Contradictory Belief

I'm always looking for the easy way out. I'm inherently lazy, short-sighted, impatient, passive, or fill in the blank with some other vice. I do not like walking in the tension of anything and if there is a more comfortable option, I will take it with a cherry on top, thank you very much. I fear the unknown—especially when the unknown exists within me, not just around me. 

I was created from dust and bone fragments, so I don't know why I would believe perfection is possible before the return of Christ. I seek it though, friends. I seek it. 

One of my favorite passages of Scripture, one I return to again and again and again is from Mark chapter 9. Jesus had just undergone the transfiguration and had come back down the mountain, running into the father of a demon possessed boy. The father cries to Jesus, "If you can do anything, have compassion and help us!" Sweet Jesus response with incredulity: "If? If I can heal him? All things are possible to him who believes." And this, my favorite line in all of scripture, the father's response: "I believe. Help my unbelief."

I come from a charismatic background, not name it and claim it, health, wealth, and prosperity, but certainly a side that believes words have life or death in them. That if we speak death, we run the risk of experiencing it, and if we speak life, then the odds are higher we'll experience it. I look back now and see the ways I misunderstood and ingested theology without parsing it for myself, eating the words given me instead of the Scripture informing them. But what resulted for me is that I became a bundle of fear, afraid to ever speak what was actually true about myself, my sin, my fears, my anxieties, and only willing to speak what was not true, that I had assurance, joy, peace, faith. I didn't know how to walk in the tension of speaking what was not fully true but which I wanted to be true and speaking what was true but I wanted to be untrue. I could not have said, "Help my unbelief," because to confess unbelief seemed like the pathway to destruction, but I felt like a liar every time I said, "I believe."

All that changed in early 2010, when I could not live the lie of belief anymore. I pounded my fists into the tan carpet of my rental house and cried harder than ever before and said to God, for the first time ever, "I do not believe in you!" I have never heard the audible voice of God, but I will never forget the strong impression of the Father picking up his robes and running toward me saying, "Finally. We can begin with this." 

I think there are two temptations for the Christian who doubts. The first is to only say what is yet untrue (I believe) and the second is to only say what is true (I have unbelief). If you come from a background, like mine, where to utter words of unbelief means you are silenced by well-meaning friends who say you're just going through a hard time and it will wear off, you probably will be bound up in living the lie of belief, and, as Jeremiah 17 says, "You will not see good when it comes." If you come from a background where it's okay to have struggles and wrestle with truth and faith, you might be afraid to say the words, "I believe," because you don't want to lie about having something you don't fully have. 

What is the doubting Christian to do? 

This is why this passage from Mark 9 is so helpful for me. This father shows it is possible to say two conflicting things, neither of which are fully true and both of which are absolutely true at the same time. I believe. Help my unbelief. Both true. Both not all the way true. Both seeming to be in conflict with one another. 

I have met a few Christians who have simple faith. They believe the Bible is true, absolutely. They believe Jesus rose from the grave. They believe they are saved. They never wrestle with Scripture in a way that leads to confusion or tension or questions. They simply believe. I know very few of these. The great majority of Christians I know have complicated faiths. They all have a different history behind them that informs their reading and study of Scripture. They all have varying levels of schooling. They have different personalities, different propensities, different desires. And all of these things are informing their belief in some way—and their unbelief in some ways. 

The Christian who can say, "I believe. Help my unbelief," is the Christian who knows with absolute certainty that full, unfaltering faith is possible, and also that they do not have it, not fully. They know they are in progress, going, as Paul said, "from one degree of glory to another" and "the righteousness of God is being revealed faith to faith." We're not there yet, is what Paul was saying, farther up, further in, more to go until we arrive on eternity's shores. 

