Archives For sin

Meditating On

April 7, 2014

And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God. (I Corinthians 2:1-5)

It’s so easy to get caught up in the words, right? There are so many words, competing messages, and directions for our hearts and minds to take. We gobble them up, feed on them, sustain ourselves with them, and oh how hungry we go to bed every night. Don’t you? I do.

But Paul, truthful Paul, he drops those lofty words and sweet wisdom in the mud, crushes them with his heel, and says, “No, friends, I decide, I purpose, I war with my flesh, to know nothing, nothing, among you, except Christ.”

Oh, how my prideful, boasting, self-righteous, independent heart needs to hear the apostle say those words: it’s not of me, it’s of Christ and for Christ and about Christ.

 

Grumbling & Complaining

April 5, 2014

My heart has been a grumbling one recently. I could give you a few reasons I think why my grumbling is necessary or warranted, but the truth is that even talking about those situations would invite more grumbling.

People talk about it being necessary to say how we feel, but I usually think there is more merit to say less about how we feel, and more about who God is in spite of our feelings. Disagree or not, I don’t think the Bible makes a case for us to all sit around and talk about our feelings to one another.

Paul, however, does have something to say about grumbling. In his letter to the Philippians, he says:

Do all things without grumbling or complaining, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast to the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain.
Philippians 2:14

Do: It’s an action word. Often we want to passively let the disciplines of the Christian life just happen to us. But Paul is saying, no friends, you gotta do this. It’s not going to happen without some elbow grease.

All: It’s an encompassing word. It’s inclusive, including all things. Not just hard things or bad things, but good things and seasonal things. It means in every situation—hard or not—this verse applies.

Things: It’s a noun. A person, place, or thing—which, I’ll betcha is where most of your grumbling is directed. Who’s bothering you? Where is it hard to be? What is rubbing against you in a difficult way? That’s exactly the thing Paul’s talking about.

Without: It means an absence of. It means no sign of, zero, zilch, none. There shouldn’t even be a hint of this in your life.

Grumbling: Murmuring, even under our breath, to ourselves. This is what grumbling is. It’s preaching a gospel, a false gospel, to ourselves about ourselves. It’s heresy—the opposite of good news.

Or: I like this “or” right here because I’m usually guilty of one of these, but not the other. I don’t know about you. I usually think it’s okay to grumble to myself, even if I don’t complain to others. But Paul is saying, nope, neither is okay.

Complaining: Sounding off, letting off steam, gossip, sometimes even “asking for prayer about this particular situation”—these can all lend to complaining. Is there some situation of discomfort in your life? Seek encouragement from others, but don’t let it terminate on idle negative talk.

I’m challenged by all those words today. Challenged to shut my mouth, even if it means awkward silence around others. Challenged to guide my heart, even if it means I don’t get to entertain or indulge my thoughts toward another person or situation.

Let’s hold fast to the word of life—Christ’s words and what they offer—for they far outweigh our momentary grumbling or complaining.

My friend Trillia Newbell’s new book United has hit the shelves this week. Trillia is a wise and kind woman whose words regarding race and unity are much needed in the church—especially from a woman. After reading her book, I watched The Loving Story on Netflix, which I’ve highly recommended several times this week. I am also partway through Letters to A Birmingham Jail, edited by Brian Loritts, with contributions by Piper, Chandler, and more.

This week I have been so struck by the importance of ongoing conversations regarding the Civil Rights movement and how they affect current movements in our culture and world. As I read and watch these stories, and learn to how parse this ongoing history (because that’s what it is and will be for a long, long time), I am having to consider freshly what our response to things like gender roles, same sex attraction, homosexual unions, abortion, and even Church and non-profit polity needs to be. These words will be recorded someday in biographies and documentaries. Whether we like it or not, our words matter and they do hold weight.

One thing I was deeply struck by while watching The Loving Story was the original content, first person narratives, film of actual an actual couple being persecuted for their marriage to one another, young and eager lawyers making history in 1968 regarding interracial marriage. In 2014, more than ever before in history, we are content factories.

Some day, and not very far in the future, our children and their children WILL use our words for better or worse. That makes me want to be very sober-minded and slow to speak, slow to give opinions, especially ones that have not been tried or put through the fire.

There are a number of polarizing situations at play in the world, just today I can think of three huge ones concerning religious liberties, homosexual unions, and abortion—oh, friends, let’s be careful, very, very careful of how we respond. Not in fear of what will someday be used against us, but in wisdom for the sake of future generations.

