Archives For sin

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In the midst of conflict within the local church the first thing we need to understand is that we are never promised a clean, unspotted, unblemished church (Ephesians 5:27). The bible repeatedly makes the case that the local church on earth will be broken and blemished until Christ presents us clean and spotless.

Therefore, when we encounter brokenness in the local church our response is not to run the other direction, complain, or grow angry at the institution. If we are Christians, then we believe the bible, and the bible says we are imperfect. The crux for the Christian is how we respond, then, to the imperfect church family of which we are a part.

As humans we can be tempted to respond in a few different ways to conflict within the local church. Philippians 4:1-9 has a clear pathway for how Christians walk through conflict.

“I entreat Euodia and I entreat Syntyche to agree in the Lord. Yes, I ask you also, true companion, help these women, who have labored side by side with me in the gospel together with Clement and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life.

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.”

1. We can be tempted to speculate: Philippians 4 begins with Paul naming two individuals in the church at Philippi who were disagreeing in the Lord. We are not told what the nature of their conflict was. We are not told who brought it first to anyone’s attention. We are told very little, in fact, of the details of the situation. Paul thought it important to not name the specifics of the situation. God ordained that godly men would lead the church as elders and that the body would submit to them as under-shepherds knowing they know specifics of things we might never know. This is a good and safe place for the Christian.

In verse 7 Paul says, “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Paul is saying there’s a peace that passes all kinds of speculation. It’s a peace the world cannot give. It’s a peace that even knowledge cannot give. No matter how hard we grasp for the details of a situation, they cannot give the peace that only God can give. When we are tempted to speculate here, let’s entrust our questions to God and ask for a peace that passes the limited answers we’re given.

2. We can be tempted to judge: Paul begins this chapter with the conflict, but he quickly follows it up with the truth that these women have “labored side by side with [him] in the gospel together with Clement and the rest of the fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life.” What we know is there are some faithful women who have encountered the brokenness of life on earth as humans. But it doesn’t change the fact that these women labored hard alongside the other early Christians.

When the temptation comes to judge, remember the faithfulness that Paul commends. Is there any perfect leader or Christian? No. But commend the faithfulness of all. Flee from the temptation to judge the process, people, or church. Commend faithfulness.

3. We can be tempted to be divisive: Paul says in verse 4, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” Paul is saying in the midst of this time be reasonable, don’t be anxious, make your requests known to God. Do it with thanksgiving. Exercise gratefulness for what the Lord has done and is doing. Fight anxiety with the truth of the word. Be so full of the Holy Spirit in this time that it is “known to everyone.”

Instead of being divisive, trying to cause division, discord, creating “teams,” or pitting people against one another, rejoice in the Lord always. And again, because it’s so important, rejoice. Fight the temptation to cause division in God’s church.

4. We can be tempted to gossip or listen to gossip: Paul says in verses 8, “Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” Paul is saying in response to this situation where there are unknowns, conflict, and a lack of understanding, do this instead. Think about the things that are true, just, pure, lovely, commendable, etc..

Paul isn’t saying to trick ourselves into being and feeling great. He is saying, though, to lift our eyes up to what is eternally and foundationally true, God Himself, the most true, most commendable, most lovely of everything. Do not be tempted to sit in a pit of gossip with other speculators, panning for the nuggets of curiosity. Climb out of that pit, trust those he’s put in place to lead your local church, and flee from gossip.

Maybe you’re in the middle of conflict right now. Or maybe you’re not in the middle of it, but your ears are juicy for the details of it. I hope and pray this passage encourages and challenges you as it has for me. Let’s all aspire to live quieter lives, trusting God to build His church wholly.

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In a world of comparisons, ten months of marriage has nothing on 34 years of singleness, so consider me a toddler in the ways of I Dos. I know very little, but here are four things I do know and I thought I’d share them with you today:

1. Marriage is not more sanctifying than Singleness

Don’t believe it for a second if you’re single, and don’t convince yourself of it for a minute if you’re married. It’s a lie that one is more sanctifying than the other. If you got married in your early twenties, you grew up into an adult with your person. You were most sanctified during marriage—but not necessarily because of it. Correlation is not causation. This little lesson should be preached by more married people because it leaves most single people in the church feeling less than and not enough until they’re married. It’s poison. Stop saying it.

God is sanctifying me in marriage differently than He sanctified me in my singleness, the same as He sanctified me in my thirties differently than He sanctified me in my twenties. It’s the beauty of growth in the gospel and in life. He’s always doing something and always making everything new.

