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May Sabbath

May 2, 2014

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It was after writing this post through tears in the early morning hours that I remembered it was almost May. May means Sayable Sabbath month. Usually I feel ready for that 12th month Sabbath; I feel I’ve earned it, worked hard at my craft, swallowed pride, written my heart out for 11 months. But all I feel this year is guilty for how much I’ve hated writing for six months.

In November of last fall I began feeling like I’d lost my voice. I wasn’t sure where it had gone, all I knew was this was a different writer’s block than I’d ever felt before. Usually I press through, write anyway, exercise that muscle, and the words eventually come. But this wasn’t missing words, this was a missing voice.

I was asking the question, “Who am I?” in a way I never have before. I’m not a person who struggles with identity. I know my strengths, my weaknesses, and my proclivities. Every writer has to know a few things before writing a term paper or book: who am I and who is my audience? I’d perfected the answer to those two questions, but suddenly neither of them seemed right anymore. I didn’t know who I was and I certainly had no idea who my audience was.

When we lose our voices I wonder if this is simply God’s grace to us after all—since we are His and He is our only audience.

I think of Isaiah in chapter 6, standing before the throne of God, the seraphim around Him singing one refrain, “Holy, Holy, Holy, is the Lord God Almighty. The whole earth is full of his glory.” I think of Isaiah standing there with his head bent down, saying the words, “Woe is me, I am a man of unclean lips and I live among a people of unclean lips.”

Do you feel the uncleanliness of your lips sometimes? Whether you are a pastor or a blogger or a mother or a son, do you feel the clutter and grime that spews from your mouth and your fingers? The realization again and again of how selfish and prideful and arrogant you are and how you cannot clean yourself up enough to stand before the Holiness of God?

I feel it. Oh, how I feel it.

It was a burning coal that cleansed Isaiah’s mouth but we are all looking for the nectar and sweet juice to cleanse ours. The affirmation of friends, the compliments of strangers. We want the feel good way to feeling good, not the burning coal, God, not the burning coal.

I have felt the burning coal these last months. Learning the hard way that I am a person of unclean lips and all around me are others with unclean lips. We who are being sanctified and being transformed are still so not. Look, and not too far, you will be undone too.

We do not Sabbath to give God his due, His 10%. We are not tithing our time, giving of our first-fruits. We Sabbath to remember we need Him. We do not need rest or stillness or peace or comfort. We need Him. We need a vision of Him and His holiness. We need a burning coal. We need to be undone. We need to be touched and sent. But only through Him, Lord of the Sabbath.

Normally I have guest writers for the month of May, but somehow that seemed cheap to me this year. I want Sayable to be still all this month, to Sabbath, and to offer to you readers the blessing of one less thing to read. I know that doesn’t make a lot of sense, especially for sponsors, but I’m willing to lose here. I want to lose here. I want to feel the burning of the coal on my mouth, my voice, my “platform,” and my pulpit. I want to stand before the throne undone.

I’m at my best friend’s house in upstate New York. I have traveled the world over and I do not know of a more picturesque place than the largest part of New York state. This is perhaps because I am a mountains girl and am most at home hemmed in by these hills. But I think, too, it has something to do with the air here, clear and pine-scented air. I breathed it deep as my little car crested and descended hills, windows open, and eyes open too.

This month off has been, in one word, full.
I mean that in the sense that my best friend’s belly is full of a new life right now. She is bent over a new garden near me, her new husband attentive and capable. She is full of life and we spent four hours this morning talking to one another without pause. She is perhaps the only person in the world with whom I can talk without pause. We are full of questions for one another, full of tears at the things which are deeply in us, full of joy for the other’s joy, and this is what I mean by full.

I spent a week at a cabin by myself in Tyler, Texas, ensconced in a cabin underneath the towering pines of east Texas. I drove hours through the bottom Appalachians through pouring rain and big dreams, to arrive at one of my favorite mountains, a small valley that houses two homes, a family, and some animals, near Chattanooga, Tennessee. I drove 16 hours north (through more pouring rain) to land with the people who make me laugh more, cry more, live more than any people I know, in Potsdam, New York. And now I am here, with my full friend, her living room full of my old things—chairs and art I couldn’t take with me to Texas—her husband full of love for her (and me!), and their lives full of service and love. I am full.
The past few weeks I have accumulated over 50,000 words that will speak of lifelessness and fullness and the ways we hinge ourselves on both, and this week I feel the words slow, the creativity ebb, my cup full.

If there is one thing I know to be true about God these days it is that my heart overflows with a good theme.

The psalmist says “My cup overflows” and I have never know this to be true. 

I have never known the fullness of His character or the depth of His goodness or the life of His love—my cup was half-full or half-empty and I thought this was the way we limped our way toward heaven.

And that may to be true in ways—Jacob wrestled with God, won, and still walked with a limp the whole of his life.

But sometimes I think God delights to give us months or days or minutes in which we know the fullness. He delights to give us glimpses of His wholeness, even in our void. He beckons us toward His joy, even in our sadness. And I think He does it because without these small glimpses at His greatness we would hide, fully in ourselves, fully void of hope. 

I am full, overflowing.

This was written about a week ago, as my month off was inching closer to its end. I am home now, but my laptop died the last day of my sabbatical, so I am awaiting for its successor’s arrival before I jump back online with any consistency! 


But thank you, thank you, thank you, for welcoming my guest writers, for extending me grace in my absence, for not deleting me from your feed readers or email lists in my absence. Thank you most of all for being a home of sorts, a place to come home to. 

Allison

May 29, 2012 — Leave a comment

If this is your first time here, welcome! I’m on sabbatical for the month of May, but I have guest posts scheduled in my absence. Enjoy them and hope you’ll check out the archives as well!

