Archives For grace

This is a story for everyone, but it’s mostly a story about hope and faithfulness and a kitchen table.

I’m supposed to speak about singleness in a few weeks but I can’t help feeling like I’ve given up my card, as though I’ll be the one all the singles sit and roll their eyes at, “Easy for you to say, you’re married.” And it’s true, in some ways some thoughts I have about singleness will sound trite and less than tried and true, but here is a truth: I was single for 34 years and now I am married. That means I am a statistic in two ways: people are staying single longer now than ever, and most people do in fact some day get married. I am not the exception, I am the rule. And I pray for those of you who are part of the first statistic, you will someday be part of the second.

But now here’s my story.

A few years ago a girl came to live with me. I’d known her since she was 14 and knew the cards she’d been dealt set her up for some disappointment in life, and I knew I’d be helping to carry that baggage for a season. What I didn’t know is that I’d often feel like a single parent with her. In the midst of walking through that season, a friend of mine pitched an idea to me. He said, “I think it would be good for her to work on a project and I have a project I’d like to do with her.” It seemed he had a friend, a man recently divorced who helped lead the marriage reconciliation group at our church, who had opened his home up for men to live in throughout the past two years, and who invited more men into his home every week for dinner, conversation, and friendship. One problem: this friend did not have a kitchen table.

So my friend, and my little girl, they embarked on a project: Project Farm Table. It was to be a surprise for the friend and so it was. When they gave the table to the friend, he nearly wept and said it was the best gift he’d ever been given.

Six months later I sat at that table for the first time and listened to the recipient of the gift share some of his testimony. I didn’t know it then, but at the intersection of my friend, my little girl, this table, and that man, I would meet my husband.

This is a story about a table, but it’s actually the story of so much more.

For years I wondered what was wrong with me, why no one wanted to marry me, why God was holding out on me. What I didn’t realize was that my future husband was walking through the discipline of God and the failure of his marriage. For 13 years while I whined about my singleness to God, God was shaping my future husband in the crucible of marriage to someone else. God wasn’t holding out on me, he was working in both of us an eternal weight of glory.

For years I felt convinced that online dating or other mechanisms to meet a husband was not the best, not for me or for anyone. I felt firmly convicted that service to the local church and to God was the mechanism through which God would bring marriage if that was His plan for me. I wrestled, complained, struggled to do this well, but I trusted Him in it. I put my hand to the plow and served, trusting that if God had a husband for me in the local church, then I would know because he would be a man who was faithfully serving, leading, showing hospitality, walking in grace, humbly accepting the discipline of God and other men I knew and trusted. Nate was a man well known by my friends, my elders and pastors, and others. Trusting Nate, following his lead, loving him came swiftly and easily because he had faithfully given himself to the local church in every way. No stone was left unturned in his life—he was fully submitted. And at the proper time we came face to face with one another.

For years I was certain I would have to compromise in a thousand ways if I ever found myself faced with marriage (and did compromise over the years multiple times in multiple ways), but with Nate I found we were both running so hard and so fast toward the kingdom that we were only helped by the presence of one another. He helped loosen chains of fear binding me back and I spurred him on toward confident leadership. My fears that I’d marry someone who didn’t challenge me spiritually and intellectually were baseless. My fears that I’d marry someone who was lazy or indulgent were silenced. My fears that I’d have to marry someone who I wasn’t attracted to or didn’t enjoy were proven wrong. Nate is my better in every way. I don’t say that with an ounce of false humility, I truly mean it. I do not know a finer person, a more humble and gentle man, a harder worker, a more faithful friend, a kinder neighbor, a more generous accountant, or a better servant of God.

Nate was all of those things before meeting me—after submitting himself to the discipline of God in his failed marriage, in his desire to understand and grasp the full counsel of God instead of cherry picking pet theologies, and in his faithfulness to the call of God to minister with the grace he’d been given. He was inviting men into his home, ministering to broken marriages, addicts, serving them around his table, showing hospitality, parking cars at our church’s lot, leading arrogant and broken men in reconciliation to God and to their wives as much as it depended on them. He was doing all this when my friend and my little girl made him a farm table.