2. Marriage doesn’t make you more financially secure; God is the primary breadwinner

I came into marriage never having had a savings account that topped a few thousand. Nate came into marriage with a fat down-payment for our house in Denver and a hefty savings account. We thought between the two of us (me the penny pincher and him the miser), we’d be set.

Within this year of marriage, we’ve sold a house in Dallas, moved cross-country twice, started two new careers, went through six months of unemployment, and now have a mortgage in Denver and rent in DC—two of the most expensive cities to live in. Any carpet of financial security we had coming into marriage has been ripped out from below our feet. We are less financially secure than either of us have ever been in our lives. We are being whiplashed with bills, costs, and drains from every direction.

I know our story isn’t everyman’s, but it sure does debunk the lie that “Marriage makes you more financially secure.” The reality is having roommates (while that may not be what you desire for the long-term of your life) is a very cost-effective way to live. Those shared bills might feel like a noose around your neck, but they’re half or a quarter of what they’ll be when it’s just one paycheck coming in.

We didn’t plan on one paycheck this year. We planned to live in Nate’s salary and squirrel mine away. Instead we lost Nate’s quickly, and lived on mine and our savings account. It wasn’t sustainable. We can beat ourselves up a thousand different ways on this (We shouldn’t have left Dallas, we shouldn’t have bought a house in Denver, we shouldn’t have banked on him being able to work remotely long-term, we should have researched job options for him in Denver better, etc.), but the reality is, we did what we thought was right and good and honorable and faithful—and all of our plans failed.

I’m learning the only thing I can ever find my security in is God—which is the same lesson I’ve been learning for 35 years. My plans have never worked—never! It was foolish to think that would change just because I got married. God has always required sacrifice of me, always asked for obedience, never given me too much of any good thing. I don’t believe it’s His character to withhold any good thing, but I do believe it’s His character to give us exactly what we need of it and more is never guaranteed. Marriage and money included.

3. This one might be TMI, but here goes: the world tells us to get whatever we can from sex, but the truth is sex is only good if you give what you can—and the more you’re willing to give, the better it is.

That might be confusing, so let me flesh it out (Also, I’m having a very hard time writing this section because suddenly every word is an innuendo of some sorts.):

There was an angst in my singleness that had much to do with wanting a partner, wanting to shoulder the burdens of life with someone, wanting someone to love me, etc. But there was also a very real angst of sexual desire in me. I wanted to be held and loved and pursued. I didn’t need it to end in sex, but it culminated many times in sexual desire being fanned in my life. I don’t think that’s a bad thing. God created sex, sex is good, desiring sex is good, and getting married is good. Burning with passion is actually a good motivation (among other things) for getting married. But sex was what I thought would somehow satisfy some longings of my flesh. I wanted my desires to be met physically.

Sex within marriage is good but its goodness is almost never about my desires being met. My husband is a good and caring man, faithful, kind, gentle. He is tender with me and loves me deeply. But neither of us can satisfy desires that are too deep for words and too complicated for human hands. The best we can do is to come to bed ready to serve one another.

What I have learned about sex is that instead of it being the culmination of all the things of the day, sex is actually a very gritty, raw, messy foundation in our lives.

Instead of being the pinnacle, the point, the top of the triangle (thinking I do all the big, heavy lifting throughout life for the tiny slice of joy at the top), it is actually the base of it. Sex is the biggest part. Not because it happens the most, but because when there are a thousands things throughout the day demanding my attention, and most of them are serving my husband in some way (laundry, dishes, food prep, errands, phone calls, bills, etc.), the foundation we have within sex to serve one another makes the day to day monotony a joy.

The climax of sex is not a romp under the covers, it’s asking him every morning how I can help make his day better. It’s putting a healthy nutritious meal in his lunch bag. It’s running to Home Depot to get a special sauce for the weed-eater. It’s folding the ratty t-shirts from races he ran in high-school.

The foundation of learning to serve within my singleness translated directly to how I learn to serve within marriage. Serving my husband in sex is easy—even if there’s no physical return in it for me, because whether in bed, the kitchen, or Home Depot, serving is the posture of the Christian—married and single.

4. I am not my own anymore; marriage is shared sanctification

This has probably been the hardest adjustment for me to make within marriage. It’s not just about schedule, finances, decisions, etc. Those things are challenging for sure. I’m used to planning my own day, caring for my own finances, and making whatever decisions seemed best to me. I can’t do that anymore. Every piece of me affects a person I love. It’s a joy, but it’s not as easy as it sounds.

