Archives For spiritual growth

There are eighteen attributes of God posted on the walls of the Kids Village rooms at The Village Church. Learning those attributes, committing them to memory, and pulling them out whenever I have doubted the character of God throughout the past six years has been one of the most life-changing disciplines of my life.

After I posted this photo, several people asked for the full list or a link to the posters. A few of the guys in the Comm department told me they’ll think about getting something up in the next year, but until then, I asked for permission to reprint the complete list. It was written by Anne Lincoln Holibaugh, the director of Kids Village for years and one who worked hard to create a well-oiled machine in that area. She’s brilliant. If you know her, tell her (and all the Kids Village/Little Village people) thank you today.

Here are the attributes in list form. Below, if you click on the image, there’s a high resolution image I put together that you can print out and put on your fridge or frame or wherever it would be helpful for you to visualize the bigness of God on a regular basis. I really mean it when I say committing these characteristics of God to memory has been one of the most life-changing disciplines for me. They’re easy to remember, they remind me I am not God, and they speak to nearly every lie I am tempted to believe about Him.

God is:

Wise: He knows what is best
Generous: He gives what is best
Loving: He does what is best
Good: He is what is best
Unchanging: He never changes
Creator: He made everything
Provider: He meets the needs of His children
Holy: He is completely perfect
Just: He is right to punish sin
Glorious: He shows his glory and greatness
Sovereign: He has the right, will, and power to do as He pleases
Compassionate: He sees, cares, and acts when His children are in need
Merciful: He does not give what His children deserve
Attentive: He hears and responds to His children
Worthy: He deserves all glory
Deliverer: He saves His children from wrath
Refuge: He provides places of safety for His children
Almighty: Nothing is too hard for God

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I’ve been lost for almost a year.

It has its perks, of course. I never would have known, for instance, the left turn I thought would take me in the general direction of home, would actually take me past a local gardening center I hadn’t found yet. Or the right turn I thought would head me toward the Super Target would actually end me up on a dead-end street. You win some, you lose some. Or get lost some.

They say moving is one of the most stressful things your body can do and they probably say moving cross-country twice in one year is like throwing yourself into a spin cycle and then tumble dry on high. “How do people do this well?” I ask myself almost daily. I have to look on the bright side, otherwise every wrong turn ends me up in tears.

Isaiah 30:19
For a people shall dwell in Zion, in Jerusalem; you shall weep no more. He will surely be gracious to you at the sound of your cry. As soon as he hears it, he answers you.

I wander the aisles of the Super Target for an hour this morning. I have no agenda, no list, and no aim. “This is what lonely people do,” I think. “Crazy people.” “But I am not one of those people,” I say to myself, pay for my purchase, and leave. Then I get lost on 242 or 262 or 252 or one of those numbered roads around here.

Manassas is shaped like an oblong diamond tilted to the left, which is beautiful I suppose in its own right, but sure makes a fool out of anyone who has a good sense of direction, like me. Denver was sensible: numbered streets running east west, alphabetical streets running north south. Early settlers must have started life on the east coast and decided that kind of chaos wasn’t their style. A hundred years later and I was more than grateful for their future thinking.

Early settlers of Manassas had no such intention.

I’ve been lost for a year and I’ve also felt lost for a year. I wake every morning wondering if this will be the one, the one I finally feel like myself, feel awake, energized, purposeful, and curious. I did not waste my life before this year and now I wander the aisle of Super Target unseeing and bland.

There are details underneath this surface page we haven’t told you and won’t, and I’m sure some of you wonder what in the world my problem is and I honestly wonder too. It’s been a painful year, or in the vernacular, as one of our friends in Denver told us this week: “This year sucked.” It did, we laughed and then sobered: it did.

I could cry for all the sucking this year has been. Sucking us of life and joy and hope and roots. It wasn’t just us, it was all of the things put together, stirred, beaten, and battered, baked on high until the smoke alarm went off.

Isaiah 30:20
And though the Lord give you the bread of adversity and the water of affliction, yet your Teacher will not hide himself anymore, but your eyes shall see your Teacher.