I’ve been reading Allison for several years now. She is one of the finest writers in my feed-reader these days and I never get tired of the way she spins words. She is a careful wordsmith with nuggets of wisdom. I’ve actually had this post in my inbox for a while now, just waiting for the perfect time to feature it and I’m happy to do so now. 

I am a church baby, raised on two Great Commandments (love God, love your neighbor) and on the Great Commission (go and make disciples), and I am still trying to figure out what it all means. I know this: my commission is not aggressive. My job is not to force entrance to homes so I can indoctrinate the inhabitants and tear down offensive idols. I am not an imperialist or a crusader. But I know this too: love is not timid or passive. God gave us action verbs. Go. Love. Make.

I am also a philosopher, and the philosopher has a Great Commission, too: question everything. Go ye, therefore, and ask. This was hard, the hardest thing I have ever done. I naturally incline toward tolerance and letting-be, but that’s not how philosophy works. Forget faint praise; in philosophy, there really is nothing more cutting than faint criticism. If philosophers refuse to discuss your ideas, you can kiss your academic career goodbye. If philosophers respect your ideas, on the other hand, prepare for argument.

It’s painful to be on the receiving end of that respect, of course. But it’s equally difficult to be the one paying this curious tribute to another person. You can’t just pull criticism out of thin air. First, you have to listen; then, you have to think; finally, you have to respond. And I know it’s hard to believe, but the point is not to destroy. The best philosophers ask because they want to know. Their questions are intended to help you articulate your ideas in the best way possible so that both of you can see what those ideas are really made of.

I’m learning that this kind of active listening is part of what it means to live love and to go forth, especially in an academic setting. Sometimes to love is to respect. And sometimes respect consists in this philosophical midwifery of ideas, this drawing of unclear thoughts into the light.

I’m not talking about a timid tolerance here. I’m not talking about a passive letting-be. I’m talking about iron selflessly sharpening iron, and I’m talking about letting your own agendas go while you put on someone else’s worldview and walk around in it and let them know—hey! it pinches here, and it’s pretty loose over here!, and have you ever thought about trying a different leather for the sole? And once you’ve done that, I’m suggesting letting someone try out your own view. Because this robust discipleship is not one-way—it’s not an invasive colonization of a foreign land. It’s a collaborative discovery of something we human beings were always intended to share: the truth for life, in life.

Will it be easy, this collaboration?

Ask the lover and his beloved. Ask the questioned and the questioner.

Is intimacy easy? Is it easy to speak clearly or to stop and listen thoughtfully?

And they will tell you, in the way of practiced lovers and philosophers, that the best way to find out is to simply begin, that before arriving at the fullness of the answer we have to live our way (inquisitively, deliberately, lovingly) through the questions.

THOM TURNER

May 24, 2012 — Leave a comment

If this is your first time here, welcome! I’m on sabbatical for the month of May, but I have guest posts scheduled in my absence. Enjoy them and hope you’ll check out the archives as well!

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Thom writes over at Everyday Liturgy, which is one of my favorite places to visit for, you guessed it, everyday liturgy. He teaches English at Nyack College and is the Senior Editor of Generate Magazine. He also writes for The Curator, The Englewood Review of Books and The Other Journal. I have loved reading everything I’ve read on his blog and sometimes his short morning liturgies stop me enough to help me coast for the rest of the day on his insights. 


Hope is circular.

It comes in waves, and then recedes back to the ocean. When it leaves, I am left wet—cold and shaking—not knowing what to do next. I start to hope for hope, that like high tide it will come again and wash over me. And maybe the next time it will stay, and I will float in the gentle bob of the current, and let hope take me where it wills.

But I have never had hope hang around like that. It always pulls away and leaves me at low tide.

Faith is the evidence of things unseen and love is the greatest of these, but what is hope a sign of? St. Paul wrote that character creates hope, but he stops there. Tell me Paul, what is the product of hope?

There is a trinity of actions Paul prescribes to us—faith, hope and love—and they each have their role to play. Hope, I feel, is the most fickle of them, always supported by faith or love. Faith is the substance of things hoped for and love always hopes, so in the end hope is built on a foundation of faith and love.

I long to always be hopeful, to see the bright side of things, to be constantly cheerful, joyful, fun-loving and gregarious. To be hopeful no matter my place in life or circumstance. I always feel hope fail my grasp like sand running through my fingers, and then wonder how do I hold onto something that constantly shifts. How do I sustain hope?

I can start turning back to the foundations of faith and love. If hope fails let me have faith. If faith and hope both fail me, then let me continue to love until faith finds its way back to me and hope follows with it. Only then will the waves of hope come crashing back, and I can find my home in the warmth of living waters.

LEIGH KRAMER

May 22, 2012 — Leave a comment

If this is your first time here, welcome! I’m on sabbatical for the month of May, but I have guest posts scheduled in my absence. Enjoy them and hope you’ll check out the archives as well!

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Leigh writes about all sorts of things, from singleness, to starting over, to grieving, to baseball, and does it with an engaging presence and a hope-filled voice. I hope you enjoy what she has to say here today and that you’ll visit her blog! Oh, she’s in the process of finishing her first book, so that should be fun! 


Hope is breaking: My Hope bracelet, to be specific. After four months of daily wear, the leather cracks and stretches and begs for mercy. But I won’t take it off. It will stay on until it falls off. Until Hope reaches its limit and I must find a new way to carry the symbol with me.

The parallels did not escape me. I noticed a particularly worrisome crack in the bracelet the same day I sobbed over reading a friend’s pregnancy announcement on Facebook. I had reached my capacity when it came to rejoicing for others.

