felt like an indulgence I couldn’t justify. We did our best to clear out some overgrown gardens in the front yard and plant some little bits. I also went home to New York and brought back a plethora of raspberry plants, lilac shoots, and other things from home to put in our yard. We didn’t know how long we’d be in this house, but I wanted to do my best to do the physical act of planting in hopes that it would grow some roots of another kind in my heart.

June

J U N E   :  Engage emotions
I think I can safely say this was one of the most challenging challenges of my year. For all the writing about emotions and the soul and such that I do, I’m actually pretty terrible at engaging my own emotions. I fear being too emotional, or driven by my emotions, and so it seems easier to just ignore them altogether. Nate and I began seeing a counselor in June, though, because our first year of marriage had been so emotionally fraught with pain. In our first meeting, our counselor said after hearing us talk for a bit, “You guys are both clearly very intelligent, very smart people, but I wonder, do you feel anything?” It was like the floodgates opened in me then, and the entire month of June I cried. I’m not exaggerating. I cried every day. It didn’t feel productive. It felt wrong. And yet it also helped me to feel period. I was able to start mourning some of the Really Hard Things from the year. I reminded myself daily that God wasn’t surprised or ashamed of my emotions, that he made me and loved me.

July

J U L Y  :  Daily Repent
After the emotional dam broke in June, I found July to be a month of repentance. Mostly to God, but also to Nate. It felt like every day there was another conversation about how I failed to communicate, serve, be honest, etc. He is endlessly patient with me, and always forgiving before I need to ask, but July felt like a mac truck hit me and I took him down with me. I think July was a month when I learned what a godly and faithful man God had given me. I thought I knew it before, but July it really sunk in. I was a miserable wreck.

August

A U G U S T  :  Give what I can with His help
In August we were finally back in the black financially. We still weren’t bringing in anything extra, we had sold the house, losing nearly 100k, but were able to pay off the debt we’d incurred to the penny. I knew we were able to breathe a bit financially, but I’d grown so used to not buying anything that the thought of giving anything away felt scary. God had to unclench my fingers around our resources again and teach me to give out of the grace we’d been given. He also taught me to pay attention to how our giving affects others. I think in western Christianity, we like to give anonymously, and I don’t think that’s always wrong, but there’s blessing too in being able to rejoice with others when their need is met. This was a good lesson for me in August.

September

S E P T E M B E R   :  Do things outside
September weather in Virginia was hot and humid, and I’d hoped to be able to do more outside in September, but with a puppy who can’t abide temps over 70 degrees, my options were limited. I tried to sit on our back porch and work as much as possible, and walk Harper (drag Harper) a couple times a day. I love being outside and so this month didn’t feel too different than other months. It was a good reminder to be intentional about it though.

October

O C T O B E R  :  Break bread with others
At this point in our year, we knew that staying in D.C. wasn’t going to be a long term plan for our family. Nate’s commute is at minimum three hours a day, at least once a week it gets up to four hours. This seems to work for some families, but that, combined with the cost of living here and a few other reasons, made it clear to us that we couldn’t stay here. We have tried to be faithful to open our home to new friends and make a place at our table for anyone. We’ve found it harder here than we expected, and I think a lot of that is because we and others know we’re not here long term. This was a challenging card for me because I think it was the first card I really didn’t want to do. I was exhausted from trying to build relationships in Denver and then leaving them, and now knowing we’d be leaving again, I felt like it just didn’t matter. God used the presence of one family in particular here, though, to soften my heart. We don’t see them as often as we saw friends in Dallas or Denver, but knowing they’re here, and we love them, has been enough sometimes. What did happen a lot in October, though, is we had a revolving door of out of town friends and family. I changed the guest room sheets no less than eight times during October and that itself was a blessing. God knew this challenge wouldn’t look like what I hoped, but it would still be a good challenge for October.

November

N O V E M B E R  :  Be unbusy
After the busyness of October and the looming deadline of a big project for me, we called a moratorium on visitors for November. I didn’t let email, phone, writing, people, or chores master me. I had two objectives, to finish my deadline and to love my husband well. I didn’t listen to podcasts, read articles, read the news, read Twitter or Facebook. I didn’t talk politics with anyone. I just kept my head down and worked. And at the end of the month, the world still turned just as faithfully as it has since creation. Who knew?