These are not simply ideals and ideas—they are people, real people.

Thanksgiving-02

pulpit

The popular euphemism for “can’t we all just be friends” is to give folks “a seat at the table.” I’ve used it. It’s helpful. It reminds me that people are people and everyone around the table is coming with different presuppositions, stories, layers, and theologies. It evens the playing field.

More and more, though, what is communicated is that everyone gets a seat at the table and the table is a pulpit for everyone to preach their message. It’s the church of all peoples and thoughts and ideas—and it’s a veritable mess.

Paul warned the Corinthians that hanging with those intentionally sinning was corrupting the purity of the gospel. Here’s what’s interesting though: he used the words of one of their own to deliver the warning. The Greek poet Menander first used the words, “Bad company corrupts good morals.” Paul contextualized the line for gospel purposes.

What often happens with all these seats at the table is we end up attempting to fit the gospel to sinners, instead of fitting sinners to the gospel.

Bad company does corrupt good morals, and one of those morals is that the gospel cannot be so contextualized that everyone at the table agrees.

If that is difficult for us to swallow in an age where everyone wants meritorious rightness, we’re in good company, the disciples once grumbled to themselves, “This is a difficult thing, who can believe it?”

And Jesus, sweet Jesus, gives that wide berth and narrow path: It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.

Sit with sinners, eat with everybody, welcome all to the table—but remember Jesus is the only one who offers words of spirit and life.

I’m a church girl, capital C and lowercase c, cosmic Church and local church. I love the Church and I love my church. This is why I’ve stayed silent on most controversies within the church and Church. More of us need to really read I Corinthians 13 when Paul said Love doesn’t delight in wrongdoing, and fewer of us need to skim over the cliche oft cross-stitched words.

The other night my weary and hardworking pastor sat down with me at church. After talking about what God is doing in Europe through the church planting network he leads, we chatted for a few minutes about the work still ahead. There are so many who need to hear (and see) Christ. Nothing excites me more than endeavoring toward that. I’m a Church girl.

And then I asked him: Matt, talk to me for a few minutes about the most recent Driscoll dust up; as my pastor, I want to take your lead on this, happy and joyfully, knowing you take pastoring us seriously.

Nearly the first words out of his mouth were scripture:

I Corinthians 4:3-5
But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by any human court. In fact, I do not even judge myself. For I am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not thereby acquitted. It is the Lord who judges me.

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

This past weekend Driscoll issued an apology to those who call him pastor, friend, and family. It was not an “open letter” as many are asserting that it is. It was family business, not public business. But sure enough, I scrolled through twitter this morning and the finger-pointing had already begun. People are out for blood and nothing Driscoll does or says at this point will be enough. Follow every possible route this could go, and someone, somewhere, will still be out for blood.

I did not read his apology, because he does not owe me one, nor will I comment on it. First, because I trust Driscoll has elders around him who will stand before the Lord for their actions; second, because Driscoll himself will stand before the Lord for his actions.

What I will comment on is the lack of ecclesiological understanding within the Church today—which is ironic if you give it a few minutes of thought.

Everyone wants to BE the church and not GO to church these days. Everyone wants to LEAVE the church that doesn’t make them FEEL like they’re the church. Everyone wants to SAMPLE the church in various ways and means and SHRUG OFF the church when it presses in too uncomfortably. And everyone wants theorize and strategize and commentate on the Church and no one wants to sit and understand some pretty rudimentary things about the Church.

Namely that there are three things more of us should understand and practice:

Understanding and practicing biblical eldership.

Understanding and practicing biblical discipline within the local church.

Understanding and practicing the One Anothers of the New Testament.

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

Less and less am I interested in what self-proclaimed journalists, bloggers, social media experts, and “church survivors” are saying about the Church because I don’t see them actually practicing church.

I am not saying they’re not. What I’m saying is I don’t see them practicing it. They might be practicing it, but I can’t see it with my own two eyes.

Beneath the layers of apologies and acts of repentance, beneath the acts of submission to authority or acts of subordination, beneath the unjust actions and the loving ones—there are real people living real lives in front of real people who see them with their own two eyes. As it was designed to be.

If you do not have a biblical understanding and practice of the three things I mentioned above, you absolutely do not have any authority to speak on things in other churches.

And if you do have an understanding and practice of them: trust God is on His throne, building His Kingdom, and the gates of hell won’t prevail against it. He has won this and there are far better, greater, and more worthwhile things for your energy and biblical understanding of ecclesiology to be spent on. Namely, teaching those who don’t know—which are many and gaining in number.

