Archives For pride

In the words of Vonnegut, “Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia.” And so it was, my story has got pneumonia. There’s no doctor for this and no cure or medicine. It’s not writer’s block, it’s the opposite. It’s not fear of saying something, it’s fear of saying everything.

Others think of writers as prophets of sorts. Don’t ask me what writers think of themselves. The way blogs go these days it seems we all think we’re on a reality show or talk show or the stage and we are the star. Someone’s salvation is always resting on the crux of how well a writer can write it, and what we need someone to tell us is maybe it’s just the working out of our own salvation in the crux. I have never understood people who had books “just burning” inside them to be written or who have always known they would be a writer or who have messages they know only they can tell. I have always been on the other side of the spectrum, tapping the mic endlessly asking, “Is this thing on?” if only to say to the naysayers and bystanders and passersby that there is nothing to see here, carry on.

Thank you for staying, readers and friends. You didn’t have to and I’ll understand if you leave. I might leave if this was the story I came to hear. Or I might not. I have been prone to unpredictable behavior of late. This is what I do want to say to you though, if you have the patience and the benevolence to hear it.

This is how it happened, from the almost beginning: Nate and I met in the foyer of our church, it was a non-event except that I liked his beard and he was still not dating girls. A few weeks later a church in Denver asked me to consider working with them. I hemmed and hawed and talked with pastors and elders and friends and traveled there three months later to figure things out. Then I came home and made the decision in a conference room upstairs in my church with a few pastors and elders and friends.

I also told them then that the night before Nate Wilbert had asked me out. Who knew what would happen? Not us.

The decision to go to Denver was made, though, and when Nate and I knew we would be getting married, the decision to go to Denver was back on the table for a hot minute, and by minute, I mean second. “Do you wanna?” “Yeah, I wanna.” “Okay, let’s.” There was a bit more to it, but that was the general decision making process. We hardly knew one another but we knew we were going to get married and that everything in our lives was going to be One Great Adventure because we were doing it together and everything looks shinier when you’re in love.

Denver or bust. Except we didn’t really expect the bust. Everyone says it, but no one actually expects it.

Then the bust: a newly acquired house, a new job with more challenges than we could have envisioned going in, a few miscarriages, shootings, job loss, and so much more. You know the wrap. What you don’t know, maybe, is that we’d been encouraged to step back from leadership as much as possible in our first year of marriage. We were going from living in the middle of ministry in our respective homes to our primary ministry being one another. He didn’t know how to do that well in his first marriage and I sure didn’t know how to do it at all. So envision with me this: two people who don’t know how to swim, deep sea diving into a wreckage where they have to surface with precious artifacts without damaging them. This was our first year.

You know most of the story—but not all of it, please don’t ever assume you know all of someone’s story unless you’ve sat across from them with tea or coffee or your beverage of choice and watched them cry ugly tears or say angry words while you just sat there and were a presence beside them. This is bonus talk right here, not the point of this post at all. I just want to remind all of us that we fall under the shiny spell of interconnectivity more often than not, commentating on lives based on photos and 140 characters. As if the sum of a life can be measured in a snapshot or 140 letters.

Am I rambling, I probably am, but if there’s something I’ve learned a lot this year it’s how easy it is to assume really bad things or really good things in the lives of people as we voyeuristically and unthinkingly scan the artifacts they share. Social media isn’t a lie, friends, as some would have you believe, but it is just the tip of many, many things. So, maybe I should rephrase, you don’t know most of the story, in fact, you know very, very little of it. The mountain of things you don’t know about our lives this past year could not be moved by the pile of things you do know.

Moving on.

So, bust it was. We didn’t intend on leaving Denver, or the church. It’s not the church’s fault we were newly married and had disobeyed good counsel and had jumped in with both feet and were in over our heads. We had every intention of staying, of Nate finding a job there, and of learning to swim. But, God, in His strange sovereignty (and I don’t say that sarcastically, I truly mean it was strange), did not provide a job there.

When Nate first broached the subject of looking out of state, and in fact the mid-Atlantic region, my first response was, “Well, if we’re looking out of state, why not Texas?” For reasons I didn’t know at the time, though, his response was an emphatic no. And because my dear husband had uprooted his life to move for my job in Denver, I agreed to the mid-Atlantic region if a job awaited him there. He went to high-school in DC and had fond memories of the place, but I confess, I was envisioning something more along the lines of bucolic pastures and Shenandoah valleys. I am nothing if not idealistic.

