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How to Die Beautifully

October 16, 2014

There are things I ought to have learned in science class, but I was too busy hankering for art class to pay much attention.

Did you know that the reason the autumn leaves are so spectacular in the northeast is because the weather has an indecisive air to it? It’s true. One night it’s cold enough to frost and the next day it’s warm enough to kayak in a tshirt. In the mountains the reds and oranges are deep and rich, and in the valley fields the green is vibrant and lush. The sky is almost always a steel blue, nearly grey, but still clear. I cannot describe this well enough, I know. I’m sure I tend to romanticize it because I tend to romanticize everything. It makes for a better story, see?

But trust me: it is beautiful here. Even today, while it rains steadily outside the side porch where I complete my wedding tasks of the day, it is beautiful (of course it helps that my wedding tasks for the day were to take buckets of flowers and make them into eleven presentable bouquets).

Tonight I’m going to leave these bouquets of roses and hydrangeas, seeded eucalyptus and ranunculus here on the porch—outside, where temperatures will probably dip into the forties. I’ll leave them here. And for the same reason the leaves get more and more spectacular, I have no fear for these flowers.

It goes against my gut to do this, leave them outside. Because flowers bloom in the warmest months, I assume that’s where they’ll thrive best. But years in Texas are teaching me that while the heat may force a bloom to open, it does little to sustain it.

We all need a little indecisive air, a bit of a chill, to be sustained.

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I had a conversation with a friend the other day and she’s asking the right questions: why does it have to be so hard sometimes? Why does it have to hurt? I don’t have answers for her. I’m finding the more I know, the less I really know.

But I know this: those leaves wouldn’t take our breath away if they weren’t dying in the process.

And I don’t like it. It makes me uncomfortable. I hate death, it is nothing but stings and barbs. But I love life because it is nothing but newness and cycles.

I love life because I know I will die a million deaths until the final one, but each one makes me a little more vibrant in the process, and each one brings the promise of newness. That’s something I can plant my soul in.

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“We are bidden to “put on Christ,” to become like God. That is, whether we like it or not, God intends to give us what we need, not what we now think we want. Once more, we are embarrassed by the intolerable compliment, by too much love, not too little. 

Yet perhaps even this view falls short of the truth. It is not simply that God has arbitrarily made us such that He is our only good. Rather God is the only good of all creatures: and by necessity, each must find its good in that kind and degree of the fruition of God which is proper to its nature. The kind and degree may vary with the creature’s nature: but that there ever could be any other good, is an atheistic dream. George MacDonald, in a passage I cannot now find, represents God as saying to men “You must be strong with my strength and blessed with my blessedness, for I have no other to give you.” That is the conclusion of the whole matter. God gives what He has, not what He has not: He gives the happiness there is, not the happiness that is not. To be God—to be like God and to share His goodness in creaturely response—to be miserable—these are the only three alternatives. If we will not learn to eat the only food that the universe grows—the only food that any possible universe ever can grow—then we must starve eternally.” 

—C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain: Divine Goodness

Now is the time to rediscover the meaning of the local, and in terms of church, the parish. All churches are local. All pastoral work takes place geographically. ‘If you would do good,’ wrote William Blake, ‘you must do it in Minute Particulars.’ When Jonah began his proper work, he went a day’s journey into Nineveh. He didn’t stand at the edge and preach at them; he entered into the midst of their living – heard what they were saying, smelled the cooking, picked up the colloquialisms, lived ‘on the economy,’ not aloof from it, not superior to it.

The gospel is emphatically geographical. Place names – Sinai, Hebron, Machpelah, Shiloh, Nazareth, Jezreel, Samaria, Bethlehem, Jerusalem, Bethsaida – these are embedded in the gospel. All theology is rooted in geography.

Pilgrims to biblical lands find that the towns in which David camped and Jesus lived are no better or more beautiful or more exciting than their hometowns.

The reason we get restless with where we are and want, as we say, ‘more of a challenge’ or ‘a larger field of opportunity’ has nothing to do with prophetic zeal or priestly devotion; it is the product of spiritual sin. The sin is generated by the virus of gnosticism.

