Archives For grace

Sawdust and Scolding

April 22, 2014

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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.

pulpit

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.

God Saves Little Boys

February 21, 2014 — 5 Comments

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.

boys

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.

Hearing and Being God

February 13, 2014 — 3 Comments

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.

Talk it In/Out

February 10, 2014 — 1 Comment

I process internally. I’m rarely ready to discuss anything or contribute anything to a conversation until I’ve chewed on and distilled every possible scenario in my head. Because I’m bent this way, I always think it is more helpful to process things internally. You know who doesn’t agree?

All of my friends.

Yup. For some reason I seem to attract verbal processors like hipsters to coffee bars. Nearly every one of my close friends is someone who wants to hash and rehash every thought process. They want the counsel of many, and talking through things helps them distill the good counsel from the bad.

The downside? They want to do that with me.

I don’t seem to mind it when they want to hash around their own problems in that way, but when they want to process my situations in that way, nine times out of ten, I end up feeling bullied or not heard. I feel like a project to be fixed instead of someone to just be heard. But all they’re doing is loving me the way they love to be loved.

However, when they want to talk over things with me, and all I do is listen, they can feel like I don’t care about their problems. I do. I really do. I’m just not ready to give my thoughts until I’ve thought through them.

The other side of the coin is I’ll have thought through a situation for a long, long time, and come to someone with every possible angle considered. I’m rarely looking for their advice, I just feel like I need to say, “Here’s what I’ve been thinking about.” But because I’m coming with a neat bullet-point list, the problem figured out, the best option to take, fully processed, my friends can feel like I’m the one bullying them.

It’s a no win, right?

Well, without Christ it’s a no win.

James says, “Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger.” Because I am naturally bent toward that, I can take this verse and vilify everyone I know who just wants to “talk it out.”

But the book of Proverbs says, “Without counsel plans fail, but with many advisers they succeed.” So which is it? Shut up or get talking?

I don’t think it’s either or, honestly. But I do think we need to keep three things in mind in every relationship:

1. The necessity of keeping the Holy Spirit and Fruit of the Spirit central in every conversation we have. When we’re motivated by the things of the Spirit, we’re going to be motivated not to be heard or responded to, but to be like Christ in our listening and in our counsel. Good advice is meaningless if it’s not empowered by the Spirit. Likewise, good listening is active listening, not just thought-filing.

2. If you’re an external processor, be mindful of trying to do so with internal processors. It can feel bullying, even if you mean it in earnest helpfulness.

3. If you’re an internal processor, be mindful of bringing your fully processed ideas to external processors. It can feel condescending, even meant kindly.

Sometimes the best thing, even for verbal processors, is to be slow to speak. And sometimes, even for internal processors, it is to seek the counsel of many. Above all, the counsel we need most is Christ’s, and the voice we should be listening to the most is His.

The nearer we draw to the culmination of all things, the coming of Jesus Christ to reclaim what has been His all along, the more it seems people despise clarity.

If we think the Bible is clear on one matter there are ten thousand others who think our clarity is prideful at best and historically inaccurate at worst. See, they point to generations before who walked in unenlightened truth, they thought the Bible was clear too—and see how wrong they were?

I have been reading Colossians over and over again in the past week. Colossians has always seemed the simplest book to me, clear, concise, easy. It’s a book that I point new believers to, and it’s a book that is deeply comforting to me in moments when my own faith seems complicated.

Today I read the section under the title, Paul’s Ministry to the Church. Would you read this? Read it slowly, read it as best as you can in Paul’s pastoral voice to the Church in Colossea, but also to the Church here today (boldface mine).

“Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church, of which I became a minister according to the stewardship from God that was given to me for you, to make the word of God fully known, the mystery hidden for ages and generations but now revealed to his saints.

To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.

Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ.

For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me.”

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

A few years ago I walked out of my local church with a new and powerful sense of trust in what God had worked in my life through the way I was parented. I don’t talk often about my family here on Sayable, but bear with me here. No family is the ideal, mine included. If you were to ask my parents, they would (and have) confessed a litany of regrets—and trust me, each of their offspring bears the scars of their unfortunate choices. But.

But.

But God.

Hebrews 12:10 says our fathers “disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them.” That short phrase set something free in my life, something I wasn’t aware even existed inside of me. A nagging unbelief that God would use the sinfulness of my parents to do a deep work in my life—and the subsequent unbelief that all my mistakes would be used in the future of another.

God takes what seems foolishness and works in us a great maturity.

Our job is to simply proclaim what seems true—with great humility—in the great hope that what IS true will be seen one day face to face, in full glory, in absolute clarity.

