Archives For spiritual growth

To Trust in Men

August 13, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

You are not alone.

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

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

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

fruitI caught of a whiff of longing this morning. I’d almost forgotten what it feels like. I stood in the parking lot and let the Texas breeze wash over me—and I felt a burst of hope inside of me: I’m going home!

I am sitting at the table with two dear friends the other day, an elder from my church and his wife, one of my first friends in Texas. They are New Yorkers, upstaters like me, and they have loved me well in my time here. This year has been one long shove, I said, a pushing away from all the reasons I would have to stay here. But are you running? they ask. Is it still running if you’re going home?

New York is a big state, divided into sections. The City, Upstate, the North Country, the Adirondack Region, the Finger Lakes Region, the Thousand Island Seaway, the Catskills. It’s all New York, but so much more than just The City. I’m not moving to the same region from which I hail, but I’m moving to the state I call home. Is it still running if you’re going home?

When I first visited New York I was 18 years old, a sullen teenager whose parents wanted to buy an old farmhouse and homestead it, growing organic vegetables and raising animals. I was born and bred in an affluent county north of Philadelphia. The earthiness of our new home didn’t bother me, but the humbleness of it did. It was a bigger, grander house than the one we’d left, but the life we now lived was simpler. I never felt at home there.

New York took from me, from beginning to end, it seemed. The timeline of my time there is dotted with its thievery. Home, life, family, security, finances, faith. By the time I left, my small car packed with every earthly belonging, I would have been glad to never return.

I tell one of my girls this morning that it was the lonely, poor, and rejected times where I now see the providence of God. It was not New York that stole from me, it was God who pruned from me. Cutting off what didn’t bear fruit. My first three years in Texas I felt strong and tall and healthy, free of the dead branches. But new branches grew and they have to be pruned too. That is the truth I am learning: to bear healthy fruit, even new branches have to be pruned.

One of the most painful lessons God’s children must learn is that we are not God, and our strength is only as strong as our dependence on Him. He is our strength. That which bears fruit in us, is born of Him. He is the producer, not us. He is also the farmer and the vine-keeper. He decides what is not best, what is not fit to produce.

I have some fears about moving back to New York, going home to a state that took from me, a place where my faith withered and died. I have fears that feel paramount today. Fear that some will think I am running away. That some will think I will never settle down. That I am making a mistake. That there, where I am known, I will slip into old patterns and ways of thinking. Deadly things.

But at the bottom of those fears, I land on one solid truth: He prunes. He takes away and gives something better. And he does it over and over and over and over again until we are his likeness. Because He is the vine and the vine-keeper, and truest fruit-bearer.

c2261c8246316ed0dfea405f565551e8A few weeks ago I tweeted, “In my home we don’t shout. This is our home & the rules are No Shouting. If you want to shout, you can, but not in my home.” It was said in reference (and perhaps defense) of blogs which do not have open comments. I removed comments two years ago and have only looked back wistfully a time or two. All it takes is a quick glance at some other blogs with similar content, though, for me to remember it was the right decision for me.

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I think of Sayable in much the same way as I think of my home. My home has four outside walls, keeping out the wind and elements, a front door which is often open to passers-by, and often closed to afford us some time home as a family. In our home we do not yell at one another and if there is some disagreement it is talked out in quiet, gracious voices. There have been occasions where words have been flung carelessly and trust has been broken, but that is not the modus operandi of our home. That is not the norm.

I grew up in a home with a good amount of yelling. Excuses for it were common, as well as prefaces or follow-ups. What I learned early on is there are levels of yelling, there is also tone of voice, there is not enough coffee, too much Irish in our bloodline, and too short a fuse. I learned yelling was the expected response and apologies came later, if at all. And I learned, most of all, that what is yelling to me, was not the universal decibel level of yelling.

Everyone has their own barometer of what constitutes yelling and when it is appropriate. 

Because I’m a sinner and we’re not in the new earth yet, I still find myself sensitive to the tones of voices around me, to how words are phrased and flung, and what excuses are given for anger. I am rarely offended, but if you yell at me, I’ll be looking for the nearest closet. Fear of man is alive and well in this soul on this issue.