December

D E C E M B E R   :  Grow in peace
We are still in December, obviously, but already I have been learning about the steadfast love of the Lord never changing. Our year has been full of transition and it has not been easy. I want nothing more right now than to be rooted, anchored, moored, and planted. My wildest dream in the world right now is to live in the same house for two years. Partially because we want to start the adoption process, but partially because I just want to be still, have community, build relationships, invest in and be invested in. But God has not unveiled His plan to us yet, and so all I can do is say, “God, You still hold tomorrow. Give me the gift of peace today.” And it is enough, it really is.

 

homemade soupI like to think of myself as flexible, in spirit and person. I am naturally judgmental of myself and not of others, and prone to dissecting my inadequacies with a double edged sword, painfully and precisely. Some call this naval gazing or introspection. I am learning it can be a tool of the enemy to split the Gospel into sections, applying some to me, all to others, and none to the parts I stumble over naming.

Last night we ate soup and homemade bread and in the middle of dinner pulled up a Shane and Shane song on YouTube. We don’t usually keep electronics at the dinner table and by usually I mean we never do, but we were talking about shame and the enemy’s ploy. I had sent this quote from Pilgrim’s Progress to Nate earlier in the day and we were talking about some shame I have been carrying around like a child carries worthless treasures in his pocket: sticks, stones, names that really do hurt you.

“Shame tells me what men are, but it tells me nothing of what God or the Word of God is,” said Faithful. 

It seems to me we’re all carrying shame in some fashion. (Shame is different from guilt, although we often confuse the two—guilt is a true reminder of what you have done, shame is a cloudy reminder of what others or you perceive you have done—but neither are too far gone from the expansive cloak of the gospel.) Few of us will take the time to tell the difference between shame and guilt, and even fewer will raise our hands and say, “That’s me. I am stumbling under the crippling weight of shame.” It is so shameful, see, to confess shame. For the guilty it is easy to point to a specific instance in which the sin was committed, to say, indeed, I have done the thing. But shame? Shame slinks and crowds and cordons and points and laughs and we all feel like blind men groping in the pitch for something to feel guilty about because the shame is too much to bear without a certain wrongdoing to make right.

We can repent for what we did wrong, but it seems impossible to repent for the compulsory constant feeling that we’ve done something wrong. This is shame. Guilt sends you to prison. Shame keeps you out of it but makes the whole world a prison. You cannot go anywhere or see anything without a pulsing reminder that something isn’t right. This is shame.

Years ago my pastor said when the enemy comes and tells him he’s a failure, he’s wrong, he’s terrible, he’s a loser, he tells the enemy back that he is right. He is all those things, and more. This is why the gospel is such beautiful news, he said, because all the things the enemy says about him are true—even worse (lust is as adultery, hatred is as murder!), but Jesus. Sweet Jesus.

Somewhere along this year I’ve had my head down so far I could only see the strewn failures behind me, there is nothing I can do to make any of this year make sense or be made right. I feel shame about marriage, my body, my fear of violence, our loss of financial security, our home, church, all of it. There is not anything in life unscathed from shame these days. If you note something beautiful about any of it, the thing quickest to my lips and heart is how I have failed at all of it. And this won’t make sense to almost anyone, but it makes sense to the enemy and he has taken every foothold he can in the process. And you have places just like that in your life today too.

Last night, that quote from Pilgrim’s Progress, the song from Shane and Shane, my best friend reminding me that whatever accusations come my way are true, but not as true as the gospel which covers them all—these things are raising my head, slowly, surely, reminding me of truth. If this weighty shame is not telling me something about God or the Word of God, then it is not of Him, it cannot be.

This morning I read in Colossians and circle all the times the word “all” appears and it is many. The first chapter is full of them, they’re everywhere. I am reminded that there is no part of my heart or soul that is not covered completely by the gospel of Christ, whether a true failure or a percieved one, His grace is enough. It is all and enough.

There are eighteen attributes of God posted on the walls of the Kids Village rooms at The Village Church. Learning those attributes, committing them to memory, and pulling them out whenever I have doubted the character of God throughout the past six years has been one of the most life-changing disciplines of my life.

After I posted this photo, several people asked for the full list or a link to the posters. A few of the guys in the Comm department told me they’ll think about getting something up in the next year, but until then, I asked for permission to reprint the complete list. It was written by Anne Lincoln Holibaugh, the director of Kids Village for years and one who worked hard to create a well-oiled machine in that area. She’s brilliant. If you know her, tell her (and all the Kids Village/Little Village people) thank you today.