I’m sitting at that farm table now, in our kitchen, in our new house in Denver. And I’m marveling at God. God who never sleeps, nor slumbers, but keeps. He kept both of us while we were making foolish decisions and good ones. He kept both of us while we were holding tenaciously to beliefs we had and our confidence in them and in Christ. He kept both of us in the midst of difficulty, trial, faithfulness, and sadness. He kept.

I wanted to tell you this story for a few reasons:

One, if you are single, remember: God is not sleeping.
Two, if you are in a difficult marriage, remember: God is not sleeping.
Three, if you are serving your local church tirelessly, remember: God is not sleeping.
Four, whoever you are, in whatever circumstance you’re in, remember: God is not sleeping.

He’s keeping.

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“What are you most looking forward to about moving to Colorado,” I ask him. We are driving toward the city in a rental car, downtown Denver dwarfed by the snow-capped peaks behind it. “Making a home,” he says, and reaches for my hand.

I feel a bit of a sob catch in my throat and I’m trying to not be melodramatic, but the sob is real and the emotion is too.

I have numbered the dreams that have slipped from my palms over the years and a home was the one that died the slowest death, particularly the dream of a husband in a home. To paint the walls, to settle in, to build something as permanent as anything on earth can be: this is the work of a home.

He grew up all over the world, moving every two to four years, and my adulthood has brought 18 moves in 14 years—neither of us really know what it means to be home anywhere. We have learned to make people our home and Christ our haven, and this sustains us, brings us joy unspeakable. Who needs painted walls and front porches when you have relationships forged in time and depth?

Home, I am finding, beside this man who every day surprises me more with God’s providence, can be in the common grace and goodness of unity. As we move toward one another—and move toward Denver—I am moved by God’s faithfulness to His plan, not ours. If it was up to us I’d have been married in my early twenties and he wouldn’t have gone through a heartbreaking divorce. We wouldn’t have suffered the humbling consequences of our own sins through the years, leading us straight to one another in the proper time and proper way. We would have spared ourselves the meantimes and meanwhiles and built our own kingdoms of mud and sand.

But God.

Home is not a place or a house, it is not painted walls or deep roots or knowing your neighbors or longevity. Home is Christ and Christ is the giver of good and perfect gifts, even the ones that take the longest to arrive.

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Note to my readers: 

In the next six weeks we have to sell a house, buy a house, pack up two houses, get married, honeymoon, leave Texas well, move to Colorado, transition his job, and start my job at Park Church—I know that might sound like a cakewalk to some of you, but to me it sounds like a lot. Because of that, I’ll be putting Sayable on hiatus until just the thought of writing doesn’t give me hives. I love you, my sweet readers, thank you for rejoicing with us in our engagement. Nothing about the timeline of our lives right now makes a lot of sense, but we are so deeply loved by our community here, and so full of peace about one another and the next season, we cannot help but worship God for His gifts to us today. We are overwhelmed by His goodness. 

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At the risk of sounding like I’m not looking forward to transplanting to beautiful Denver at the beginning of June and starting a job I can’t wait to do, I have formulated a canned response to: “Are you so excited!?” I am so excited and I am also so, so sad.

The Lord does give and does take away, but he doesn’t always do it in that order. Sometimes he takes away and then he gives, and oh how he has given in the past season.

He has given so well and so plentifully that I cannot help but mourn what I will lose by stepping into other good things. As I navigated making this decision, walking through it with several pastors, elders, and friends from my church, it seemed the more Denver was looking like a probability, the more I longed for what I had already here. The morning I got on the plane to Colorado with one of my best friends for a scouting trip, I was certain I would leave my time there deciding to stay in Texas.

But when we got on the plane after our trip, it was clear to both of us: Denver would become my home sometime soon.

