Seven Ways We Fail and Get Back Up Again

The first time the word sin is mentioned in Scripture is not at the moment when sin entered the world, but the moment before the fracturing of two brothers, Cain and Abel. After Cain brought his offering to the Lord (which, for whatever reason known to them and not clearly to us, displeased the Lord), the Lord said, "Why are you angry, and why has your face fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is contrary to you, but you must rule over it” (Genesis 4).

That phrase, "Its desire is contrary for you," has always stuck to me like an autumn burr on a wool sweater.

There are so many things in our lives pressing us back, crouching at our doors, slinking in unforeseen gaps and spaces, taking up room, both invited and uninvited. Sin is not a passive agent, but if we are passive, it can rule over us. There are so many areas in my life where I am the passive agent regarding sin. I say something smartly but intended to get my point across: sin. I leave something unfinished in hopes someone else will notice and do it: sin. I cite needs and desires as my primary motivator: sin. I avoid dealing with my emotions, letting them build and bubble over: sin. Wherever I look, sin is crouching at my door. 

A pastor at our church once said, "We don't get over our sin by constantly looking at our sin, we get over it by looking at the work of Jesus on the cross." This sounds really good, but if we don't make the cross both deeply personal and deeply practical, it can be difficult to see the ramifications of the work of Jesus in all the small places where sin reigns supreme in our lives. We can apply the gospel to the Big Sins, but overlook its power over the "little foxes that ruin the vineyards" (SoS 2:15).

Nate and I have been talking about some work God did in us as singles and now as a married couple, ways we have recognized the power of sin to creep in and the ways it has ruled us (and still does in so many ways), and exercises we do to press back and bounce our eyes to the cross. These are not grand theological gestures, they are small things designed to teach us restraint, remind us to submit, to fear God, of the bounty of God, and of the joy found completely in him. 

Over the next few weeks I'll be doing a series of posts on seven ways we try to rule over the crouching presence of sin in our home. I'll expound on our methods for engaging the gospel in these areas of our lives, the ways we fail, and our hope for the Church more and more. 

None of these things are done perfectly. In none of these areas have we arrived. And in every one of these areas we are prone to wander, to fail, and to forget. One of the best blessings of the gospel, I think, is the fact that it never changes. When I fail, forget, and wander—the cross and the empty tomb never change. The point is not to do these things perfectly, but to actually let the imperfection of my doing them remind me of how much I need Jesus every single day. We fail often and regularly at all of these, but: 

1. We choose reading, writing, and talking instead of screen-time in order to engage and flourish as flesh and blood humans. 

2. We practice not a work/life balance, but a work/rest model in order to see God as our Creator, Redeemer, and Joy. 

3. We eat whole foods, in-season, and locally if possible, in order to care for our bodies and the earth well. 

4. We practice hospitality not as an event or social engagement, but as a way to sacrifice ourselves, our time, and our energy, for the flourishing of others.

5. We choose the way of peace instead of violence and listening over making ourselves heard, as a way to remind ourselves we are not omnipotent, omnipresent, or omniscient. 

6.  We eat meals together in order to press back against the culture of busy, quick, fast, and convenient. 

7. We endeavor to live using restraint in our finances, not so we can build bigger savings accounts or retirement funds, but so we can serve others more freely today.

I often get questions about the way we practice Sabbath as New Testament Christians or why we choose to have a young man living with us or what made us decide to not have a television, and more, and my hope is that in writing more on these specific intents, I will be able to answer those questions more fully. None of these things are without theological purpose and very real—sometimes painful—sacrifice. That's on purpose. Not because we're masochists, but because we're Christians living in a hostile-to-the-way-of-Jesus-environment. It's never been easier, more convenient to not carry the cross and follow Him. So how, in 2017, in the suburbs, without children, with paying jobs, with every gadget available to us, do we say, "No, sin, you will not rule over us. We're already the children of a King." 

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The series will be tagged: Seven Ways so if you're looking for the whole thing at some point, just click on that tag at the bottom of the page. 