A friend told me today it’s okay to wear t-shirts and yoga pants all day these days. I feel guilty sometimes, like life isn’t worth showing up for. But she reminds me comfort isn’t always a sin.

Nate tells me maybe this is just a stopping point for us, we will plant ourselves here for four or five years, help this church plant in the area, see what God does. He is as full of faith and faithfulness as I am full of doubt and doubtfulness. I wonder if it’s okay to not be okay while still knowing someday things will be okay.

Isaiah 30:21
And your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, “This is the way, walk in it,” when you turn to the right or when you turn to the left.

I pass a mom in Super Target today trying to calm her newborn who screams. She’s fretting and embarrassed, and I put a hand on her shoulder and say, “You’re doing a good job and it’s going to be okay.” Her eyes fill with tears and mine do too. We both know it’s true and it’s still the hardest thing in the world to believe.

All of us feel lost sometimes.

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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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The train depot is two blocks from our house and I am learning to tell time by the sound of the train whistle.

When I was single every few months I’d ask the Lord, “How long? How long do I have to wait for marriage? Will it ever happen?” Then in the space of three weeks from conversing to knowing, there he was: the guy I’d marry. When Nate and I were dating and engaged, saying goodnight every night felt like agony, “How long do we have to be apart?” Hyperbolic maybe, especially since from first date to wedding date it was three months. Now, a full year into life together, he spends more than eleven hours a day apart from me. The best part of my day is when he gets home, but the second best part is the text message he sends me before he gets on the train for the trek back to me.

The wait is always worth it.

A friend of mine is married to a man from Belize and for various reasons, they’ve been apart for ten months. Another friend says goodbye to her husband every week while he flies jets around the world and back. Another friend is married to a captain in the army—he’s deployed more than he’s home. And many more friends are married to men who are married to their jobs; men whose faces light up when they sit across from new friends, co-workers, or parishioners, and darken when they get home to dishes in the sink, toddlers, and tired wives.

But I have one friend who has been married to her man for 47 years and she told me once that the longing only grows and it only grows if you encourage it.

Harry Burns was right when he said to Sally, “I came here tonight because when you realize you want to spend the rest of your life with somebody, you want the rest of your life to start as soon as possible.”

For many years I believed the lie that I needed to squelch the desire for marriage. That the longing for it only contributed to the sadness I felt at missing out on it. Then I believed the lie that the first stirrings of love and sadness at being apart from Nate would soon wear off in marriage. Sometimes now I am caught up in the belief that this still present longing to be with him will soon die off.

All of us are waiting for something and the closer we get to the getting of it, the more the longing grows. Christ knew this and this is why He likened us to the Bride and Himself as the Bridegroom. Weddings are so brimming with expectancy, longing, and celebration—the culmination of so much waiting. At last!

But we let dashed hopes and hardened hearts get in the way soon enough. Disappointments, fears, unmet expectations—they grow resentments instead of longings if we’re not careful. Last week Nate was late coming home two days in a row and I wanted to blame traffic, trains, work, and even him for my disappointment, but this is no way to grow longing, I reminded myself.

It is like this with God too. This year has been a year full of dreams let go, mounting frustrations, disappointed hopes, and severe misjudgment. I have sinfully directed my resentment toward God more these days than I have since He saved me. My longing for Him lands silent and limp, like forgotten toys or too small jeans.

Today I pay attention to the train whistle all day. Only one of the trains will bring my love home to me, but all of the whistles incrementally remind me to fan the flame of longing for my King. He too is coming home for me and I want to stand ready, waiting, my longing found completely in Him.

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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.

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I can’t get a friend’s words out of my head: “The enemy can’t steal my praise.” She says them to us over Eggs Benedict and my first coffee all week. Tears ebbed over the corners her eyes and she says it three times over: He can’t steal my praise. I knew then when I’ve suspected for a while. The enemy has stolen my praise.

I think I knew it months ago when my arms hung limp at my sides during worship at church. Distracted by the Sunday morning to-do list that hangs over the heads of those employed by local churches or by the myriad of other things nipping at my heart for attention, I knew I was refusing to praise right then. The road in front of me split in obvious ways: choose to worship or choose to despair. And I chose despair.