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What does this have to do with blog comments? In our day to day life, we’re face to face, tone of voice is heard, body language is seen. On the web, though, and social media, we are left without those necessary cues. If a person uses coarse or aggressive language in a post/comment, and defends their words with, “I just want to have a conversation,” they should understand words that sound conversational to them may sound abusive to someone else. And likewise, someone like me who feels any slight pushback is a personal affront to my character, my spirituality, my soul, and my personhood needs to take a step back and assume a charitable posture.

The longer it’s been since I lived in a home with yelling, the more I realize yelling or raising your voice in anger is not functional, not ever. If you are a parent, there is no excuse for yelling at your child. Ever. If you are a child, there is no excuse for yelling at your parent. Ever. If you are a friend, you should never yell at another friend. And the same goes for blog and blog comments. If you find yourself typing furiously using a tone of voice in your head that you reserve for moments of anger, frustration, or even defensiveness, stop typing and step away.

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I got spanked more than any child in my home, sometimes multiple times a day (mostly for being the resident smart-aleck), so many times that I have no recollection of any time save one when I was about nine or ten. I had disobeyed one of my parents after them repeated telling me to stop, they were getting angry and I could see it. Just one last time I pushed the envelope and it sent them over the edge. But, for the only time I can remember, they looked right at me, took a deep breath, told me they were going to spank me, but needed to go calm down first. In those twenty minutes of waiting for the coming walloping, I had a few minutes to think about my actions and my disobedience, and they had a few minutes to calm down. I’ll never forget that spanking. It may have the first time I was actually repentant before they put me over their knee.

It is never in our favor to dash off responses, use the internet equivalent of raising our voices, or react in anger. And, which is more, it is never in the favor of anyone else. It is not loving or long-suffering, kind or hopeful.

Questions for personal consideration: What is your tone online? What are you known for? Do those who may disagree with you find you approachable and generous? Are you aware that what is simply aggressive conversation to you may be abusive to someone else?

Holding the Mystery

June 11, 2014

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I live in a neighborhood where all the houses look the same. Our floorplans are swapped or switched a bit, but generally, we are like a row of Japanese diplomats, all bowing our heads to the Suburban Man.

The names of the roads are Springaire and Winter Park and Summerwind and Autumn Breeze—a nod, perhaps, to what the city planners wish would be instead of what is. People keep warning me about the Long Winter (they say, with capitalized letters) up north. I keep reminding them of their long summer, but neither of us can agree which is better. We always want what we can’t have, right?

I live on Summerwind in a house just like my neighbors. We express our individuality with paint colors and shrubbery. A yellow wreath on my door, a terracotta pot with flowers that cannot withstand the heat. As they say, if you can’t stand the heat, something, something.

I stop mid-run tonight in a rare open space of sky. The sky here is lavender at night, clouded or clear. The city lights create a cover of light that covers the light. I can’t stop thinking about how manufactured light crowds out natural light.

We’ve been on a steady diet of Vermeer this week at my house so we are obsessed with color and light and mirrors and mysteries. I can’t stop thinking about how betrayed I feel by recent discoveries on Vermeer and simultaneously how wonderful it seems to know he was more than an artist, but a genius.

The poet Levertov said, “Days pass when I forget the mystery,” and I think of this line often in these neighborhoods and days that pass so seamlessly into one another. I forget the mystery of nuance and life, of curiosity and wonder. It becomes only a perpetual plod toward tomorrow.

But tomorrow is a gift, and the only one of its kind, and God help me to remember that in our matching houses and macchiatos and yoga pants and yearning.

I am reading in 1 Timothy this morning, the qualifications of an overseer, and nestled there in verse 9 these words: “They must hold the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience.”

How we love and laud the matching, the simple, the clear, the found-out, the known. But how we must hold the mystery of the faith with our consciences clear: the gift of mystery. The gift of the unplanned. The gift of the unknown.

Do you have an unknown before you? A path not clearly defined? A choice which seems impossible? A God you do not fully understand? That is a gift, friend. You can trust the mystery of it all with a complete clear conscience.