There were interviews all over the mid-Atlantic region, but the one job I didn’t want him to get was the one job—out of myriads of interviews and applications—he was offered. In the heart of D.C. Across the street from the Smithsonian, in view of the Capitol, and every stately monument along the way.

I remembered driving through D.C. years ago. It was Thanksgiving weekend. I was traveling to a friend’s wedding in the Carolinas. It took me nearly four hours to get around the beltway. I swore to myself, probably drawing blood with my fingernails into my palms, that I would never live in a place like this. I was made for hills and mountains and crickets and fireflies. I know there are some who love and feel called to D.C. and these people I commend, but give me the country air and people and problems there. I would never live in D.C.

I remembered saying the same thing to the Lord right before I moved to Texas, though, and see how I was wrong? So I didn’t say any of that to my dear husband. As much as I couldn’t see myself or our family, or him, thriving in the area, I wanted him to feel wanted and approved of and needed by someone, anyone. And they were offering him a job. So I kept my mouth shut and I said, “Babe, I know you want to work and I want you to work, so wherever that is, I will follow you.”

And I did. And we’re here. And his commute is three hours a day. And this week they told him they’re most likely moving his team to another building in the District—one that will add 30 minutes to his commute, making it an even four hours of traveling a day. Whenever we mention that to people around here (because the cost of living pushes people outside the city), they nod and say things like, “Yup, well, that’s just how it is here.” Or “Well, sometimes you have to make sacrifices.” I want to across from those people and say, “You don’t have to. What you’re saying is ‘I’m choosing to sacrifice community on the altar of my commute and job.’”

But we’re not.

Here is why I told you all that above, in case you’re wondering. I’m telling you because in the first move to Denver we moved for my job and he did not talk to me about some reasons he had for wanting to leave Dallas. The second move to D.C., we moved for his job, and I did not talk to him about some reasons I had for not wanting to move here. We both sinned against one another in that process and I have all sorts of excuses for why: we didn’t know one another well, we were just figuring this out, we loved the other one and wanted them to flourish, our proclivities and personalities are to stuff things instead of expose them, and we gave into our flesh in these ways. There is so much more to say, but that’s the bottom line. We sinned, a bit unknowingly and naively, but still sinned.

I’ve said before that marriage isn’t hard, not like the drama queens say with their hands across their perspiring brow, “Marriage is the hardest thing you’ll ever do.” Marriage isn’t hard like that. It’s got hard things for sure, but what’s hard about marriage is you’ve put two sinners together until death them do part. And for us, we left the safety net of community and friends, and like frogs in slowly boiling water, our sin was eating us alive, we just didn’t know it.

Until now.

Even though the cost of living is high here and he is gone twelve hours of our day and we’re struggling to feel at home here, and now know we’re not going to be at home here, we’ve also had space and time to sit under the weight of our sins of omission toward one another. Maybe this doesn’t seem like a huge deal, “So you withheld your true feelings, big deal, harder things are coming for you.” Except withholding those feelings and fears and hopes meant we moved across the country twice, lost a church community twice, lost $100,000 and our home, lost a lot more than just the benefit of having your feelings known. So, all I’m saying is there was a big price for those small secrets.

Everyone knows that seeing a counselor means everything is going to be fixed though, so that’s what we’ve been doing. Kidding. We told our counselor first thing, “We don’t expect you to be our savior,” and he’s made good on that expectation. But it has been helpful, in the way that peeling an onion is good before cutting it up. You peel back the layers and then you cry a lot. It’s like paying money every other week to peel a single onion together. I highly recommend it.

He’s asked good questions and pressed pretty hard on some things and not very hard at all on other things, but in the process it’s getting revealed that Nate and I need to learn to emote and talk and that it’s okay to say, “I don’t like _____, and that’s okay.” And also it’s okay to grieve what we’ve lost this year. And also it’s okay to not be super Christians. And it’s okay to withhold information from blog readers and even friends, but not from one another. And it’s okay to say, “Denver wasn’t a mistake. D.C. wasn’t a mistake. But also moving again doesn’t mean we’re running away.”

It’s been cathartic to be able to step back, a year into marriage, and talk about, well, what do we actually want our lives to look like, what do we want our family to look like, when we can start the adoption process, how we want to raise our kids, what sort of church do we want to be married to and serve in, what do we value in church leadership, what do we value in a city, in a town, in the country, how little can we live on instead of how much. All of those questions are things that maybe should be talked about before marriage (though I think the pressure to have all questions answered before marriage is one of the ways the enemy keeps people living in sin instead of covenant), but they are certainly things that should be talked about within marriage and without fear.