Did churches and men and women proclaim partial doctrine through the years? Did teachers through the ages get it wrong sometimes? Did they have opinions on slavery, gender issues, baptism, and the creation of earth that were wrong? Did they say something was clear that later seemed less clear, or perhaps more clear? Yes. But did they do the great honor of standing before the Lord in clear conscience and proclaim what they thought wisest? Maybe they did. Maybe they didn’t. But it is done and it has worked for us and in us a greater maturity.

Here is one thing the Bible is clear on: Christ is coming back to claim His own, He is coming back to see us face to face, with no dim glass between us, and I can trust His clarity in that.

And if He is certain in this one thing, He is certain in others, and so I will continue to proclaim and teach, with great humility, great hope, and great wisdom, what I trust He has said clearly.

My word for 2013 was rest and it wasn’t until yesterday that I saw the humor in it. I came into 2013 sleep deprived and exhausted. By the time I finished the year long theological training program in May (in which I needed to rise by 4:30am to make it to class on time), I wanted to swear off middle of the nights for the rest of time.

This year sleep has been my elusive friend and favorite companion. In other years I’d have said I was depressed, but this year was different. I honestly was tired. I was soul tired, heart tired, mind tired. I wanted emotional rest, yes, but really, I just wanted to rest.

There were so many times this year when I resented the sleep I craved. “What is wrong with me,” I’d ask myself. I’ve never been a snooze-button pusher and I would press it three, four, five times every morning. I’d keep myself up later than I needed, simply because the thought of more than seven hours of sleep sounded lazy, unnecessary, and entitled.

I know there are some of you who may roll your eyes at the luxury of being able to press the snooze button at all; your alarm clocks cry themselves awake intermittently through the night and early into the morning. It’s okay, there are other things you get that I don’t that are much nicer, so we’re even-steven.

As I reviewed my year, asking myself a dozen questions I ask every January 1st, I realized I’ve been given exactly what I asked for, rest, but I hadn’t seen it for what it was. God gives his beloved rest and sometimes that’s just plain shut eye. Sometimes what we seek is a haven, a quietness, a trust, and strength, thinking that will bring us rest, and rightfully so:

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

But sometimes we just need to trust the times and sunlight and darkness, and just go to sleep.

I’m grateful I slept through 2013. It wasn’t the rest I thought I wanted, or craved, but at the end of the year it was the rest I needed. I can trust that because God never sleeps, never slumbers, always keeps watch over His children.

He will not let your foot be moved;
he who keeps you will not slumber.
Behold, he who keeps Israel
will neither slumber nor sleep.

The Lord is your keeper;
the Lord is your shade on your right hand.
The sun shall not strike you by day,
nor the moon by night.
Psalm 121

My word for 2014 is work. Let’s see how this one turns out ;)

Righteousness and Peace

December 12, 2013 — Leave a comment

I was reading Psalm 85 this morning and it spoke of how righteousness and peace kiss each other and I thought, “How beautiful.”

Under the reign of God, justice and peace join together, are for one another, perfectly complementing one another. There is no hierarchy of one over the other. They simply are, and then they meet, and they join in intimacy.

God, help there be more evidence of that in my life.

Sweetest Frame

November 14, 2013 — 1 Comment

There are sweet idols in my life. Tempered steel overlaid with silver. Carved wood overlaid with gold (Isaiah 30:22). These are the things that bid for my time, my affections, my joy, and even my mourning. They care not what kind of attention I give to them, only that my whole attention is given.

This past week we finished 11 weeks of studying 1, 2, & 3 John. We gathered one last evening in the sanctuary and a friend led us singing through The Solid Rock. My favorite line from the hymn comes in the first verse: I dare not trust the sweetest frame, but wholly lean on Jesus name.

It is my favorite line, but most times I cannot bring myself to sing it. It simply isn’t true, and most of the time I doubt even my desire for it to be true.

The sweet frames in my life seem not so sordid as they really are when held against the surpassing beauty of Christ alone—and yet, oh how they make such palatable feasts.

Once someone told me my faith seemed like a crutch, a way to deal with a broken family, untimely death of my brother, and a move away from all familiar things. I carried those words with me for a decade, asking myself if this faith was less paramount and more crutch, something to buffer me while all around me the world gave sway.

It wasn’t until the past few years I began to see, though, that if my faith was a crutch (and I believe it is), it was because without it I could not walk or stand at all. The sweet idols walk beside me but crumble when the slightest weight is laid on them—these cannot carry me through to the beloved face of Christ. Only He can do that and He promises He does—and will.