Here are the attributes in list form. Below, if you click on the image, there’s a high resolution image I put together that you can print out and put on your fridge or frame or wherever it would be helpful for you to visualize the bigness of God on a regular basis. I really mean it when I say committing these characteristics of God to memory has been one of the most life-changing disciplines for me. They’re easy to remember, they remind me I am not God, and they speak to nearly every lie I am tempted to believe about Him.

God is:

Wise: He knows what is best
Generous: He gives what is best
Loving: He does what is best
Good: He is what is best
Unchanging: He never changes
Creator: He made everything
Provider: He meets the needs of His children
Holy: He is completely perfect
Just: He is right to punish sin
Glorious: He shows his glory and greatness
Sovereign: He has the right, will, and power to do as He pleases
Compassionate: He sees, cares, and acts when His children are in need
Merciful: He does not give what His children deserve
Attentive: He hears and responds to His children
Worthy: He deserves all glory
Deliverer: He saves His children from wrath
Refuge: He provides places of safety for His children
Almighty: Nothing is too hard for God

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In the midst of conflict within the local church the first thing we need to understand is that we are never promised a clean, unspotted, unblemished church (Ephesians 5:27). The bible repeatedly makes the case that the local church on earth will be broken and blemished until Christ presents us clean and spotless.

Therefore, when we encounter brokenness in the local church our response is not to run the other direction, complain, or grow angry at the institution. If we are Christians, then we believe the bible, and the bible says we are imperfect. The crux for the Christian is how we respond, then, to the imperfect church family of which we are a part.

As humans we can be tempted to respond in a few different ways to conflict within the local church. Philippians 4:1-9 has a clear pathway for how Christians walk through conflict.

“I entreat Euodia and I entreat Syntyche to agree in the Lord. Yes, I ask you also, true companion, help these women, who have labored side by side with me in the gospel together with Clement and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life.

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.”

1. We can be tempted to speculate: Philippians 4 begins with Paul naming two individuals in the church at Philippi who were disagreeing in the Lord. We are not told what the nature of their conflict was. We are not told who brought it first to anyone’s attention. We are told very little, in fact, of the details of the situation. Paul thought it important to not name the specifics of the situation. God ordained that godly men would lead the church as elders and that the body would submit to them as under-shepherds knowing they know specifics of things we might never know. This is a good and safe place for the Christian.

In verse 7 Paul says, “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Paul is saying there’s a peace that passes all kinds of speculation. It’s a peace the world cannot give. It’s a peace that even knowledge cannot give. No matter how hard we grasp for the details of a situation, they cannot give the peace that only God can give. When we are tempted to speculate here, let’s entrust our questions to God and ask for a peace that passes the limited answers we’re given.

2. We can be tempted to judge: Paul begins this chapter with the conflict, but he quickly follows it up with the truth that these women have “labored side by side with [him] in the gospel together with Clement and the rest of the fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life.” What we know is there are some faithful women who have encountered the brokenness of life on earth as humans. But it doesn’t change the fact that these women labored hard alongside the other early Christians.

When the temptation comes to judge, remember the faithfulness that Paul commends. Is there any perfect leader or Christian? No. But commend the faithfulness of all. Flee from the temptation to judge the process, people, or church. Commend faithfulness.

3. We can be tempted to be divisive: Paul says in verse 4, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” Paul is saying in the midst of this time be reasonable, don’t be anxious, make your requests known to God. Do it with thanksgiving. Exercise gratefulness for what the Lord has done and is doing. Fight anxiety with the truth of the word. Be so full of the Holy Spirit in this time that it is “known to everyone.”

Instead of being divisive, trying to cause division, discord, creating “teams,” or pitting people against one another, rejoice in the Lord always. And again, because it’s so important, rejoice. Fight the temptation to cause division in God’s church.

4. We can be tempted to gossip or listen to gossip: Paul says in verses 8, “Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” Paul is saying in response to this situation where there are unknowns, conflict, and a lack of understanding, do this instead. Think about the things that are true, just, pure, lovely, commendable, etc..

Paul isn’t saying to trick ourselves into being and feeling great. He is saying, though, to lift our eyes up to what is eternally and foundationally true, God Himself, the most true, most commendable, most lovely of everything. Do not be tempted to sit in a pit of gossip with other speculators, panning for the nuggets of curiosity. Climb out of that pit, trust those he’s put in place to lead your local church, and flee from gossip.