We’ve been doing that en masse. It’s been a veritable share-fest around our house these days. We’re making lists and unmaking them. We’re talking through cities and ruling them out. We’re aiming toward relationship building instead of job getting. We’re concentrating our search on churches and not employment. A job is important, even necessary before we move, but our primary posture right now is: where is God calling us to love one another, to raise a family, to invest into a church and city and people, to grow old in our marriage together?

So, because seven is the number of perfection, we’re making it The Seven Moves of 2015-16.

And we think we know where that place is.

It’s a place that holds a dear spot in my heart and a place that’s only a few hours from his family and a few more from mine. It’s a place I spent many happy years and many more happy holidays. In the past few years it has been like a vortex for some of my closest friends, pulling them back to various neighborhoods and churches. It’s the place I wept to leave and always feel at home coming back to. At the end of the month we’re traveling there together for a few days, to see if God might be drawing us there too.

We’re holding it loosely, but we’re talking about it instead of just pretending it doesn’t exist. And for the first time in a long time, we’re feeling excited and expectant and hopeful. Not a day goes by that he doesn’t say to me, “I’m really looking forward to our visit there.” And each time he does, I remember again what it means to be drawn closer to another person in a strange way. I can’t explain it. I know it’s good. And hard. And not impossible. Not easy. But good.

One of the things we failed to do in Denver was to prioritize relationship over normal mechanisms for getting a job. Partially Nate just didn’t have any connections there aside from other church staff. We were only there a few months when he lost his contract. We didn’t know where to turn or to go. He turned to sharpening up his resume, online searches, Linkedin connections. In Dallas he would have had a job in weeks. We knew this because he’d never been without a job and never had to look for one. But in this new place he didn’t have relational capital built up and he confesses now his pride got in the way of working on it.

In this season, we have been deeply convicted that God is more than capable of being our provision in every way, including by giving Nate a job. We have prayed more as a couple and found joy in restraint in the past few weeks, by not trying to manhandle this situation, but by being patient and faithful. We’re reaching out to friends in the area, we’re passing his resume on, and we’re scheduling meetings for him when we’re down there in a few weeks, but we’re not going to put getting a job before building relationship and building on relationships we already have there. In the ministry world that’s the norm, but in the business world, in Nate’s world? That is abnormal and especially abnormal when we don’t live in the city we’re looking to be in. But we’re trusting God is bigger and better than norms and we’re just asking for clarity in all things.

This is nearly 3000 words and kudos if you’ve made it this far. I wrote this mostly for me, but for you too, if it helps you to pray for us or for you to understand you. That’s why I write at all, honestly. It’s not to be understood by you in some needy way. None of us need to be understood by anyone and no amount of postulating or explaining will accomplish it anyway. I’ve learned that. But I write because it’s humbling for me and maybe it helps one or two of you understand yourself too. I’d be happy with that.

Will you pray friends? For us and our marriage? We have no idea whether we’ll be moving or not, but we’re learning to communicate, to dream, to talk, to be honest, and all of that is good wherever we live. But also pray for you, that you would learn to take your hands off your wounds, to stop self-protecting in your marriages and friendships, to be vulnerable with your fears and concerns. Not to the whole world, like Vonnegut says, but to one, just one.

Chattanooga or bust.

chattanooga

The man and I have embarked on another Whole 30 journey (my fifth, his first-ish). Somehow getting engaged, married, moving, buying a house, and trying to breathe wrecks any semblance of order when it comes to eating routines. The act of limiting our food supply for 30 days to meats, fruits, and vegetables is necessary, good, and also a great opportunity to submit ourselves to one another and our limitations every single freaking day.

Eating itself is an act of submission. Our bodies were created to need constant sustenance. We cannot live without submitting to our need for food. This is how it is with everything though, right? In every direction we are submitting to our limitations.

What we have found in the past two weeks is that I have felt better and better and he has felt worse and worse. It all came to a head on Monday night. There were tears, there was not anger, there were frustrations, there was not yelling. My body functions best on fruits, vegetables, and meats. He functions best on a lot of carbohydrates, sugar, and energy bursting drinks and foods. I have found myself submitting to his need for lots of those things over the past six months and now he finds himself submitting to my need for none of those things over the past few weeks.

Have you ever had two sinners in a room together submitting to one another’s limitations?

I don’t like submitting to my limitations and I like even less submitting to his limitations, but what I really find difficult is the knowledge that as I submit to my limitations, it requires others to submit to my limitations as well.