I told Nate months later that every time I’ve been able to get just my mouth above water this year some other thing dunks me back under. I couldn’t praise if I wanted to. This is what I said to him through angry, hot tears as we drove in a UHaul loaded with all our earthly belongings toward some unknown and frightening new direction of life.

My arms still hang limp by my sides.

Choosing to not praise or forgetting how or simply not having the energy or desire to do so—call it what you will, the words of praise are foreign to my lips these days. I should be embarrassed to write it, to say it, to put it out in public places in public ways, but I think desperation knows no shame. I take comfort in the laments of David these days. His soul felt so taken from him sometimes he had to search to find it and command it to worship.

More bad news comes this afternoon and we begin to despair again. Worried. Angry. Frustrated. (God, we can’t bear much more of this. Relent, please?)

A lyric I heard on Sunday repeats itself to me: “We find rest rejoicing.” I think I’ve had it backwards. I’ve been hoping if we find rest it will be followed by rejoicing, but this says it’s the other way around: the way to rest is to rejoice.

Today I clean the bathroom of our small AirBnB in Maryland. I clean the kitchen. I take our laundry to the laundromat. I fold every t-shirt with care and precision. I make the bed. I put away the laundry. I stare into our small and sparse refrigerator and plan dinner. I stare at slate blue and mint green walls. I wish I had a book that’s been packed away since February 3rd. I talk to our realtor. I cry. I hang up Nate’s shirts. I put away the dishes. With every rote motion I say these words to myself: I find rest rejoicing.

I don’t know how to rest these days and I’ve forgotten how to really rejoice. But I do know how to say words with my mouth that my heart doesn’t fully believe, and this is where I will start: God, you are Creator of the universe and you know my name and you know, too, that I am only made of dust. Relent, please. I worship you.

The Lord replied, “My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.”

Then Moses said to him, “If your Presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here. How will anyone know that you are pleased with me and with your people unless you go with us? What else will distinguish me and your people from all the other people on the face of the earth?”

And the Lord said to Moses, “I will do the very thing you have asked, because I am pleased with you and I know you by name.”
Exodus 33:14-17

Once I sat at a farmhouse table eating a hurried breakfast. An old preacher sat at the other end, a stranger to me, a friend to the owners of the farmhouse and the table. It was a time of life when the monotony of the everyday clung to my heart like packing peanuts to a pea coat. Wake. Work. Rinse. Repeat. I look back at those years, living in that grey painted farmhouse with the terra-cotta shutters, as one of the richest of my life—not because the gifts overwhelmed me, but because of the patience and faith being worked in me unbeknownst to me.

The old preacher didn’t know me at all but others claimed he carried prophetic gifts. Prophecy, at the time, seemed to me a fools gold. I’d been in the charismatic church long enough, had pages of prophetic words spoken over me, and nothing seemed to come to anything. It looked pretty on the outside, but on the inside it was soft rock, talc—scrape at it enough and its powder rises and falls and comes to nothing. “This is the word of the Lord,” became double-speak for “I’ll feed you candy so you won’t look for meat.” I came to resent the word of the Lord because most of what I knew of him came from old preacher men and not the Word of God himself.

Turns out I was the one wrong all along. There’s no one else to blame for the fact that I thought words spoken by modern day prophets held more weight than the words contained in the Living and Holy Word of God. Whenever I think of those word offerings from itinerant and infallible men now, I am grateful they are not the ones I’m called to trust, and I’m grateful they spoke to me kindly, gently, and in a way that revealed my own unbelieving heart.

As I sat there eating my toast with jam, this old preacher asked me questions about my day and life. I gave him one word answers, stunted for fear, perhaps, that I didn’t measure up to what the prophets always said about me. “A great ministry ahead!” “Touching thousands!” “A portion that would astound you to think of it!” I had learned to scoff when the hand passed over me those days. If only they knew the pittance of my life. Prophets became liars in my mind. But I have never forgotten the words of Pastor Baker, sitting at the farmhouse table:

“The Lord’s hand is on you for ministry. Do not buy into the secular value system, there are going to be paths ahead of you that just make sense in everyone’s eyes and yet there’s going to be this little thread of doubt in you, that’s the spirit of God. Listen to it, even if it doesn’t make sense to the rest of the world. You hear his voice. You can know.”