Maybe you’re in the middle of conflict right now. Or maybe you’re not in the middle of it, but your ears are juicy for the details of it. I hope and pray this passage encourages and challenges you as it has for me. Let’s all aspire to live quieter lives, trusting God to build His church wholly.

In the middle of the coverage from San Bernardino yesterday I got a text from my husband:

“SWAT just showed up two doors down!”

A few minutes later: “Shots fired!”

Expected during that moment if we lived in San Bernardino perhaps, but we live in Denver. In a nice little up and coming neighborhood in the northwest part of the city. If you mention our neighborhood to those who’ve been here all their life, they recall stories of being warned to stay away from The Highland because of its high crime rates. In the past five years, though, crime is at an all-time low, housing prices keep rising, and it’s becoming one of the coveted neighborhoods in Denver.

Police surrounded our block yesterday until late into the night. At the end of it all, there was a dead fugitive and a wounded SWAT officer. When we knew it was safe, hours into the ordeal, my husband brought a mug of coffee and a bottled drink out to the policeman standing in the middle of the street outside our house. He’d been brandishing a rifle while diverting traffic and answering questions for hours. We should have offered him a bathroom break too, but I doubt he would have taken it.

. . .

The first real conversation I ever had with my husband was about pacificsm, a few days later he shared his testimony (a story wrought with theological fervor and marital failure) with a group of our friends, and the next day he and I got coffee and talked more about the pacifist way. He wasn’t my first friend who had walked through these questions, but he was the first person I’d met in Texas who had. It wasn’t love at first sight for either of us, but it was curiosity for sure. You know the rest of the story.

Scattered throughout our home, in pieces so varied and complex I don’t know what we’d do if it ever came to it, are the components to a firearm. I spend most of my time trying to forget it’s in our home and when I remember I remind myself 1. It would take thirty minutes to gather all the pieces. 2. I don’t know how to put them together. 3. I don’t know the first thing about shooting a gun. And 4. I can’t imagine ever pointing a gun at someone.

But it doesn’t change the fact that the gun is present, in our home.

. . .

A few weeks ago my car was vandalized. I thought it was the work of hoodlums in the neighborhood south of us, and maybe it was, but the more we thought about it and asked others about it, it became clear: vandalizing was not their sole purpose, car thievery was. The only conclusion we’ve come to is they saw it was a stick shift or they got caught in the middle. Either way, we’re grateful to still have a car. Locked safely now (or so we think) in our garage.

Does all this matter? And how?

. . .

This morning Nate and I talked about a trip he’s taking in a few weeks and how, in all my life, I’ve never been afraid to be alone before. But here, in these days, in this place, I fear. The other day a salesman knocked on our door and I had to self-talk the entire time that he wasn’t going to push open the cracked door, rape me, and pillage our home. Fear is present, where it never has been before.

Things weren’t like this 25 years ago, I told Nate this morning. He told me studies were done once on soldiers from WWII: something around 50% of soldiers purposely didn’t aim guns at their enemies because the taking of a human life was not something they could do.

. . .

I stayed up late praying last night. I wanted to pray for the soul of the man who was killed but my beliefs tell me it’s too late for that, and a repentant man doesn’t do the atrocities he did. I pray for the SWAT officer instead, not the one who was wounded, but the one who killed the fugitive. What a heavy weight to bear it must be to have taken the life of a man—however worthless you can convince yourself that life was.

. . .

The ink is barely dry on the page of the Colorado Springs shooting a few days ago, the media is alight with San Bernardino, and in a playground in New Orleans a young man shot at 17 individuals last week. The world is too much with us, the poet said, and I think he was speaking of evil, evil, everywhere.

The refrain from O, Holy Night repeats in my head again:

His law is love and his gospel is peace.

For most these days, the law feels ignored and his gospel divides. There is not one of us who can say we feel safe but for the grace of God. And even with the grace of God, hundreds of thousands find themselves fleeing persecution and no one is safe from the bullet of a madman bent on destruction.

Where is the love and peace we were promised?

. . .

I have no end to this piece, no pretty packaged completion.Tomorrow or next week more news of another shooting will rise and we will fight for gun reform or offer our thoughts and prayers, but none of it is enough. None of it is.