Here is where I’m going with this: Admitting my limitations is difficult. I want to be the best at everything I do, I don’t like being limited in my time, my energy, my emotions, my brain capacity. I want to give everything I have to all people all the time.

But knowing that in my submission to my limitations (No, I can’t answer every email. No, I can’t teach that class. No, I can’t be best friends with everyone. No, I can’t meet with you at this time. No, I can’t be everywhere and all things at once.), it requires others to submit to my limitations, this is the rub. This is the difficult thing for me.

On Monday night I put it out on the table: “Let’s quit Whole 30, Nate. Let’s just scrap it, it’s okay, I’ll buy pasta, pastries, Sour Patch Kids, whatever you want. I want you to be full of energy and joy again!” But my wise and gentle husband, even in his weary state, responded with, “No, this is good.”

It is good to submit ourselves one to another. To physically bend to another person’s insufficiencies and their limitations. To acknowledge that no one is capable of everything and everyone is only capable of what they can do. Submitting to Jesus means submitting to my insufficiency, it means submitting to my inability to save myself or save anyone else, it means submitting to the demands of life (laundry, dishes, finances, kids, work, singleness, etc.). And it also means others must sometimes submit to my limitations.

We should hear people say, “No, I can’t do that because I am limited by my time, my energy, my family, etc.” more often in the church. And we should give people permission to say no more often. We give them permission by encouraging them to say “Yes” to the things God has called them to. We are not to love the things of this world, but love does indeed call us to the things of this world. When the world truly sees us loving that to which we’ve been called, we pray they would submit to their blessed limitations and Christ’s blessed sufficiency.

Eat food this week, friends, and praise God for your limitations. Preach the gospel to yourself this week by remembering you are dust.

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It is not lost on me that the last of the fruits of the spirit mentioned is self-control. What I didn’t expect is that this would be the most difficult fruit for me to eat and also bear.

People are prone to affirmation when it comes to commentary on one’s goodness or their kindness, but rarely do I hear someone say, “Wow, your self-control is really stellar. You’ve got it going on in that department.”

Why?

Because you can’t see my self-control unless I give you opportunity and opportunities like that are few. Before you can see me exercise my will power you have to know that there’s a struggle of my wills.

And I don’t let people see those things.

We share about our lenten fasts and facebook fasts and coffee fasts, but what about the things I do in secret? At home alone? In the car when someone cuts me off? That stuff is not cool to share and I hide it at all costs.

Self-preservation is also a way of self-control, did you know that? We preserve self by controlling self–by being in charge of our actions to the bitter end. I choose to fast coffee. I choose when to exhibit my road rage. I choose to whom and when I let my mouth run aimlessly. So I am still controlling self, but I am not bearing fruit.

These days I am thinking about what compels me. Self-preservation has been the default mode for my entire life: how can I save self in this situation? How can I experience the least amount of pain and how can I control this situation in such a way that I will be seen as bearing fruit?

The more I experience the love of Christ, the more I find myself compelled by a different sort of control. And this is what I think Paul was talking about in Galations. He wasn’t preaching a white-knuckled tumble into heaven, making it there on the merit of our good works and will-power. He was saying get the Spirit and you’ll bear the fruit. Trees don’t white knuckle their way into bearing fruit, the fruit is the natural effect of a healthy tree.

When Jesus said “I’m giving you the Holy Spirit and he’ll guide you into all truth,” he wasn’t providing a warden to keep us in bounds. He was saying, “Hey, listen, all the truth is a lot of truth and I know you can’t do it on your own. I don’t want you to do it on your own. I want you to have a fully compelling, fully inhabitant spiritual force behind your every action. I want to give you something so that you’re reminded that gritting your teeth and bearing it, doesn’t produce lasting fruit.”

There is nothing self-induced about self-control. There is nothing self-controlling about self-control.

There is life in the Spirit and a sweet surprising love that rises up within us and empowers us to do what is most natural to us: bear fruit.

A few months ago I sat across from a pastor who took my shameful history and held up his own, point for point. It wasn’t a competition, it was a “You too? Me too.” I am grateful for men like him who do not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but stand on the level ground before the cross and say, “There’s room here. There’s room here.”

Have you been disappointed by leadership? Are you of Jesus and not the Church because pastors modeled for you less of Christ and more of self? Do you press against authority because it has failed you again and again? You are in the company of many, including myself.

