Archives For spiritual growth

divorce

When I was 13 years old my parents had the sort of fight where you run for cover. I don’t remember anything about it except that I fearfully went to one parent the next morning asking if they were going to get divorced. They promised me they were not.

Ten springs later I was living in Guatemala and the words, “The divorce is finalized,” came over the phone from one of my parents. I dissolved in tears when I hung up the phone, set my face like steel, resolved to never make a promise I couldn’t keep—to a husband or to my children.

It is now ten years from then and I hope I have a bit more perspective, and empathy, toward both of my parents. Divorce wasn’t their first choice—and it hasn’t been their last. Even today they are facing off in court again—divorce is rarely in the best interest of everyone, but we only count by ones when we shatter, each shard collected, regarded, and disposed.

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

Every time I want to speak about divorce I hesitate for a few reasons, one is that I have no idea of the complexities of marriage. I have a better idea today than I did last year, but even the complexities of my broken relationship cannot compare to the one flesh union between two flesh entities.

Another reason I hesitate is because this is a deeply personal issue. The complexities of one couple’s marriage cannot compare to the complexities of another couple’s. There are histories, stories, theologies, broken and beautiful things coming together in a grand clash of a lifetime together. There is no easy way to navigate these things. How could one person speak with any sort of authority on these matters?

I shared a bit of my story there to extend an olive branch to those who think I could not understand the complexities of marriage. While it is true that I could not understand it for myself, I can understand it deeply and profoundly as the adult child of divorce—and one who has watched my siblings respond in different and distinct ways. Are we the story of everyman? No. But neither are each of our stories, as siblings, the same. We each experienced divorce, brokenness, abandonment, abuse, fear, hurt, betrayal, death, disappointment in different ways. I only have my side of things, my story.

Beneath the deeply layered stories of divorce, there are true things about marriage, and what makes the gospel so profound is that it makes all the sad things come untrue. The world is broken and breaking, and afterward we are, as Hemingway said, strong at the broken places.

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

One of the great weaknesses in our world today, even within the Church, is the brokenness of marriage, how it is fractured and divided and fracturing and dividing. But at the crux of that brokenness, we are strong in that place because the great metaphor of Christ’s love for us is marriage. From the very first glimpse of his bride, the first Adam loved her, and the second Adam has done no less.

When we understand the sanctity and holy depth of what marriage is to God, we understand this fractured piecemeal one-flesh difficult thing is simply a broken reflection—and cannot give us the whole picture of Christ’s love for His bride.

That comforts me today because I am the child of divorce and I am the child of broken promises and I am the breaker of promises—but none of that touches the deepest reality of what marriage means to Christ. He doesn’t break His promises; He never leaves His bride; His plan has always been to take what is battered, bruised, soiled, and spotted, and to present her perfect, without blemish.

There are many miraculous metaphors for  life in Christ, dead men brought to life, lame men walking, but none so profound, I think, as the miracle of taking what is broken and making it wholly whole.

If your marriage is buckling under the weight of life and all its complexities today, if you have broken promises to your children and your spouse, if you are the child of divorce and fear marriage (as I do), never forget that if you are His child, He is taking what is broken and making it whole. Today, right now, He is refining and cleansing.

Let these words comfort you today:

…As Christ loved the church
and gave himself up for her,
that he might sanctify her,
having cleansed her
by the washing of water with the word,
so that he might present the church
to himself in splendor,
without spot or wrinkle
or any such thing,
that she might be holy
and without blemish.
Ephesians 5:27

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.

Congregant Caricatures

March 6, 2014 — 3 Comments

The thing about caricatures is you always know who it is just by looking at it:

caricature

And yet, you know you can’t trust the likeness.

Right?

A caricaturist zeros in on several points on a person’s face. Maybe it’s a slightly larger nose, or a bit of a crooked smile, or maybe something as pedestrian as deeply blue eyes or a natural blush. The caricaturist’s aim is to exaggerate and minimize what sets the face apart. His aim is not to make ugly, but often times a caricature looks ugly. If you’ve ever had one done you know the righteous indignation that accompanies first sight,

“I don’t really look like that!” you say, and of course you don’t.

But you kind of do. Not really. But sort of. Enough that you’re recognizable, not enough that anyone who knows your face well would say it’s an exact likeness.