It felt like both a generous gift and a strange gift. The timing felt (and still feels) awkward and uncomfortable. The community of people I have around me currently is the richest I’ve experienced yet at my church; the home in which I live is not without its struggles, but I love it deeply; a man who captures more of my affections every day in every way snuck quietly and surprisingly into my life; nothing about this timing makes it feel good to exit this place.

And yet there is more surety in me about what the Holy Spirit is doing and where he is taking me than I can remember.

. . .

This is just a testimony of sorts, it’s not a formula. I’m not saying, “Let go and let God,” or “Stop trying to control life and everything you ever desired will happen for you.” Those are unhelpful statements at best and terrible theology at worst. What I am saying, though, is I came into 2015 with my palms up and a blank slate. I thought I made a wreck of some things in the previous year, but God knew those things weren’t wreckage, they were seeds, and their time hadn’t yet come.

James 5:7-8 says, “See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient about it, until it receives the early and the late rains. You also, be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand.”

I thought I was wasting away last year. Dormant. Standing there, waiting, and for what? I didn’t even know what I was waiting for. But just as I prepare my heart in this day, surrounded by rich bounty, God has been preparing my heart for the past two years, in a fallow field I thought was wasting away. The ground produces best when it is allowed to rest, to sit unused, empty, tilled, waiting for the right time.

Is now the right time? I don’t know. I can’t possibly know, and I have learned that all the certainty in the world doesn’t mean we always get what we want. But I have also learned to trust that barrenness doesn’t mean uselessness.

A friend who knows my story of loving church and leaving it and then loving it more than I thought I could posed this question to me today on Facebook. I thought it was a good question and something many of you might be experiencing or know others who are. If you’re interested, I’ve copied an edited version of the question and answer below. If you’d like to join the discussion, here’s the link to the thread on Facebook.

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I’ve recently encountered a few believers who don’t participate in Sunday (weekly) worship services with a local church because they’re afraid that such participation can easily lead to legalism. Meaning, they recognize that some who go to a service on Sunday feel better about themselves, feel like they have better standing in the presence of God because of it, and maybe even think that such participation will ultimately play a part in their own salvation.

How could I help this group toward participation in Sunday services? Something that I believe would be equipping for them and allow them to more directly be involved in body life and Kingdom. I certainly don’t want to encourage them toward legalism, but I want to stir them to good works and practical ways for them to better serve other believers and the lost around us.

I’m asking you because I think you’ve wrestled with these ideas more than many (e.g. tithing and church membership), and I know that you’ve come to recognize that you’re able to walk in good works without incorrectly basing your justification/adoption upon them.


Jamie, I think like every discipline there is a matter of obedience and a matter of cheerfulness. And the question of which comes first is a chicken/egg question. Does cheerfulness in the discipline lead to obedience? Or does obedience in the discipline lead to cheerfulness? I think we can argue that almost always in the first, yes. And in the second, sometimes. We love to do what we love after all. But we do not always love what we have to do.

In the matter of any discipline there is the matter of obedience: the bible says to not neglect the gathering of the saints (Heb. 10:25); it commands obedience to church authorities (Heb. 13:17)—who are these authorities if we’re not gathering with the saints in a local and organized fashion? It only takes a cursory glance through Acts and the epistles to see that the description of a healthy believer is one who is gathered regularly with believers in a local and somewhat organized context. But it is also clear that the prescription for a healthy believer is one who is doing the same. That’s not legalism, that’s the pursuit of joy in submission to what scripture calls best.

Now, you know as well as I do, that one of the reasons you’re asking me this question is because there have been times when I’ve refrained from gathering (or tithing, or regular spiritual disciplines) and have no regrets about doing so. And it’s true. I have no regrets. But I would never build a theological case for it. An experienced testimony is not the same as a theological trajectory. The gospel that saves us is the gospel that sustains us, but the way we come to the knowledge of the gospel doesn’t necessarily need to be the lens through which we see the every increasing joy of the gospel.