In the evangelical world there are so many reasons to be disappointed by leaders, men and women who fail us, whom we fear or find fault with, who do not take seriously the responsibility to care for our souls, or who allow wolves to run rampant among the sheep. If you have felt that searing disappointment of broken trust, you are not alone.

Recent weeks have brought a deep sadness to my heart as I view the expanse of Christian leadership. Blog wars, tit for tat, volleying back and forth, exposing, naming, calling out, “standing for truth.” I feel like Elijah standing on the edge of the wilderness saying, “The people of Israel have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword, and I, even I only, am left.”

Do you feel alone? Do you know the bible says to obey your leaders, submit to them, but do you just feel the betrayal of life and all it holds. Do you want, like Elijah, to find the nearest cave and create for yourself a monastery (1 Kings 19)?

You are not alone.

You suffer from the same plight that attached itself to Adam and Eve in the garden, and the enemy before them, and every one of us born after: the inability to trust authority.

When the rebellion in me, innate as my blue eyes and proclivity to melancholy, rises and makes itself known once again, I know one thing to be true in those moments.

It is not that my earthly authorities can be trusted. It is not that all things will work together. It is not even that my rebellion is idolatrous witchcraft (1 Samuel 15:23). The one thing I know is God is the author of all systems and order. He set lights in the sky and seas on the earth and grass on the fields and called it good. He ordained these times and these days for me, and I can trust him. Not because all things work together, but because even when they all fall down around me, He does not.

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.

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

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

leadership

A wise, and lonely, leader once told me, “Leadership is lonely, so choose your friends wisely.” I believed him without hesitation because I saw the aching loneliness whenever he was in a crowd, the uncomfortable posture of one who longs for depth and fears it for the work it will bring.

I’ve been reading Paul’s letters from prison thinking often of how long stretches of time alone might have been the fuel he needed to write those letters—and yet, in prison? Alone? In those days, there is no more lonely place I can think of.

Leadership is lonely. It doesn’t look like it, of course, because every leader is surrounded by others, called on by others, even known, in some respect, by others. It seems like all the aching loneliness of being unknown would dissipate if only you stood with the leaders of the pack.

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

One of the most helpful verses I’ve ever memorized is John 3:30, “He must increase, I must decrease.”

Those six words have meant more to me in the swirling storms of suffering and rejoicing, lack and plenty, contentment and desire, than any six words I know. They are the mantra of my life and they are prophetic in a way, speaking future truth into what is not fully realized. They comfort me when I feel the aching loneliness of being both unknown and very known, a nobody and a leader, a friend and a stranger.

Leadership is lonely because decreasing is lonely. The larger the Lord of your life becomes to others, the less they see you, and isn’t that what we all want? Just a bit? To be seen, known, and truly loved? To be unshackled from the collective prison of our minds and hearts, to be free to roam among other commoners, to find our place at the fire or the table, to fit in?

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

This morning I read an article about a couple who were removed from leadership at a school in New England. They were serving Jesus faithfully, wouldn’t sign a paper demanding more from them than their faithfulness to His word, and they were given the boot, stripped of their leadership.

And yet, not.

Because the crowning achievement of every kingdom leader is to be the least, the last, and the lowest. To fulfill their mission in the prison of lonely leadership or unrecognized leadership—a prophet who has no respect.

If you seek leadership, know that what you’re asking for is a life of service and loneliness. It may not look like the glamorous service you suspect lies there. It may be the simple act of looking others in the face, hearing their stories while knowing yours is ever decreasing. It may be a life of quiet prayer. It may be behind a pulpit, which may be one of the loneliest places of all.

But, good and faithful—and lonely—servant, find your joy not in being known, but in making Him known.

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.

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

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

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

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

There will be three responses to his sin:

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

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

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

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

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

Pray the same for them.

lion

It is a strange thing to be grateful for sight, but all this week I grovel low and weep at the sight of sight. It comes in waves and it comes slowly at seemingly inopportune moments, but it comes just the same, warning me of paths ahead.

In this past weekend’s sermon my pastor spoke on the difference between worldly sorrow that produces death and godly sorrow that produces a life without regret (II Cor. 7:10) and I couldn’t write fast enough. Pencil to paper, ear to the word, I watched the sorrow I feel take form. Godly sorrow has sight. It sees.

Drunk on accountability partners and unspoken prayer requests, it has kept me from naming my sins, giving them phrase and confession. I “struggle” with sin or “war against” that which would devour me, but name the sin? Name more than the grotesque shape shrouding the war that wages within? No, not that.