Go and be the church if you will. Be it to your neighbors and friends and pastors and the people you sit beside week after week after week. Do it well, do it heartily, as unto the Lord, not as unto the twittersphere or blogosphere or whatever platform you have toppling beneath you.

Moth and rust destroy those things, and if you think they won’t you are more a fool than you realize. Step down before you’re standing in front of millions and it topples in front of them all.

topples

I anticipate plenty of pushback on this namely in these areas:

1. My use of the word biblical, which many progressives seem to think is manipulative and heavy-handed, and which, to me, simply means: the Bible says it and if we’re children of God, we ought to abide by it.

2. A perceived victim-shaming for all those who’ve experience pain related to the church. I hope you’ll understand if I’m saying anything here, I’m saying your greatest place of healing could come within good, healthy, biblical church order as God designed it.

3. An accusation that I’m protecting my pastor, leaders, church network, etc. To which I say, first, they don’t need my protection. I am a lowly blogger. Moth and rust will destroy my words, and sooner rather than later. And second, to me covenant means mutual trust. I am in covenant with my church which means I trust them and they trust me. If you expect me to break that trust, then you do not understand two things: covenant and being in covenant in a place you trust. Call it protection or naivety if you wish. They will stand accountable for my soul someday and I don’t envy that place at all.

Crouching at Your Door

February 15, 2014

A few weeks ago I alluded that I’ve been dealing with latent sin and spiritual laziness, but what I really meant is there’s something I can’t shake and it’s as ambiguous as the words above: I don’t know what I’ve been struggling with. I’ve just been struggling.

I’ve been struggling to master my thoughts. Struggling to press in to accountability. Struggling to not grow lazy in the light of grace. Struggling to hear God, trust Him, and obey Him. I’ve even been struggling to want any of that. It sometimes just feels like so much work to do something that Christ already said was finished.

There are two schools of thought in most of christendom. One is that we ought to war and win over our sin, “Sin is crouching at your door and you must master it.” And the other is that sin has been beaten at the foot of the cross, so we walk in full victory. Both are true theologically, but both leave us grabbling with what it means to master besetting sin or to walk completely free of it.

I don’t know what “mastering” sin feels like, nor do I know what it feels like to be so free of the curse that I am unaware of its damaging effects of my heart, soul, and mind. The truth is that I walk with a constant, and growing, awareness of my sin and need for Christ, and I also walk with a constant, and growing, confidence in the finished work of the cross.

But when the nagging monkey on my back won’t keep quiet about what has been mastered and what is covered by the cross, what do I do?

My propensity is to circle the wagons, draw closer boundaries, shut out anything or anyone who might draw my eyes off of Christ. I’m so desperately afraid that He’ll lose sight of me I make it so He’s the only thing I can see. But this isn’t life abundant and therein is the catch for me. If the boundary lines truly have fallen for me in pleasant places, why am I putting myself in a Christian straight-jacket?

A friend asked me the other day, “Do you think it ever grows easier for us to keep from sin?” And the truth is I have no reason to believe it does. I think we grow more disciplined, more circumspect, and more tender to the voice of the Holy Spirit. But no, I don’t think there is a time when sin is not crouching at my door, waiting to devour me.

The enemy hates me and this is good for me to remember in weeks and months like these. He hates me. And he hates you. His sole desire is to devour you and thwart the goodness of God in your life. And I would venture to say if your heart is set on Christ’s, jealous for the righteousness and holiness of God, and in tune with the voice of the Holy Spirit, the enemy is that much more intent on your destruction.

So, friend, if your heart is burdened with your sin and prone to see it more monstrously than God’s grace, take heart in this: He who began a good work in you is faithful to complete it. He takes sin-laden souls, breathes the spirit and new life into them, and never leaves or forsakes. If your faith is weakened by the sight of your sin, repent and then cease looking at your sin or what leads you to sin, but turn your eyes to the Cross and Christ.

Sin is crouching at our door, clinging to our backs, and waiting to devour us, but Christ breathed words, “It is finished,” and in this faith we walk on.

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It still shocks me a bit when friends confess same sex attraction.

What shocks me is not that they have same sex attraction, but that they have convinced themselves that I will be shocked at their confession. The truth is SSA is more pervasive within the church than most people know, or want to know. I don’t know the official percentages, but I know the personal ones—the myriad of girls & guys who through the years have offered their trembling secret to me. My home isn’t a half-way house, a place to get fixed up and moved on, but it sure has offered more than one cup of tea and listening ear to those struggling with SSA.