I would say to the person who feels they are sinning in the experiencing of these things (either by feeling convicted about legalism, judgement of others, or anxiety, etc.), that their experience is real, but that a real experience or feeling doesn’t mean that our God is not good and sovereign—and that the cure for their experience is grace. First grace to themselves, grace to others who find joy in what they fear, grace in the process, but ultimately understanding the grace of God sets us free from all fear—including fear of legalism. We must understand that fear of legalism is just as much a sin as legalism—and the cure is the same: grace. In the pleasant boundary of grace (when we’re not hammering our heads or the heads of others about a particular discipline), there is freedom to exercise obedience that IS cheerful. In this case, we don’t want to be the ones hammering the head of a weaker brother or sister, but instead displaying our delight in a beautiful thing. Delight can beget obedience.

Behavior modification doesn’t lead to cheerfulness, it only leads to moralism—which has become somewhat of a curse word in some circles, and which we ought to recover. Morals are not wrong ever. Moralism rooted in fear of man or God is wrong. But morals are good virtues given from God who only gives good gifts. The only thing that leads to TRUE cheerful obedience is wonder and awe at the God who delivered us from legalism, behavior modification, and fear of man moralism. And sometimes the only way we get there is to stand still and behold the wonder apart from the things that lead us to fear (and others to joy). Abstention from the local church (tithing, fasting, etc.) for a season might be that place, but a person who is being honest with themselves and God will see quickly that they can’t stay there long.

I’m staying in the mountains of San Diego this week at over 4000 feet elevation. This morning I woke up and my skin felt so dry. I drink a lot of water usually and have been drinking my usual Dallas amount, but in this elevation I probably need to drink more. My skin was thirsting for it. I opened a bottle of water and drank the entire thing in one minute. And the strange thing is I was more thirsty after that bottle of water than before. My thirst had been whetted and I couldn’t get enough.

This is how the glory and grace of God works in every situation. It works that way in the smallest disciplines and in the smallest moments, and in the greatest. If we haven’t tasted true grace though, we don’t know what we’re missing by neglecting it. Covenant with local church is not so much a spiritual discipline, ultimately, but it is a good, good grace to a needy believer who knows their neediness and can’t wait to get more of one of God’s expressed graces to His children: the local church.

That’s just the starting point of the purpose of the local church, of course, and doesn’t cover all the purposes (and theological richness of the Church in the scope of the gospel), but hopefully it scratches the surfaces of my thoughts on this matter. Praying for your friend!

A few nights ago, after spending Christmas Eve in the Emergency Room and then a series of unfortunate events following, I found myself in the pharmacy at midnight. I turned to the man sitting next to me on grimy chairs, both of us bleary-eyed and said, “Merry Christmas.” He grunted in response and I wanted to cry.

I’ve been hesitant to ask many people how their Christmas was, not because I didn’t want to know, but because I didn’t want them to ask back. Mine was memorable, but not in the ways we like Christmas to be memorable.

. . .

There’s a woman whose story I’ve been following a bit over the past few months. Her husband sent me an email months ago asking if I wanted to review her book. Requests like these are many, but his email was different, and I paid attention. Since then I’ve followed her writing and journey with sorrow and joy. Her name is Kara Tippetts and she has cancer. It has ravaged her body so completely there is nothing left to do but call hospice, which her husband did today.

I read her recent post with tears streaming down my face because what a light and momentary affliction my Christmas week was. Even with another roommate in the Emergency Room this morning and with the weight of life falling heavy on another and the business of living on another—what light affliction. What a momentary suffering. This mama is curled next to her babies and they are watching her slip into the longest sleep. This mama has to hand their futures and living over to her pastor-husband and to the Lord in a way most mothers never will, and couldn’t imagine. And yet how gloriously she suffers.

She suffers knowing it is light—even though it is the heaviest thing she will ever bear. She suffers knowing it is momentary—even though she longs to stay here as long as possible, to simply give them one more memory of her smile and her love. She suffers knowing there is a weight of glory beyond all comparison.