What is more difficult, though, is the shared burden of sanctification. This relates to point one because I think often times what married people mean when they say “Marriage is the most sanctifying thing,” is that saying I Do to all your mess means more mess in my life. In singleness whenever I walked through challenging things it was almost always easy to see where God was sanctifying me and to make small adjustments in my life to submit to Him in those areas. In marriage, though, it’s two people walking through the same challenges together. God doesn’t waste anything, but sometimes the bulk of the lesson is meant for me and sometimes it’s meant for Nate. How can you tell?

Therein lies the challenge. As we’ve walked through this past season of financial difficulty it has revealed areas in our lives of idolatry, fear, pride, and more. And it has primarily affected Nate. Most of the idols being toppled are his in that area. On the other hand, we’ve just walked through a season where I’ve encountered some fearful things, the shootings, the miscarriages, failed plans, my car being vandalized, Nate’s job loss. Never in my life have I been a fearful person and at every turn these days, I’m afraid of something. God is teaching me He is the only one who is trustworthy and He is faithful.

God is teaching both of us things in paramount ways, but they are different things, and the struggle in being one flesh is entering into that sanctification process with the other. It feels like our feet are cemented to the floor and we can barely encourage ourselves, how do we begin to encourage one another?

This is what I’ve been learning: I am not my own anymore. In the past, I was the primary preacher to my soul. I was my best encourager. I was the one who pulled myself up by my bootstraps. But I’m not anymore, I feel paralyzed in the encouragement of my own soul. But I am not paralyzed in the encouragement of Nate’s soul. This is the gift of walking through the mud together: I know the words that lift up his eyes to the hills, and he knows the words for me. It’s beautiful and painful, precious and hard. We are not our own anymore.

. . .

This is long, I know, but I’m hoping it helps some other newlyweds along the way and some singles who might be believing lies about themselves or their married friends.

Please don’t tell anyone else this, but I wanted to process something with you. If you could just keep it between you and me? I assume you know I wouldn’t want it to get around, I want to make sure people really understand my side of things and that can only happen if I communicate about it directly. You understand right?

I just tried to emotionally manipulate you. Did you fall for it?

There’s a chair in the corner of my office at the church were I work. It’s a shade of gold I can’t quite name and its fabric is velour of sorts. Every week someone cries on that chair. Not a week has gone by that someone has not cried on that chair. Sometimes I’m the one crying on it. Often the person sitting there asks me to just keep this conversation between them and me, and every single time I have to say, “I’m sorry, I can’t promise that.”

There are some who are contractually obligated to keep secrets—lawyers, counselors, mobsters—but within the local church, “Just between you and me,” is bedfellows with its sister, Gossip. They seem at odds, but they are actually two sides of the same coin.

Gossip wants to control the narrative by embellishing it, the other wants to control the narrative by being the only one to talk about it. Gossip wants to make the story interesting, the other wants to make the story one-sided. Neither reflect the words and meditations of a heart pleasing to God.

Friends, sometimes we show discretion in what we share to protect someone’s heart, but if our aim is to craft a narrative or limit the narrative to our side only, we’re lying, and God calls lying is a sin.

Here are three truths when we’re tempted to hide within the narrative we’ve crafted:

1. God owns and knows the whole truth and we cannot hide from him.

Whenever I’ve been tempted to tell someone to keep something between us, I have to ask myself the question: “Whose narrative are you trying to present?” Sometimes there are a lot of moving pieces and we’re not ready to make announcements public yet. But most of the time when I’ve used those words, I was trying to control the order in which people heard something, or I was trying to make sure my perspective was valued as sort of a secret treasure I entrusted to someone to hold.

The problem is, though, these things are too heavy for mere humans to hold. We weren’t made to hold the weight of secrets. One of the first things humanity did was try to hide from God—but we can’t hide from God! Whatever things we’re doing to protect ourselves are as laughable as standing behind fig leaves in front of the Almighty Creator of those fig leaves. Controlling a story, crafting the perfect narrative, and trying to make people see things from our perspective are empty efforts.

God sees you, He knows your heart, He knows what you’re protecting, and He knows why. Walk in truth and wholeness with your brothers and sisters, and Him. He can handle the whole mess of it all.

2. God orchestrates a better story than we can tell or keep from telling.

Without exception, every single time someone has said to me, “Please don’t tell anyone this,” the unveiling of their fears or concerns has been part of the working toward healing, redemption, and reconciliation in the body. So many of us are blindly walking around ignorant of our issues, complacent in our efforts, or unaware of problems. We need the iron sharpening of one another in the body of Christ. Here’s why: the end of our story (which is really the beginning) is a better one than we can imagine in our moment of pain.