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It’s been a season where I have hesitated to write about singleness for obvious reasons. But Tim Challies linked to this post this morning and I wanted to comment on it briefly.

First read the post on how to make your wife more beautiful.

Now, let me say that a woman who is fully loved by her husband is markedly different than a woman who is not, or does not feel loved by him. We all know both women, and there is a definite glow and confidence in a woman who feels the security of her one-woman man.

That said, I worry about the message this sends to unmarried women, particularly those of you who are in your thirties and beyond. Shakespeare said it best “Age, with his stealing steps, Hath clawed me in his clutch.” We cannot stop the inevitable blurring of our birth year behind us and the empty grave in front of us. For a single woman aging feels achingly more hopeless than for a single man as he ages. Every month we watch our fertility fade and the crows-feet crowd in. We feel less beautiful as each day goes on.

On top of that, there is rarely someone tending to the garden of our souls. There isn’t someone delighting in us, in every curve and nuance, every idiosyncrasy, speaking to fears and sheltering us in times of question. The lack of these things begin to eat at the blossom that bloomed in our twenties, and soon the withering comes.

If you know a single woman (and you all do), take a few moments today and encourage her inner beauty. Comment on her character and your hopes for it. Speak to her fears and lead her to the cross. Affirm her good desire to be married,  speak highly of your own marriage, and assure her of her eternal position within the Bride of Christ. And practically: serve her. Nothing makes me feel more cherished as a woman than a brother who notices and serves my sisters and me.

We should desire for the whole bride of Christ, not just the women, or just the married women, to be beautiful. Proclaim the manifold wonder of what the gospel has done in our lives and how it has transformed us.

That is true beauty.

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If you are a Villager, or you podcast The Village’s sermons, this weekend Matt is preaching from II Corinthians 5. If you struggle with doubt, I encourage you to listen. One of the things I love about my church is that it is a safe place to wrestle with sin and the brokenness that sin brings into our lives. As I’ve been reading Spiritual Depression by Martyn Lloyd Jones, I’ve been so freshly encouraged to be honest not only about my sin, but also the brokenness that trickles down as a result of it. Note: if you haven’t read Spiritual Depression, I cannot recommend it more highly.

From Chapter III:

What is the cure for [spiritual depression]? For the moment I shall give principles only. The first principle is evident: above everything else avoid making premature claim that your blindness is cured. It must have been a great temptation to this man to do that. Here is a man who has been blind. Our Lord puts spittle upon his eyes and says to him: ‘Do you see?’ The man says: ‘I see.’ What a temptation it must have been to him to take to his heels and announce to the whole world: ‘I can see!’ The man, in a sense, could see, but so far his sight was incomplete and imperfect, and it was most vital that he should not testify before he had seen clearly.It is a great temptation and I can well understand it, but it is a fatal thing to do. How many are doing that at the present time (and are pressed and urged to do so), proclaiming that they see, when it is so patent to many that they do not see very clearly and are really still in a state of confusion. What harm such people do. They describe men to others as trees, walking. How misleading to the others!

The second thing is the exact opposite of the first. The temptation to the first is to run and to proclaim that they can see, before they see clearly; but the temptation to the second is to feel absolutely hopeless and to say: ‘There is no point in going on. You have put spittle on my eyes and you have touched me. In a sense I see, but I am simply seeing men as if they were trees walking.’ Such people often come to me and say that they cannot see the truth clearly. in their confusion they become desperate and ask: ‘Why cannot I see? The whole thing is hopeless.’ They stop reading their bible, they stop praying. The devil has discouraged many with lies. Do not listen to him.

What then is the cure? What is the right way? It is to be honest and to answer our Lord’s question truthfully and honest. That is the whole secret of this matter. He turned to this man and asked: ‘Do you see ought?’ And the man said, absolutely honestly: ‘I do see, but I am seeing men as if they were trees walking.’ What saved this man was his absolutely honesty.