His law is love and his gospel is peace.

The law of this land will never bring it and peace rallies will never exhibit it. Soldiers will still miss shots on purpose. Good men will sacrifice their lives in the face of certain danger—but even a hero’s death still stings. Nothing in this world will bring the peace we need. Nothing in this world.

His law is love.

And His gospel is peace.

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It occurs to me that I should not tell you the husband has taken to cooking breakfast in the morning. When we first married his plat signature was eggs, “scrambled” in the pan on high heat, and occasionally rice, boiled to mush. Now he handles cast iron cooking like a champ, flipping the over easy eggs over nice and easy, and sizzling sweet potatoes to the perfect combination of crispy on the outside and soft on the inside. He always puts some sort of seasonal fruit on the side. And he always makes coffee first thing. It occurs to me I should not tell you this because I’ll come off sounding like one of those pastors who talks about their “smokin’ hot wives” and infuriates bloggers everywhere: This is my husband, who makes perfectly runny eggs and does it with a smile.

In the dearth of authenticity for the generation whose god is authenticity, a model from New Zealand edited all the captions on her instagrams. It’s all over the news this week, as if it is news that the perfect poses took a hundred attempts and her body didn’t come with sacrifices. We all know, underneath the exterior, the presentation, the cropping, and the editing, real life is being lived. We’re doing our best to pretend it’s not, but we all know it is.

This is what the writer meant when he said “Eternity is written on the hearts of men,” and what Jesus intended when he said, “Go into all the world and teach the good news.” We have all been imprinted with life and death and their looming realities, and we all have to hear someone tell us “Yes, that’s true,” or we won’t believe. News isn’t really news, it’s just information, or confirmation, if you will: It really is this bad or this good.

So my husband is making breakfast and it’s a simple thing really, but I heard my pastor say once, “The good will keep getting better, and the bad will keep getting worse.” He was talking about the end of time and the beginning of the kingdom and I loved those words because they are truth and they say two things to me:

The good will keep getting better: All the sanctification worked in our hearts produces fruit of everlasting goodness. It is tainted with sin, yes, but gloriously and increasingly reflecting the God whom we image. That my husband cooks a better breakfast than he did five months ago is not only evidence of a growth in skill, it is an evidence of his desire to serve and love his wife. He is being progressively sanctified, growing in love for his Father and so too in love for his wife. Making breakfast is simply evidence that eternity is written on his heart (and perhaps his belly too). I hesitate to tell you he makes our breakfast because there are a hundred thousand of you for whom that is not true. But where is it true in your life? Where has the good become better as you or someone you know reflects the image of God? That is reason for worship! Not the thing itself, but the God who made it happen.

The bad will keep getting worse: As Christ sanctifies us and grows us in Him, we will see more and more clearly the depth of our own sin. Nate makes us breakfast, but it is sandwiched by conversations daily on the brokenness of our hearts and in the hearts of those we love. In the still dark morning hours, I pray for him and he prays for me, that we would know Christ because we are increasingly aware of our inability to be Christ and to fail Him and those we love. The badness outside our home only looks worse than the badness inside our home—but it’s not really worse. Where is that true in your life? Where do the perfect poses and pithy phrases fall short and you feel the bad getting worse? Praise God He did not make us automatons, robots of code and conduct. Praise God the bad gets worse so we can know he is shaking and stirring and sifting all the dross from the gold. That there is hardship in your world is proof God is still at work. Praise Him for not forgetting you, for writing eternity on your heart and for evidencing it by the longing you have for goodness and beauty.

And now I must go, my breakfast is getting cold.

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It is the work of providence, I suppose, that I have been reading about conflict in the church at Philippi these last few weeks and Nate is reading The Peacemaker. I somehow always imagined marriage to be ripe with conflict, but the truth is that ours hasn’t been, or if it has, we’re delightfully oblivious (that is not to say we have not had conflict, just that we do not stink of it every day). But for all the lack of conflict within our marriage, our entire relationship has been surrounded by conflict among those we love. Which, if you know either of us, is a grand cosmic joke between the Trinity:

“Let’s put these two passive, peace-loving, conflict-adverse people together for the rest of all time, okay?!”

“Yeah! And let’s put them in ministry where they’ll be surrounded by conflict all the time!”

“Grand idea!”

It was an exclamation mark fest, I just know it.