Gnosticism is the ancient but persistently contemporary perversion of the gospel that is contemptuous of place and matter. It holds forth that salvation consists in having the right ideas, and the fancier the better. It is impatient with restrictions of place and time and embarrassed by the garbage and disorder of everyday living. It constructs a gospel that majors in fine feelings embellished by sayings of Jesus. Gnosticism is also impatient with slow-witted people and plodding companions and so always ends up being highly selective, appealing to an elite group of people who are ‘spiritually deep,’ attuned to each other, and quoting a cabal of experts.

The gospel, on the other hand, is local intelligence, locally applied, and plunges with a great deal of zest into the flesh, into matter, into place – and accepts whoever happens to be on the premises as the people of God. One of the pastor’s continuous tasks is to make sure that these conditions are honored: this place just as it is, these people in their everyday clothes, ‘a particularizing love for local thing, rising out of local knowledge and local allegiance.

From Eugene Peterson, Under the Unpredictable Plant: An Exploration in Vocational Holiness, p. 128-130.

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The Cloak of Righteousness

September 8, 2014

My theology does not allow for a God who changes his mind regarding my salvation, and I pray yours does not either.

I had breakfast/brunch/lunch (well, we began at 10am and didn’t finish until nearly 4pm, so what am I to call it?) with a friend yesterday and we talk for a moment about how the fear of losing our salvation gripped us for years before the gospel—and all its branches—rooted itself in our hearts.

Last night I read these words: “The Hebrew word for “salvation” means literally “to make wide,” or “to make sufficient.” I have not learned Hebrew for myself but I will trust here the editors did their due diligence and this translation is correct.

This morning I woke thinking of all the ways I have failed, all those I have failed, and all the failures yet to come. How could a holy God condescend to me? How could he fit his goodness as a cloak on me? Surely I have toed the line of arrogance and fear and anxiety and lust and envy and all kinds of sin, enough that I have gone out the bounds of his demands.

But if Salvation is to “make wide” or to “make sufficient,” then the salvific act was one that spread wide around the boundaries of every one of my days and sins and weakness and proclivities and covers them all.

This astounds me when I think of the minute sins, the every day, the strains of gossip, the nibs of fear, the ebb of doubt, and the flow of envy that wreak themselves through my heart and life. He made wide to fit me in. He spread out, to the ends of the earth, east to the west, a never ending, never failing cloak of righteousness through the death of his Son. To fit me into salvation’s plan.

When I begin to question my salvation, or, more articulately, to question his choice to save me, I want to remember that cloak of righteousness, whose edges would astound us if we could see them at all.

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“I come into the peace of wild things who do not tax their lives with forethought of grief,” Wendell Berry says and sometimes I know he meant. Far enough into the wild things, I hold a six minute stare with a fox and keep my eye on the blue heron who stands alone, preening himself like a boy before his first date. Or maybe not his first but the one that feels like it because it is the first of all the rest of his life with her. My fox twitches and turns, dragging her white tipped tail behind her like a girl on her last date when she grabs her dignity and leaves.

The wild things are all around us if we’ll see them. It’s the peace that’s so hard to come by. We who are all looking for seven ways to rest and ten ways to declutter our lives. Yes, it is the peace that’s so hard to come by.

Here, by the lilypads and still waters, the peace is here. Yet when beneath it all is a soul not at rest, where can I come into the peace of the wild things? My heart is the wildest, raging one of them all.

I think I could learn from the wild peace of the animals who do not worry, what they will eat or where they will sleep, who they will impress or how, whether their homes will be good enough or the people kind enough, the time long enough or short enough. The peace of the wild things is there, in the turn of the fox, the dip of the heron, and here, in the heart of the Father’s wild child too.

Hemingway said, “The world breaks everyone, and afterward we are strong at the broken places.” I wrote that quote on an index card when I read it in high school and didn’t know how prophetic it would prove to be in my life.

Who has believed our report?
And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?
For He shall grow up before Him as a tender plant,
And as a root out of dry ground.
He has no form or comeliness;
And when we see Him,
There is no beauty that we should desire Him.
He is despised and rejected by men,
A Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.
And we hid, as it were, our faces from Him;
He was despised, and we did not esteem Him.