If you're someone who struggles to believe all the way through all the things you think Christians believe all the way through, I just wanted to say, hey, I'm with you. I struggle with that. My struggles with faith didn't cease the moment the gospel was unveiled to me. The difference was a difference by degrees: I saw more dimly before, and now less dimly, and will see even less dimly tomorrow. There are so many things about faith and the Bible that seem confusing to me, sometimes even more the more I study and read. I see what seem to be inconsistencies in Scripture, in other Christians, in the world in which we live. I don't understand fully how justification or sanctification or mortification or vivification work. I don't always know what I'm supposed to do and what only God can do. Here's what I know how to do: 

I know how to pray, "Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief." 

I'm praying for you today, that you can pray that prayer, believing he hears and heals and finishes what you cannot with mere words and weak faith. 

There is no magic bullet for your faith to be bolstered. I'll share a few things have grown and strengthened mine, but it might be something entirely different for you and that's okay. This photo is of the books on our shelves that have helped me realize I am not alone in this wrestle. I'll also link to a few below.

Spiritual Depression by Martyn Lloyd Jones

Help My Unbelief from Barnabas Piper

Sensing Jesus (now called The Imperfect Pastor) from Zack Eswine

Spurgeon's Sorrows by Zack Eswine

This sermon from Matt Chandler from before he was my pastor (I listened to it sixteen times in the spring of 2010).

Link Love and a Thank You

Every summer I take a minute and say thank you to all of you. When I started the first iteration of Sayable back in 2001, I was writing at LiveJournal on a beast of a computer in a closet of the library of the home I lived in. Our family was falling apart at the seams, I was six hours from everything I had known my entire life, my brother was just killed in an accident, and my parents were about to go through one of the worst divorces and custody battles I've ever seen.

I had no idea what I was doing plucking away at those grey boxy keys sixteen years ago, writing words about strawberries and a poem I loved and mourning and the color green. I had no idea that Sayable was going to become one of the most sanctifying agents of my life, that on her I would wrestle through doubt, faith, life, the gospel, church, theology, relationships, humiliation, shame, fear, regret, joy, pain, sorrow, celebration, and more. I did not know that she would also be a place where I would come to see the goodness of Father, the sufficiency of the Son, and the help of the Holy Spirit. I did not know how faithful and gentle and kind and loyal all of you readers would become. And I could never have known, most of all, what a gift Sayable would been to me. I hope she has been that to you, but I know she has been that to me. So really, in a way, by writing here for you, you have given me the gift of listening, and I'm so grateful to you. 

I have Sayable set up so she doesn't get comments, but so you can email me instead, and I do this on purpose. I don't want Sayable to be a place where discussion happens as much as I want it to be a place you take what you read here and discuss with people in your own life, agreements or disagreements. I also don't want to need your affirmation in order to feel the legitimacy of writing—comments and analytics can often become this for bloggers. I also want you to know, I read every single email that comes in. There are a lot of them, hundreds of thousands of them, and I read every single one. It is one of my greatest sources of ache that I do not have the margin to reply to all of them—I carry that burden gladly because I think it's good for one who communicates to know it is not to a vast unknown, but to specific people with specific cares and concerns and joys and fears. You are people. You are not just the Internet. 

And I am grateful for you, every one of you. By name, from just this week so far: Deb, Sharon, Carol, Emma, Beth, Rob, Megan, Jeffery, John, Alyssa, Carol, Emily, Grace, Alana, Mike and Pat, Amy, Lottie, Ellen, Steve, Mike, Wendy, Edward, Fran, Joy. I read all of your words today and I ache to respond. And last week, all of those words more of you wrote, and the week before, and month before. All of the words, I read them, thank you for trusting me with them. I can only respond to a few of you, but I do want to say thank you. 

Sayable is for you. It is first and foremost for God, but I hope someday you think to yourself, 'Man, I read something a few years ago that really stuck with me, that helped me to see God and myself better. I can't remember who wrote it and it doesn't really matter, because my sight is so consumed with Christ partially because of those words." I hope you can't remember the name Sayable and certainly not my name, but you remember the name and renown of God. That would make all those years of plucking away on gray boxy keys worth it to me. 