Within culture at large, and Church culture especially, caricaturists abound. In some ways, they’re the comedians of the inner circle; the Jon Acuff and Jen Hatmakers. They zone in on the ridiculous and ludicrous parts of the Christian life and family and help us all laugh at ourselves. They satire, and they’re good at it, and we laugh at them because they’re helping us laugh at ourselves.

When Caricature goes badly is when a sly artist studies a theology or movement solely to find the weak or shallow parts. Then they pound out a blog post heard round the world for a split second and then life goes on as normal. A moment of fame while everyone points and laughs at the funny man in the picture, asks how could he be so silly and stupid and ugly, and how could he not know he’s so silly and stupid and ugly.

Ha ha.

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

Here’s the other thing about caricatures: we know the elongated nose or tiny eyes or stout neck are true about us; in fact, nobody sees our face in the mirror, under such a microscope as we do.

But when the caricature is passed around as truth for long enough, everyone starts to believe that’s our real face. That’s who we really are. But it’s not.

That’s not the person who wakes up in the morning, drinks their coffee while they read the bible, who packs lunch for her kids or drops the shampoo in the shower, who can’t find their keys where they left them, who buys coffee for the person behind them in line, who killed it at the meeting with his coworkers, who meets weekly with a guy who just needs prayer and a friend, who forgot to put gas in the car, who falls into bed every night exhausted and confident that they are doing exactly what God designed them to do and be and look like.

Who cares about a caricature when there are real people to be seen?

If you are tempted to zero in on a particular face of a movement and draw for the world a caricature they won’t forget, what you need to remember is at the end of the day we throw those caricatures in the garbage. Nobody really wants to look at them, and especially not the subject of the drawing. Why? Because it’s not true. It’s partially true, which makes it not true.

If you want people to listen to what you have to say, really listen, not just rally around you, or press like on your Facebook post, you have to sit with them and be true with them, and be truthful about them.

I asked an artist one time, a man who paints likenesses that almost breathe with life, how he made the paintings.

“Do you take a photo and paint from that?” I asked him.

“Oh, no,” he said, “I make the subject sit in front of me, hours and hours and hours. How could I paint them life-like if I did not see them living?”

God Saves Little Boys

February 21, 2014 — 5 Comments

My family had just moved from an affluent Bucks County five acre lot in Pennsylvania to 120 acres in the middle of seeming nowhere New York state. I was 18 and my two youngest brothers were attached to my hip. They snuck into my bed at night, or just slept on a mattress beside my bed. I read them stories all day long and every night, and they are in every one of my life’s favorite memories.

The Little Boys, we called them, one tow-headed and green-eyed, and the other just like me, brown haired and startling blue eyes. They were my right and left hands, my favorite people, and my joy.

photo 1 copy

When death snuck in one rainy April morning and then a fractured family followed shortly after, I clung to those boys—if not in body, in soul. They who were a part of my every favorite memory, were also the ones caught in the crosshairs of a court system who rarely has the child’s best interest in mind—even if they say they do.

Through all of that, one memory stands above them all. It was right after the move to New York state, the walls not yet painted and the boxes not yet unpacked. My best friend and I took those two Little Boys to the top of a hill across the street. We had no way of knowing that a year later we would bury my 14 year old brother on that same hill. The sun was setting and the sky streaked blue and orange and black.

We sat in the tall grass and those boys ran circles around us while we sat on the grass and talked about Best Friends things. When that tow-headed three year old stopped and fell into best friend’s lap, the one who looked like me stood tall, raised his hands to the sky, and with the bold confidence of a five-year old, said, “When I grow up, I’m going to be a pastor so I can worship God all the time.”

photo 2

That five year old is a grown man now, has tumbled back and forth through the angst of a broken family along with his two younger brothers for the entirety of his life. There were many times in the past 15 years where I have held onto those hilltop words, praying them to even be a fraction prophetic—if only that their salvation would be secure, that their faith in God would not break.

In December I spent some time with that young man, who is now the age I was on that hilltop. He studies graphic design at a local university and keeps a blog; he works hard at everything he does and yet knows his salvation is not worked for or earned; he is so very far ahead of where I was at his age.