Now the question is, where do we stand? The whole purpose of this sermon is just to ask that question—where do we stand? What exactly do we see? Have we got things clearly? Are we happy? Do we really see? We either do or we do not, and we must know exactly where we are. Do we know God? Do we know Jesus Christ? Not only as our Saviour but do we know Him? Are we ‘rejoicing with joy unspeakable and full of glory?’ That is the New Testament Christian. Do we see? Let us be honest; let us face the questions, let us face them with absolute honesty.

May Sabbath

May 2, 2014

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It was after writing this post through tears in the early morning hours that I remembered it was almost May. May means Sayable Sabbath month. Usually I feel ready for that 12th month Sabbath; I feel I’ve earned it, worked hard at my craft, swallowed pride, written my heart out for 11 months. But all I feel this year is guilty for how much I’ve hated writing for six months.

In November of last fall I began feeling like I’d lost my voice. I wasn’t sure where it had gone, all I knew was this was a different writer’s block than I’d ever felt before. Usually I press through, write anyway, exercise that muscle, and the words eventually come. But this wasn’t missing words, this was a missing voice.

I was asking the question, “Who am I?” in a way I never have before. I’m not a person who struggles with identity. I know my strengths, my weaknesses, and my proclivities. Every writer has to know a few things before writing a term paper or book: who am I and who is my audience? I’d perfected the answer to those two questions, but suddenly neither of them seemed right anymore. I didn’t know who I was and I certainly had no idea who my audience was.

When we lose our voices I wonder if this is simply God’s grace to us after all—since we are His and He is our only audience.

I think of Isaiah in chapter 6, standing before the throne of God, the seraphim around Him singing one refrain, “Holy, Holy, Holy, is the Lord God Almighty. The whole earth is full of his glory.” I think of Isaiah standing there with his head bent down, saying the words, “Woe is me, I am a man of unclean lips and I live among a people of unclean lips.”

Do you feel the uncleanliness of your lips sometimes? Whether you are a pastor or a blogger or a mother or a son, do you feel the clutter and grime that spews from your mouth and your fingers? The realization again and again of how selfish and prideful and arrogant you are and how you cannot clean yourself up enough to stand before the Holiness of God?

I feel it. Oh, how I feel it.

It was a burning coal that cleansed Isaiah’s mouth but we are all looking for the nectar and sweet juice to cleanse ours. The affirmation of friends, the compliments of strangers. We want the feel good way to feeling good, not the burning coal, God, not the burning coal.

I have felt the burning coal these last months. Learning the hard way that I am a person of unclean lips and all around me are others with unclean lips. We who are being sanctified and being transformed are still so not. Look, and not too far, you will be undone too.

We do not Sabbath to give God his due, His 10%. We are not tithing our time, giving of our first-fruits. We Sabbath to remember we need Him. We do not need rest or stillness or peace or comfort. We need Him. We need a vision of Him and His holiness. We need a burning coal. We need to be undone. We need to be touched and sent. But only through Him, Lord of the Sabbath.

Normally I have guest writers for the month of May, but somehow that seemed cheap to me this year. I want Sayable to be still all this month, to Sabbath, and to offer to you readers the blessing of one less thing to read. I know that doesn’t make a lot of sense, especially for sponsors, but I’m willing to lose here. I want to lose here. I want to feel the burning of the coal on my mouth, my voice, my “platform,” and my pulpit. I want to stand before the throne undone.

I  wanted to comment on something I wrote this past week on singleness. I got a bit of pushback on it and some of it was founded; I also received some concern that I was pushing against my own church’s model of home groups since we don’t have extraneous ministries apart from home groups. I love my church and agree strongly with our leadership that less is more, and that a focus on programatic within the local church can distract from mission. Some of my pastors have written a book on that which you can find here.

However, when I look at the sheer amount of divorces or marital problems within the Church at large, I can’t help but wonder if we could do better for our singles before marriage.

If the divorce rate is rising—or even plateaued, because even one divorce is too many in my opinion—shouldn’t we do more to prevent marriages of unequally yoked, immature, or otherwise unwise individuals? Of course we can’t micro-manage the unions of everyone, but a few? As many as possible?