Someone said, a few years ago, “Teach your kids they’re broken, deeply broken,” and the internet swarmed and stung in response. No one wants to believe deep inside the horrible, awful, no good truth. That the gears inside of me will keep getting stuck and rusty, jamming up in inopportune places and too small spaces. No one wants to believe the brokenness on the outside points a terrible truth about the inside.

Surely He has borne our griefs
And carried our sorrows;
Yet we esteemed Him stricken,
Smitten by God, and afflicted.
But He was wounded for our transgressions,
He was bruised for our iniquities;
The chastisement for our peace was upon Him,
And by His stripes we are healed.
All we like sheep have gone astray;
We have turned, every one, to his own way;
And the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.

It’s not a prosperity gospel to believe that the brokenness on the inside of us results in wars and rumors of wars, gunned down black boys on city streets, cancer, and genocide. It is not a transactional brokenness: you broke me, so I’ll break you. Or, more honestly, I broke me, so He breaks me more. But it is a cause and effect of sorts. Deeply broken people don’t turn the other cheek, not only in war, but also at home when the floor doesn’t get swept and it’s his turn to do the dishes and someone was uncaring or uncouth. It starts with the small fractures and leads to the tremors and quakes until we are all shattered pieces and wondering how we got here.

He was oppressed and He was afflicted,
Yet He opened not His mouth;
He was led as a lamb to the slaughter,
And as a sheep before its shearers is silent,
So He opened not His mouth.
He was taken from prison and from judgment,
And who will declare His generation?
For He was cut off from the land of the living;
For the transgressions of My people He was stricken.
And they made His grave with the wicked—
But with the rich at His death,
Because He had done no violence,
Nor was any deceit in His mouth.

The world does break everyone and it is not for nothing to say we are stronger at the broken places. I heard it said recently that good eschatology says “The bad gets worse, the good gets better, and the mushy middle is done away with.” I groan for that and so do we all.

The mushy middle is what breaks us, that pliable and soft already/not yet we live in. We groan for the culmination of the kingdom, the new heaven, the new earth, but we’re still here, where missiles fall every four minutes and Christians claw their way into a helicopter from an Iraq hilltop, and journalists are tear-gassed and officers act hastily, and my friend has a tumor and it’s cancerous, and where the tears won’t stop falling this morning because we are broken, yes, it is true. We are deeply broken.

But, on our behalf, so was he.

Yet it pleased the Lord to bruise Him;
He has put Him to grief.
When You make His soul an offering for sin,
He shall see His seed, He shall prolong His days,
And the pleasure of the Lord shall prosper in His hand.
He shall see the labor of His soul, and be satisfied.
By His knowledge My righteous Servant shall justify many,
For He shall bear their iniquities.
Therefore I will divide Him a portion with the great,
And He shall divide the spoil with the strong,
Because He poured out His soul unto death,
And He was numbered with the transgressors,
And He bore the sin of many,
And made intercession for the transgressors.

The Unbelonging

August 4, 2014 — 1 Comment

Read any media and you’ll find a full on rushing swipe at Christians and conservatives. We’ve been told we’re in the minority for a while now, and as shots ring out across the media, we duck and run, scrambling to assert our position as the new moral minority.

prisonI’ve always been a fan of the fringe. If you can stand on the sidelines and affect change from within, you’ve followed the model Christ set forth well. I watched a movie a few months ago in which the principal characters return to high-school incognito. They’re so far removed from high-school that what was cool then is not cool now. The jocks are jerks and the nerds are neat. What happened?

What happened is regardless of seeming strength, the sidelined and fringe affected change because they weren’t swayed by what was happening in the middle of the action. Now that the nerds are cool, though, there are different fringe characters at play and this is the way of all life’s ebb and flow. Remember The Heart is a Lonely Hunter?

“But look what the Church has done to Jesus during the last two thousand years. What they have made of Him. How they have turned every word He spoke for their own vile ends. Jesus would be framed and in jail if he was living today.”

We turn the vile into heroes and the hope-full into anti-heroes. Whatever fits our flavor and palate.

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If you tell the truth long and stayed enough you’re going to be spit upon and hated. And if you love the fringe, the sick, the depraved, the sinners, the forgotten, and you love them with a love that values life and every cell and micro-organism and biology and mind and fault and fear and heart and sweat and blood and tears, you will not find a political home. If you are so pro-life that you rally for the rights of a two week old babe in the womb as fiercely as you fight for the right of life for a confused 13 year old or a broken 45 year old or a confident 60 year old or an aged 82 year old, you will find uneasy company in the Church. You fight not for quality of life, but life itself.