When we’re blinded by the presence of pain, uncertainty, or misunderstanding, we can’t imagine a good ending to the story. We just need to vent, to process, to express ourselves. But God is writing a better story and He’s orchestrating all the smallest players to be a part of it.

If you must talk about something, talk about it with the intention of holistic healing, and talk first and only with the people involved in a godly solution—not with those jumping on a party bus heading straight for Division Canyon.

3. God has put His children in a body with different perspectives, different histories, and different gifts.

When we ask someone to keep something “just between us,” we’re asking them to stand on a desert island with us. We’re asking them to alienate themselves from their covering and their counsel and join in solidarity with us away from something else. Friends, this is a sin. God always comes forward to us. He always initiates. He always invites in. He moves toward us in reconciliation—and his design for us is to do the same.

God puts us in the body of Christ to express those aspects of Himself to one another. He puts His cards on the table, all of them. There is nothing hidden with Him and in Him we live and move and have our being. He is the whole story—and He puts us along side one another in community to work out the expressions of Him on earth.

Don’t live in a factionalistic society. We have an enemy, and our brothers and sisters in Christ aren’t him.

. . .

My parents always used to say to my brothers and me, “There are three sides to every story, yours, his, and the truth,” and the adage still stands. Your perspective is valid, but it is not the whole story. Trust God with the whole story, yours, theirs, and all of ours.

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III
Oh, come O Rod of Jesse’s stem,
From ev’ry foe deliver them
That trust your mighty pow’r to save;
Bring them in vict’ry through the grave.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to you, O Israel!

Yesterday was my birthday and in a meeting a little after 11am we heard a rapid succession of gunshots outside our office windows. By the time we looked the shooter was reloading and beginning on his second round of gunfire toward a single officer.

We ducked and looked again. The idiom, “Like a train wreck, you can’t look away,” comes to mind. I asked myself later a thousand times—every time the image replays in my head: “Why didn’t you look away, Lore? Why didn’t you close your eyes?” Right now I fear that image will be in my head forever, but I have lived through trauma and I know it all fades eventually.

I ask Nate why this morning, “Why does he think God has let us be so near to the stink of death and the snuffing of life recently? What is He teaching us? For what does this prepare us?” This all just seems senseless and this morning I message a friend back east: “Sometimes I just want to come home to small town living, to cloister myself away in an old farmhouse, to let this season be about the growing light instead of the looming dark.”

Sin is so dark.

I think, in this second week of Advent, of the Christ-child grown. Grown for one purpose: to look on sin and take it for us all. I think of him in the garden: Father, take this cup from me? Begging to not have to look on sin, to not face the grave so we wouldn’t have to.

But He didn’t look away. And through the grave he brought victory.

. . .

Live a quiet life.
I Thessalonians 4:11

He must increase, I must decrease.
John 3:30

If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.
Luke 9:23

Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.
John 12:23

They loved not their lives even unto death.
Revelation 12:11

To me to live is Christ, to die is gain.
Philippians 1:21

The way up is the way down, I know this and yet the sliver of light above is so tempting to fixate upon. The promise of a little life here on earth seems to be more lasting than eternal life with the Father above.

I checked every door twice last night and rushed into my car in the garage this morning, suspicious of every car parked along our street. I looked both ways twice before getting out of my car at work today and had to take a deep breath before leaving. Fear has never been my nemesis. At least not fear of wicked men and hearts. I fear my own heart more than I fear others. But these weeks have made me fearful. I think again, “I shouldn’t have looked. Why did I look?”

This passage from Ephesians plays through my mind this afternoon, full of the knowledge of the someday coming. All the things we see and think we see and shouldn’t have seen and cannot forget we’ve seen: from these we will someday arise and stand, in the full light of Christ and he will look and shine on us.

For anything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says, “Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.”
Ephesians 5:14

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We’ve come by our attraction to transparent communities honestly—we have been hiding since the third chapter of Genesis. We ache to come out of hiding and to walk in the freedom of Eden again. There are little secrets in us all, taunting us with their presence: “If everyone knew this about you…”

And what if?

I always find it slightly generous of God to have asked Adam the question he already knew the answer to, “Where are you?” Generous because the answer to that question was not for God but for man. Who of us truly wants to face the question, “Where are you?”

Where is your heart?

Where is the meditation of your mind?

What are you thinking about? Obsessing over? Hiding?

Where are you? On the grandest scale of human emotions and proclivities and circumstances and seasons, where are you?