One thread of doubt is an anomaly, a whole mesh of them is a tapestry. In all my life I have been a tapestry of doubts. I have learned to reason through great decisions not with a certainty of direction, but with an absence of doubt. I check my heart not for “This is the way, walk in it,” but for “If your heart does not condemn you, you have confidence in God,” and therefore move forward. I moved to Texas like this. I broke an engagement like this. I quit my job like this. I married like this. I moved to Denver like this. The answer has always been for me not the place of the most certainty, but the place of the least doubt. It’s precarious, it’s risky, and it can seem to the whole world you are a bundle of irrationality. I do not regret a single decision and God has revealed his goodness to me every single time not in the preface to the decisions, but always in the aftermath.

I still think back to those old prophet’s words whenever there are major decisions to be made. I care little for going with the flow, the opinions of others matter less and less to me. It is not them I will stand before someday and make an account. My question is not even what the Spirit is doing. “What” should be of little account to us. “Where” could matter a little, I suppose. What I continually come back to, though, is “Who.” Whose voice am I listening for? Whose approval do I desire? Whose path do I ultimately trust?

These are unpopular questions in a world driven by popularity both in opinion and trend. We all want approval. We all want ease. We all want a life unhindered by the immediate and difficult call of “drop your nets and follow me.” Great calls of great ministries sound good, taste good, look good, but at the end of it all, the question we’re asked is “Were you faithful?”

Were you faithful to walk through a muddy time of monotonous life?

Were you faithful to run to the Word of God instead of the word of men?

Were you faithful to wrestle with doubt and certainty?

Were you faithful to drop the comfort of what is known? What is easy? What is expected?

Were you faithful and obedient to the Spirit in the everyday?

I don’t know the answer to these questions yet. When He asks me at the throne I hope my answer is yes, but I also know I will not be able to lie before the Holy God, and so it might just be “I tried. I failed a lot. I listened to wrong voices. I meandered down deceitful paths, but God, at the end of it all, I tried to be faithful.”

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In a staff meeting a few months ago I used the words “my people” in reference to a trip I was about to take to Texas. “Maybe you shouldn’t use the words ‘my people,'” two of my coworkers said to me later, “Since you’re here now and we’re your people now.”

It took a long time for those people in Texas to become mine, but leaving them in June (even with the gift of a new husband) was one of the saddest partings I’ve experienced. At my wedding—a day when you’re supposed to be glowing and thrilled—I left sobbing and cried through the thirteen hour drive to Colorado the next day. I fought hard to feel at home in North Texas and when it finally settled in for me, it settled in deep. Covenanting with the church there was not a mere signed paper and lip-service, it was family to me. They are family to me still. I am just one of thousands—and my presence is missed as just one of thousands—but I miss the hundreds I am apart from now.

. . .

I’ve been reading in 1 Peter the past few weeks and though I make my way through the entire book each day, it’s the first verse that stops me every time: “To those who are elect exiles of the dispersion…”

Have you ever felt exiled? Being far away from those I love and those who love me somehow trumps every other emotion in those times. This past week I was supposed to be with two of my best friends, gallivanting around the Adirondacks, going thrift shopping, and painting by candlelight on the kitchen island. All week long they posted images of their adventures and I felt exiled. It was my choice to stay in Colorado this week, but I still felt far away from those I loved—like an exile. “Everyone’s hanging out without me” can be the sentence on repeat in those moments. One of our best friends in Texas moved to Indiana this week and the going away party was filled with our community there—the tears leapt to my eyes before I could stop them. We belonged there too.

One of the questions I ask Nate often these days is, “Did we make a mistake? Was moving here a mistake?” He takes a moment to respond, because this is his way, and then he says, “No. We moved here with good counsel, much prayer, and confidence in what God was doing. Today’s circumstances don’t change God’s purpose with our lives. Regardless of where God takes us in life, we can trust God in bringing us here seven months ago.” I am grateful for this man.