Today I wanted to share the writings of some others. You won't have to mine very deep to find something beautiful and true and good in each piece. Enjoy! 

Seven Ways to Love Your Pastor

Adult Children of Divorce

(Wo)men of the Word

The Inner Ring

Finding Peace at Home

On Living in Two Worlds at Once and Paul's Inconsistencies 

Nate and I are reading these books this week: 

Just Mercy

The New Jim Crow

A Great Reckoning

Davida's Harp

I love you, but I did not take your advice, and I painted our fireplace white this week. I love it. I'm so happy with it. 

I love you, but I did not take your advice, and I painted our fireplace white this week. I love it. I'm so happy with it. 

When the Words of my Mouth are Pleasing Mostly to Me

I've always been a fast thinker, deducing concepts, abstracts, illustrations, and material quickly—on almost everything except math. Sadly, that quick thinking gave me a smart mouth and I don't mean a studied, intelligent, and wise mouth, I mean the kind that got slapped, taped shut, and soap in it on the reg when I was younger. I could not bridle my tongue. I was a melancholy girl, prone to long spouts of reading and ruminating, and saving up zingers to drop at the moment of maximum potential. One of my parents favorite disciplines was to make me write the book of James by hand in a series of black and white composition books. I wish I'd saved them. To this day I both shudder and cling to the book of James because it holds so much gold for a wily, unbridled tongue like mine. 

Beginning in my late teens and into my twenties I began to realize the way to gain friends and influence people was to not speak words of death to or about them. I have always been interested in outcomes and results, especially when they seem to benefit me. I learned to unbridle my tongue with good ideas, principles, formulas, and carnal wisdom. If there was a question, I wanted to have the answer. If there was a weakness, I wanted to be the healer. If there was a puzzle, I wanted to figure it out. I wanted to be the go-to girl—if you need wisdom, gentleness, friendship, pity, a listening ear? Go to Lore. 

I didn't realize how pervasively this pride had grown in my life and heart, though, filling all my joints and marrow with the belief that I had enough of the answers or the right amount of gentleness or the perfect principles for someone's problems. I was okay if people saw me as the solution, even as I pointed to Christ as the ultimate solution. I was the conduit, but he was the water. Surely folks could see that? 

The problem is, folks don't see that, not unless you hit them over the head with it and I wasn't about to do that and lose their respect. I wanted to tickle their ears, not box them.

One of the things that drew me to Nate, before I even met him, was his Bible. I walked past him often enough in our coffee shop, he always sat there with his open Bible counseling men. His Bible was so underlined and scribbled in I thought, "Well, here's a guy who loves the Word." One of our first conversations was about a heated and polarizing issue, and he sat across from me with his Bible gently responding to all of my questions and points with scripture. He just never wandered far from what the Word said about anything

As I began to know him and move toward marriage with him, I saw this come out in the way he led our relationship, the ways he interacted with others, the ways he spoke and didn't speak, the ways he shared his sin and the brokenness of his former marriage, the ways he ministered to men, the ways he walked in discipline situations, the ways he submitted to our pastors and elders, and so much more. He was a man who for many years simply read the Word or about the Word, but in the past few years he had become a man who was empowered with, immersed in, captured by, and full of the Word of God. 

None of this changed in our marriage, in fact, I've seen even more up close and personal how he doesn't offer counsel, wisdom, good ideas about anything unless they're drenched in the Word of God. He has learned the way to truly bridle his tongue is to put on the reins and bit of the Word—to let the words of God direct, lead, and guide him in the direction he goes. 

I am so challenged by this. I want to be more like this. I know at the end of every day when he asks me about my day, the folks I saw, the people I prayed with, the counsel I gave, the counsel I received, we're going to have a conversation about whether and how Scripture influenced the words spoken. 

I have spent decades trying to figure out how to bridle my tongue, going from one extreme to the other, from utter silence to rampant zingers. This discipline of letting the Word of God be my bit and reins for a bridled tongue is the only thing that's changing me really, from the inside out. 