I can trust the sweetest frame, but that frame will falter without fail. But to wholly trust in Jesus name? It may be a crutch for a limping me, but it leads to the ultimate Healer and I limp gladly, trusting in the Sweetest Name.

A Body of Grace

November 13, 2013 — 3 Comments

Tara-Leigh Cobble is one of God’s great blessings to me in this season. A few weeks ago we were in the car on the way home from dinner with friends and she was talking me through some thoughts she’d had following a month long fast. I practically begged her to write them up for me to post on Sayable, so I’m happy to share her words with you all today. 

“Do not be anxious about your life, 
what you will eat or what you will drink, 
nor about your body, what you will put on. 
Is not life more than food, 
and the body more than clothing?”
Jesus, in Matthew 6:25

I’ve exhausted myself for years, watching successes stack up against failures. I’ve felt the blows of vanity and insecurity, pride and despair, all stemming from the same root: my body.

A righteous relationship with food always seemed just beyond my reach. And while the bulk of my food choices are healthy ones, I’m bent toward gluttony, specifically toward mindless eating in social situations. I’ve always been jealous of the people who can get away with those little indiscretions, enjoying a handful of dark chocolate almonds at a Christmas party without wondering if their pants will fit on Monday. For me, there is no margin for error. Slight deviations from a strict diet have never paired well with my DNA.

For most of my life, I’ve been content to let vanity control my approach to gluttony (as though vanity were a lesser sin), instead of killing them both with equal vigilance. I exercised my way through those occasional party cheats. But as my pastor often says, pitting sin against sin is no path to freedom. So I prayed for obedience and discipline. I established the habit of yielding each food decision to God before I sat down to eat. “God, what’s on the menu for this meal?” I asked. If He is my Lord and Master, if He owns the body He purchased on the cross, then He gets to call the shots, right? So I prayed and obeyed.

Vigilant obedience is a good thing, unless it is a means to an end instead of a means to God’s glory. When I realized my “obedience” wasn’t yielding the effect I’d hoped, I despaired. Surely my Lord and Master wanted me to be thin? Why weren’t the pounds falling off in response to my yielding to Him? 

I began to monitor myself with greater detail. This time, the sin in the ring with my gluttony had a pretty name that is listed as the fruit of the Spirit: self-control. But this wasn’t Spirit-prompted self-control; it was sinful control, fearful control. Since God and His menu weren’t helping me, I needed to take back the reins. Calorie counting and attention to food origin are good things, but they have a way of taking up more brain space than the Gospel. They gradually consumed my thoughts. That doesn’t sound like freedom to me – that sounds like bondage.

I’d pitted gluttony against everything I thought could take it down – vanity, vigilant obedience, sinful self-control—and I lost every time. Where was the freedom and victory His Word speaks of?

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

Not long ago, while I was on tour in Europe, I sat alone at a restaurant overlooking the Mediterranean Sea. I had already gained three pounds during the month I’d been on tour. As I browsed the menu, I asked Him my question. “God, what’s on the menu for this meal?” But this time, instead of the “egg white omelette with spinach and tomato” that I expected, I sensed a prompting in my spirit, a redirection. It felt like He asked me a question in reply: “What does a woman who is deeply loved by God eat for breakfast?”

“A woman who is deeply loved by God” doesn’t gorge herself, trying to fill a void, because she finds satisfaction in the great love of God. “A woman who is deeply loved by God” doesn’t starve herself, trying to win love and approval, because she rests in the great delight of her Father. That kind of woman doesn’t measure herself against what she isn’t, what she once was, or what she wants to be in the future, because she knows she is fully loved in the present.

I paused, thinking through the question. Then I chose my meal. It was still the egg white omelette, but somehow my heart felt different – not fearful or punished, not like I was pulling myself up by my bootstraps or muscling through the act of obedience, hoping for a reward. Instead, my heart felt like it was being courted by a generous, loving, attentive King.

This has become the question I ask myself at every meal. As a result, I have different thoughts when I look in the mirror at the body my food choices had sustained, the choices made in response to God’s great love: “This is what the body of ‘a woman who is deeply loved by God’ looks like.” Even though that body looks mostly the same.

Maybe my DNA isn’t inferior after all. Maybe it’s God’s grace toward me – His way of making sure I can’t get away with favoring certain sins over others. Maybe my body and this struggle are two of the tools He is using to point me back to His great love and His total sufficiency. God’s love freed me up to eat to the glory of God. I was no longer wrapped up in weight gain or loss, no longer trying to sin my way out of a sin pattern. God loved me in my sin, and God loved me out of my sin.