What Nate is reminding me again and again is you can feel like an exile and still be elect. You can be chosen by God for a purpose and a plan, even one that doesn’t makes sense and keeps you far from “your people” and feels uncomfortable. You can chew the bread of adversity and sit in a circle of strangers—and still be loved and known and chosen by God for that purpose.

This is a hard truth to swallow. Even if we feel like wherever we are is home forever, there are moments in all of our lives when we’re certain we’re the exile. Certain someone is talking about us. Hanging out without us. Growing together without us. Certain we’ll never be known as deeply as we long to be. We all wake every single morning and in some way feel our exile, our apartness. Moses’s words ring true for us all: “I have been a stranger in a strange land.” Wherever we are, we’re not home, and that’s okay. We were made for heaven, not this world.

The comfort is in this, though: In Him we are drawn near to the Father who does not change, who does not remain far off, who chose and redeems His children. The elect, exiled for a time, but still gloriously, safely, comfortingly His.

. . .

My two best friends stood before my favorite mountains together yesterday without me and our other best friends are going through the motions of life as normal in Texas. We miss them all terribly, and they will always be our people, not because we have chosen them to be so, but because Christ has called the whole dispersion together in unity as the Church—no matter how far apart we may be.

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Photos from Ashley McCauley Photography.

Here’s an exercise: let’s keep an account of the words coming out of our mouths and filling up our hearts today. How many of them are informed by the word of God and how many of them are informed by Christian culture and how many of them are informed by the world’s culture?

Here’s an example: “Marriage is the most sanctifying agent in a person’s life.”

Word of God?
Christian Culture?
World’s Culture?

I’ll give you a hint. It isn’t the first.

More and more I hear married people touting that line, and more and more I wish people would add a two small words to it: “…for me.”

What is communicated by saying marriage is the most sanctifying agent in life is that anyone who isn’t married can’t be as sanctified as a married person. Marriage is not always God’s best sanctifying agent. All of life is sanctification, and He may use one agent in one person’s life and another in another person’s life. At the ripe old age of 34, singleness has been the most sanctifying agent in my life. Perhaps at the age of 70 I will be able to say marriage has trumped it for me, but I think it will not have been marriage but life itself that did it.

God’s children are sanctified through whatever means God ordains to work in them His pleasure, His discipline, and His glory. Marriage, for the one who married young, may be the agent doing it for one. Singleness, divorce, widowhood, parenthood, or handicap might be the agent doing it for someone else.

Marriage is full of distractions. Singleness is full of longing and loneliness. And both are full of the other. We will be sanctified in each season to its fullness just as God designed.

Singles, stop believing true sanctification is around the corner, holding out on you, taunting you with the illusion you’re incomplete as a Christian unless married. You are incomplete—sanctification is progressive and no one has arrived. Embrace today’s sanctification.

Married people, stop saying marriage is more sanctifying than long and difficult seasons full of other gifts from God. We rob from others the beauty of this: “I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” Philippians 1:6

If you’re God’s child a work was begun in you before the foundation of the earth and will be completed in God’s best way for you in preparation for eternity with Jesus Christ. Marriage—union with Christ—is the signifier of the completion of our sanctification!

Single and married friends, today is God’s best sanctifying agent in your life.

It occurs to me that I should not tell you the husband has taken to cooking breakfast in the morning. When we first married his plat signature was eggs, “scrambled” in the pan on high heat, and occasionally rice, boiled to mush. Now he handles cast iron cooking like a champ, flipping the over easy eggs over nice and easy, and sizzling sweet potatoes to the perfect combination of crispy on the outside and soft on the inside. He always puts some sort of seasonal fruit on the side. And he always makes coffee first thing. It occurs to me I should not tell you this because I’ll come off sounding like one of those pastors who talks about their “smokin’ hot wives” and infuriates bloggers everywhere: This is my husband, who makes perfectly runny eggs and does it with a smile.

