Giving the Lion His Just Desserts

lion It is a strange thing to be grateful for sight, but all this week I grovel low and weep at the sight of sight. It comes in waves and it comes slowly at seemingly inopportune moments, but it comes just the same, warning me of paths ahead.

In this past weekend's sermon my pastor spoke on the difference between worldly sorrow that produces death and godly sorrow that produces a life without regret (II Cor. 7:10) and I couldn't write fast enough. Pencil to paper, ear to the word, I watched the sorrow I feel take form. Godly sorrow has sight. It sees.

Drunk on accountability partners and unspoken prayer requests, it has kept me from naming my sins, giving them phrase and confession. I "struggle" with sin or "war against" that which would devour me, but name the sin? Name more than the grotesque shape shrouding the war that wages within? No, not that.

But sight is a beautiful thing. And, my pastor said, beating the enemy to the truth about who I am delivers me from the power of his accusation. And fear not, that accusation will come. We will see our sin or our sin will see to us. Our enemy is a lion roaming for his kill and is no respecter of person, plight, platform, or performance.

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There's a song I've been listening to much in recent weeks. Her whole album is a treasure, but this song in particular pushes the specific confession I am going for here. It is not enough to know the struggle, but naming it, giving it verbiage and placement puts the enemy in his place. I seek not to train this lion, I seek to kill him. The first way I do that is to starve him of the pleasure of deception, his favorite dessert.

From the love of my own comfort From the fear of having nothing From the life of worldly passions Deliver me, Oh God

From the need to be understood From the need to be accepted From the fear of being lonely Deliver me, Oh God

I shall not want, I shall not want, When I taste your goodness, I shall not want

From the fear of serving others From the fear of death or trial From the fear of humility Deliver me, Oh God

If it is true that His goodness is better than life, and I would stake my life on its truth, then His goodness satisfies my wants. It satisfies the needs I feel, even the most acute demanding ones, the ones that set me on a slippery path of sin.

In the newness of the gospel, and there in the everyday of the gospel, the painful, agonizing sight of my sin is His first goodness to me.

Let's Take This Outside (your circle)

fight Challenge to Christian bloggers: read a blog you don't usually read, find good content, share it. Reach across the table & find the commonness of the gospel.

That's my status on Facebook right now and I mean it.

Last week there was yet another dustup in the blogosphere. You know how it goes. Blogger writes XYZ, Twitter erupts with 140 character-easily misunderstood opinions and all manner of logical fallacies, and 67 Bloggers all respond—many of them entirely missing the point of original blog or demonizing original blogger or making good points of their own which will undoubtedly be rebutted by another 67 bloggers.

Somebody hand me a paper bag and get me off this ride.

One of the ways I try to do damage control in the Christian blogosphere is to stare people in the face and tell them to slow down, breathe, be circumspect, trust Jesus is Who He says He is and that He is building His Church—with or without a troupe of bloggers all juggling their balls in amateur hands.

But one of the most helpful things, I think, a blogger can do is to simply read more than one polarizing post of one blogger. There's something about even reading the "About Me" section of a blog that humanizes a person, takes the monster out of him, or at least shows the monster to be only a suit bought at half-price after October 31st. Underneath they're real people with real lives who cook dinner with their spouses and stub their toes and probably really do love Jesus—even if He's revealed Himself to them in different ways than He has to us.

The beauty of the gospel is that it is for all men, Jews, Greeks, Slaves, Free, Men, Women, but it does not eliminate differences, demanding a dehumanizing clone-like Christianity. No. Instead it reaches inside all the differences and finds the beautiful sameness: broken people in need of a Holy God, and then sends us out to reach all kinds.

So if you're a blogger or a content creator of some sort, can I encourage you to do something radical this week? Go read that publication you shudder to think of. You know which one it is for you. Go read it and read it with the express purpose of finding the beautiful gospel woven through its threads and then share it with your followers. I think we'd be surprised at what might happen.