It wasn’t just that day. That whole week pummeled me. I couldn’t sleep, I canceled plans, I cried copiously. I avoided friends because it’s too hard to explain the swirl of emotions and because sometimes we need to deal with the root on our own.

Nothing triggered this dark period. Perhaps a pile of mini-triggers but there was no specific moment breaking the camel’s back. Every year or so I find myself in this Black Cave of Emotion. I’ve read this is common for my personality type (INFJ), which makes me feel only slightly better about my annual dark night of the soul.

I never know when it will happen until I’m in the middle of it. It’s not depression. More like a pervading sadness. It’s best to hunker down and see what my subconscious is trying to teach me. What are the lessons I need to learn? I am so used to listening to others that I sometimes forget to listen to myself. And eventually it all must be processed. This is how my body says when.

Of all that I face during these times, the hardest is residual self-esteem issues I’d thought long since resolved.

The lies astound me. They tap into whatever my current insecurities may be and because I’m depleted, I have little left to fight them. I resign myself to listening to the lies, to see if there’s a shred of truth. And in doing so, I remove their power over me. It’s no easy feat but I’m an old pro at these dark nights of the soul now. I know the storms will come and I’ve learned to ride the waves until they carry me.

It’s not pretty. I cannot romanticize this. It’s hard and I generally want it over yesterday so I can feel normal again. But that would be ignoring the gift of these dark periods- and there are gifts.

I emerge with a clearer sense of who I am and where I’m going. I realize which relationships require work, which might be time to let go, and which deserve a little more nurturing and care. I also carry myself more confidently because I’ve faced the lies and found them lacking.

Greatest of all, counter-intuitive though it may seem, the darkness teaches me to hope. Because through the tears and frustration, pinpricks of light accompanied me. I did not have to face any of this alone.

God spoke to me through song lyrics and book passages, TV shows and pictures, ever ready to counteract the abyss. I’d struggle with a friendship in one moment and then read a passage from Shauna Niequist’s Cold Tangerines that perfectly spoke to the situation. A lie would arise and an unprompted memory would surface, revealing truth.

And in those moments when I couldn’t do anything but cry or rage, I’d glance down at the bracelet on my wrist and remember. Hope. This dark night of the soul would not be the end of me. There’s purpose to our pain and disappointments, if we allow ourselves to see it.

No matter how tenuous my hope, it was there all the same. I may not know the outcome of certain situations or how my dreams will unfold. But I could not give up then and I won’t give up now.

This hard, hard thing reminds how tenacious I am when it comes to my dreams. I may have needed to curl up for awhile and regroup but I’ve come out of it stronger and more certain that life and adventure are there for the taking.

I’ll let my bracelet continue to stretch, just as I’ve been stretched the last few weeks. Though it will eventually break, I won’t.

No matter what comes next, Hope will carry me through. It can’t be broken. Not really.

GUY DELCAMBRE

May 17, 2012 — Leave a comment

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Guy is just a dad of three littles who has experienced deep, deep loss in the past few years. He writes about grace, patience, parenting, and grief in tangibles. One of the things I look for in blogs to read is a sense of the raw and Guy never fails. But I also look for a deep sense of hope and Guy presses on, faithfully, transparently, and gracefully. He is truly a life that has been changed by grace. Oh, and he just finished writing a book!

18 inches of trust.

If a tree falls in the forest, yet no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?  Does the tree actually fall if no one stands in observation?  Is there a tree actually at all?

Does it even matter…at all?

A simple yes is as profound an answer as one could give.

It all matters.  

To say it doesn’t is neglect and most prideful.  We were not there, the moment not experienced.  Trees fall every day and they make sounds we may never hear.

Life is realized as we live it, but not defined by us.  It remains in front and all around, happening and in motion.  We tread heavy and dumb footed in life when all is made to be about us, our perception, our needs, our realities.  These act as filters straining truth through our experiences, our condition and predicament.

A falling tree.  
A burning bridge.  
A collapsing belief.

Yes, it all matters.  Not because we stand in observation validating truth and reality and giving just cause to all things happening, but because life is and God is.  What is, life and truth and God, stands resolute and resolved.  What I mean completely is that to reduce truth to a relative measurement is a rather fickle and unending endeavor.  The man pontificating, closing in on truth, his, rethinking again and circling.  Truth escapes with ease when all bets are off, all doors are open and nothing is tied down.

Meanwhile, life continues, always.

“Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”

When we open our eyes in holy wonder, not hollow wander, we see Kingdom come, life as it sets and unfolds before us and Truth guides through thickening and thinning, and rising heights and depths descending.  Too often, and too quickly, our eyes mature to a point not seeing ahead into the unimaginable good.  Instead, they gaze fixed only on what can be made sensible.

Hands reach for what can be had, the allure of knowing and not needing.  No different than the first mistake made when truth bent in the hearing, ringing right and free causing exit to all that God provided in Eden.  The fruit of reaching, the yield of bending truth turns our back to simply trusting and living with sustained abandon.

In the distance between heart and head lies life living or dying.  Life measured in mere inches.  A man is made in the in between; the communication between what is heard and what is held on to.  Truth must sink from the surface, the head to heart.

The longest road a man must travel is the length shorter than one stride.  It is the 18 inches between the heart and the head.

And life mostly has to do with trust.

So often life is lost in those 18 inches.  Truth is maligned, abused in the desert distance guessing, shaped by home brewed half truths and composite philosophies.

Question everything and all doors open for exploring to an unending expanse.  Roaming wanderers hungry to know.  Knowledge, the satisfying treasure said to verify existence and settle seething hearts discontent with maybe.  But questions not tied into absolutes swing from empty to empty no matter how ornate.  What does it mean to intelligibly ask if all you do is shuffle in circles?  All is for naught.