Practically speaking, if this is a struggle for you, what does that look like? 

Read the Proverbs. I've been sitting in the Book of Proverbs for weeks now, originally because I'd encouraged a friend to get in it, but now because I'm just so convicted about my tongue in my own life. You can't read five verses without stumbling across one dealing with the mouth, wisdom, the tongue, speaking, or being foolish. I've been getting wrecked in my own heart about my tongue and the pride in me.

Read the book of James. Write the book of James. Get the book of James inside you. Eat the book of James. 

Ask the Holy Spirit to convict you immediately when your words are coarse, unkind, gossipy, idle, unforgiving, or rooted in pride. And then, this is important, repent for your actions in the moment. This is really hard for me. I feel the conviction of the Holy Spirit seventy times a day and can't even count on one finger how many times that actually drives me to repent in the moment. 

Trust the Holy Spirit to do the work, not you. It's not your job to share the tidbit you think will make all the difference especially if your desire is simply to be heard. Zack Eswine said, "It's not our job to finish what Jesus has left unfinished," in regard to our desire to sweep up, clean up, tie up loose ends. Leave room for the Holy Spirit. 

Before giving counsel, ask a lot of questions. Ask what in Scripture is comforting, convicting, teaching, leading, guiding the person with whom you're speaking. Ask how the Holy Spirit is comforting them. Often times your questions will lead them to remembering the power of Scripture and the ministry of the Holy Spirit—the sources to which and whom they can always go. 

If you're someone who is quiet and only thinks the zingers, find some Scripture that is life-giving and speak it in the situation. Sometimes opening your mouth is the way your tongue is bridled. Ask the Lord to increase your empathy and love for people, to help you be patient, even in your listening. Sometimes your courage to speak Scripture in a situation will be the thing that changes you and the person with whom you're speaking.

If you're someone who is not quiet and says the zingers, maybe a fast from speaking is in order. A time of intentionally crafted silence, full of reading the Word, studying the Word, repentance, asking the Holy Spirit to convict you, change you, and help you to see your words are not the answer to everything. 

Friends, I'm convicted as I write this even more. I want the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart to be pleasing to God. I want to see my words and heart meditations as they are, being heard by the God of the universe, the Father who loves me, the Son who died for me, and the Spirit who is saying things too deep for words on my behalf. My zingers and smart-mouth and good ideas are like filthy rags to this God. I want to please my Father and the best way to do that is to fill my mouth with the words he's given me in his Word. I'm praying for you and me and all our friends today in this. 

 

 

High Noon and Our Hiding Places

I have always known the woman at the well came there at high noon when the fewest other women would be there. This is the first clue. Next is she is a woman at all and to do most anything by ourselves takes courage most often borne in fear somewhere down there. This is the second clue. The third is the way she stands by the well when Jesus reads her life before her, like a judge reading the charges. Her head high and drooping at the same time, the way pride and shame go hand in hand: the paradox of being both not enough and too much that plagues almost every woman I know. 

Perhaps it is that Jesus speaks to a Samaritan that should surprise us, or that she was a woman at all, or even that he knows her life as if he lived it beside her. But what catches my breath in recent weeks is that he met her at high noon in her loneliness, shame, and pride. He entered into the uncomfortable. 

It is often that I fear Jesus doesn't want to see or encounter my sin, that it is too much or I am not enough. I slink around the corners of confession, repentance, fellowship with him, thinking if I don't show up, he won't read the charges. 

I love Jesus in this passage because he is there, at high noon too. He is in the uncomfortable place  to meet the uncomfortable person. Not to read her charges, either, but to read her life and give her water that satisfies. I love that he doesn't demand her repentance, but offers it to her as if the gift of her repentance is one he gives. Another paradox of faith in him. 