Jesus said He brings Life Abundant and who shouldn’t have that?

Whether you fall in the fallen moral majority or the rising moral minority or whether you are just a sidelined character going about your business as if nobody cares, because nobody does, Jesus cares and He sees. And you are not alone.

We’re all so homesick to belong, but if you are a child of God, you do not and cannot belong to this world. You may be liberal or conservative, progressive or traditional—but you do not belong and in this common life we can rejoice. So friends, be slow to rejoice in wins or losses, thrusts in your party platform or your pet politic, be slow to rejoice in anything but Heaven come to earth and the King on His throne.

See how you are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses!? Let us throw off every sin and the weight that so easily entangles us and let us run with patience this race marked out for us, setting our eyes on Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy set before him, endured the cross, despised the shame, and sits down at the right hand of his father.
Hebrews 12

Worshiping at the Bar

January 24, 2014 — Leave a comment

I’m not a live show girl. Celebrity doesn’t impress me and groupies crowd my space. The best concerts happen in my car on road trips from north to south and back again. I am the singer and the audience and my wheels hum along. But the stamp on my hand and the heels of my booted feet belie me tonight.

There is wholeness when watching an artist at work. I say to a friend yesterday, “You’re not a compartmentalized man with faith in one box and parenting in another, fiction in one and politics in yet another. Be all you, which is more biblical and less transcendental than it actually sounds.”

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We are shoulder to shoulder, heads above heads, the smell of beer and crisp Texas winter all around. There is grit and tenderness and the girl in front of me danced wildly one minute and sobbed into the arm of her friend the next.

Music does this to us, I think to myself.

Or maybe it isn’t the music at all, but the lyric of life being lived right in front of us. This artist-woman whose age is there, in the wrinkles on her forehead and the veins on her arms, is living it. Her voice cracking at inopportune places, as if there are opportune places for that anyway. She is a mother to all the rising folk artists I love, and she is the one I love more than all of them combined. But she is older now, and wrinkled and still so very, very beautiful.

This is what life does to us, when we live it. Not compartmentalized and neat, sectioned off into safe places and dangerous ones. We live it all, splayed out, because this is who He made us to be.

I think of Jesus on the cross. For some this was God’s great artistry, the deus ex machina—the predictable surprise ending. But it isn’t only the vulnerability of His son crying out that we stand our faith upon, but the jubilant rising of Him three days later.

There is nothing compartmentalized about this life, not for the Christian, and not for the pagan either. All of life touches and dances and weeps and were it not that way, we would be puppets or robots or, worse still, skeptics, all of us.

I am practicing for heaven tonight, swaying with the bar folk and the church folk, the worshipers at the stage of their god, staring at the imago dei there in all her creator’s glory. Whether she testifies of it or not, even the rocks will cry out.

None of us can help it.

We are who we are, full on, splayed out, in ignorant worship or intentional, we cry out.

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.”

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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.

Counting Down

January 6, 2014 — 3 Comments

It is midmorning and I spread the logs apart, the time for morning fires over, the day’s work ahead. The embers still crack and spark and I stare at their orange and grey glare for a few minutes more.

There has been a dormant joy in my heart these last months. Depression is never such a stranger to me that I don’t recognize her creeping around the eaves and windows of my heart. We are old enemies, she and I, and old friends too.

She is different this time around. She knows where my faith lies and my certainty rests, and it isn’t in my hope or future, but His glory. I count all my hope and future as loss in the surpassing joy of knowing Him. But I have to count it and the counting never ceases.

If all I count are the blessings and joys, will I hold to tightly to the losses when they come? I ask it rhetorically but I ask it earnestly. I know idolatry, we have been friends too. If I do the math, it must only be that I decrease and He increases. In this life only one of us gets to live. It is in heaven, in final glory, that we are both alive.

“He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose,” said the man who would be a martyr. I look around me and grasp at things, hopes, dreams, losses, always keeping, never giving.

God, help me lose.