But sight is a beautiful thing. And, my pastor said, beating the enemy to the truth about who I am delivers me from the power of his accusation. And fear not, that accusation will come. We will see our sin or our sin will see to us. Our enemy is a lion roaming for his kill and is no respecter of person, plight, platform, or performance.

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

There’s a song I’ve been listening to much in recent weeks. Her whole album is a treasure, but this song in particular pushes the specific confession I am going for here. It is not enough to know the struggle, but naming it, giving it verbiage and placement puts the enemy in his place. I seek not to train this lion, I seek to kill him. The first way I do that is to starve him of the pleasure of deception, his favorite dessert.

From the love of my own comfort
From the fear of having nothing
From the life of worldly passions
Deliver me, Oh God

From the need to be understood
From the need to be accepted
From the fear of being lonely
Deliver me, Oh God

I shall not want, I shall not want,
When I taste your goodness, I shall not want

From the fear of serving others
From the fear of death or trial
From the fear of humility
Deliver me, Oh God

If it is true that His goodness is better than life, and I would stake my life on its truth, then His goodness satisfies my wants. It satisfies the needs I feel, even the most acute demanding ones, the ones that set me on a slippery path of sin.

In the newness of the gospel, and there in the everyday of the gospel, the painful, agonizing sight of my sin is His first goodness to me.

fight

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

I’m loathe to take a camp, step off the fence, call my cards, or slap a label on myself, but all it takes is one quick glance through Sayable, a brief perusal of the publications for which I write, and the local church I call home for others to safely land me in with the neo-reformed. I won’t reject the title, but in normal fashion, I will not lay claim to it. However, there’s been something rotten in the state of Denmark recently and all fingers are pointing back at, well, I’ll say “us” for the sake of this post.

If you have no idea what rotten piecemeal is being bandied about, I have no interest in educating you. Others have done so much more thoroughly than I, with much more anger than I, with many more bones in the game than I. I weigh in today because May was supposed to be my sabbatical month and instead I have been peppered with more questions than ever on why I haven’t written on the SGM civil suit.

Here are the main reasons:

1. I am not affiliated in any way with SGM. Though I may be affiliated with those who are affiliated with them, we can play that game all day in every which way. Kevin Bacon anybody? These days everyone knows everyone somehow. It is a small world after all.

2. I am not a lawyer, but I think I am a fairly intelligent person, and even I had a bit of trouble getting my mind around the legal jargon of all the documents. And I’ve been in my share of courtrooms, with my share of lawyers spouting legal jargon—two can play that game. All I’m saying is, someone wants to win and so it’s hard to trust a system where winning is the goal. Last shall be first and all that.

3. I’m one of those fools who trusts the men who keep watch over my soul. Maybe that play isn’t for everybody, but I figure the Bible spent a lot of time talking about it, so nuff said.

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

Just because I didn’t say anything about it, though, doesn’t mean I didn’t feel complicit in the alleged ongoing silence by “us.” I was a bit confused as to why men and women I respected within the Church at large weren’t weighing in on the suit at all, save from a post by Tim Challies. It is good to be slow to speak, yes, but not speak at all? It didn’t seem right. I knew I didn’t have anything to add to the civil suit conversation, but surely something could be said to acknowledge the situation period?

(Adding my voice to the cacophony of the Christian blogosphere wouldn’t assuage those out for an admission of guilt, though, if you’re wondering why I didn’t say anything. I’m under no illusions—I might be affiliated with those affiliated with SGM, but I’m no Kevin Bacon, if you get my drift.)

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

In the light of more recent occurrences, though, and now that some of “us” have issued a public statement, I thought a few things might be said. Take them for what they’re worth to you. Remember comments aren’t open on Sayable ever so I’m not shutting you down and there’s no need to respond. They’re just my simple thoughts for those who might need them.

If you are a pastor:

Please protect your sheep. I meant what I said above about trusting those who keep watch over my soul. I mean that because the Bible says it and I trust the words of God. However, you, by nature of your position and your God-given authority, help illuminate those words for your sheep. You can use or abuse your authority and position, and you can, unknowingly, be the voice of the accuser to people—even in your silence. Always protect your sheep. If one of your talented, seemingly godly, charismatic sheep turns out to be a wolf, go after him. If one of your sheep leaves the fold, go find her. Pastor your people, don’t just preach at them.

If you were abused:

This case feels like the nail in the coffin, trust me, I know. Even if it wasn’t the same as your experience, you can easily relive your experience every time someone dismisses the concerns of the victims, every time someone seems complicit with their silence. Your heart means well here. The grace of God for you takes a horrific experience and gives you the tools to minister to these issues in a way those higher-up might never be able to do. That is not your blight or your stain, that is the precious work of grace to take the broken and make beautiful. Now is your time to speak in and with grace.