I don’t think singles ministry is the answer, so let that be said. I actually agree strongly that singles should not be segregated off to themselves, but should surround themselves with marriages from every point along the way. Walking with young and old couples is one of my great joys. I’m able to enter into their joys and mourning in a way I can’t with my single friends. I’m able to pray for babies, for grandchildren, for discipline problems, for marriage difficulties, and they’re able to pray with me through my single-specific trials. This is one of the beauties of the local church.

So if singles ministry isn’t the answer, what is?

First a few observations:

1. Homegroups cannot be the means through which we expect marriages to be born. I am not saying that two singles can’t meet, mingle, and marry within the context of a home group, I’m simply saying that by nature of the smallness of a small group, we can’t expect the 2-5 possible singles who’ve put themselves there to find themselves face to face with their future spouse. It’s certainly ideal, but not the norm.

2. Using an online dating service does bring a few success stories—praise God for them and pray for more of them—but as a whole there are more disadvantages to this than advantages. It takes a very wise believer to walk that path in a circumspect and godly way—and sadly many of our singles are spending more time crafting the perfect profile, responding to foolish inquiries, and dating aimlessly, than working on wisdom.

So about that answer?

First, do not be a parasite, sucking off the life of others, expecting your church to serve you in this area. They probably want to serve you here. It’s not like your elders are sitting in a dark room scheming how to get more troubled marriages in their offices. They want godly marriages to happen and fortunately they’ve probably provided the perfect vehicle for singles to meet, mingle, and marry.

That vehicle? Ministry.

Within your local church—whatever its ministry model—there are things to be done. Trust me. I’ve worked for local churches and non-profits most of my adult life. If you can fold a piece of paper, sweep a room, hold a baby, pray for someone, you can serve. (If you’re a Villager, go into Connection Central on your specific campus, and there will be a list of roles and needs you can fill.)

Here’s why this is the singles ministry you’ve been longing for:

As you serve you will encounter those with shared visions, shared goals, & shared burdens. You will see work ethics, the heart of hospitality and mercy, the hands of service. You will not be distracted by perfectly crafted profiles or instagram images. You will see real people doing real things for their real God. You will see in motion the things we ought to value in marriages.

Your life of singleness will be richer, more full, more joyful. You will encounter someone’s someday spouse. You will begin to systematically kill the little foxes. You will grow into what will be a better wife or husband. When you see all there is to do, you won’t ever complain about a lack of ministry to singles again, trust me.

And you might just meet him or her.

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To Whom Else Would We Go?

April 30, 2014

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Almost four years ago I sat in the front row of what we at my church call “the HV campus,” listening to Jen Wilkin spend an hour on the first verse of the bible, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” It was the first time in my life each word in a verse made sense to me. But even more than that, it was the first time I began to understand that God was not just a man in the sky with a check-list a mile long. He was a creator. He had attributes, character, a job. He was not a genie in a bottle, nor was he the jailer of the unrighteous. He was a creator.

Over the past four years I’ve had the blessing of sitting at the feet of some brilliant expositors of the word. Pastors, teachers, elders, and friends. The bible has become more than a rule book or tool book, a handy guide to living—it has become living water and I its thirsty recipient. I know I must have been taught to think this way before, but for some reason it didn’t click in my brain until the fall of 2010.

Yesterday a modern father of preaching announced a new endeavor and I can’t stop thinking about it. Every time I see another tweet or mention of it, I get more excited. It is not enough to feed a man a fish, we must teach him to fish, and this is what John Piper and his team will be putting their hands and minds to in the autumn of his life. I could not be more grateful.

If you are daily reader of the word, checking a quiet time off the list because you grudgingly know you ought to, or if you are a weak-faithed believer, one whose constant prayer is “Help my unbelief,” or if you are a student of the word, but constantly feeling somehow short-changed in your study of it, Look at the Book is for you. Look at the Book is for me. It is for all of us.

I’ve grown more and more weary of blogs and articles and tweets and opinions on every matter, more and more thirsty for the words of life. The bible contains those words of life and, friend, they are good. They are eternally good. They are trustworthy sayings. They are, from Genesis 1:1 to Revelation 22:21, proclaiming the gospel and the Kingdom of God.