The confessions only seem to be on the rise, so tonight I have a few observations I’d like to make:

The longer marriage is delayed into the 30s and later, the more I have women especially coming and confessing SSA or the existence of a SS relationship in which they have engaged.

I don’t know how solid this hypothesis is, but I’d like to suggest that within the church right now we have the 30+ year old women who were pulled into the Passion & Purity, I Kissed Dating Goodbye, Courtship, True Love Waits church culture of the 90s. We were taught to guard our hearts against those dirty-minded boys who only wanted sex, or worse, to snatch up little parts of our hearts and scatter them about, or we were taught that our romances must have the *weight and certainty that Jim Elliot brought to his relationship with Elisabeth.

We locked down those hearts real good, yo.

In the lack of healthy male/female relationships, we perfected our female engagement. We did not create soul-ties with boys. We denied our sexuality because sexuality was bad. We filled our basic physical need for human touch and engagement with other females—not in a sexual way, but an asexual way, wholly innocent.

Healthy physical touch is a beautiful thing (you will never hear me say otherwise—I’m a firm believer in firm handshakes and even firmer hugs). The problem comes when we learn only to engage asexually. The further we grow into adulthood unmarried, that asexuality has a good chance of turning into a deeper comfort. Nearly every girl I know within the church who has engaged in a SS relationship did not begin with homosexual feelings, but reacted with it after being hurt in a heterosexual relationship OR being refused the opportunity to engage in a heterosexual relationship. I am not saying this is the case across the board, and I know many women who have experienced SSA since their childhood—I am only saying from my observation within the church, this seems to be a common thread.

Why?

Because we are soulish beings who have been sold the story of a soul-mate, and who better to fulfill the needs of a soul than a creature who gets me like I get me?

Very transparently, I don’t know very many girls in my demographic (33, single, Christian) who generally prefer or feel the same level of comfort with men as they do with women. We prefer women. “Well, of course you prefer women,” you might argue, “You should! The last thing we need is a bunch of women going around pursuing deep comfort with guys!”

But that’s exactly what I am going to argue for.

Anyone who knows me well knows that I do not advocate for gender specific friendships only. I do believe guys and girls can be friends, and I also believe they should pursue marriage if they start to really enjoy their friendship. What a great thing that is! Gospel centered marriages built on a deep friendship first, and attraction second? I cannot think of a better scenario.

I honestly believe that some of the reasons we are seeing a rise in SSA (not simply a biological attraction to the same gender, but an emotional one before the sexual one) within the church particularly, is due to a lack of healthy male/female friendship and a prolonged delay of marriage.

It might be a long-shot and I welcome discussion on this, as long as it’s helpful and not hurtful. This is a sensitive topic with widely varied levels. I say that because someone who has engaged for 20+ years in homosexual behavior and holds a deep, unwavering attraction to the same gender is not the sort of person to which I’m referring. I am primarily talking about the girls and guys who delayed marriage (for whatever reason), are paying the price of that extended loneliness, void, and lack of life-partner today, and expressing it sexually, emotionally and otherwise in SS relationships.

Thoughts? If you’re single and 30+, I’d especially love your thoughts. Feel free to comment anonymously and know that I will delete without hesitation any cruel or untoward comments.

*I love Jim & Elisabeth’s story, but it isn’t mine, and it isn’t yours. It’s a description, not a prescription. 

Related post on homosexuality: What God Has Joined Together

Wipe that Glass

January 7, 2014 — 1 Comment

The first thing we know about God is He is Creator. He takes nothing and makes something. He makes many somethings. More somethings than any one of us will ever see in our entire lifetime.

Staggering.

I understand God as Creator, but if He is Creator, that means He is infinitely creative—and that is something I will never be able to grasp or understand.

He is involved in every iota, every molecule, every atom, every gene, every thought, every action—and He is infinitely creative, which means He never stops creating.

Just thinking about that for three minutes staggers me.

But it becomes so real, so personal, when I think about all the ways He has been creative with me—and the accompanying realization that He isn’t finished with me yet. He is still creating, still teaching, still growing, still perfecting, still forming.

So an infinitely creative God, constantly creating and recreating His people, is a God who can be trusted to not make mistakes. Every scrap of my spectacular story, every rag of my richest rich, every moment of my mind—these form who I am and who I am becoming. He knew the washed up, backwards, inside-out, upside-down story He’d bring me through and He knew that through the mess I’d see Him.