If you were an abuser:

You did wrong and you know this. You ought to make recompense for what is considered a crime in the eyes of God and the judicial system. But this does not mean forgiveness is withheld from you, or should be withheld until you “pay for what you did.” Forgiveness doesn’t work that way. I pray you know the fullness of the gospel covers your crimes, but does not blot them from history. Repent, accept the judicial punishment, and if you are His Child, look forward to a lifetime of His grace and an eternity in His presence.

If you want to leave the church because of this:

Part of me wants to say, please do, and trust me, there’s no snark in that statement. I’m fully convinced that no matter how far you run, you cannot outrun the wild, ferocious, loving heart of our God. If leaving the Church for a while helps you clear yourself of the clutter of its underbelly, please do. You have the freedom to leave abusive situations, Christ sets us free to do that, and you should. But I will also say this, as a child who has seen her fair share of the underbelly, if you’re His? You’re grafted in. You’re knit so tightly into His body and flesh, his scars and blood-bought redemption that you can’t leave the Church because you are part of it. And it’s beautiful. Really beautiful when you see it like that.

If you are neo-reformed (or whatever it is called these days), but embarrassed by the silence or complicit responses:

Can I implore you to press in close to your leaders, your elders, your editors, and your pastors. Sometimes they know things about a situation that you don’t know, isn’t public knowledge, isn’t on some legal document, and isn’t widely known. Sometimes they’re withholding comment because it could actually make it worse for the most helpless of the situation. You don’t know. There’s a lot of speculation, regardless of who you are and who you know and who you know who knows someone else. You aren’t Kevin Bacon, you just saw one of his movies once or twice. Reserve judgement.

If you know someone who knows someone (who was abused, who went to an SGM church, or anyone at all):

One of the things I love about the Bible is there are all these portions where it’s just one man or one woman and God (or the enemy). There are no eye-witnesses, it’s just Moses and the burning bush, Daniel and the lions, David and the bears, Jesus and the enemy. We get this birds-eye view into the situation, but really, when it happened it was just them there.

So we have perceptions of how things looked or played out, but I’ll bet you could poll any thirty of us and we’d all have a different setting in mind for Moses and his burning bush. There would be similarities, of course, but it would be different. This is how it is to hear any story second hand. We can know that some things are true, but some things are simply perceptions. Because of this, it is almost always better to reserve your own words about another person’s experience. There may be truth to it (and in this case specifically, it seems like there is definitely much truth to it), but the retelling of it multiple times will never end well. Mourn with those who mourn, bring it to the authorities if need be, but keep silent about the specific matter unless you know you speak the canonized truth.

If you are a mere onlooker:

If you’re just a casual reader, a blog reader, a curious atheist, a questioning agnostic, I am sorry. This entire situation, from twenty years ago until today is unfortunate and shameful. This is not becoming to the Church and I deeply regret it happened. However, let me say this, I am firmly convinced the Church tries to keep its wedding dress too squeaky clean, and this case is a perfect example of it. The reality is we’re blemished and broken, spotted and wrinkled, and Christ is the only way we’re getting presented cleansed. He’s it. It’s not through a denomination, a pastor, a friend, a court system, or a blog post that the resolution of all things comes, it’s Him. Him alone. Be encouraged, there’s room at the table and we don’t mind if you’re messed up. Really. We’re messed up too.

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

That’s all. I know this is long, and I’m breaking sabbath to share it, but I couldn’t sleep and I love to sleep.

Go in peace, brothers and sisters, pastors and sheep, abused and abusers, doubters and finders, He is faithful to complete His work. He seals it with His spirit.

I have always wanted to sell everything I own and buy the field. I have been the man who would give property, possessions, and pride to find the pearl of greatest price. A few years ago I did it. I sold everything I owned, packed what was left in my two-door Honda Civic and drove to Texas with no home, plan, or purpose. I found the pearl and nothing was worth more.

When my best friend and I were young we made for ourselves a time-capsule. We put in it special mementos, notes from boys we liked, school pictures, concert tickets—junk to anyone else. We dug a hole in her back yard and planted it deep enough to let our friendship grow. When we dug it up in our junior or senior year it was covered in dirt, crusted with mud. Inside was safe and we have continued to treasure this tradition.