In the dearth of authenticity for the generation whose god is authenticity, a model from New Zealand edited all the captions on her instagrams. It’s all over the news this week, as if it is news that the perfect poses took a hundred attempts and her body didn’t come with sacrifices. We all know, underneath the exterior, the presentation, the cropping, and the editing, real life is being lived. We’re doing our best to pretend it’s not, but we all know it is.

This is what the writer meant when he said “Eternity is written on the hearts of men,” and what Jesus intended when he said, “Go into all the world and teach the good news.” We have all been imprinted with life and death and their looming realities, and we all have to hear someone tell us “Yes, that’s true,” or we won’t believe. News isn’t really news, it’s just information, or confirmation, if you will: It really is this bad or this good.

So my husband is making breakfast and it’s a simple thing really, but I heard my pastor say once, “The good will keep getting better, and the bad will keep getting worse.” He was talking about the end of time and the beginning of the kingdom and I loved those words because they are truth and they say two things to me:

The good will keep getting better: All the sanctification worked in our hearts produces fruit of everlasting goodness. It is tainted with sin, yes, but gloriously and increasingly reflecting the God whom we image. That my husband cooks a better breakfast than he did five months ago is not only evidence of a growth in skill, it is an evidence of his desire to serve and love his wife. He is being progressively sanctified, growing in love for his Father and so too in love for his wife. Making breakfast is simply evidence that eternity is written on his heart (and perhaps his belly too). I hesitate to tell you he makes our breakfast because there are a hundred thousand of you for whom that is not true. But where is it true in your life? Where has the good become better as you or someone you know reflects the image of God? That is reason for worship! Not the thing itself, but the God who made it happen.

The bad will keep getting worse: As Christ sanctifies us and grows us in Him, we will see more and more clearly the depth of our own sin. Nate makes us breakfast, but it is sandwiched by conversations daily on the brokenness of our hearts and in the hearts of those we love. In the still dark morning hours, I pray for him and he prays for me, that we would know Christ because we are increasingly aware of our inability to be Christ and to fail Him and those we love. The badness outside our home only looks worse than the badness inside our home—but it’s not really worse. Where is that true in your life? Where do the perfect poses and pithy phrases fall short and you feel the bad getting worse? Praise God He did not make us automatons, robots of code and conduct. Praise God the bad gets worse so we can know he is shaking and stirring and sifting all the dross from the gold. That there is hardship in your world is proof God is still at work. Praise Him for not forgetting you, for writing eternity on your heart and for evidencing it by the longing you have for goodness and beauty.

And now I must go, my breakfast is getting cold.

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Spurgeon said, “I have learned to kiss the wave that strikes me against the rock of ages,” and I have written about it before. It still stands that I’d rather kiss the wave after it’s battered and thrown me against the Rock instead of while it is battering and throwing me. I am human and therefore value self-preservation.

Honeymoon stage is a phrase I wish didn’t enter the Christian’s vocabulary. If marriage is to be a reflection of Christ and the Church and we are to worship at His throne forever in joy, why would we think earthly marriage should be different? I know just saying that has some of you shaking your heads, “Just you wait, Lore, it’s coming for you.” To that I want to say this: our honeymoon was one week and two days long, we spent it in Aspen, eating delicious food and having lots of sex. It was everything a honeymoon should be.

And then we came down out of the mountains to a new city, bought a house, started a job, lived in a basement apartment for a month, tried to make a new and different church feel like home, and we still don’t know who our people here are. Honeymoon was vacation, this is real life.

In the still dark hours of the morning a few weeks ago I made breakfast, sat down to drink my coffee, and read my bible while the man ran and then showered. He joined me when my coffee was drunk and we had a hard discussion on the realities of life: we need a new roof ($15,000) and his car needs $4000 dollars worth of work. That’s nearly $20,000 out of our honeymoon stage budget.

I got to work and he texted a few minutes later to call him. His contract won’t be renewed for his remote job. He understands and is full of faith, and has a skill set that’s useful and employable anywhere, but the kick in the gut still hurts. This wasn’t part of the honeymoon. He’s been looking now for a month and jobs are harder to come by than we thought.