Life must be accepted.
Question to find not to lose.  Look to have, not leave.

Trust is a journey both into oneself and out of the shifting wasteland of one’s life as center and end.

You are neither center or end in life.  Begin there and trust becomes a necessary result and normal activity in all facets of life.

SARAH BAKER

May 15, 2012 — Leave a comment

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When I asked SB to write me a guest post she shot back an email about rambling and the question “Are you sure?” This girl. THIS GIRL. Before we met a friend told me I’d love her heart and, can I be honest? This girl’s heart is solid treasure (and she’s rolling her eyes reading that right now, but I swear it’s true). The past few months of my life have coasted by on her encouragement and ceaseless text-messages. Ceaseless, I tell ya! She blogs rarely, but when she does it’s good y’all. 


My bags were packed and in the car, my room and board magically paid for, all that was left was me and the open road.

I was about to head back to Kansas City to finish up my internship and potentially join the staff at the International House of Prayer. It was there that I finally felt connected, like I found myself and what I was supposed to be doing with my life. I believed so strongly that the plans ahead of me were God-given and not just something I conjured up myself. My future was an eight hour car ride away and I couldn’t wait to get there!

It was the night before I was supposed to leave, just a few hours away from lift off… when my dad called me into his room, “Sarah, I don’t think you should go.” He says, “I can’t put my finger on it and I don’t have a good reason for you, but all I know is that I don’t think you’re suppose to go back to Kansas City!”

“Ummm… what?” was obviously my initial response.

That was the moment my newfound journey of trust began. It was the moment I received my first REAL dose of God’s leadership. But it was mostly the moment I became angry and pretty pissed at life as a whole. I wasn’t upset with my dad and what he said, I love and trust him and his authority completely, but I was offended that God would give me desires for something and then reroute my life in such an unexpected way.

I thought I had figured it out – my next step and my next few years were going to be given to God, to the house of prayer… I mean, why would God thwart a plan that really had Him in the equation? It’s not like I decided to go to a desk job and waste my days away punching in at a 7 to 5 corporate job (funny story, that’s my life, today). I was going to be doing “the stuff” ya know? The ministry stuff. the stuff that God likes and talks about.

So why did my plans change so drastically when it finally felt like things were falling into place?!

I wish I knew… I wish I could tell you a story of God’s audible voice giving me some sort of explanation, but I can’t.

Why did my direction change so quickly, so rapidly and without my consent?

I stopped asking why after two months of confusion (and sulking). I stopped asking why when God told me this:
                                                                                                               
“You will be empowered to love Me and have joy again to the measure that you trust and agree with My wisdom and leadership in your life. And you will be stagnant and miserable to the measure that you doubt My goodness and are offended with Me and how I lead.”

Those harsh, yet tender words lit quite a fire under me.

It was no longer “why” questions and more sulking and confusion. It was a (hard) daily choice from that moment forward to posture my heart, every day, to trust that God truly is who He says He is. That He is kind, and the good shepherd of my heart, leading my life in a way that only He can.

 Looking back, I now see the kind hand of God, the hand that took mine in His and showed me a better way. A way that I didn’t see coming, a way that I feared I would be lost in, but was actually greatly found and discovered.

He kindly opened up doors of understanding and brought about friendships and opportunities that I would never have wanted to miss out on. Four years later, after that unexpected talk in my parents’ bedroom, I can see the faithfulness of God more clearly now, than ever before. I learned how valuable and beneficial it is to allow God to lead me, even if I didn’t understand every turn and bump in the road. I was comforted knowing that He knew exactly where He was taking me and He knew exactly what my heart needed to get me there.

Maybe life has dealt you a crappy hand, leaving you offended with God and His leadership in your life.
Maybe, like me, you thought you had things all figured out, to only have life take an unexpected turn with little to no warning. Chances are, if you’re alive and breathing, you’ve fit into those categories before or you’re still there today asking yourself “why?”

But what if the question isn’t necessarily, “why am I experiencing this pain?” but rather, “how has my heart responded since its arrival?”

I can’t answer your “why” questions, just as much as you can’t answer mine, but more importantly, I can’t make you trust that God is good and His leadership, whether you agree with it or not, is perfect in refining and benefitting your heart.

The choice to trust that God knows what He’s doing is entirely ours. It’s hard and it’s painful and it’s scary, but the good news is that He has already done leaps and bounds more than you and I have ever done to prove how trustworthy we are to another. He proved that He is deserving of our unwavering trust, and He proved it on a cross. What better hand to guide our lives?

 
If you remember anything you just read, I pray you remember this: God is not unjust and heartless, up in the sky crushing dreams, just to crush them and turning lives upside down just because He can. The truth is, He is lovingly calculated and precise with every single movement. Knowing us fully and completely, He leads our lives and hearts with wisdom we can confidently rest in.

He is near.

Present.

Trustworthy.

“For our heart is glad in Him, 
because we trust in His holy name.” 
Psalm 33:21

PAUL BURKHART II

May 11, 2012 — Leave a comment

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Paul is one of my favorite, favorite blogs to read when I want to be challenged to think about the word or spirituality in a new and fresh way. We disagree on enough small things that he makes me think and wrestle more than I like to do with most bloggers, but we agree on enough that sometimes his words on grace, faith, growth, theology catch in my throat and send a resounding YES through my soul. 

I grew up in a pretty stereotypical Evangelical setting, which led to a pretty stereotypical back-and-forth between guilt and self-righteousness. That is, until I heard the Gospel of radical Grace.

Many of us have this same story, where it has been so healing to hear that how God relates to us is not, in fact, based on our performance. Instead, everything necessary for God to be pleased with us has been accomplished on our behalf by his Son.