I suppose we all have high noons in our lives, places we're hanging out alone or people we avoid or environments where we feel our shame the least and the most at the same time. And I also suppose Jesus is hanging out there too. It's strange, isn't it? She thought she was hiding and really she was standing out, being what she actually was: alone, ashamed, fearful, prideful, and empty. She came to the well in the heat of the day with all she ever did cloaked around and within her, sticking to her like her sweat and the day's dust and the scorching of the sun's heat in the red of her face. Unable to hide where she thought she was hiding. 

“He told me all that I ever did,” she said to her fellow townsmen.

And Jesus met her there. 

I love this. 

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Eugene Peterson, Homosexuality, and Theology from 30,000 Feet

Edit: Today the good journalists at Christianity Today did what good journalists do and followed up on this interview, publishing Eugene Peterson's clarification and affirmation of a "Biblical view of marriage: one man to one woman." Deeply grateful for that, though it changes almost nothing of my position below on the theology of marriage based on Scripture—which is how, I think, our theology ought to be. 

This morning a religious site published the conclusion of their three part interview with Eugene Peterson, in which he said he would perform the ceremony of a same-sex couple. The Internet has responded predictably since the voices on it are made up of humans and humans are predicable. As for me, predictable as well.

I'm sad for a few reasons, none of which I'm going to talk about much today. Eugene Peterson has been an example of a pastor who walked faithfully, steadfastly, and humbly in quiet places for the past fifty years and I want no less for my own life. I know thousands could have opinions on how each of us does that, but if I reach the end of my life with a quarter of the humble faithfulness Pastor Peterson has, I will die happy. 

It does occur to me, though, that speakers, teachers, and writers who endeavor in faithfulness and yet do not lead in issues like these (and many others) will fail in some respect. There may have been clues along the way that Peterson would capitulate in this way, but his voice never landed too strongly on one side or another. I mourn that in some ways because if I am honest with you, I struggle, deeply, with this issue and I need to know where to look sometimes. Many conservatives lack empathy and many liberals lack theology. I want both. 

I am a relational person and high on empathy, so my natural inclination is to side with marginalized. My natural inclination is to listen, hardly speak, love those who are struggling and  love those who are happily indulging. My gay friends are happy people mostly. They love their partners, they seem to feel at peace with them, they enjoy them—much in the same way that I love, feel at peace with, and enjoy my husband. It's hard to argue with joy. It's actually impossible to argue with joy. And when that joy is accompanied by a certainty that their relationship is God-blessed and God-ordained and within the bounds of Scripture as they understand it, well, it's even harder to argue with that. I'm just being honest with you, friends. It is hard to argue, disagree, and draw a hard line here while at the same time loving, laughing with, and enjoying my very human friends who also happen to happily identify as gay.

But, when I read Scripture saying things like, "In this life you will have sorrow," and "Deny yourself and take up your cross," and "He must increase, I must decrease," I remember, "Oh, it is hard. We were warned it would be. But we still endeavor on in loving people all the way through even though it's hard, even when the source of their joy is rooted more in earthly fulfillment than it is in God's good design and the point of it all: the gospel." 

In the moments when I've found my faith in these things weak, I've found it so helpful to redirect my heart and mind back to original design and gospel implications for marriage instead of centering my theology and love in experience. I don't know if that will be helpful for you, but here's where I'm meditating today: 

Because we are human, and God gave us a full gamut of emotions and experiences, we will always be tempted to build our picture of the gospel and marriage on those things. Experiences are real, tangible, and felt. And emotions are raw, deep, and inexplicable. The union of these two can produce a powerful force when it comes to theology and it's easy to do it. I do it all the time. It's why slogans like "Love is love," and "How can something that feels so good be wrong," are invented. How can my experience coupled with my emotion toward something be considered wrong? 

I'd argue you're right, actually. The problem is the experience and emotions to which you refer are only the tiniest tip of the iceberg—there is something far greater and far better and far more profound to be both emoted and experienced below, and this is the Love of God toward his creation and the act of Christ on the cross. 