And I’d see Him through a glass dimly, but that dirt and grime, that’s mine. I own that grime. God let me have that grime because otherwise I’d never understand His holiness, His set-apartness. Now all I can do is never stop asking Him to wipe that glass clean.

I love that.

I really love that.

I love it because it’s my hope, more than anything, that we’d spend our lives helping others to clean that grime. To take a rag and say, “You too? Me too. Let’s clean it together. Let’s see Him more clearly, love Him more for Who He truly is.”

I don’t know what your grime is, but I know God knows it. He made it, every atom and molecule. He knows your issues with fundamentalism, gender roles, abuse, theology, culture, suffering, depression, death, divorce, fear. He knows it all. And He’s so creative that He knows how to draw you in, grime covered you, and show you Himself, holy and splendid, majestic and clean.

It’s spectacular.

The Promise of Place

December 29, 2013 — 5 Comments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Copying the Creator

December 4, 2013 — 9 Comments

It was the his third strike. He was a baseball player, so he and I both knew what that meant. Out.

I was a TA for an English class in college. It was my first semester as a transfer student. I hardly knew my way around campus and I’d been tapped on the shoulder by the chair of our department to assist one of the English professors.

The first inkling of plagiarism seemed innocent, an uncited source; the second instance seemed lazy; but with two warnings under his belt, he handed in his third paper full of paragraphs I found in their entirety in a few minute google search.

I don’t know what happened to him when I reported the situation to the administration, though I knew they didn’t handle that stuff lightly. Looking back I wish I’d been more careful to explain why this wasn’t acceptable. I had plenty more opportunities in my years as a TA to do so, but I never did.

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

Allegations of plagiarism by Mark Driscoll are all ablaze right now and they seem justified in some ways. Whole ideas or outlines have been lifted, slightly altered, and used as his own material. I would flunk a student for doing that, and yet—haven’t I done it a thousand times?

In recent weeks I chew on John 3:30, “He must increase. I must decrease.”

Whether you’re a college student trying to get a passing grade or a pastor churning out books written by a ghostwriter, there is an element of “increasing” present that I’m not sure is healthy. I would argue too that even bloggers must wrestle with this dichotomy. If it is true that we must be ever decreasing and increasing Him—what does that say about all our platform building?

We may not be building a tower of Babel to reach God, but what have we made our god in His place?

This isn’t easy wrestle through. God gives gifts to men and finds joy when we use them for His glory—but I wonder sometimes how many of us are like my college student: trying to get a passing grade. It doesn’t matter who we seek approval from—if we seek it from men, we’re in sin, and if we seek it from God, we do so in vain. If we are His children, we have His full approval in the righteousness of Christ.

I have one finger pointed at you and three back at myself here. I seek the approval of so many other than God and I want less of it. More than ever, I want to shrink my footprint—or at least my byline. More of Him, less of me.

God help us, we are all guilty of plagiarism. The wise man’s words “there is nothing new under the sun,” assure of us that. You are the author of all truth and we merely regurgitate it, chewed and masticated, hardly a form of its original beauty and intention. Help us to copy you, emulate you, take our truth from you—and if another steals words from us, let us hand them over willingly because we truly own nothing apart from You.

Completion

December 2, 2013

I’m trying to be careful to not write much about my relationship with a good man. I know the seeping envy that hearing too much of that talk can do to hearts. I am my brother’s keeper, and my sister’s, and I want to steward well.

The truth is this fall has been one of shaping, shifting, breaking, filling, hurting, misunderstanding, loving, trusting, and hoping. I have a feeling marriage is all of those same things, only fuller and harder.

My hands have been so filled with good things over the years that I have found it difficult to open them and choose another good thing. Paul said singleness was better and that soothed me for a long time, pacifying my desire for a partnership and love. It soothed me so well that I found such deep substance in my singleness after my cries wore off. Not always perfectly—there were still times I longed for someone, anyone really, to be mine. But most of my time I enjoyed my freedom to think, be, say, do whatever I felt full license from the Holy Spirit to do. I felt full.

Fullness is good until you find yourself trying to fit just one more thing, especially if it is of particular importance to fit in, like a boyfriend or fiancee or husband sort of importance. Then that nasty full feeling makes you feel your selfishness and gluttony in sickening ways. You come face to face with how very much you’ve been building a kingdom that looks like Christ’s, but using your own cook and cleaner and interior designer. His kingdom, my throne.