I cannot wrap my mind around that—and I am not meant to, not fully. I don’t think any of us can, not really. Not until we are facing sure and certain death on earth, until its cold grip is nearly complete and our soul slips into the warm presence of Christ. But I want to understand it. I’m begging God to help me understand it tonight.

The only way I know to understand, though, is not to set my eyes on my suffering, but to, like Paul said, not look at the things that are seen, but the things that are unseen. I cannot see redemption in this life, no matter how hard I wish for it or look for it. Even my dreams pale in comparison to the glory I know he has prepared for me, so why would I set my hopes on them?

The transient things are seen—and this life, oh this turbulent, tumultuous, tenuous life is so visible, so seen. I see it in every direction of my life and the lives of the people I love. But there is a stayedness in the living dying of Kara Tippets and I am jealous for it. I do not envy her cancer, but I envy the way she has let the cancer eat away at bitterness or fear instead of feeding it.

I let the cancer of fear and insecurity and doubt feed more fears and insecurities and doubt. I stare at my light afflictions, daring them to prove themselves lighter. I trudge through my momentary afflictions, making it a slower and more weighty journey. How much better to set my eyes on the one to whom I run, to run with endurance, and to find myself arrived still astounded at the glory I behold? To spend my life imagining the glory and still find myself surprised at its splendor?

Let that hope of glory be the mark of our suffering, friends.

Pray for the Tippetts family. God, pray for them.

For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.
II Corinthians 4:17-18

(Kara’s blog is currently down, but when it’s back up, here’s the link.)

Kara Tippetts

I take a Puritanical view of holiness. Wrestling, fighting, warring, every method and every hope that what I long for will materialize if I am disciplined enough, good enough, kind enough. Isn’t there a little something of Jacob wrestling with God in all our stories?

This morning I am listening to Bon Iver’s cover of I Can’t Make You Love Me and I realize all this effort to prove my love for God is really just an effort to prove his love for me—and I can’t make him love me.

I can’t make him love me if he already doesn’t.

And I can’t make him love me if he already does.

For some that might seem a cruel joke, but it felt a brief comfort to me today. Maybe you are someone who is surrounded by those who love you and it is a continual proof and evidence of His love, but maybe you are like me, and fear every glimpse of favor is fleeting because it always has been.

I understand a bit of Jacob wrestling today: “I won’t let go,” he said. Never mind the blessing part, but first “I won’t let go.” There was something in Jacob that feared if he let go, God would too.

The truth is I cannot make Him love me and I cannot prove my love for him, no matter how puritanical, orthodox, measured, or full my expression is toward Him. He is love and therefore owns love, even my love.

Like the amputee who still feels pain in his phantom limb, I feel the trepidation of misdirection and mis-decision. I made so many poor decisions in the past year and a half that the choice-making part of my brain feels incapable of going straight in any direction.

On January 1st I will sit with my journal and Bible and ask myself the list of questions I ask every January 1st. I will take stock and inventory of 2014 and look toward 2015 with a hope-filled eye. (God, make it so.)

A friend sat across from me the other day and asked why I can’t just get excited about this new season. Life is about to grow crammed with a new job and classes, plus the things already cramming it full and brimming it over. Yet I feel the phantom pains of the missing limbs: the marriage that didn’t happen, the move that didn’t happen, the date that didn’t happen, the conversation that didn’t happen. I have no regrets and I know the gangrene growing on those limbs would have eaten the whole of my body alive. But I feel the loss of them still.

To say those words, right out loud, feels shameful and sinful.

The things for which I am grateful are overwhelming, but they all came at great cost this year. This is perhaps the first time I can look systematically at good and see how it was brought about by death first.

. . .

This morning I read in Isaiah 11, “There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse.” Tears fill my eyes and I can’t keep reading because I see the stump legs and stump arms protruding from my person. All I see is cut off limbs, life interrupted, and it wasn’t supposed to be like this.

From that stump, though, comes a shoot. And from that shoot comes fruit.