In September I miscarried. For fifteen days I bled and cried and couldn’t answer the question: why? and what? This foreign emotion of being tied to something inextricably and forever felt alien. I am still learning what it means to live “until death us do part,” but that is a two way commitment and this felt painfully one way.

I say all this because I feel the waves and they’re battering and pressing and bruising, but I wake up every single day confident of the goodness of God in the land of the living. I wake up confident that living means really living, really seeing God’s goodness, not lowering my eyes to the sinking depths of life, but raising them to the One from whom my help comes.

Buechner said, “This is the world: beautiful and terrible things will happen,” and I have thought of it often in recent months. Sometimes Colorado is so achingly beautiful and so achingly hard at the same time. And sometimes marriage is. And sometimes church is. And most of the time life is.

I think often on Psalm 73: the nearness of God is my good, and I ask often that I would not just know his nearness, but I would feel it too.

I don’t know what’s going on in your life today, what waves are throwing you against the Rock of Ages or what beautiful and terrible things are happening, but I know this: He is good and He is near, especially to the brokenhearted and crushed in spirit. His love for you is not a honeymoon love, fervent in the beginning and waning when real life hits. His love for you is everlasting and always good.

In the mountains and in the valleys. In still seas and stormy ones. He remains.

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There have been seven or eight lessons I have learned over the course of my life that have altered my thinking in profound ways. They have become markers of what Paul calls, “Glory to glory.” They marked a step forward, not in closer or better union with Christ, but in closer and better understanding of him. Today I thought of sharing them briefly with you.

A love for the local church: This was pressed deep into me before I even understood the theology of the church. My pastor in New York wooed me to a love for the local, to what God was doing right here in front of me. To the people with whom I walked and lived and fought and fought for. We cannot say we love Christ and not love what he loves best. He loves the Church best. He gave His life for her. I learned to live and die for the Church.

To not rob others of their suffering: This came from a friend during a season of deep pain and sadness in my life. He could have relieved it, I suppose, but said instead to another friend that he would not rob me of my sufferings. It took me a very, very long time to understand what that meant, and it took more suffering and more observation of suffering to understand. But here is what it taught me: God doesn’t waste anything, not suffering, not difficulty, not pain. He is working and willing and waiting and faithfully attending to his children in the midst of it. There are no “meantimes” in the Kingdom of God.

To be a “There you are!” person, instead of a “Here I am,” person: My pastor in New York also taught me there was real value in showing true interest in another person and their life. To not stand on the sidelines waiting to be approached by others with a “Here I am, come find me,” attitude. OR to enter a room and be the life and center of the party with the exclamation, “Here I am!” But instead to enter a room and find others first. To be the first to ask questions about their lives and the last to talk about yourself. This lesson, for a shy, wallflower like me, was life-changing. God pursues us like that!

God is not surprised by my doubts, my questions, my fears, or life: My pastor in Texas taught me this and it was one of the lessons that has been the foundation of my faith for five years. I spent years and years doubting my life, my choices, my faith, my repentance. All of this because I somehow believed I was in charge of it all and God was shaking his head in disappointment at me. If, though, God is in charge of everything, that means he isn’t surprised by anything—and he isn’t waiting me to mess up some cosmic plan. He’s shepherding, giving, guiding, loving, hearing, and faithful every step of the way.

This gift is for this day: Elizabeth Elliot taught me this. She hammered into my little head that not only was today a gift, but whatever I had today was a gift, and whatever I didn’t have today was also a gift. “God still holds tomorrow,” she said. This lesson reminded me time and time again over the years that today held enough disappointment and treasure as it was. There was no use longing for tomorrow and ignoring what God wanted to teach me today.

Love Jesus and People more than things: I will never forget sitting in the living room of some friends back in New York and hearing the father talk of how if his kids squabbled over a toy or some plaything, they would immediately rid their home of the item. They would not sell it because they wouldn’t attach worth to some thing which had caused conflict. He wanted to teach his kids to love Jesus and People more than things. Shortly after that I began to get rid of almost everything I owned and began to discipline myself to not worship the idol of sentimentality or wistfulness. I wanted everything I had been stewarded to reek of the fragrance of God’s own. If it didn’t, I got rid of it.