God didn’t ask the question to find the answer. He asked the question because the next words Adam spoke would teach us all, “I was naked and afraid, and so I hid.”

Half the battle warring inside of us is won with those words: I am naked—uncovered, exposed. I am afraid—fearful, worried, full of angst. I am hiding—withdrawing, retreating, running away. And aren’t we all, Adam? Aren’t we all? But most of us will never say the words because we like to talk more about the testimony of yesterday than the valley of today.

A transparent community is not simply one where we talk about what God did yesterday and how we came to enlightenment and grew and how today will be different. A transparent culture of confession is one where we say, “Here is where I am today and I am afraid I will always be like this and my inclination is to hide it away.” That is true transparency. That is true confession.

Eating the fruit made Adam and Eve see the destructive nature of wanting to be like God and we still eat the fruit of that fruit. We want to be like God in a thousand different ways. We want to, like my pastor from Texas says, “Wear a superhero’s cape.”

But humans don’t need capes, they need the skins from the sacrifice, the shelter of the Most High, the mantle of God, the robe of the Father thrown over them as they limp home from squandered inheritances and life beside pigs. Real humans, children of God, stink of the pigsty under the pristine robes of the King.

Stop pretending we don’t stink, friends. Say the words, “I am naked. I am ashamed and fearful. I am hiding.” Let us gather at the threshold gate and run toward home where the Father waits to clothe us with the sacrificial covering of His Son.

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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 the work of providence, I suppose, that I have been reading about conflict in the church at Philippi these last few weeks and Nate is reading The Peacemaker. I somehow always imagined marriage to be ripe with conflict, but the truth is that ours hasn’t been, or if it has, we’re delightfully oblivious (that is not to say we have not had conflict, just that we do not stink of it every day). But for all the lack of conflict within our marriage, our entire relationship has been surrounded by conflict among those we love. Which, if you know either of us, is a grand cosmic joke between the Trinity:

“Let’s put these two passive, peace-loving, conflict-adverse people together for the rest of all time, okay?!”

“Yeah! And let’s put them in ministry where they’ll be surrounded by conflict all the time!”

“Grand idea!”

It was an exclamation mark fest, I just know it.

For all our natural passivity, though, the conflict swirling around us has been a blessing of sorts. Oh, we don’t like it, don’t mishear me, but it has been a “severe mercy.” Through it we see God’s mercy, our sinfulness, and the persistent unfinishedness of the Church—so in this, it has been a blessing.

One thing I am consistently surprised about, though, is the pervasiveness of modern psychology in the midst of conflict between Christians. Phrases like, “You’ve broken my trust in you/him/her/it,” “I was wrong, but…,” and “You shouldn’t have waited until I’d sinned five times in this way before coming to me.” It makes me wonder, truly, how broken is our theology if these are the words coming out of our mouths?

You’ve broken my trust.
One of the best men I know is a biblical counselor across the street from my Texas church family. He told me once, “The bible never says we ought to have faith in another person, it only says we should place it in God.” To displace my faith from another person is actually a good thing—it points me toward a God who cannot and will not fail. When our “trust has been broken” in another human, be encouraged, it was never meant to rest on them. Trust God.

I’m sorry, but…
The most beautiful thing about repentance is there is no “but…” after the brokenness. To add a “but you…” or “but they…” after our admission of guilt (no matter how justified we may feel in our counter-accusation), takes away the weight we’re meant to feel in our mourning over sin and the staggering beauty of a God before whom we stand fully approved and full loved as his children. One of my favorite passages on our response to sin is when Paul says to the Corinthians, “Ought you not rather mourn?!” So often we apologize and run quickly to a counter attack or run quickly to a false sense of security. Brothers and sisters, there is no security in coming out on top. Do not consider equality as something to be grasped, become obedient to death. He raises to life.

You should have told me sooner.
There are two sorts of people in conflict that I’m observing: the first tends toward quick righteousness and the second tends toward prolonged grace. In the midst of conflict, the latter typically will overlook a matter (to God’s glory) four, five, six times before finally coming to the brothers or sister and entreating them to righteousness. The former who desires quick righteousness typically responds, “Why didn’t you come to me sooner!?” and so excuses their sin. Friends, overlook a matter, as much as it depends on you, extend grace, pursue peace, forgive seventy times seven without saying a word. The modern concept is that if we bottle up our feelings we’re somehow doing ourselves a disservice and betraying our hearts. I have good news for you: God holds every one of your tears in his capable hands, He knows them and cares for them and has paid for every one of your sins—even the ones five times back. When you cover a multitude of sins with the love of God, you are not doing a disservice to yourself or to the accused. It is kindness that draws us to the throne and love that keeps us there.