A Few Thoughts on SGM, Silence, & Sayable

I'm loathe to take a camp, step off the fence, call my cards, or slap a label on myself, but all it takes is one quick glance through Sayable, a brief perusal of the publications for which I write, and the local church I call home for others to safely land me in with the neo-reformed. I won't reject the title, but in normal fashion, I will not lay claim to it. However, there's been something rotten in the state of Denmark recently and all fingers are pointing back at, well, I'll say "us" for the sake of this post. If you have no idea what rotten piecemeal is being bandied about, I have no interest in educating you. Others have done so much more thoroughly than I, with much more anger than I, with many more bones in the game than I. I weigh in today because May was supposed to be my sabbatical month and instead I have been peppered with more questions than ever on why I haven't written on the SGM civil suit.

Here are the main reasons:

1. I am not affiliated in any way with SGM. Though I may be affiliated with those who are affiliated with them, we can play that game all day in every which way. Kevin Bacon anybody? These days everyone knows everyone somehow. It is a small world after all.

2. I am not a lawyer, but I think I am a fairly intelligent person, and even I had a bit of trouble getting my mind around the legal jargon of all the documents. And I've been in my share of courtrooms, with my share of lawyers spouting legal jargon—two can play that game. All I'm saying is, someone wants to win and so it's hard to trust a system where winning is the goal. Last shall be first and all that.

3. I'm one of those fools who trusts the men who keep watch over my soul. Maybe that play isn't for everybody, but I figure the Bible spent a lot of time talking about it, so nuff said.

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Just because I didn't say anything about it, though, doesn't mean I didn't feel complicit in the alleged ongoing silence by "us." I was a bit confused as to why men and women I respected within the Church at large weren't weighing in on the suit at all, save from a post by Tim Challies. It is good to be slow to speak, yes, but not speak at all? It didn't seem right. I knew I didn't have anything to add to the civil suit conversation, but surely something could be said to acknowledge the situation period?

(Adding my voice to the cacophony of the Christian blogosphere wouldn't assuage those out for an admission of guilt, though, if you're wondering why I didn't say anything. I'm under no illusions—I might be affiliated with those affiliated with SGM, but I'm no Kevin Bacon, if you get my drift.)

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In the light of more recent occurrences, though, and now that some of "us" have issued a public statement, I thought a few things might be said. Take them for what they're worth to you. Remember comments aren't open on Sayable ever so I'm not shutting you down and there's no need to respond. They're just my simple thoughts for those who might need them.

If you are a pastor:

Please protect your sheep. I meant what I said above about trusting those who keep watch over my soul. I mean that because the Bible says it and I trust the words of God. However, you, by nature of your position and your God-given authority, help illuminate those words for your sheep. You can use or abuse your authority and position, and you can, unknowingly, be the voice of the accuser to people—even in your silence. Always protect your sheep. If one of your talented, seemingly godly, charismatic sheep turns out to be a wolf, go after him. If one of your sheep leaves the fold, go find her. Pastor your people, don't just preach at them.

If you were abused:

This case feels like the nail in the coffin, trust me, I know. Even if it wasn't the same as your experience, you can easily relive your experience every time someone dismisses the concerns of the victims, every time someone seems complicit with their silence. Your heart means well here. The grace of God for you takes a horrific experience and gives you the tools to minister to these issues in a way those higher-up might never be able to do. That is not your blight or your stain, that is the precious work of grace to take the broken and make beautiful. Now is your time to speak in and with grace.

If you were an abuser:

You did wrong and you know this. You ought to make recompense for what is considered a crime in the eyes of God and the judicial system. But this does not mean forgiveness is withheld from you, or should be withheld until you "pay for what you did." Forgiveness doesn't work that way. I pray you know the fullness of the gospel covers your crimes, but does not blot them from history. Repent, accept the judicial punishment, and if you are His Child, look forward to a lifetime of His grace and an eternity in His presence.

If you want to leave the church because of this:

Part of me wants to say, please do, and trust me, there's no snark in that statement. I'm fully convinced that no matter how far you run, you cannot outrun the wild, ferocious, loving heart of our God. If leaving the Church for a while helps you clear yourself of the clutter of its underbelly, please do. You have the freedom to leave abusive situations, Christ sets us free to do that, and you should. But I will also say this, as a child who has seen her fair share of the underbelly, if you're His? You're grafted in. You're knit so tightly into His body and flesh, his scars and blood-bought redemption that you can't leave the Church because you are part of it. And it's beautiful. Really beautiful when you see it like that.