Help me spread wide the logs, chance the death of flame, let the embers burn themselves out, and help me do the work of the day. Help me count as loss all things—even good things. Turn my wins upside down and my face to you. Let my counting not be accumulating but subtracting til there is nothing left but You.

The Promise of Place

December 29, 2013 — 5 Comments

Grey Texas days are my favorite. Because they are so rare, or because I love grey more than blue, I don’t know. Back home trees enclose me and so I feel safe. Here there are no towering pines or old maples, so I take the clouds instead and find a haven in them.

Being away for a month was good for me. I did not miss Texas, but I missed place.

The truth is I feel misplaced these days. Misplaced by God, misplaced by men, misplaced, mostly, by myself. I have never felt comfortable in my own skin, but these past months I have felt a foreigner even to myself.

Who is this person? I ask as I roll over awake in the morning, when I hug a friend, when I try to explain myself, excuse myself, examine myself. I feel a stranger to her and estranged from her. As though I’ve forgotten how to take my own pulse, as though I am unsure I have a pulse.

That sounds hyperbole and I know it, but I feel it all the same. The creeping darkness of discouragement snatches away courage, not its opposite, affirmation, as it might seem.

It is a dark day outside and there are dark days all around us. Have you felt it? I am not prone to pessimism except when I am.

I am reading Hebrews this morning, about Abraham and the promise, and I remember the promises God gave him: land, east and west and north and south; descendants as many as the stars; a son, a babe, just one. Just one.

God put Abraham in his place and gave him place and then gave him a place in history. We know him because of his son, and his son’s son, and his son’s son’s son and so on. Because God took a man on a mountainside, an old man, and gave him place.

I wonder sometimes if Abraham knew the gift of place on that day. If he knew he was destined for good things, a forefather of faith and many mentions in the canon. Or if he only stood there and just believed what God told him.

Romans says that Abraham’s faith was credited to him as righteousness (Rom. 4.22). The truth is my righteous anything has felt like a failure this year, but faith? Faith, not in the promise itself, but the giver of the promise? The promise of place, not for place’s sake, but for the promise-giver? Faith I can muster up, if I try.

He said He’s prepared good works for us (Eph. 2.10) and I have to believe that. When good anything feels very far off and very impossible today. He has prepared a place for us (John 14.2) and whether that is here, in this home, or in a new heaven and new earth, God said it.

Father, help me to know my place. That the very safest place for me is at the foot of the cross, as a temple of the Holy Spirit, as your daughter, as a discipler and learner, a friend. Most of all, help me to see Christ in His place, high and lifted up, seated on the throne, parenting a world, and following the direction of His Father, wholly unconcerned with His place even while He prepares a place for us.

The Long Way Home

December 15, 2013 — 2 Comments

I drive home tonight with the snow coming full at me, like swimming in the solar system. You know it if you’ve driven in it, coming down fast, coming down full, laying thick. It’s so beautiful it takes my breath away, I get dizzy at its beauty. But the road is ahead and it slinks long and dark and the snow lays thicker and my tires take me home to the stone house over the bridge on the hill by the river.

I grew up driving on these roads.

Not really. I grew up in southeastern Pennsylvania. That’s where first steps and lost teeth and history tests and high school graduation happened. But it was on these roads that I grew up, that I came into my adulthood, that I lost faith in everyone and God, Him too. And it is these roads that I find myself back on, so at home, so full of faith in God and still not in everyone, or anyone.

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A friend and I drove on these roads for so many hours today. Heated seats in a snow ready Suburu made the drive more than bearable, almost enjoyable. We talked about the kingdom and the gospel and faith and planting churches and love and life and hard conversations and good ones. He dropped me off at my car in Potsdam tonight and hugged me tight and I nearly cried and I’m nearly crying now.

This place is so known to me and I am so known here. I know its cracks and crevices, its hills and valleys, real and metaphorical. I know its roads and turns and I anticipate them by rote. The anatomy of here is home and my anatomy is home here.

I am not homesick for here anymore than I am homesick right now for my very own bed or home in Texas, or anymore than I am homesick for heaven, really. Heaven is just the place where we are surrounded by those who love most—and it is not us that they love most, but this is why it is the safest place of all. That kind of love transcends this horizontal home.