Make no mistake, Christian, our theology is on display in the midst of conflict. Our belief in the gospel and its permeation in our lives comes through in those confrontations, apologies, stalemates, and  arguments. God, the ultimate reconciler, though, has given us clear directives for the ministry of reconciliation. Conflict does not surprise or bewilder Him, He has made a way and set an ultimate example of humility, obedience, and persistence through His Son. Trust Him. Believe Him. We will always be disappointed by people but never by Christ.

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We’re shelving books, no longer two, but one. We sit at the same table every night and morning. Our dishes, his pottery and my vintage, married on the kitchen shelves. We’ve bought a house. With every action there is a recurring subconscious question accompanying them all:

Who will get this when we divvy things up?

Until last night I didn’t give the thought enough space to analyze. We sat on our patio and worked through the instructions (His idea, not mine, I never think to look at instructions.) for our patio furniture and the thought crept up again, I stared it right in the face and asked where it came from. Fear of divorce? Both our lives have been shattered by that reality once, it would be natural to fear it in some way. Fear of death? I suppose there is always that. But no, deep down, I realize, it comes from fourteen years of living with roommates. Fourteen years of divvying things up.

I wouldn’t trade a single one of those roommates. I have lived with crazy, kind, cruel, caring, clean, and chaotic, and I have been all of those things back; still I wouldn’t trade a single girl. Those girls taught me to deal with my monsters, to respond with kindness when met with cruelty, to laugh a lot more than my nature would, to not listen to a fool in her folly, and to not be a fool in her folly. There has been no more sanctifying agent than the dozens of roommates I’ve had while I waited and hoped for marriage. Each year, in many ways, more difficult than the last because we learned to confront sin and to be confronted in our sin. We learned to serve and not be served. We learned to outdo one another in honor. We learned to navigate really tricky situations with no happy outcome for anyone. We learned to die.

I have not yet learned to die and this is clear in my marriage, even though my husband rarely asks it of me. As we meld our books and cups and plates and pitchers, I think about dying and I think about divvying. There has always been an end date on my housemates. A lease. A cap. But with him, there is no end date, no divvying up, no dividing, no chore charts, no questions on who is responsible for what. There is a cyclical kind of service, he serves me and I serve him, but sometimes the cycle breaks and one of us is short and one of us is absentminded (three guesses who on the latter, first two don’t count). It takes a hard restart, but not the kind where we go our own way and make up when we feel like it. It takes one of us coming to the other and saying, “I’m sorry, I’m owning my stuff here, but realizing all our stuff is shared and I affect you, whether I want to or not.”

I have heard it said marriage is the most sanctifying gift to his people, but I think that is hyperbole. I think people are the most sanctifying gift to his people. And fourteen years of roommates have taught me many things, some things I have to unlearn in marriage (there is no divvying up of stuff because there is no end date on this covenant). And some things I am grateful to have learned alongside roommates. I have sometimes felt like all the right things have to happen while we’re under the same roof, because once I am gone, or they are gone, nothing good can ever come. That God cannot continue to sanctify roommates once we are apart.

That’s the hyperbole of it all. That God is limited to doing exactly what needs to be done to sanctify his people inside of marriage or outside. He completes the work—whether we are 35 and single or married at 21. The sanctification looks different, but it is completed.

I’m sitting on our new patio furniture, drinking my coffee, and writing. The operative word there is, “our.” It’s the new sanctifying agent in my life, that this is all ours, together, stewarded to us by God for the season of our marriage covenant. It’s a new feeling, one I don’t know how to wear well yet, but I am learning; by God’s grace we are learning.

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“Crosswicks is a typical New England farmhouse, built sometime in the middle of the eighteenth century, so it is well over two-hundred years old. Its square central section has been added to haphazardly over the years, white clapboard somehow tying it all together, so that the house rambles pleasantly and crookedly. A dropped ball will roll right to the central chimneys, and the bookcases we’ve build in are masterpieces of non-alignment.”

Madeleine L’Engle, A Two-Part Invention: The Story of a Marriage

Madeleine might as well have been talking about our house. One of the oldest Denver proper houses built here, a farm that shrunk and squished until the the past fifty years, when new bungalows and cottages grew as the new farmland crop. Our bookcases lean slightly awaiting the carpentry that will fit them snugly into the next hundred years, I hope. No floor is level, no window the same. But we, like Madeleine, make a home here, fitting ourselves into a thing never finished.