And so, in response to this, we fall in love with God’s Grace. We pray for it, long for it, and cry for it. We read books about it, write about it, and blog about it (I even did a five-part series on it myself). We try and speak it into others’ lives while trying to figure out why we don’t apply it to our own. We joyfully build our relationship with God on the glorious foundation of His Grace. It is fundamental, primary, and essential.

In short: we love Grace.

Imagine my surprise, then, as I fell in love with liturgy and forms of worship that were centuries-old, to begin noticing the utter lack of “grace” from the prayers and worship of the earliest saints.

For example, I have used the Book of Common Prayer to guide my personal prayer and worship for a couple of years now. In 100 pages of liturgy and prayers for use at Morning, Noon, Evening, and Late-night, there are only six references to grace, and four of those are from Bible verses quoted, and only two are included as part of the liturgy. “Grace” appears in none of the collects, prayers, or songs that I looked through.

In fact, if you think about it, neither the Lord’s Prayer, the earliest Christian hymn we know of (Philippians 2:6-11), the Apostle’s Creed, the Nicene Creed, nor the Athanasian Creed include any reference to grace.

So what do they focus on, if not grace? Here are some highlights from the liturgies and prayers throughout Church History:

Almighty God, Father of all mercies…we pray, give us such an awareness of your mercies…

The mercy of the Lord is everlasting: Come let us adore him.

Lord, have mercy. Christ, have mercy. Lord, have mercy.

O Lord, have mercy upon us, have mercy upon us. O Lord, let thy mercy be upon us.

Lord Jesus, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.

Kyrie Eleison… (Greek for “Lord have mercy”. In some ancient liturgies, this phrase was repeated up to 40 times in one church service)

Mercy. Lots of and lots of Mercy. It was hard to notice this. I had to face some tough questions. Why is this so lopsided from the way we usually talk about spirituality nowadays? What does “mercy” have to do with worship, prayer, and drawing near to God?  Have we stressed the wrong thing? Why are we so obsessed with grace? Is this why we suck so badly at it?

At least for me, I realized that I saw grace mainly as the “juice” God gave me to obey him; the strength God gave to grow; a gift of God that helps me please him better. In short, my spiritual life was/is still defined mainly by a desire to perform/obey/please God/“make my election sure”/etc. It seems part of me has just baptized my Pharisaism in Reformed Theology.

But what’s with this “Mercy” emphasis, and why do we not talk the same way? I think (once again, at least in my case) Mercy has more to do with God’s relating to me in spite of something in me. Mercy always assumes there’s something being looked over or forgiven.

Grace, on the other hand, is more like a little gift God gives me after he’s been merciful to me. It’s something “extra”–the blessing that comes with right relationship. It’s his enabling of my relating to him.

If I’m honest, I don’t like focusing on what God has to overlook and overcome within me. I just want to get to the benefits and the way he might help me perform better. I’ll admit my neediness in an attempt to overcome it, but not to rest secure in it. As I’ve written before, I know God loves me, but at times I doubt he really likes me.

But there is still good news that these saints of old whisper to me. They remind me that before God is gracious, he is merciful. I can’t get the grace until I get the mercy. They show me that the response I should have to my sin and shortcomings is not first and foremost to try and find more resources to overcome and conquer the darkness within me.

Rather, it’s to pray and plead that God might be merciful and still look upon me with pleasure. And then it’s to praise him that, in his mercy, he has promised he does.

And then I need to rest.

Maybe this is why, in spite of all of our beautiful theology on grace, we’re bad at it. Without the backdrop of God needing to be merciful to us in the first place, his grace doesn’t truly captivate us.

So let us fall on our knees and cry for mercy. And in his mercy, may he give us grace.

Lord, have mercy. Christ, have mercy. Lord, have mercy.

PAUL BURKHART

May 10, 2012 — 1 Comment

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Paul is one of my favorite, favorite blogs to read when I want to be challenged to think about the word or spirituality in a new way. We disagree on enough small things that he makes me think and wrestle more than I like to do with most bloggers, but we agree on enough that sometimes his words on grace, faith, growth, theology catch in my throat and send a resounding YES through my soul. (He wrote two posts for me, so double dose, folks. Another tomorrow!)


Pharisees grumble: why do you eat with sinners?

He tells them a story about a lost coin and the joy one has when they find it. He then goes on to tell similar stories about a lost lamb and a lost son.

We love to jump from the coin to the lamb and the son, but Jesus says something very interesting between those sections. He reminds the Pharisees of a central truth to the heart of God:

“there is more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine persons who need no repentance.” (lk15.7)

Did you catch that? He doesn’t say: “there’s more joy over one sinner who repents over ninety-nine that do not repent.” He focuses not on our action, but on our need.

It seems there is more joy in the heart of God over his creation needing forgiveness than if it had never needed forgiveness at all. God takes joy in forgiving and being gracious, but this implies there needs to be sin to graciously forgive.

Perhaps our sin can be good news to God.

But if you’re anything like me, perhaps you have subtly viewed grace as this thing you have to coax out of God; it’s something, yes, he gives, but he does it reluctantly and only out of obligation to the promises he’s already made. As I’ve written before, perhaps you feel like God abstractly “loves” you enough to give grace, but doesn’t particularly “like” you enough to enjoy doing it.

But that’s not the God of our Bible.

Ours is a God who, even before anything was made, was singing the song of the Gospel, declaring and decreeing “before the ages, for our glory” (1cor2.7) the story of our sin and his forgiveness. Ours is a God who has been worshipped from eternity past as “savior” and “redeemer”. This is his nature, and he could not fully express his saving nature, nor could he be worshipped for it, if there were nothing to save and redeem.

Our sin invites God to be God.