But I leave my friend and weep on the way home, diving headfirst into the Milky Way of snow, gulping up the north country air that smells of woodsmoke and cold and snow—which is a scent I cannot describe even if I try. I weep because coming here reminds me to set my sights on something better than the flurries in front of me, but on the long road before me.

It is a long way home and we are all so far away still.

Maranatha.

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 few weeks ago I left work and drove to Austin with a small luggage bag and not a lot of expectations. I didn’t feel nervous, excited, scared, or expectant. I felt, I’ll be honest, suspect. I knew Jennie Allen had asked the lot of us there to talk Church and I’m a Church girl, so that was enough for me. But what was IF?

Turns out I wasn’t the only one on top of that west Austin hilltop asking the question.

I also wasn’t the only one who left three days later still asking that question.

And that is exactly why I’m on board with IF: Gathering.

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Because there was a tremble in Jennie’s voice on that first day and on the last day and on the phone the other day. It’s a tremble that I don’t hear in the Church very often. And it’s a tremble that draws me in. It sounds like faith and expectation and unknowns and it sounds like the Holy Spirit.

This is why I think IF: Gathering is worth every penny. But I’ll get to that in a minute.

Church, we are fat on the feast that is knowledge, puffed up with pride and principles, gluttons for information and checklists. We want to see the Father or we want to be Jesus-only-Red-Letter Christians, but the Holy Spirit is there wanting, longing, waiting to teach us all things (John 14:26).

What Jennie and the team are doing is not only different from any conference I’ve seen, they are also doing something that requires buckets and waves of faith. The sort of faith that presses them into the Rock. Peter asked Christ,”To Whom else would we go? You have the words of eternal life.” And the team at IF is saying just that.

What else could they do?

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So the preliminary IF: Gathering was worth every penny to me. And if it cost you a penny, it would be worth it to you. But in an expression of faith and an expectation of the same Holy Spirit who fell heavy on our three days in Austin, the leadership team at IF has decided to open the February gathering at no cost to you.

Not no cost, not exactly. Because as Bonhoffer said, “When Christ calls a man, He bids him come and die. It may be a death like that of the first disciples who had to leave home and work to follow Him, or it may be a death like Luther’s, who had to leave the monastery and go out into the world. But it is the same death every time—death in Jesus Christ, the death of the old man at his call.”

The cost of being a part of IF: Gathering is the same as the cost of being a part of your local church and the global church. It is to come and die. Die to your own expectations and designs, dreams of platform growth or opportunistic voyeurism. It is to die to self and to love the Church in a way that is sacrificial and eye-opening. To see the Church in all her glory and in all her brokenness.

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There are two ways you can participate in IF: Gathering. The first is to attend the central gathering in Austin, Texas along with 1200 other women who desperately love the Church and the table at which we all sit. UPDATE: Registration closed.

The second way, and I hope so many of you will take this route, is to hold a gathering in your own town. Invite women from other churches and faith-backgrounds. Sit at the table. Worship the same Jesus. Commune with one another. The ground before the cross is the most beautifully level ground in the world. Bring that level ground home in a tangible way. There is something so powerful about women opening their homes and lives to one another, reaching across their own tables, over food they have made with their own hands, surrounded by the stuff of their own lives—this is the beautifully messy bride of Christ.

One of my favorite moments at the initial gathering last month was when 50 women from every corner of the Church came to the middle of the room and didn’t see eye to eye, but saw the cross, the beautiful, wonderful cross.

What is IF: Gathering?

Peter asked Jesus, “Show us the Father and it is enough for us.” And Jesus replied, “No, I’ll ask the Father and He will give you another Helper to be with you…He will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.”

IF is nothing. I promise. Jennie would say the same thing to you. It is nothing but a room where the Holy Spirit is welcome to do what He will.

If you’d like to register for IF, whether in Austin, TX or in a local gathering near you, register here. And consider contributing to the financial cost of holding the gatherings. The team isn’t asking for a registration fee, but it costs a pretty penny to help things like this run smoothly and in a way that serves as many as possible. Pure Charity is handling that, so consider giving if you can. (They’re a trusted organization, promise!)

UPDATE: IF: Austin sold out in less than an hour. But you know what? IF: Local has the potential to be deeply impacting in beautifully different ways. I hope you’ll consider it a blessing to be a part of a Local gathering. Open registration begins tomorrow.