Marriage, too, is a thing unfinished. Brimming with unresolved beauty, always coming round corners to find pleasant surprises, or more corners, but never finished.

I have never deluded myself into thinking marriage would bring all the resolve I longed for or the culmination of all joy. I have been the product of a broken marriage and understand the fragility of two sinners in close quarters till death them do part. Marriage has always been seen as another long walk hand in hand in the same direction, same as any other holy thing. But it is the constant unfinishedness of marriage that surprises me. The same conversations with small changes. We grow, we mature, we lean in to one another, we learn, but we are not there.

Someone says to cut myself some slack, we’re only two months in, but how many months in is it before you feel the creaks and groans of an unsettled house cease? Ten? Twenty five? Seven hundred?

Madeleine writes of practicing piano: “I was working on…the Bach Two-Part Inventions. One is never through with the Two-Part Inventions; they are the essential practice needed for the Well-Tempered Clavier.” And I understand her a bit better than I did when last I read her memoir. One is never through with the Two-Part Inventions, the marriage, the leaning in, and leaning toward. It is beautiful thing, but it is a thing unfinished.

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I.

I am not like those Israelites in the wilderness, the ones who handed over their riches to make the likes of a golden calf. I clutch to my idols in their original form. I do not trust a maker of any sorts with my valuables, I trust only myself. I adorn myself in them.

II.

I wonder sometimes if all the Israelites gave Aaron their jewelry on that day, or if there were some who held back because an idol in their hands was better than one melded with a hundred thousand other idols.

III.

Remember when Rachel hid the idols of her father’s household in her satchel? She carried them with her just in case. Just in case God failed her, just in case He didn’t come through, just in case the unseen God wasn’t as dependable as the seen gods. Just in case He didn’t give her what she wanted.

IV.

Sometimes the only way you can spot an idol is to have it wrenched from your hands. Empty hands can reveal idolatry.

V.

Sometimes idols in the ancient Near East were the big kind you envision in temples, massive stone or golden statues with people prostrate around them in every form. But common ones were small ones, pocketed bits of clay and wood and rock—things they could pull from their pockets at a moments notice, to fill the void, cure boredom, feel validated, and seek answers from.

VI.

The message to the idol worshipper is the same as to the law worshipper, the same to the younger son as to the elder, the same to the Gentile as to the Jew: that idol and that law will only reveal your need for a Savior and a Father.

VII.

Underneath the gold and silver plated idols was the stuff of the earth: clay, wood, rock. All that glitters is not gold. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.

Then you will defile your carved idols overlaid with silver and your gold-plated metal images. You will scatter them as unclean things. You will say to them, “Be gone!”
Isaiah 30:22

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

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

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

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

—Jamie

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In recent months I’ve been convicted about the little foxes that ruin the vineyard of my heart. I have a bit of a tender constitution to some things I see on media, or hear about from others, but I realized my propensity to mindlessly watch popular shows containing nudity was growing in the past year. I wasn’t watching them for the nudity, but I was still complicit in their popularity. I like smart writing and good character development and there are a few movies I enjoyed this year that contained brief scenes that would be better left out of both the film and and my heart.

In my singleness I have let my heart grow cold in this area, telling myself that because I didn’t have a man’s heart to protect while viewing, it was okay to just gloss over the scenes. I was watching it for the story after all.

Like those who read Playboy for the articles?

Recently I heard John Piper speak on watching nudity of any kind in any media. He gives twelve reasons why we should be “radically bold, sacrificially loving, God-besotted freaks, aliens—saying no to the world for the sake of the world.” The world doesn’t need more copies of itself.

I’m sharing his twelve points here and I hope you’ll take a few minutes to listen to him and commit to not watch nudity of any kind. It’s nearly impossible if you watch any popular show or movie, but it’s a sacrifice our hearts desperately need and one Christ asks for.

1. Jesus died to purify me and his people. It is a travesty of the cross to think he only forgave us for the sin of watching nudity, but did not purify us for the power not to watch it. Titus 2:14

2. There is in the bible a radical call for holiness of mind and heart and life. Nudity in photos and movies is not holy and does not advance our holiness. I Peter 1:15, II Corinthians 7:1

3. Jesus said everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with his heart. Seeing naked women and men causes men and women to sin with their minds and desires, and often with their bodies. If Jesus told us to guard our hearts by gouging out our eyes to prevent sin, how much more would he say “Don’t watch it.”