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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Sowing in Tears: Vulnerable Bloggers and the Crushing Whirlwind of Fame

Nate and I first heard Andy Crouch talking about the relationship between authority and vulnerability on Mike Cosper's podcast, Cultivated, several months ago. I ordered Andy's book, Strong and Weak, immediately, Nate finished it a few weeks ago and I finished it this morning. If you've read anything by Andy, you know he's remarkably talented at communication and articulate in a way the church culture today needs. Today's thoughts are born from what I'm learning through Andy. 

In the past decade or so we've seen an uptick of tell-all, self-described Christian bloggers and storytellers, particularly women. There are some common themes in their writing: they're funny, they're sacrilegious in the sense that they'll talk about anything, they seem common, relatable, real. It's something that was missing in the buttoned up culture of Christianity most of us came from. And it's refreshing in a way. It also tastes like sewer water in a way. But it's refreshing until the sewer water aftertaste comes. Most of these tell-all bloggers have gone from Christian-lite to Universalism or embracing new doctrines, and eventually being famously farewelled. 

What is refreshing about it is there is a kind of vulnerability present in the beginning. Sure, it's from behind a keyboard in a house far away, but the writer is tapping out her treatise dressed in last night's pjs and yelling at the dog to stop barking and ran out of coffee yesterday, but plunks on with her piece. There's a vulnerability that's appealing about that: they're real people with real problems and probably have bed head too.

There's also a vulnerability that can be manipulative though. It's the sort that only opens the shades enough so the mess can be seen, but not enough that the writer is actually vulnerable. It costs nothing to tell you I'm writing this in my pjs with the dog barking at the neighbors and drinking chai tea wishing it was coffee. To be a tell-all blogger costs virtually nothing. We can wax eloquent about our reputation and how painful some people's comments can be, but most of us well-adjusted adults can still go to bed and sleep fine because all that cost is out there, not in here. 

To be truly vulnerable, there must be risk involved, and risk comes with the people closest to us, the ones who matter most to us. If we use vulnerability as a tool, or even a shield, the world sees us wield and we get our jollies from it, it's not real vulnerability. It's manipulation—gaining approval, gaining a following, gaining a title by being real, authentic, etc.. 

John says this, "He must increase, I must decrease," and that's an awfully difficult thing for any communicator or faithful worker of any sort in this world to do today. By virtue of our work, we run the risk of increase. How does one decrease—embrace true vulnerability, the sort that involves risk with those closest to us and never becomes a platform on which our ministry is based, because our boast is Christ alone—and yet also be faithful? Especially because one of our callings as Christians is to show the world we are not better than them, that Jesus came for the sick, and that we all are in equal need of Jesus. How do we be weak and in our weakness become strong, without outshining the strongest One of all? 

I don't know the answer to that, not fully. But I think it looks a little like saying "I don't know" when asked questions we really don't have the answers to. It looks like saying less when we might be expected to say more. I think we can expect some growth, perhaps explosive, perhaps incremental, but we should also expect to be able to say "I can't be faithful to love Jesus and people, and have things in my life I refuse to lose." I think it means never getting to hob-nob with the big folks and maybe never getting noticed by anyone but the Master of the house (Who's waiting, with joy, to say "Well done, my servant."). 

If you're reading blogs or books or going to conferences and gushing over how vulnerable the communicators are being, ask yourself what the cost to them truly might be. You probably don't even know, and might not even be able to see until decades later when their kids are grown or their marriages have been through hell or they confess they've become an addict of drugs or alcohol or their ministry falls out from underneath them. 

. . .

There was a period last year when everywhere I looked in my life there was pain and loss and I could barely breathe as I walked through it. Yet I kept writing through it, trying to find redemption quickly. I thought it I could redeem something bad quickly enough, then it would become good. But a wise friend and fellow writer said this to me: 

"I have often marveled at how detachedly you write about all you're going through on your blog. Seriously, though, I wonder if writing about all this for the public while in the middle of it serves to exacerbate the emotional distancing. Writing inherently distances us from our inner life simply through the process of externalizing and reifying it. I wonder if this might contribute to that kind of detachment."

The cost to my writing vulnerably was unseen except to those who knew me personally. It might have seemed to you that the cost was in people knowing my junk, but that's never felt like much of a cost to me. The real cost was to my soul. Writing quickly about what was going on was taking a great toll on my emotions, spirit, and mind. I had to take a break. And I did. And it was really helpful to me, and I hope, really helpful to you, the reader. 