And every time I think of him, I think of that hilltop and those words and all the brokenness that followed, and how God does not let one thing out of His sight, not one thing.

boys

Friends, I’m weeping as I write this, not only because I love that boy and his gentle heart and big fierce love for his family and God. But also because for a lot of years I asked for fruit that I didn’t see. All I saw was the brokenness, the courtrooms, the wooden casket lowered into the ground, the arguments, the shuffling back and forth of their young bodies and souls. It is still ongoing, even now, with the two youngest of my family. But God saves. He saves.

He plants seeds and covers over and for a long time there is just deep, earthy darkness, but then one day, a decade and a half later, there is a strong branch grown bearing good fruit.

Because God saves.

What feels dark and covered over to you today? Where are you waiting for something broken to come untrue? He is with you in those moments, and He is working in you a better prize, a more lasting one. Just you wait.

Makerness

February 17, 2014 — 2 Comments

Processed with VSCOcam with t1 preset

I’m a first generation college graduate, and the only one of my seven siblings to have completed secondary or tertiary education. Growing up, neither of my parents had college degrees. My mother put herself through a degree in early childhood education for the past several years—the irony being is she is the last person who I think needs it. She’s now working on her graduate degree.

The reason I say that is because my hard-working parents taught me the value of using my hands from my early childhood. Laziness was not permitted in our home and using the word “bored” was as near to cursing as any of us would ever get.

From the moment we woke up until the dinner dishes were done, and the candles lit for evening read-aloud, our hands were kept busy.

My father is a gifted artist, talented writer, and has been an entrepreneur for as long as I can remember, working hard, long and late hours. He has always been inventing some new gadget or brainstorming some crazy idea. We never went hungry.

My mother quilted, baked, created lesson plans, gardened, refinished furniture, and always encouraged us to work hard at the things that gave us joy. Since my parents divorce, she has built her own successful business—while putting herself through school.

I’m grateful for my college degrees. I worked hard for them, paid for them myself, supplemented with scholarships. In no way am I discouraging a college education, but I know my best education came from watching my parents work hard. Start businesses. Give homemade gifts. Make things from scratch. Look at what others had done and decide to make it themselves—only better.

Whenever people ask me how I learned to sew or write or design or crochet or cook or make flower arrangements or make a home or anything, I tell them I taught myself, which is true. But not entirely.

The whole truth is my parents taught me to value hard work.

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

Paul encourages the Thessalonians like this,

“[We urge you] to aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we instructed you, so that you may walk properly before outsiders and be dependent on no one.”
I Thessalonians 4:11-12

Don’t under value the work of the hands. Teach your kids to work hard when they are young, let them puzzle their way through diagrams and difficult words, give them tasks that are too difficult for them, encourage them in the work that gives them joy. But don’t let them simply value work because it gives them or you joy, teach them to value it because it gives the original Maker joy. Teach your children they are literally imaging God when they work hard, carefully, with attention to detail.

All of life is a muscle waiting to be worked. We bring glory to our Maker when we reflect His Makerness. His creativity. His near constant work.

Pot, Meet Kettle

January 13, 2014 — 9 Comments

My first blog was on a Live Journal domain (remember those?). I took its name from a Burlap to Cashmere song that, to this day, I still don’t really understand the full meaning behind. I just knew I loved the three words strung together. The year was 2000 and my family was turned upside down in about a year. You name it, we experienced it in that year. I didn’t know where to turn, or to whom, and so I turned to anonymity.

I became a blogger.

In 2000 a blogger was either Jason Kottke, posting links to interesting content on the rising web, or it was an angsty teenager ranting about life. It was my last year as a teenager, so I fit nicely in the latter category. I wrote voraciously. Sometimes three posts a day. I didn’t care who read, or if anyone did, but I began to find a community of other bloggers. There was this brotherhood among us of sorts, people from all over the United States who stumbled on words not their own but which could be. I don’t have other words for it but divine. It was divine in the sense that it was almost otherworldly at that point. There were no dating sites, chat rooms were still a little strange, actually meeting someone in real life was rare and coated with suspicion. But it was also divine in the sense that it was a timely gift from God.

I spent years working out my salvation on the pages of the internet. By the time Sayable was birthed in 2008, I was one of the seasoned bloggers. My readership was still small by comparison, but in the annals of history, I was nearing mid-life at least. Every thought I’ve had about God has somehow been worked out on Sayable, or its younger siblings.