4. Life in Christ is not mainly the avoidance of evil, but mainly the passionate to pursue good. My life is not a constrained life, it is a free life. We were called to freedom, don’t use freedom as opportunity for flesh. Philippians 4

5. I want to see and know God as fully as possible. Watching nudity is a huge hinderance to that pursuit. Matthew 5:8 says, “Blessed are the pure in heart, they shall see God.” The defilement of the mind by watching nudity dulls the heart’s ability to enjoy God

6. God calls women to adorn themselves to adorn themselves with modesty. When we pursue, receive, or embrace nudity, we are implicitly endorsing the men and women who sell themselves this way. I Timothy 2:9

7. Most Christians are hypocrites in watching nudity because they say watching it okay, but they know deep down they wouldn’t want daughter or wife to be playing this role.

8. Nudity is not like murder and violence on the screen, that’s make-believe, nobody gets killed, but nudity is not make-believe. These actors are really naked in front of the camera and millions of people.

9. Sexual relations is a beautiful thing; God created it and called it good. It is not a spectator sport. It is a holy joy, sacred, in its secure place. Men and women who want to be watched in their nudity are in the category with exhibitionists.

10. There is no great film that needs nudity to add to its greatness. There are creative ways to be true to the story without turning sex into a spectator sport and putting people in morally compromising situations on the set. It’s not art that puts nudity in, it’s the appeal of what sells.

11. Christians do not watch nudity with a view to maximize holiness. What keeps Christians coming back is the fear that if they took Christ at his word, and made holiness as seriously as I’m saying it is, they would be viewed as freakish.

12. There is one biblical guideline that makes life simple: Roman 14:23. “But whoever has doubts is condemned if he eats, because the eating is not from faith. For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.” If you doubt, don’t. This would alter the viewing habits of millions and oh how sweetly they would sleep with their conscience at rest.

Note: if you struggle with a pornography habit and are actively seeking freedom from that, I pray this post doesn’t condemn you further, but that it lessens the appeal of porn and gives you greater things to look toward. The way to fight sin is to replace it with what is better, holier, and far more satisfying. Christ is better. He is.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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So much of faith, for me, has been finding it again. Some have been given the gift of simple faith, easy, a natural bow into belief. That is not my story, nor my portion. All my faith has been wrestled for, won, lost, contended for, gained, slipped away, and shattered—again and again. Whenever I think I have found it, I find (most times) what I’ve found is myself and sometimes I am the greatest enemy of my faith.

I am not a fitful sleeper—sleep comes quickly to me and stays deep until morning most nights. But I slept fitfully last night, waking every hour. I was hot. I was cold. I was tense. I was afraid. I was contending.

Perfectionism is my vice and faith is its greatest gain. I set my sights on lesser things, sure, perfect thoughts, perfect writing, perfect design, perfect diet, perfect words, perfect image, perfect clothes, perfect home, perfect friendships. These elusive gains, for me, shadow the ever escaping faith I so desperately desire.

I ache for simple faith. I long for it. In the middle of the night I groan for it. I beg for it, pleading that he would so captivate my mind and heart, that I would be so fat on the feast He has provided in himself, that faith would slip into my heart and hands and stay for life.

But he has almost always withheld the gift of perfect faith.

. . .

For the past few weeks—at church, at small group, at our kitchen table—Hebrews 12:1-2 has been in our mouths.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.

It is nearly 4am and I have been lying there, in my twisted comforter and sheets for an hour, wrestling with the current capture of my mind. II Corinthians 10:5 says to take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ—but what about when the thoughts feel so enemy, you’re sure Christ won’t want them in his fold?

I stop on that thought: the idea that Christ wouldn’t want my rags, that his righteousness wouldn’t cover my wrestlings, that his goodness wouldn’t provide for my sin—and I remember “Jesus, the author and perfecter of my faith.”

Even my faith is not mine to perfect?

Everything in my life feels out of my ability to control, and faith is too?

. . .

Someone called me brave the other morning and I responded I have nothing to lose, but the truth is, I am brave because I am afraid of losing faith. The only way I know to keep it is to contend for it. But if Christ is the perfecter of my faith, then it is his to keep and hold—and contend for on my behalf.

I fall asleep in this truth: my faith belongs to Him, to grant to me in his time, his way, through his purposes, and for his goodness. It is his to perfect, not mine. And it is his to perfect in me—not mine to be wrestled for and won. The command for me in Hebrews 12 is to run with endurance. Faithfully asking for faith, obediently walking in obedience, gracious receiving grace. All his, perfecting in me the gift of faith.