For all our natural passivity, though, the conflict swirling around us has been a blessing of sorts. Oh, we don’t like it, don’t mishear me, but it has been a “severe mercy.” Through it we see God’s mercy, our sinfulness, and the persistent unfinishedness of the Church—so in this, it has been a blessing.

One thing I am consistently surprised about, though, is the pervasiveness of modern psychology in the midst of conflict between Christians. Phrases like, “You’ve broken my trust in you/him/her/it,” “I was wrong, but…,” and “You shouldn’t have waited until I’d sinned five times in this way before coming to me.” It makes me wonder, truly, how broken is our theology if these are the words coming out of our mouths?

You’ve broken my trust.
One of the best men I know is a biblical counselor across the street from my Texas church family. He told me once, “The bible never says we ought to have faith in another person, it only says we should place it in God.” To displace my faith from another person is actually a good thing—it points me toward a God who cannot and will not fail. When our “trust has been broken” in another human, be encouraged, it was never meant to rest on them. Trust God.

I’m sorry, but…
The most beautiful thing about repentance is there is no “but…” after the brokenness. To add a “but you…” or “but they…” after our admission of guilt (no matter how justified we may feel in our counter-accusation), takes away the weight we’re meant to feel in our mourning over sin and the staggering beauty of a God before whom we stand fully approved and full loved as his children. One of my favorite passages on our response to sin is when Paul says to the Corinthians, “Ought you not rather mourn?!” So often we apologize and run quickly to a counter attack or run quickly to a false sense of security. Brothers and sisters, there is no security in coming out on top. Do not consider equality as something to be grasped, become obedient to death. He raises to life.

You should have told me sooner.
There are two sorts of people in conflict that I’m observing: the first tends toward quick righteousness and the second tends toward prolonged grace. In the midst of conflict, the latter typically will overlook a matter (to God’s glory) four, five, six times before finally coming to the brothers or sister and entreating them to righteousness. The former who desires quick righteousness typically responds, “Why didn’t you come to me sooner!?” and so excuses their sin. Friends, overlook a matter, as much as it depends on you, extend grace, pursue peace, forgive seventy times seven without saying a word. The modern concept is that if we bottle up our feelings we’re somehow doing ourselves a disservice and betraying our hearts. I have good news for you: God holds every one of your tears in his capable hands, He knows them and cares for them and has paid for every one of your sins—even the ones five times back. When you cover a multitude of sins with the love of God, you are not doing a disservice to yourself or to the accused. It is kindness that draws us to the throne and love that keeps us there.

Make no mistake, Christian, our theology is on display in the midst of conflict. Our belief in the gospel and its permeation in our lives comes through in those confrontations, apologies, stalemates, and  arguments. God, the ultimate reconciler, though, has given us clear directives for the ministry of reconciliation. Conflict does not surprise or bewilder Him, He has made a way and set an ultimate example of humility, obedience, and persistence through His Son. Trust Him. Believe Him. We will always be disappointed by people but never by Christ.

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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

mydesign

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.

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.

Perhaps you’ve already seen this around, but in case you haven’t, spend some time looking at it today.

The shame in Eve’s face, the peace in Mary’s.

The fruit clutched to Eve’s chest, the protective hand on Mary’s womb.

The serpent wrapped and imprisoning Eve, the heel of Mary crushing his head.

The nakedness of Eve, the clothing of strength and beauty on Mary.

The gulf between the women, and the hands and womb closing it.

This is the gospel for all of us.

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leah
When the Lord saw that Leah was hated, he opened her womb, but Rachel was barren. And Leah conceived and bore a son, and she called his name Reuben, for she said, “Because the Lord has looked upon my affliction; for now my husband will love me.”  

The first child brought Leah vindication: God saw her pain and would perhaps legitimize her to her husband.

She conceived again and bore a son, and said, “Because the Lord has heard that I am hated, he has given me this son also.” And she called his name Simeon.

The second child brought Leah comfort: God heard her cry and acknowledged that she was hated.

Again she conceived and bore a son, and said, “Now this time my husband will be attached to me, because I have borne him three sons.” Therefore his name was called Levi.

The third child brought Leah a bargaining chip: God seemed to be vacant, so she fought for his attention.

And she conceived again and bore a son, and said, “This time I will praise the Lord.” Therefore she called his name Judah. (Genesis 29:31-35)

The fourth child was Leah’s praise: All the vindication, comfort, and bargaining in the world can’t bring the gospel to earth. She named him Judah, of the lineage of Jesus.