Writing is sanctification, if you’ll let it be.

This morning I opened my feed reader and read, as I do every morning. I find more and more often, I am just skimming. I open the posts with catchy titles or intriguing photos, so I am guilty of that which I complain of, I know. But I am so weary of the noise of blogging: the effort to churn out content instead of cherish the conviction.

One of my favorite quotes is by Lindford Detweiler, and I’ll never forget it. I love it so much that I screen printed it and it is the welcoming art as you walk into our home:

Music and art and writing: extravagant, essential, the act of spilling something, a cup running over…The simultaneous cry of ‘you must change your life, and welcome home.’ I’ve been trying to write songs again, and I’ve been hitting a maze of dead ends. I want the songs to reveal something to me, teach me something. It’s slow going. I’m not sure where I’m going. Uncertainty abounds. But the writing works on me little by little and begins to change me. That’s why I would recommend not putting off writing if it’s something you feel called to: if you put it off, then the writing can’t do the work that it needs to do to you. Yes, I think there’s something there. If you don’t do the work, the work can’t change you. (No one expects to change overnight.)

I’m weeping even now, as I read over that quote again by one of the finest lyricists I know. Here is a man who lets the writing do the work in himself. And I want that, friend and fellow writer, I want that for us. No matter what work it is that we put our hands to, I want it to do the deep work in us. The hard work, the cleansing work, the sanctifying work.

Blogging is hard work, I would never tell anyone otherwise, don’t make it easy by simply building a platform or gaining readers. That is not the point of blogging, and it is not the point of writing. We write to do the work in us, and God willing, in others. The publishers will use those big words about marketing and growth, but at the end of the day, those things will steal the soul of the writing you need to do.

Writing is sanctification and writing is God’s blessed gift to only a few of us. If you are a writer, don’t sell that sanctification for a contract or a deal. Turn your palms up, slow your mind, and do the upside-down work of the kingdom: your name always decreasing, ever increasing His.

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.

Counting Down

January 6, 2014 — 3 Comments

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

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

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

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

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

God, help me lose.

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

The Promise of Place

December 29, 2013 — 5 Comments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Righteousness and Peace

December 12, 2013 — Leave a comment

I was reading Psalm 85 this morning and it spoke of how righteousness and peace kiss each other and I thought, “How beautiful.”

Under the reign of God, justice and peace join together, are for one another, perfectly complementing one another. There is no hierarchy of one over the other. They simply are, and then they meet, and they join in intimacy.

God, help there be more evidence of that in my life.

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?

Review of Jesus Feminist

October 28, 2013 — 3 Comments

jesusfeminist

Sarah Bessey has done a unique thing in her book and it’s something the whole Church should try a bit more. Interwoven with thoughts on theology, history, and her vision for the future of the Church, Sarah told her story.

Raised in Canada, educated in the Bible Belt, on staff at a church in Texas, and then relocating back to Canada gave Sarah a bit of a unique story. Though she grew up in the Church, she did not grow up in the kitschy church-culture so many of our contemporary couch theologians did. Her experience is not one of “I was this but now I’m enlightened, so now I’m this,” but instead it is a story of roots and wings in healthy ways.

Jesus Feminist is not the tired story of a woman raised in patriarchy and conservative theology who threw off her shackles after a theological awakening. That story is all too familiar and, unfortunately, so often riddled with grinding axes that it is difficult to see the trees for the forest. Sarah grinds no axes, points no fingers, and brings every point of her story to the beautiful complexity that is faith in Christ Jesus.

She has woven the gospel through her story and her theology, and this is why I do recommend Jesus Feminist.

Primarily I recommend Jesus Feminist to pastors and teachers, men and women who are in positions of influence and whose duties including shepherding people. I recommend it for the sole reason that Sarah’s story is the story of every-woman in some way. Perhaps not the same path or set of experiences, but it tells the journey of a woman who lands on her theology through the lens of both experience and the word of God.

These days many words are spoken, preached, or written in pragmatic ways—I often wonder if some of our modern theologians have walked through difficult things because it doesn’t seem to come through in their message. Sermons neatly packaged with four points and a promise—even in the gospel-centered crowd. I do not doubt they have experienced difficulties, but we need to hear it said explicitly. If true shepherding is to be done, we need to sit at the table with the people and their stories.