All week I have been meditating on what it means to be cut from and pruned. I have done the work of pruning before, cutting branches that do not bear fruit so they will bear more and better fruit. I know the difficult work of taking what is live and making it live better. But I cannot bring life from a stump, I cannot make a dead and severed thing live again. This is the work of the Spirit alone.

On that fruit the Spirit of the Lord will rest,

The fruit that is borne in me through Him will be wholly His, not mine.

the Spirit of wisdom and understanding,

He has ultimate wisdom for every path in my life, and full understanding of the details.

the Spirit of counsel and might,

He is the one with words of comfort and strength. His advice directs me, and his power carries me.

the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.

He knows all and is King over all.

He shall not judge by what his eyes see

He will not fret on January 1st at the year to come.

or decide disputes by what his ears hear.

He does not hold the past year against me. He keeps no record of my wrongs.

. . .

I once had a dream in which I arrived at Heaven with no arms and legs. When Christ asked me, “Child, what made you like this?” I answered, “You said, ‘If our hand offends you, cut it off.’ Every time I looked at my arms and legs, all I could think of was the harm they’ve done to myself and others, so I either cut them off or served with them until they fell off.” I do not know what Christ looks like, but I will never forget the care I saw in his eyes in that dream. It was perhaps the first time I felt the love of a Father. He touched the stumps of my arms and legs and gave to me new ones, but they were not mine and this was clear to me. They were wholly un-of me and wholly of Him.

This is the shoot that comes forth from death. Christ.

God, make it so.

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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.

I told someone recently it is my nature to trust easily, but, like Mr. Darcy, “My good opinion, once lost, is lost forever.” That is not the posture of a disciple of Christ, this I know, and I work hard on this aspect of my nature. Forgiveness is not the problem, trust is.

The bible doesn’t command us (ever) to trust people. We’re called to trust the Lord, and to honor others, to, as much as it’s possible, be at peace with all men. But trust them? Trust is nothing less than a miracle, astounding wherever it rises.

In the discussion on marriage, homosexuality, and the gospel happening at the ERLC Conference, it occurs to me how the rhetoric the two sides of these subjects use are so often similar: take off your masks, live transparently, be who you are. In some ways we are fighting for the same thing, but instead of using the words to administer healing, we have flung mud-clods at one another.

I think about the blind man, blind through no sin of his own, but for the sake of God’s glory. Jesus knelt, spit on the ground, and placed mud on his eyes. Who of us trusts mud will do anything other than soil us further? Especially a blind man, who lived on the same dirt that would heal him?

We are all a little bit like Mr. Darcy, aren’t we? Hoping all things, but losing our good opinion once we’ve been on the receiving end of a particularly wicked clod of dirt. How do you have a conversation, though, with someone you cannot trust?

We are mud-dwellers, like the blind man. All of us. Doing our best with our portion, our history, our nature, our blindness, our prejudices, our limited scope of the dirt in which we live. It can be tempting for all of us to place the blame of our circumstances on so many things—but, Christ, sweet Christ, the second Adam—made of dust—takes the blame off of all that, points to His Father and says, “For Him. For His sake.”

And then he kneels, mixes spit from his mouth with dust from the earth, and does the unlikely thing: presses it to the blind man’s eyes. He makes what is dark, even darker. Makes what is dirty, even more dirty. Covers what is closed, even more closed. Good hope, once lost, now seemingly lost forever.


And then.


It can be tempting when we speak about polarizing subjects to use mud as a weapon instead of a healing agent. To use rhetoric and lost trust to increase the divide instead of close it. But Christ is a reconciling agent and nothing is beyond his ability to change and heal.

Let us be healing handlers of mud.



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.

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I read a short story once about a man who died with a pile of sawdust in the corner of his bedroom. They said if he had seen the sawdust he wouldn’t have ended his life. The mystery was why.