Rachel was loved, Leah was hated, but God brought the Lion of Judah through the loins of Leah. God doesn’t waste your suffering.

 

“I was born fighting the status quo,” I told a friend earlier today. My parents have stories of my infant rebellion and it never really stopped, just grew quietly into a mistrust of authority, a silent questioning of every demand, and a bristling fear of boundaries.

I can mask the stubbornness and strong-will in many ways, namely by giving lip-service to whatever will cause the least amount of damage in the end. I am no masochist, I crave peace and mutual consent, but I protect my own opinion even if no other shares it. I care little for going with the flow, but I do because I care more about not making waves.

This propensity has been my nemesis long and hard. Outwardly I am kind and sweet, but inwardly I am mistrustful and suspect. I am positive everyone means harm to me in the long run and my kindness aims to keep that harm as far away as possible. Kill them with kindness, the saying goes.

Today, all day, I have felt the pressing of submission. It comes in the form of people wanting my time and energy. It comes in the form of demands I cannot satisfy. It comes by email, by text, and by face to face. Everyone around me demanding I bend my will and desires to their will and desires. At one point I asked the question: “Why must I bend here? Why can’t they bend here? Why can’t they, for once, see their sin for what it is and serve the greater good here?”

And then I think of Ephesians 5 and true submission.

Before Paul gives instructions to husbands and wives about loving and submitting, he gives instructions to all persons everywhere, ending with this: “Submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.”

I have learned to submit, not out of reverence to Christ, but as a tool to secure my own safety. I want to keep the peace, not rock the boat, to be seen as docile and kind, for the good of others instead of myself. It is a twisted manipulation, but those are the best and most poison kind.

It is out of reverence for Christ, though, that Paul says we ought to submit.

When I think of revere, I don’t think of my friend Jesus, my brother, my Kinsman Redeemer, my wonderful counselor, or the prince of peace. I think of King Jesus, the one with a sword in his mouth and his face shining like the sun. The awe-inspiring, fear-inducing King Jesus, the one with whom you do not mess.

Submitting is not something we like or enjoy. A pastor friend of mine says, “Submission begins where agreement ends.” In other words, if we agree on this point, it is not mutual submission we are practicing, but common vision. But Paul wasn’t talking about common vision, he was saying, “In fear and awe of the King on His throne, submit to Him by submitting to others. Take the crown off of your head, the expectations out of your heart, and by doing so, you proclaim what you truly worship.” We preach the Kingship of Christ when we practice submission to one another.

Nothing in my day has gone according to plan and I confess, the frustration that was a mere simmer eight hours ago has steadily turned up higher and higher. I’m asking King Jesus to put a burning coal in my mouth, to rend me silent in my own defense, in my own will and preferences, to be sent and to go where He leads, pressed up against those “one anothers” with whom I will eternally worship our King.

kingship

I’ve been in Israel for the past ten days with hardly even a moment to jot down notes about my time there. In the meantime, all sorts of people were publishing words and phrases I put together anyway. The show runs fine without me. What a relief, right?

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If you’re a Christianity Today subscriber, you can read my short piece from the magazine online:

For most of us today, the endgame is simply to survive. Survive the family dynamics, the financial constraints, the season, and then sweep up the wads of wrapping paper, tear down the tree, and sit down with a glass of wine and declare Christmas “Finished!”

I was interviewed by the Council of Biblical Manhood and Womanhood on singleness in the church:

It isn’t that he’s given the gift of marriage to others, and I’m the giftless kid in the corner. Today my gift is singleness. There’s a rhetoric in Church culture that assumes every single is waiting to be married, which may be true in some respects, but it doesn’t help us to treasure these days as the gift they are. In order for us to know these days are a gift, though, we have to see singles being utilized as they are, not waiting for a future version of them to materialize through marriage.

The Gospel Coalition reprinted this on ways to encourage your pastors (and families):

Not only will you never hear me say anything bad about one of my pastors (a single honor), I labor to speak well of them and to them every chance I get (a double honor). I want them to know I appreciate their investment in me, our church, the Word, and gospel initiatives.

. . .

Hope something from one of them encourages you. After this week I plan to land at home for the foreseeable future (this fall has had me gone more than I’ve been home), and hopefully that means I’ll be writing with more regularity (or at least better quality…).