If you read and love a blog, a book, an author, or a speaker, and marvel at how much they just get you, they feel kindred to you, ask yourself at what cost is their story coming. You're not responsible for how they wield their gifts, but you are responsible for how you wield your listening and worshipping. The truth is real vulnerability takes time, a lot of it, and there probably won't be a celebration but a crucifixion that follows it.  

One of my new favorite writers is Anne Kennedy, and she said this about these sorts of leaders: "Don’t be fooled. The woman reaps what she sows. Those who sow in tears will reap with songs of joy, but those who sow the wind won’t get anything back but a destructive whirlwind on the last day." 

I want to be one who sows in tears—quiet, real, deep, agonizing, and vulnerable tears. 

 

How to Forgive a Year

  Everyone, it seems, had a hard 2016 and it reminds me of the first months of 2015, how I stood in a small circle talking with my close friend and the man who would be my husband (although I didn't know then). My friend and I had said good riddance to 2014 and had our arms flung wide open to what God might do in 2015 and we said so. But the man who become my husband in only a few months said, "You know, 2014 was a hard year. The first half I just tried to bear it. But the second half was actually good and sweet. The Lord taught me so much about His character and my sin."

I didn't fall in love with him just then, but I think there was a stirring inside of me in that moment that pointed to the goodness ahead. I cannot say for sure, but I think so. There was—and is—a tenderness in him that draws me to him again and again. The tenderness is not to others only, but to God. He has a self-awareness resulting in a God-awareness that I have seen rarely, especially in men.

Being able to forgive a year for it's badness because of God's goodness is something I am working to do right now. The other morning, the man who became my husband and I stood, face to face in the kitchen. His sadness overwhelmed me, as I'm sure my sadness has overwhelmed him this year. I wanted to fix what was wrong and I couldn't. Nothing I could say could nudge the sadness away from him. All I could say was not that God was good in what he did (and didn't do), but that he is good. Today. Right now. In this moment, he is working something deep into our sadness and bringing light to the darkness.

Screen Shot 2017-01-18 at 9.09.34 AMI have been reading the book of Job this month and I am encouraged by it in a way unlike ever before. I've struggled with Job in the past, either I didn't want my joy tinged with his suffering or I didn't want my suffering spiraling down more. But God, in his goodness, has me reading the whole book this month and every morning I am struck more and more by the deep wells of truth in it. His friends did some things right and said some things wrong. Job did some things right and said some things wrong. It is not a prescriptive book, it is descriptive of Job's life and walk with the Lord, but it can be a comfort to us in its descriptiveness.

One verse in particular keeps coming around again and again in my heart. The first part is familiar, "Though he slay me, I will hope in him," but the second is less so, "yet I will argue my ways to his face." That word "yet" catches me every time. It is the equivalent of our word, "but." As in, "Yes, mom, I'll clean up my room, but first let me tell you this story." Job says, "I trust, but also..." It reminds me of the father of the demoniac in Mark 9, "I believe. [But] help my unbelief." I added the "but" in there, but it's implied: a statement of truth and another statement of truth. It is possible to have those conflicting truths smashed right up against one another, fighting one another for breath.

I believe. Help my unbelief. I hope in you. I will still argue my ways to your face.

If your 2016 was like mine, and like almost everyone I know, you probably need a "yet" in your life today. God was in there, working goodness in a profoundly difficult political season, in a devastatingly violent year, in a year polarizing like I have never seen in my life. God was in there when we miscarried and when we had to move suddenly and when we lost so much money on our house and when a hundred thousand small things pressed themselves against me and you and everyone we know. God was there. But also God is here, and he can handle our unbelief and our ways argued straight to his face. He isn't surprised by the sadness we can't shake and the anger we're surprised by and the fear we go to bed with and the unknowns we wake to. He is the God who is here.

This month I am working to forgive a year, which means I am working for forgive God (not because he did wrong, but because I have perceived his goodness to be badness and been angry at him for it) and to forgive myself and to forgive others and to forgive people I don't even know. I am working to say, "That happened and was hard and there is no guarantee it gets easier (in fact, it probably just gets harder), but though he slays me, my hope is in him. Not the future him. The today him. The God who is."

. . .

Meditating on these is helping me. Maybe it will help you too.