We see this in Jesus as well. He lived among those who were not being faithful in any way towards him–people who would turn their backs on him in his greatest need–and yet he related to them in absolute, unconditional grace. Hours before they would flee during his arrest, he is breaking bread with them, feeding his Presence to them, singing songs, and praying with them. All while he knew what was to come.

He loved and accepted them, no matter their “faithfulness” to him. He did not respond in the way we so often do. There was no “well, remember, guys: obedience is still important” or “well, technically you can do what you want and you’re still accepted by me, but you just won’t want to sin” or “well, we don’t want people to abuse this grace.” No, in fact, with his actions, Christ was screaming at those around him:

“Abuse this grace! Use it to do your worse! Beat it! Flog it! Kill it! Crucify it! It is still yours.

No conditions. No limits. No waiting around for us to get our act together. No scare-tactics. No fear that we might (god forbid!) actually sin. Just a quiet and humble acceptance that we will abuse this grace, we will take it too far, and we will not take it far enough; but all along it is no less fully ours.

Why, in the face of this scandalous grace, do we all (myself included) have this knee-jerk reaction to add a bunch of disclaimers to it? Why are we scared of sin–either that we might do it, or someone else might do it–in light of this extreme grace?

I think it’s because, at our core, one of our greatest rebellions is that we don’t want to feel like we need grace.

We would rather err on the side of not taking grace far enough rather than than take it too far. But Jesus’ harshest words were reserved not for those who erred on the side of sinning too much, but for those that, in a way, did not sin enough: these “white-washed tombs” that had fooled themselves into thinking they were far better than they actually were.

I think we would all prefer to fool ourselves into thinking we are far better than we are. That doesn’t sting so much. And so we will freely define the limits God’s grace, because when we do that, we then have a law that we can wave in front of God’s face and say “now you must accept me”.

But this is not our story. Our weakness is our tale and it is in fact our glory because it is in that weakness that God’s power is made perfect. And so, out of love, he tells us to freely be weak, for we are His nonetheless, no matter how far down the road of sin’s allurements we travel.

An old pastor of mine once said: If it can’t be abused, it’s probably not grace.

If your view of God’s grace is something that cannot freely be taken too far and used as a justification to sin, then I fear you are preaching Law, and not the true Grace of our Lord.

So do you want to experience the grace of God? I can give no better advice than what Luther famously said: Sin boldly! But believe even more boldly in Christ, and rejoice.

BETHANY SUCKROW

May 8, 2012 — Leave a comment
I haven’t been reading Bethany for long, but I’ll be honest…well…I’ll let her be honest for herself. This girl is honest. She’s just raw and real about the things that push and pull for her affections and attentions. She doesn’t mess around. Plus she’s a great writer. She works in a communications department as a writer, and by night she’s a writer, artist, and wife to her musician husband. 
Bleary-eyed, I glanced at the clock in the corner of my computer screen. 11:14 p.m.
After a long day at the office, I had come home, popped a frozen pizza in the oven, and while it baked I started my other work, the work that I love. I wrote a blog post, edited submissions for the online magazine I’ve been working with in my free time, and sketched a draft for a custom Etsy order.
All in a good day’s work, I suppose, but at 11:14 p.m., while my husband settled on the couch to discuss a not-so-rock-n-roll meeting with his band earlier that evening, I decided that no matter how tired I was, I wasn’t done. I couldn’t be done. 
He kept talking as I walked to the kitchen. 
“… you know?” he asked, perhaps hoping I was listening.
“Uh-huh,” I replied passively.
The kitchen was a veritable science experiment, an unsightly mess of dishes that hadn’t been touched in days. It was overwhelming. I couldn’t do it all before midnight, but I could at least put away the left over pizza. 
I’m too tired for this, I thought, stringing a length of saran wrap from the box to cover the green ceramic plate piled with pizza. But it’s the responsible thing to do. This is what it means to be a grown up, I told myself. 
I opened the fridge, balanced the plate on the top rack while I rearranged milk cartons behind it to make room, and as though in slow motion, the plate wobbled precariously and my eyes opened wide and I cursed loudly in dismay while it crashed to the floor in several large, tragic chunks and smaller shards scattered across the linoleum. 
I turned away from the mess in frustrated disbelief, burst into a dramatic sob of tears. 
I stood there, helpless and guilty, desperate for a rewind button. Every regretful moment of this scenario, this day, these last few weeks, this last year, my whole life lay broken on the floor before me like the plate. And I wanted to pick up that stupid plate and break it again, smash it again until all the big pieces were small, smaller, smallest, until they were dangerous ceramic blades that would cut the palms of my hands and soles of my feet, match this anger and desperation I felt inside.  
Maybe if I were alone I would have really done that, like when you shout in the car at careless strangers, even though they can’t hear you. Maybe not. I probably would have gone to find the broom myself… Eventually. 
I wasn’t alone, though, and my husband, kind and compassionate as he is, intervened. Quietly, gently, lovingly, he walked over the mess and began to pick up the pieces, and I stood there, trying to regain my composure. 
When he was done he took me in his arms, and I was grateful and guilt-stricken, a sobbing mess. 
I should have been listening to him tell me about his day, rather than trying to multi-task with kitchen duty. 
I should not have cursed so loudly or cried over it. It’s just a broken plate. 
But standing there, sobbing into his sweatshirt, we both knew it wasn’t about the broken plate at all, but about all those large, tragic, small and sharp moments that can’t be undone and how it feels like everything is out of our control, out of our hands, out of our capability, even when we choose to be “grown-up.”
“I know it’s been four months, but it feels like it was yesterday,” I cried. 
“I know,” he said. “I know. And it’s okay to feel that way. It’s okay to miss her. It’s okay to cry.”
So this is grace, I thought, as I listened to the rhythm of his breath against the back of my neck as he slept later that night. 
Grace is what sweeps up the mess when you can’t unbreak the plate. 