“So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.”
1 Corinthians 10:31

Tara-Leigh is a touring musician, speaker, and writer, and I want to also take this opportunity to point you to her newest project (and the one I’m most excited about for her), Kiss the Wave. Tara-Leigh says it’s “a book about celebration. I want to tell you personal stories that I pray will bring joy, hope, and a richer intimacy to your own relationship with the God who loves you deeply, the God who is “a rewarder of those who seek Him” (Hebrews 11:6).

I hope you’ll consider checking out her Kickstarter Project and giving toward it! 

Greatly Shaken

November 11, 2013 — 2 Comments

This afternoon Psalm 62 worked its way through my mind: He alone is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall not be greatly shaken.

Greatly shaken.

I have felt shaken in recent weeks. Shaken by my own expectations, by the expectations of others, by my sin, and by the sin of others. Here’s the thing, though: I’ve been surprised at how surprised I am.

Somewhere along the way I bought the story that He was my rock and salvation, my fortress and I would not be shaken. I know suffering comes and sin steals for a season. I read the Bible and see it is full of people for whom things did not go well. But shaken? Knocked off kilter, rattled around?

Ah. Greatly shaken.

The gospel does not make lead-footed friends of us. Our salvation is secure, but we are not cemented in place, stuck with no forward or backward motion. The gospel sets a feast before us, but it is not a feast of fructose and ease, it is one that gives us what is best for us. And sometimes being shaken is best.

There is a passage in Corinthians I hear quoted often in reference to struggles: We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed.

But it is the words before and after that catch me off guard, that shake me down, that pull my pride into a vortex of the Holy Spirit:

“We have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed, always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh.”

So He is my rock, my salvation, my fortress. He is also my comfort, my shelter, my haven. But all this shaking? All this crushing? All this pressing? It is for Him, for His glory and my good.

Maybe that is simplistic. I know it sounds simplistic to me today, as though I should be beyond this concept. But the truth is every time I think I’m beyond it, I get surprised by how much I still need it.

He is better. In the midst of being greatly shaken, His words stands firm and He is better.

Fallen

November 1, 2013 — 1 Comment

I had a conversation a few months ago around my kitchen table. We were two kids washed up and battered around by a legalistic ministry in our teens. Both of us had stories, neither of us trying to outdo one another, but just sharing, “You too? I thought I was the only one.”

Of course we didn’t think we were the only one, but isn’t that one of the enemy’s favorite ploys? To isolate and make us feel as though what we have experienced or will experience is singular to us?

The point of our conversation was to talk about leadership, charisma, the difference between preaching and shepherding, and I hope I was some encouragement to my brother.

This morning I read of the resignation of a man who was in leadership of a similar ministry. He admitted his failures, took responsibility, stepped down, and yet the consequences are still rife for him—and us, the Church. Even if I did not prescribe to his particular brand of faith or practice, the ache of a fallen brother sits deep in my stomach this morning. I did not celebrate him or his ministry, nor do I cast a judgmental finger in his direction. His sin was taking his eyes off Christ—for one moment or one month, it matters not. My sin is a constant same.

There will be three responses to his sin:

1. Some will call attention to it and cackle something like, “See? This man who espoused these doctrines with which I disagreed fell, therefore everything he espoused is wrong.” The bible has something to say about this: “[Love] does not rejoice with wrongdoing (either the doctrine or the sin), but rejoices with the truth.”

The truth is this man confessed and repented. We rejoice at that. His sin is not related to his doctrine except that anything can become an ultimate thing—and something did in his case. Something other than Christ.

2. Some who should say something will not say anything. There is this strange phenomenon within the Church. When someone falls on the other side of the fence, we write blogs, we tweet, we caution, we make a fuss—we are the pharisees who thank God we are not like those people. But when someone nearer to us theologically or ideologically falls or fails, we keep our mouth tightly shut. I think that closed-mouth tendency is good in some ways. Love covers a multitude of sins and all that. But what love does not do is ignore the level ground before the cross. Love acknowledges that none of us are exempt from taking our eyes off Christ. Love says, “He failed, yes. But for the grace of God, here go I…”

3. The third response, and I think the one we ought to do first and foremost, is to pray. If we are in a local church we have a pastor or more than one, and our minds ought to first go to them. Men who are in leadership are not exempt from failing, struggling, or fearing. I have written about this before, but more than opinions on how to handle this particular fallout, we ought to pray for our pastors and leaders. They are mere men. Real men, if you will. Made from flesh and blood and all the same things we are. You can cognitively believe any doctrine you want, but at the end of the day you are still a man or woman with a propensity toward sinfulness.