In the end it was revealed his livelihood required the use of his wooden leg and his short stature. Someone had been sawing away at his wooden leg while he slept. Every morning when he woke, he seemed an inch taller. He feared being worthless and so ended his life.

. . . .

There are things gnawing away at our souls that lie to us or debilitate us. We don’t know to go hunting for the pile of sawdust, for the places our lives have been swept up, sitting in a corner, so all the while hope is shriveling up inside of us.

Misinformation about us is so deep inside that sometimes we can only identify the gnawing pain, but not the source of it.

Tim Keller tweeted, “For some people, the reason why they can never change is because all they do is scold their heart.” Oh, how my soul knows that well. Someone called me a spiritual masochist recently, and another friend challenged me that maybe my issues aren’t from sin as much as suffering.

Those words play over and over in my heart and mind these days. I champion in scolding my heart, sometimes all I do is scold, from waking until sleeping.

A friend told me the other day that in the Old Testament God’s children are usually called sinners, but after Christ, they’re called saints. Yet who among us feels that saintliness?

I don’t. Do you?

There are piles of sawdust everywhere in my life, lies the enemy tells and sometimes truths he exaggerates. But the real truth is that I am Christ’s, and what is Christ’s can never be snatched out His hand, and if I am held and His, I am a saint. Not because I feel like one, but because He has said I am one.


The popular euphemism for “can’t we all just be friends” is to give folks “a seat at the table.” I’ve used it. It’s helpful. It reminds me that people are people and everyone around the table is coming with different presuppositions, stories, layers, and theologies. It evens the playing field.

More and more, though, what is communicated is that everyone gets a seat at the table and the table is a pulpit for everyone to preach their message. It’s the church of all peoples and thoughts and ideas—and it’s a veritable mess.

Paul warned the Corinthians that hanging with those intentionally sinning was corrupting the purity of the gospel. Here’s what’s interesting though: he used the words of one of their own to deliver the warning. The Greek poet Menander first used the words, “Bad company corrupts good morals.” Paul contextualized the line for gospel purposes.

What often happens with all these seats at the table is we end up attempting to fit the gospel to sinners, instead of fitting sinners to the gospel.

Bad company does corrupt good morals, and one of those morals is that the gospel cannot be so contextualized that everyone at the table agrees.

If that is difficult for us to swallow in an age where everyone wants meritorious rightness, we’re in good company, the disciples once grumbled to themselves, “This is a difficult thing, who can believe it?”

And Jesus, sweet Jesus, gives that wide berth and narrow path: It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.

Sit with sinners, eat with everybody, welcome all to the table—but remember Jesus is the only one who offers words of spirit and life.

My family had just moved from an affluent Bucks County five acre lot in Pennsylvania to 120 acres in the middle of seeming nowhere New York state. I was 18 and my two youngest brothers were attached to my hip. They snuck into my bed at night, or just slept on a mattress beside my bed. I read them stories all day long and every night, and they are in every one of my life’s favorite memories.

The Little Boys, we called them, one tow-headed and green-eyed, and the other just like me, brown haired and startling blue eyes. They were my right and left hands, my favorite people, and my joy.

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When death snuck in one rainy April morning and then a fractured family followed shortly after, I clung to those boys—if not in body, in soul. They who were a part of my every favorite memory, were also the ones caught in the crosshairs of a court system who rarely has the child’s best interest in mind—even if they say they do.

Through all of that, one memory stands above them all. It was right after the move to New York state, the walls not yet painted and the boxes not yet unpacked. My best friend and I took those two Little Boys to the top of a hill across the street. We had no way of knowing that a year later we would bury my 14 year old brother on that same hill. The sun was setting and the sky streaked blue and orange and black.

We sat in the tall grass and those boys ran circles around us while we sat on the grass and talked about Best Friends things. When that tow-headed three year old stopped and fell into best friend’s lap, the one who looked like me stood tall, raised his hands to the sky, and with the bold confidence of a five-year old, said, “When I grow up, I’m going to be a pastor so I can worship God all the time.”