I recommend Jesus Feminist next to women in the Church who come from a more conservative position on gender roles, but who have wrestled with their current roles as women.

Serving in ministry, I see two main types of women in the Church. The first is a woman who has no construct for theology or Church history but feels the constraints of both. Without having a robust theology or prescriptive design for their role, those constructs can feel suffocating and I see women leaving good, healthy churches in search of churches more accommodating to their personal story. The second is a woman who has a deep theological grasp on complementary gender roles, but who may struggle to feel her ministry as a woman is valid. Jesus Feminist spends copious amounts of time on the descriptive role of women in the Bible and the roles of women in our present lives. I was personally encouraged to engage more fully as a woman, to bring my femininity to the table along with my theology.

Jesus Feminist, contrary to its provocative title and subtitle, does not seem to be a book meant to convince the reader of a radical position on gender roles. Instead it seems to be a book intended to point to the character of God, the purpose of His creation, and the journey He takes His children on toward the fullness of His kingdom. Is there a theological bias in the book? Yes, absolutely. Sarah is an egalitarian and believes in roles for men and women without distinction in the Church. But the book does not terminate on her bias, because her true bias is the name and renown of Christ, and a robust Church filled with all kinds of people fully used by Christ.

If there is a caution to potential readers, particularly ones from a more conservative perspective, it is this: let us not be so quick to ascribe definitions to words and catch phrases that we miss the deep complexity behind them. Feminism has brought with her many good and right things; she may have left the back door open too long, letting in the draft of culture’s sway, but I think we can agree we are grateful for the breeze of freedom, equality, and voice.

What Jesus Feminist does not do is explore the ways in which modern feminism has taken its toll on the people of Jesus. This could be because Sarah doesn’t believe it has, or it could be because Sarah believes to do much good there has to be an uncomfortable itch under the hem of the Church’s robes. I think Jesus Feminist is a fair handling of feminism in the Church, but I think to properly discuss what a Jesus Feminist is, we have to wrestle with feminism’s origins. This is my only critique of the book. I think if you’re going to title a book thus, the subject at hand should be handled in its own respect, historical and modern implications. Otherwise, if what Sarah espouses to be feminism is this Jesus Feminism, count me [nearly] all in. There’s a lot more to it, though, but I’m grateful she set the table and invited us in for discussion.

Acknowledging

October 28, 2013 — 3 Comments

Before beginning a book I read the acknowledgements. Not every book has them, but the ones that do hold a litany of treasure. Here, at the end of a book or at the beginning, you have the list of people who made the work possible. While it is a personal touch, I think it can hold the potential for much more meaning if we readers will give it a thorough look.

When I opened my advance copy of Sarah Bessey’s debut work, before reading the table of contents or back cover, I paged through to those acknowledgements. I knew within them there would be some men and women whose names I do not only recognize, but whose lives and words have touched my life in impacting ways. As I read the last words of her acknowledgements, I felt the tears rise in my eyes: here was a woman whose heart beats as strongly for Jesus as mine does. In that alone, she is kindred, and I need nothing more to reach across the table of friendship.

Why am I telling you this? Because Sarah’s book is titled Jesus Feminist, and it already has some people around the table rearing back their heads and huddling together with a rebuttal after a mere glance at the subtitle (an invitation to revisit the Bible’s view of women). I am telling you about Sarah’s acknowledgement because the blurb on the heading of the book is an important one for all of us: Exploring God’s radical notion that women are people too.

So before you read any further, stop. Just think about that. We are all people. Women are people. Men are people. We, the collective, are a people. And we are persons. And that is a beautiful thing. Feminists, even Christian ones, are people. Those acknowledgements of Sarah’s hold a hundred names who are not just names or bloggers or agents or friends, but people.

I asked Sarah if she would allow me the opportunity to read and review an advance copy of her book because I think there’s a better way we can have the conversation about things of this nature. I don’t think it has to be enemies pitted against one another furiously writing blog rebuttals to rebuttals to rebuttals. Sarah has been nothing but gracious to me in the past—even in areas where we are diametrically opposed theologically. Why? Because Sarah understands that behind avatars and platforms and theology and -isms and -ists, there are people. And that is a beautifully rare thing.

Tomorrow I will post my review of Jesus Feminist.

jesusfeminist