Pray for your leaders. In times like this when they watch a brother fall, they are praying more deeply and fervently that they would not fall, that they would stand accountable for us with clean hands and a pure heart.

Pray the same for them.

fight

Challenge to Christian bloggers: read a blog you don’t usually read, find good content, share it. Reach across the table & find the commonness of the gospel.

That’s my status on Facebook right now and I mean it.

Last week there was yet another dustup in the blogosphere. You know how it goes. Blogger writes XYZ, Twitter erupts with 140 character-easily misunderstood opinions and all manner of logical fallacies, and 67 Bloggers all respond—many of them entirely missing the point of original blog or demonizing original blogger or making good points of their own which will undoubtedly be rebutted by another 67 bloggers.

Somebody hand me a paper bag and get me off this ride.

One of the ways I try to do damage control in the Christian blogosphere is to stare people in the face and tell them to slow down, breathe, be circumspect, trust Jesus is Who He says He is and that He is building His Church—with or without a troupe of bloggers all juggling their balls in amateur hands.

But one of the most helpful things, I think, a blogger can do is to simply read more than one polarizing post of one blogger. There’s something about even reading the “About Me” section of a blog that humanizes a person, takes the monster out of him, or at least shows the monster to be only a suit bought at half-price after October 31st. Underneath they’re real people with real lives who cook dinner with their spouses and stub their toes and probably really do love Jesus—even if He’s revealed Himself to them in different ways than He has to us.

The beauty of the gospel is that it is for all men, Jews, Greeks, Slaves, Free, Men, Women, but it does not eliminate differences, demanding a dehumanizing clone-like Christianity. No. Instead it reaches inside all the differences and finds the beautiful sameness: broken people in need of a Holy God, and then sends us out to reach all kinds.

So if you’re a blogger or a content creator of some sort, can I encourage you to do something radical this week? Go read that publication you shudder to think of. You know which one it is for you. Go read it and read it with the express purpose of finding the beautiful gospel woven through its threads and then share it with your followers. I think we’d be surprised at what might happen.

 

Still Discipleship

August 21, 2013

When I was in my teens, before I knew much about the gifts of the Spirit, I heard about a church that was offering classes on how to speak in tongues. It was right there in the bulletin, alongside classes in how to train up your children in the way they should go and five secrets to a healthy marriage. Those classroom doorways were portals, keyholes really, through which the unlocked troves of Christianity sat waiting for our eager minds and hearts. Do this, then that.

But I did this, and then that didn’t happen. I tried to put God in my debt and all I got back was a cold, hard heart that loved pragmatics and hated the Lord. It took years of course, a lifetime really, but winter came slowly, binding me in fear and mistrust, the death of my faith.

Discipleship is a baggage laden word for me. It smacks of mathematic certainty and promises that never seem to deliver. Yet I can’t run far from the call of Christ to his disciples to make disciples. If I am his follower, I am to make followers. But like the poet, Emily, I dwell in possibility. There is no formula, no key or keyhole, no class or potion to create a disciple—there is only a grand expanse of faith and all its possibilities.

After decades of wringing my hands and white-knuckling my sin, attending classes to unlock the secrets to everything good, I live with my palms open these days. Finances, friends, future—it is better that I not have a plan for where they head. And discipleship is much like that as well.

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

Here is what I know about following: following means there is someone who is leading, and every follower is a leader of sorts. And even leaders must trust the one they’re following. There is a great deal about discipleship that is nitty gritty, hand to the plow, but there is also much about discipleship that comes in the mundane, the day by date, the monotony of life as normal, being still, being quiet, trusting the process rather than the principles, trusting the questions will be answered by a sovereign God who leaves nothing undone.

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

I have been thinking of Jesus these days. We see him at age 12 in the temple and then at age 30 with the onset of his public ministry. But what was he doing in those 18 years? Son of a carpenter was sweeping sawdust, learning his father’s trade, learning Torah, serving his mother, serving his siblings. He was the Son of God, yes, but he was also the Son of Man and he humbled himself to the humblest things. He did what he saw his Father doing, his food was to do the will of him who sent him. He, the leader, followed.

Following is unpopular these days. We Christian kids either got washed up on mega-churches and tongue-teaching classes, or we seek hope in a messiah-pastor type thinking maybe he has the words of eternal life.

The truth is Christ alone has the words of eternal life. The real work of discipleship is believing that and then being faithful to keep believing it, every day. The real work of discipleship is trusting that beyond all the classes and books and soundbites and blog posts, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are the only perfect leaders. And will be until the end of the age.

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