Let’s be like the disciples in our study of God, “To whom else would we go? You have the words of eternal life?” Why would we forsake the living water and return to broken cisterns of blogs and other books to get Living Water?

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Church, wo[men] are staying single longer and longer, remember to include singles in your ‘biblical [wo]manhood’ narrative. It’s not a mark of deficiency or a blemish to be single—but it can feel like it in the somewhat glaring omissions. Paul said singleness was good. I think singleness is good. Many singles LOVE their singleness. Give us land to till.
—Thoughts tweeted by me this morning.

Church, here’s how you can give singles land to till:

1. Stop expecting them to have more time/money than marrieds. I understand we often do, but if we’re taking seriously the radical gift of singleness today, we’re going to have less, not more. We’re going to be crafting a lifestyle that isn’t making the stuff of earth our great treasure. Stop giving big discounts to married couples for conferences and leaving the singles to pay more. It legitimizes the feeling that we’re less, not more and yet have more, not less. An unmarried person who truly is caring for the things of the Lord will have pockets inside out spending their time and finances on Kingdom things.

2. Don’t assume that because we haven’t experienced marriage we don’t have good things to teach married persons. The true aim of a disciple is to live a life submitted to the Lordship of Jesus Christ. Though submission for a married person looks different than an unmarried person, trust me here, unmarried persons should be (and are) practicing submission in a more universal way. That’s a pulpit worth sharing. While we in the modern Church spend most of our listening time hearing from marrieds, it’s worth noting that Christ was single, and Paul seemed to have been. Be careful to not equate marriage with maturity.

3. Do you know unmarried people who want to be married? Who feel their ministry would be strengthened and better within the context of marriage? Help them. Help them, Church. In the absence of singles ministries or a place for singles to meet and mingle, they’re going to go outside the Church to find partners. God help us, and they do. Nearly every one of my single friends is on some online dating service. I’m not knocking the tool, but it seems to me that we are doing singles a great disservice to not provide a context for singles to meet one another. Small groups don’t work because by their very nature, they’re small and the pool is usually limited to less than five other singles. Don’t be afraid of matchmaking or thinking strategically about potential couples. Help them.

4. Reframe your idea of biblical womanhood and manhood again and again and again until what you actually have is a biblical believer in Christ Jesus. Until we have human flourishing at the base of our teachings on roles, we will bang our heads against this wall. The aim is never to be a biblical woman or man, it is to preach Christ crucified by living a life fully crucified to our flesh, submitting all rights, nailing autonomy to the Cross: that is the true role of biblical men and women, married or unmarried.

Sawdust and Scolding

April 22, 2014

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I read a short story once about a man who died with a pile of sawdust in the corner of his bedroom. They said if he had seen the sawdust he wouldn’t have ended his life. The mystery was why.

In the end it was revealed his livelihood required the use of his wooden leg and his short stature. Someone had been sawing away at his wooden leg while he slept. Every morning when he woke, he seemed an inch taller. He feared being worthless and so ended his life.

. . . .

There are things gnawing away at our souls that lie to us or debilitate us. We don’t know to go hunting for the pile of sawdust, for the places our lives have been swept up, sitting in a corner, so all the while hope is shriveling up inside of us.

Misinformation about us is so deep inside that sometimes we can only identify the gnawing pain, but not the source of it.

Tim Keller tweeted, “For some people, the reason why they can never change is because all they do is scold their heart.” Oh, how my soul knows that well. Someone called me a spiritual masochist recently, and another friend challenged me that maybe my issues aren’t from sin as much as suffering.

Those words play over and over in my heart and mind these days. I champion in scolding my heart, sometimes all I do is scold, from waking until sleeping.

A friend told me the other day that in the Old Testament God’s children are usually called sinners, but after Christ, they’re called saints. Yet who among us feels that saintliness?

I don’t. Do you?

There are piles of sawdust everywhere in my life, lies the enemy tells and sometimes truths he exaggerates. But the real truth is that I am Christ’s, and what is Christ’s can never be snatched out His hand, and if I am held and His, I am a saint. Not because I feel like one, but because He has said I am one.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.