Expectations are resentments waiting to happen: This from another pastor in my church in Texas. I heard it at a time when all my faith and trust in God was shattered because I had put all my expectations in certain things instead of in Him alone. I wanted expressions of His goodness, not simply his goodness. I wanted gifts of lavish attention, without his simple affection. When I began to see the discrepancy, it became immediately clear where my doubt in him was coming from. I resented him, plain and simple. When I began to simply hope in His character and not at all in his gifts, everything changed for me. Nothing about life itself changed, but everything about the way I saw him changed.

This are just a few of the small things that have changed me throughout life. If you’ve known me for any length of time, you’ve probably heard me talk about one or all of them. I hope even more, though, that you’ve seen me live them. It would be a waste if all we did with theology was talk about it. These men and women, though their faithfulness, taught me in small ways huge lessons. This is the last lesson I have learned: To be faithful to God, not an outcome.

I doubt very much most of these people would know their small acts of faithfulness would have life-changing effects on me. But they did. My prayer today is two-fold: that you would find those benchmark moments in your life today, and that you would go back and thank the people who taught you those lessons. And second, that you would know you are being watched and studied by others in their walk. What we say and model and teach matters—and what a good gift that is from God!

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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This past spring my pastor said to me, “The sheep never stop needing a shepherd.” In context he was saying, “I kept waiting for a time when the sheep wouldn’t need me so badly, for a time when they’d grow up and mature, but the truth is as long as God has me here, I’m their shepherd and am called to them.”

This morning we read Psalm 23 and John 10 and last night in a meeting we talked about what faithful and good shepherding looks like and how we fail at it so often. A good sermon does not a good shepherd make. A good spreadsheet does not a good shepherd make. And a good event planner does not a good shepherd make.

To know what makes a good shepherd, we look to the Good Shepherd, Christ.

A good shepherd leaves the flock to find the one (John 10:16)
Good shepherding means at times the majority of the flock may feel left alone, but if they know their shepherd, they trust he will return. They know the business of their shepherd, which is to care for each sheep—even the wayward ones. The good shepherd always returns and teaches his flock to rejoice at the homecoming of the lost.

A good shepherd uses his rod and staff (Ps 23:3)
Good shepherding means faithful disciplining, but it also means knowing discipline is ultimately a comfort. The ultimate aim of discipline is not alienation, but cultivation for the sake of health. The good shepherd corrals his sheep toward the flock because it is the safest place for them.

A good shepherd lays down his life (John 10:11)
A good shepherd does not count his life as something to be grasped or held or protected. He does not protect his personality, his comforts, his time, or his energy. He lays himself across the threshold of the gate and lays down his life.

A good shepherd knows his Father and his Father knows him (John 10:14)
A good shepherd is like Enoch, walking with God. His food is to do the will of the Father. He knows the father more than he knows good theologians or good literature. He is known by the Father, laying bare his life and heart before the one who shepherds the shepherd.

A good shepherd has authority (John 10:18)
A good shepherd does not demand authority or grasp for it. He simply has it because it has been given to him. He does not cajole or fear when authority seems far from him, he knows who his Father is and the task he has been given.

A good shepherd knows where the still waters and green pastures are and leads his sheep there (Ps 23:1)
A good shepherd has adventured out to faraway lands to seek out still waters and green pastures. He has looked under rocks, in dark places, climbed hills, and been sunk in valleys. He seeks and find the stillest waters and greenest pastures for the good of his flock. He does not lead his sheep to mediocre places.

I look through this list and see the myriad of ways I fail at shepherding anyone, even my own heart, and I remember Isaiah’s words in chapter 30:

In returning and rest you shall be saved, in quietness and trust shall be your strength.

If you feel less like a shepherd and more like a lost sheep these days, leading other sheep in wandering ways, return. Rest. Quiet. Trust. Christ is the Good Shepherd and in His goodness He is leading you to good places.

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