The whole work of creation is a symphony of harmony. Two very different entities, coming together, making one, and this is a picture of the gospel: God and man, reconciled, united, together for eternity. Tim Keller said this,

"In Genesis 1 you see pairs of different but complementary things made to work together: heaven and earth, sea and land, even God and humanity. It is part of the brilliance of God’s creation that diverse, unlike things are made to unite and create dynamic wholes that generate more and more life and beauty through their relationships. As N. T. Wright points out, the creation and uniting of male and female at the end of Genesis 2 is the climax of all this.

That means that male and female have unique, non-interchangeable glories—they each see and do things the other cannot. Sex was created by God to be a way to mingle these strengths and glories within a lifelong covenant of marriage. Marriage is the most intense (though not the only) place where this reunion of male and female takes place in human life. Male and female reshape, learn from, and work together. 

Therefore, in one of the great ironies of late-modern times, when we celebrate diversity in so many other cultural sectors, we have truncated the ultimate unity-in-diversity: inter-gendered marriage. "

I wrote this a few years ago, 

"God, in beautiful ways, makes it clear to His people that He and they are wholly different from one another. Though man was created in God's image—a likeness in part, a reflection—intrinsically they are not the same. This is not a simple love story, though, here is the most sacrificial love possible: this is two entities, completely distinct, absolutely different, and intrinsically separate—brought together to form an eternal union.

A homosexual union cannot be, by its nature, a reflection of Christ and the Church because Christ and the Church are intrinsically and holistically different from one another. For the Christian, the bride of Christ, a homosexual marriage cannot reflect that which marriage is intended to display: their union with Christ.

It is not about biology or parts fitting together, or feelings of love, or a fullness of emotion, or unalterable attraction—it is the definition of a love story, legislated by God, for the good of all men. It is the greatest love ever known. Earthly marriage between a man and woman is meant to be a profound mystery, but it is meant to be a mere illustration of what happens when two holistically different entities are joined together.

The kingdom is made complete."

In order for me to love all my friends with disordered loves (and to know myself with all my disordered loves), I have to return again and again to two things: The original design of marriage and the mystery of marriage. The design was to take two different entities to illustrate the love between Christ and his bride, the Church. The mystery is that a man and woman preach the gospel over and over and over again simply by being married to one another. 

Seeing how this is God's original intention with marriage helps me to see it from 30,000 feet, enabling me to better love my friends and our world, while still saying, in full faith, that two people of the same sex cannot participate in the mystery of marriage to one another as God intended marriage. They might be partnered, they might live together, they might engage in sexual activity, but it is not marriage as God designed it: complementary and mysterious

I felt a little sad today, all day, having read the article from Peterson this morning. I know he isn't deity. He's not God. He's been an inordinate help to me through the years and my shelves are full of his books. He's not infallible, though, and I'm not surprised by his answers. But here's what I'm most sad about: it seems that if we're at all inclined to be like he is and like what I've admire him for: empathy, gentleness, a listener, one who practices compassion, one who aches and joys with those who ache and joy, it seems, at some point, there is a great temptation to so enter into that mourning or joy, that we believe it is the most true thing about a person. I don't believe that. I believe the most true thing about a person is that they were created in the image of God but also they are not God, and, as much as possible, I want my mission to be mourning with those who mourn with a sorrow that leads to life without regrets, and joying with those who rejoice with a joy that lead to life. And I can't do that if my eyes are on them instead of on God. 

I don't know where you are today in this whole discussion. I used to write about this a lot more years ago and for the sake of my soul had to take most of these conversations offline. But I didn't know if you're where I find myself a lot: aching with my friends who are attracted to people of the same sex, and wanting to ache with them in a way that gives them what they want. I find it helpful to remember again and again and again, that my beliefs about God and man come from the greatest emotion and greatest experience of all time: the Love of God and the sacrifice of His Son, and these are found in Scripture alone, giving us all we need for life and godliness. 

If you'd like to read some of the archives on this subject, start here: 

What God Has Joined Together

Delaying Marriage and Same-Sex Attraction

Bearing the Burdens of Brothers