I think sometimes we are caught up in the idea that our pearl will come out polished and pristine. That we will have done the work, sold our belongings, bought the field, dug down deep, and the reward is something beautiful at first sight. But dirt isn’t beautiful. And dirt-encrusted treasures are not beautiful.

The pearl we have sorted through mud and sand and tall grass and rocks for will not come out looking like it was worth any of the work at all.

There will be a time when we take the treasure home, rub it over with a soft cloth, wash it over with water, clean it up, and determine its worth. But we must not be selfish in our rush to determine the worth of what only looks like just another rock.

Today I am looking at the pile of stones before me. I asked—I asked for bread. I asked for sustenance and warm bread, and He has given me a pile of dirt-encrusted rocks. Friendships wrought with pain and surprise—not wrong, simply in process. Half-baked theological conclusions—not incorrect, simply unfinished. Relationships that never bloom—not trampled on, simply unopened. Ideas subject to time and space—not false, simply not full to fruition. To my eye this treasure has not been worth what I have given to get it.

The Lord is teaching me the process to a perfect pearl, a finely cut diamond, a shaped gold-piece, does not come without pain and it does not come without a grain of sand, a piece of rock, and a yellow vein in a dark cavern. The treasure is Christ and He wept in a garden, felt forsaken on the cross, and still has not come to take us home. We are his unfinished pearl and, in some ways, He is ours. He is already come and not yet.

Maybe none of this makes sense to you, and in some ways, I’m okay if it doesn’t. This is my unfinished treasure, covered over with mud, stuffed full of meaning for me but junk to you. We are all standing behind dark and dim glasses, waiting to see face to face our dearest Treasure, and I never want to pretend my pearls are more polished than yours until that day.

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I can’t even tell you how it happened that we sat there and cried hot wet tears, barely looking one another in the eyes. I take much of the blame, though my heart ached with hurt and couldn’t find healing.

Don’t let the sun go down on your anger?

Well, what about when it’s not anger you’re bedding down for the night? What about when it’s joy mixed with mourning so deep you don’t know what else to do but be silent? Be silent for fear that your muddled mess of joy and mourning will be trumped by the latter and seen as such. So I kept silent.

A friend tells me a few weeks ago that I present my life as perfect and I want to tell her to read a decade’s archives of presentations. This? This place on the web? This is my sanctification in process on view for the world, and if that’s perfect, well, I suppose I’ve arrived a thousand times over.

Once I heard a story of an old man on his death-bed. He was asked if he found himself sinning less as he grew older.

“Sin less?” He asked. “I was never more aware of my sin than I was a moment ago.”

“Well, then, do you find it easier to repent?”

“No, son,” he said. “I just find the gap between me and the Lord ever closing as I turn.”

It was Annie Dillard who said, “Where, then, is the gap through which eternity streams?” and I think that gap is here, and here, and this moment, and this one. Eternity streams through these small moments, adding up to one final jubilee, one long trumpet call, when our angers and hurts and fears and sins are bedded forever, never to wake up, not ever.

Do I find myself sinning less the nearer I draw to that final day?

No. I find I know my sin more, and every moment more aware than the last. But do I find it’s easier to find God, to know His nearness, and to trust the days to him? Yes. I do.

It doesn’t make the hurt less, but this earthly Christian life is not for the avoiding of hurt, but the enduring of it.

…we rejoice in our sufferings,
knowing that suffering produces endurance…
Romans 5:3

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Whenever I’m in a situation in which pairs must be created and I’m in charge of making those pairs (accountability, confession, or prayer partners usually), I always tell the about-to-be-paired, “If you don’t want me to pick your partner/team for you, and you don’t want to be picked last, pick someone else first.” It’s my way of making sure as few people as possible feel like that awkward fourth grader who always got picked last for dodgeball teams (me).

I’m a fan of this model because nobody wants to be picked last, but nobody also really wants to pick someone else first.

The thing is, both nobodies here are sitting in a form of pride.

I don’t want to be picked last because I want you to see that I matter, I count, there’s good stuff about me and in me.

I don’t want to pick you first because I don’t want to need you, I don’t want you to see my insecurities and pitfalls and poor leadership skills.

But sooner or later, everyone gets picked. And the game goes on or partnerships are built. And some teams are winners and some are losers. And sometimes the winners find out later that winning isn’t everything, and sometimes the losers feel like crap, but they dig in hard, see where they can improve, and eventually the last really are first.

So pick someone today. Be brave. Just find someone and pick them.

Love one another with brotherly affection.
Outdo one another in showing honor. 

Romans 12:10

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