PAUL MATTHIES

May 3, 2012 — Leave a comment

My first introduction to Paul came through some friends at my church who kept talking about a series that had been preached a few years earlier about depression and loneliness by this guy. He had already moved on by the time I moved here, but soon enough I listened to the series and then stumbled across his blog. This guy is biblical, empathetic, and humble. I’m so blessed that he not only reads Sayable, but that when I asked him to guest post he was excited and able!  


And He said, “My presence will go with you, 
and I will give you rest” 
Exodus 33:14

Rest, it seems, is more than closing the door, then closing our eyes. It’s first opening the heart, then opening our hands.

A friend insisted that his wife always travel with him. He said: “If I am going somewhere to do God’s work, I want to give it my best. That requires sleep. And I don’t sleep a wink if my wife isn’t there. Curtains, comfy beds, and controlled temps don’t matter. I want her with me.”

To many, it sounds romantic. To me, it sounded pitiable. “Really?” I thought, “I rest better if it’s just me. I like beds to myself! I pity him whose sleep depends on the presence of someone else.”

Something in that exchange grieved the Spirit—the same Spirit that Jesus says “dwells with” me and “will be in” me (John 14:17)—and I felt it.  Truth be told, I hadn’t been sleeping all that well myself.  And, greater still, my lack of true rest was a symptom of a deeper reality: pride.

Concerning the fourth commandment, to keep the Sabbath holy, theologian Sinclair Ferguson wrote: “Man was not to work, but to rest. Externally, that meant ceasing from ordinary tasks in order to meet with God. Internally, it involved ceasing from all self-sufficiency in order to rest in God’s grace.”

God goes with us.  I must relish His presence.  Otherwise, I am not entering His rest…

Even saying it incites my flesh to resist.  I readily admit there is no true rest apart from God.  But, at times, I want a rest from God—rest from the whole “God” thing.

“Give it a rest, God!  I’m tired of this whole ‘follow Me’ shtick.  I need a break!  Would you get off my back?  I am exhausted trying to keep up with it all.  It’s just too much to bear.”

That’s how Jonah finally got some sleep.  He wanted a rest from God.  Mind you, it caused a storm:
“Then the mariners were afraid, and each cried out to his god. And they hurled the cargo that was in the ship into the sea to lighten it for them. But Jonah had gone down into the inner part of the ship and had lain down and was fast asleep” (Jonah 1:5).

Jesus was asleep on a boat once.  There was a storm too:

And behold, there arose a great storm on the sea,
so that the boat was being swamped by the waves;
but Jesus was asleep 
Matthew 8:24

Yet why was it okay for Him to get some sleep, while the storm raged?  For Him, in that moment, it wasn’t a matter of fear and flesh.  It was a gift of faith and fellowship.  Not “taking a rest from” the Father.  But receiving rest in the Father.

Still today, the same hand that commands the wind and waves also gives rest.  Time and again He tells us, true rest is something given—a thing received.  “It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil; for He gives to His beloved sleep” (Psalm 127:2).

But, in my self-sufficiency, I am prone to close off my soul, close up my fists.

A friend recently got a puppy.  The puppy began whining in the night; it hated being alone, in the dark.  So my friend pulled the crate next to his bed.  He dropped his arm down the side, into the crate, next to the small puffball.  The puppy would then fall fast asleep, as if receiving a gift.

There’s great hope in an open heart and an open hand.  Even in my going, God is giving rest.  Even in my rest, God is going before me.  Yet when I rise, He’s still with me.

Maybe I don’t need to close my door and close my eyes tonight.  Perhaps I just look beside me, and go to Him.


Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, 
and I will give you rest. 
Matthew 11:28

SEASON CALDWELL

May 1, 2012 — Leave a comment
Season was my friend first. Well, first she was someone else’s friend first, but then she was mine. Then she was my roommate. Then my officemate. Now we share a bathroom. Seas is a videographer at the same non-profit where I work. Something I love about this girl is that she’s a no bs sort of girl. She doesn’t mess around with truth. Once I wrote on her dry-erase board: the world needs a little more Seasoning—and I maintain that as truth. 

When I think of the typical American family, I try not to go overboard with the guilt.

We’re overweight, we’re addicted to everything we do, we never spend enough time with our families, we don’t know how to discipline our children, and we let an irresponsible media teach us about the world. While these things are largely true, I would hate to only think about the negative. There are many positive things we have done too. So, without demonizing ourselves and especially not our neighbors, let’s ponder how we generally go about resting.

It seems that in America we most often buy our rest—usually in the form of a vacation. Remember, I’m not demonizing—even buying rest is not usually what I would call bad, but because we can only buy a certain type, a certain amount of rest, I think we have neglected the other kind too much.

The other kind of rest is one you create in the culture of your family and community—a rest you have every day of the week (or at least close to every day). You can’t buy this kind. It can’t be booked. But more than that, it takes a lot of hard work—and hard work is not exactly what I have in mind when I think of rest. Quite the opposite.

But a culture of rest? Rest as a core value for my family and community? That will take some work to create, even just in my own person.

I am not married and so I do not have that sort of real family opportunity to test this on my own, but I do have roommates and we are a kind of family unit just by living together. We have gone on vacations together, and those have been very good. We’ve needed to get away. But unfortunately, away stays away when we come home.