Last week in a meeting with a couple who’ve taken us under their wing and love, I was asked, “What do you want? Deep down, what do you want?”

The answer I gave was cushioned and caveated by “When I let myself,” and “But I don’t think it’s possible,” but deep down what I want is just a life of simplicity. One where I am not standing behind a blog façade, where I greet my neighbors over the fence, and can peaches and keep my front door open and unlocked. That is what I want.

The next question he asked was: “Why can’t you just do that?”

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

All this week I’ve been paying very close attention to what I want, really want, and here’s why: because I know and trust the Holy Spirit within me, I know that my deepest wants and desires bring Him joy, and if they bring Him joy, they bring me joy.

There are so many things on the surface that compete for my joy, things that pacify me, or tide me over, but the truth is God created me for His glory, so something about what I love naturally brings him joy.

I know this is meandering and may not make much sense, but I want to help myself and you understand that what we want deep down is not marriage or love or partnership or singleness. Those things are good, but they all come with a price. What we want deep down is for our joy to be full—and Christ wants that too, He said so. What brings us joy and completes that joy is to remain in His love.

I have not remained in His love in recent years. I have known His love theologically, but there has still been a part of me that has eschewed His love and groped instead for the cross—and not His cross, but mine. The cross I thought He was asking me to bear by being single or ministering beyond my capacity or choosing a life I didn’t necessarily want, but thought He wanted from me.

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

Life is simpler here at home. Oh, there are complex things here, but the life people live is simple, robust and yet unencumbered by so much of what I have found myself surrounded by in recent years. Here I remember who I am in the deepest parts of me and I am loved and my joy is made full.

It is joy that fills us to complete, not duty, calling, or the expectations of others.

What do you want?

Sweetest Frame

November 14, 2013 — 1 Comment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

One of the most common questions I get about sex-trafficking is, “But don’t some of the women in the sex industry choose that lifestyle?” I know at that point the questioner’s knowledge of the sex-industry comes from Pretty Woman and other glamorized entertainment (including billboards & ads, no matter how air-brushed and smiling they are).

There’s a three year old girl who’s been giving favors to her stepdad since she was old enough to talk. It might hurt, but it’s as normal to her as eating Cheerios and playing with My Little Pony. When she’s a teenager someone offers to pay her for doing something as normal to her as brushing her teeth, painting her nails. Her body has never belonged to her, why should it start now?

There’s a 14 year old girl who’s been bullied into giving her boyfriend’s friend sex, or else.

There’s a impoverished family in Asia with three young daughters to feed and so three daughters to give to the guy down the street who will sell them for an hour or two to the highest bidder. The family gets to eat one more day.

There’s a 18 year girl in Moldova who’s been in orphanages since she was six or seven, after her parents left the country to find better work for themselves. She’s aging out. She’s pretty and quiet and on the hunt for a honest job to provide for herself. She accepts a job as a dancer, a housekeeper, or a factory worker. She is tricked, drugged, and trafficked for use in pornographic material.

There’s a 12 year old runaway from Grand Rapids. She’s been abused at home since she was little and just wants to be safe. A guy finds her, promises to help her, feeds her, clothes her, and forces her to prostitute herself at night in order to keep herself fed and clothed.

There’s a 13 year old girl in South America promised a job cleaning houses. She is beaten, raped repeatedly, her will broken, and then given addictive drugs so she will need her captor, even in her broken stupor. She is then transported across the border into the United States where she is brought to men in truck stops along the interstate that runs behind your house.

And yet:

There’s a guy in front of his computer late at night watching images he thinks only affect him.

There’s a group of men on a business trip taking their pick of a girl.

There’s a man at a bar in Chicago leering at a young woman stripping.

There’s a father touching his daughter late at night.

There’s a traveler walking into a red light district out of a sick curiosity.

There’s you, in your car, driving past a woman of the night. If you’re judging her because you think she chose to be there, your moral compass has been calibrated to the Pretty Woman culture. No one chooses that lifestyle. No one asks to be raped, exploited, trafficked, paraded, blackmailed, or abused.

I never use the word prostitute because it doesn’t matter to me how much money a girl, or her captor, pimp, father, brother, or trafficker, is getting for her body: she is not the one making a living there.

Fallen

November 1, 2013 — 1 Comment

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

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

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

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

There will be three responses to his sin:

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

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

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

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

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

Pray the same for them.