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That five year old is a grown man now, has tumbled back and forth through the angst of a broken family along with his two younger brothers for the entirety of his life. There were many times in the past 15 years where I have held onto those hilltop words, praying them to even be a fraction prophetic—if only that their salvation would be secure, that their faith in God would not break.

In December I spent some time with that young man, who is now the age I was on that hilltop. He studies graphic design at a local university and keeps a blog; he works hard at everything he does and yet knows his salvation is not worked for or earned; he is so very far ahead of where I was at his age.

And every time I think of him, I think of that hilltop and those words and all the brokenness that followed, and how God does not let one thing out of His sight, not one thing.


Friends, I’m weeping as I write this, not only because I love that boy and his gentle heart and big fierce love for his family and God. But also because for a lot of years I asked for fruit that I didn’t see. All I saw was the brokenness, the courtrooms, the wooden casket lowered into the ground, the arguments, the shuffling back and forth of their young bodies and souls. It is still ongoing, even now, with the two youngest of my family. But God saves. He saves.

He plants seeds and covers over and for a long time there is just deep, earthy darkness, but then one day, a decade and a half later, there is a strong branch grown bearing good fruit.

Because God saves.

What feels dark and covered over to you today? Where are you waiting for something broken to come untrue? He is with you in those moments, and He is working in you a better prize, a more lasting one. Just you wait.

Since the beginning of December I have been thinking about what it means to “hear” God’s voice. I cut my faith teeth in Charismatic circles, so hearing from God for ten years was commonplace in my life. I have pages full of things people heard from God about on my behalf and I am in Texas today because of a small feeling I had one June morning on my back stoop. He said, “Move to Texas,” and I said, “Hell, no.” But then I did.

I don’t handle His voice lightly, but I think I have handled the hearing of His voice lightly.

Because we are His children and He is our father and we know this with our heads—even if we struggle with it in our hearts—we want to believe that He speaks and He speaks to us. This is why we have books like Jesus Calling given back and forth at every holiday gathering and as last minute birthday gifts. Who doesn’t want to hear Jesus Calling?

But what happens when what you were sure that you were sure that you were sure that God said, turns out to be, well, not?

What then?

I don’t have an answer to this question. The only answer I have is to go back to His infallible, inerrant word, and trust His character to be true. Jared Wilson posted a blog today that might be the most important thing we’ll read online this week, or month.

Something happens when you stop submitting to the communal listening of congregational worship and start filling the air with your own free range spiritual rhetoric. Your talk of God starts to sound less like God. He starts sounding like an idea, a theory, a concept. He stops sounding like the God of the Bible, the God who commands and demands, the God who is love but also holy, gracious but also just, et cetera. He begins to sound less like the God “who is who he is” and more like the God who is as you like him.

Read that twice if you need to. I needed to read it three times.

Now think, just for a few moments, about the times in our lives where what God says sounds an awful lot like what we’d like Him to say, or God help us, an awful lot just like us.

The truth is I don’t need that god in my life because I already am that god.

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

I’ve had some good, good people pressing back on me in recent months, asking the same question the enemy asked in Eden and again in the wilderness to Jesus: Did God really say?

Strange how the enemy can ask a question and a friend can ask the same question and we still get their intentions flip-flopped.

I want to ask you the same question today: Did God really say?

If you don’t have an answer to that question, that’s good because it means you can go back to His word and instead of listening for His voice, you can read exactly what He does say (about you, about others, about His character). If you’re hung up on something you think He might have said or you wish He would say, there’s great comfort to be found in knowing for sure He did say.

If you don’t know where to start, start here, in Isaiah 45. It is packed, full and brimming over with what God says.

I am the Lord, and there is no other.
I did not speak in secret,
in a land of darkness;
I did not say to the offspring of Jacob,
‘Seek me in vain.
I the Lord speak the truth;
I declare what is right.
Isaiah 45:18-19

Know that I am praying for you today as you and I both relinquish what we think He’s said, and submit ourselves to the truth of His character and word.