Since that form of rest can’t come with us back to work (at least not for long, and never as long as we’d like), we are so very blessed to also have a taste of the other kind of rest as well. We sit on our porch together and talk. We sip wine together at night. We eat together. We aren’t perfect—we have quarrels and because we aren’t real family, no one can make decisions for us as a group, but we do seem to have a little culture of rest happening. Our little family unit values everyday rest—and it opens the door to those really good times…

You know those times? After you’ve worked hard and you’re with your friends or family for an evening to do nothing in particular? Together is what it’s really about. The rest I’m thinking of is with others we love, and it requires that not everything is perfect. If we are occupied with perfection in our togetherness, we will miss it altogether. If we are occupied with perfection, we won’t even notice our families.

In the movie American Beauty, Kevin Spacey’s character is about to finally have a romantic moment with his wife in the midst of their avalanche of a marriage, when she interrupts him, worried he will spill beer on their “four thousand dollar sofa, upholstered in Italian silk.” The exchange ends with Spacey’s line, which has echoed in my mind ever since: “This isn’t life, it’s just stuff. And it’s become more important to you than living. Well, honey, that’s just nuts.”

These words always stop me dead in my tracks. I remind myself, “Season, if you want a culture of rest in your family and in your community, the sofa is going to have a few beer stains.

But what is a beer stain to a life of joy and rest in your innermost being? There will be imperfections, and to these imperfections I say, “His power is made perfect in weakness,” and smile. I may work hard to create a culture of rest, a clean and beautiful place to call home, but I will always fall short of keeping it perfectly clean and beautiful, of keeping my kids totally acceptable at all time…

I always find that in that shortcoming, God has a genuine open door to join my family. He brings the best rest to us and our families because He is the only one who can truly take the weight off of our backs.

INTO the WOODS

April 27, 2012 — 3 Comments

Last summer I took a blogging sabbatical and it was anything but a sabbath.

I rested from writing. But resting from writing is like resting from thinking or breathing or sleeping. I felt void at the end of the month, like the shed skin of a cold blooded animal.

And I learned a few things:

Rest is not abstaining from what makes us feel most alive
. . .
I rest best when I write.

Rest is not necessarily not working
. . .
I rest best when my mind and hands are active.

Rest must be intentional and purposeful
. . .
I rest best when I set parameters for myself.

Through the graciousness of my employers, the benevolence of some beautiful friends, and the goodness of God, I will be taking the month of May off from work, play, blogging, and the internet. I will be in the woods (my favorite place to be) and staying in cabins (my favorite places to stay). I will be writing the entirety of the time, though not blogging.

In my absence, I’ve asked a few of my favorite bloggers to keep you company.

Having people guest post on your blog while you’re gone is a little like having people living in your home, teaching your kids, and tending your gardens for a month, so I wanted to have writers I trust, who are compelling, and who handle their words with care.

I asked these specific writers to write in my stead because they are people who tell the truth. These are honest writers whose theologies challenge me, whose wisdom blesses me, and whose transparency teaches me.

Please make it your aim to make them feel welcome while they’re here (Give them lots of comments and social media love!), and click through to their personal sites so you can learn a bit more about their stories. I promise you won’t be disappointed. We are not necessarily the same sort of writers, with the same experiences, or the same theologies, but we love the same Jesus.

Thom Turner || blog || twitter
Season Caldwell || blog || twitter
Guy Delcambre ||  blog || twitter
Sarah Baker || blog || twitter
Bethany Suckrow || blog || twitter
Leigh Kramer || blog || twitter
Paul Burkhart || blog || twitter
Allison Glasscock || blog || twitter
Paul Matthies || blog || twitter

For the month of May, I’ll be absent from Facebook, Twitter (except for scheduled ahead of time tweets/posts), email, and not answering my phone. But I will try to upload a photo a day, as signal allows, so if you’re on Instagram, you can find me @loreferguson and try to guess where I’m hiding out (but not really).

No, seriously—no trying to guess where I am. Please.

It’s been about two weeks since put myself on a Facebook, Google-reader, and a few other media outlet fasts.

I have friends who say things like, “I don’t know why people do things like that. It’s attention seeking” or “Why can’t people just practice more self-control, why do they have to make it all fast-hiatus-sabbatical sounding, all holy…”

Heck, I say that to myself.

But it’s no secret that I lack self-control—I’ll tell you face to face, it’s my besetting sin. And in conversations with some single friends, I don’t think I’m alone.

Singleness is a good place to be if you want to be lazy.

And I hear you, the mass of single readers, who feel like you’ve had enough of an emotional pelting for the week what with yesterday being what you call, “Singles Awareness Day” and all that. I hear you. You’d like a little love and wouldn’t we all? Wouldn’t we all…

(For what it’s worth, I love Valentine’s Day. I do. I have a hard time with nearly every major holiday for various reasons, but a day just to celebrate love? This I can do. The truth is, I’m pretty hopeless about celebrating love every day, ask anyone. So February 14th is just a good excuse to buy red candies, flowers for my mates, write cards with honest words of love, and who’s kidding who, wear sexy underroos.) 

(Don’t worry, this will all come together.)

The longer I’m single, the more I need to face the fact that my natural bent is toward laziness. I have no one responsible for me and no one to whom to be responsible. I know this isn’t the case for all you singles, some of you parents or grandparents, single because of life circumstances, death, or divorce. But for me and the majority of my friends, it’s the case.

We aren’t necessarily happy singles, but we sure are free and clear ones.

So, for me, my social and otherwise media hiatus (and the other fasts I’m imposing on myself these weeks) is just a way that I can flip the bird to laziness. I’m just trying to say to mindless navel gazing, to sleep, to wasteful conversations, to food, to unproductive uses of my time, “Hey, Time? You don’t own me. I don’t even own me. My Father owns both of us and I want to remember that well.”

That’s all.

When I said sexy underroos, 
this is, of course, what I meant.