If you are neo-reformed (or whatever it is called these days), but embarrassed by the silence or complicit responses:

Can I implore you to press in close to your leaders, your elders, your editors, and your pastors. Sometimes they know things about a situation that you don't know, isn't public knowledge, isn't on some legal document, and isn't widely known. Sometimes they're withholding comment because it could actually make it worse for the most helpless of the situation. You don't know. There's a lot of speculation, regardless of who you are and who you know and who you know who knows someone else. You aren't Kevin Bacon, you just saw one of his movies once or twice. Reserve judgement.

If you know someone who knows someone (who was abused, who went to an SGM church, or anyone at all):

One of the things I love about the Bible is there are all these portions where it's just one man or one woman and God (or the enemy). There are no eye-witnesses, it's just Moses and the burning bush, Daniel and the lions, David and the bears, Jesus and the enemy. We get this birds-eye view into the situation, but really, when it happened it was just them there.

So we have perceptions of how things looked or played out, but I'll bet you could poll any thirty of us and we'd all have a different setting in mind for Moses and his burning bush. There would be similarities, of course, but it would be different. This is how it is to hear any story second hand. We can know that some things are true, but some things are simply perceptions. Because of this, it is almost always better to reserve your own words about another person's experience. There may be truth to it (and in this case specifically, it seems like there is definitely much truth to it), but the retelling of it multiple times will never end well. Mourn with those who mourn, bring it to the authorities if need be, but keep silent about the specific matter unless you know you speak the canonized truth.

If you are a mere onlooker:

If you're just a casual reader, a blog reader, a curious atheist, a questioning agnostic, I am sorry. This entire situation, from twenty years ago until today is unfortunate and shameful. This is not becoming to the Church and I deeply regret it happened. However, let me say this, I am firmly convinced the Church tries to keep its wedding dress too squeaky clean, and this case is a perfect example of it. The reality is we're blemished and broken, spotted and wrinkled, and Christ is the only way we're getting presented cleansed. He's it. It's not through a denomination, a pastor, a friend, a court system, or a blog post that the resolution of all things comes, it's Him. Him alone. Be encouraged, there's room at the table and we don't mind if you're messed up. Really. We're messed up too.

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That's all. I know this is long, and I'm breaking sabbath to share it, but I couldn't sleep and I love to sleep.

Go in peace, brothers and sisters, pastors and sheep, abused and abusers, doubters and finders, He is faithful to complete His work. He seals it with His spirit.

Polished Pearls and Unfinished Everything

I have always wanted to sell everything I own and buy the field. I have been the man who would give property, possessions, and pride to find the pearl of greatest price. A few years ago I did it. I sold everything I owned, packed what was left in my two-door Honda Civic and drove to Texas with no home, plan, or purpose. I found the pearl and nothing was worth more. When my best friend and I were young we made for ourselves a time-capsule. We put in it special mementos, notes from boys we liked, school pictures, concert tickets—junk to anyone else. We dug a hole in her back yard and planted it deep enough to let our friendship grow. When we dug it up in our junior or senior year it was covered in dirt, crusted with mud. Inside was safe and we have continued to treasure this tradition.

I think sometimes we are caught up in the idea that our pearl will come out polished and pristine. That we will have done the work, sold our belongings, bought the field, dug down deep, and the reward is something beautiful at first sight. But dirt isn't beautiful. And dirt-encrusted treasures are not beautiful.

The pearl we have sorted through mud and sand and tall grass and rocks for will not come out looking like it was worth any of the work at all.

There will be a time when we take the treasure home, rub it over with a soft cloth, wash it over with water, clean it up, and determine its worth. But we must not be selfish in our rush to determine the worth of what only looks like just another rock.

Today I am looking at the pile of stones before me. I asked—I asked for bread. I asked for sustenance and warm bread, and He has given me a pile of dirt-encrusted rocks. Friendships wrought with pain and surprise—not wrong, simply in process. Half-baked theological conclusions—not incorrect, simply unfinished. Relationships that never bloom—not trampled on, simply unopened. Ideas subject to time and space—not false, simply not full to fruition. To my eye this treasure has not been worth what I have given to get it.

The Lord is teaching me the process to a perfect pearl, a finely cut diamond, a shaped gold-piece, does not come without pain and it does not come without a grain of sand, a piece of rock, and a yellow vein in a dark cavern. The treasure is Christ and He wept in a garden, felt forsaken on the cross, and still has not come to take us home. We are his unfinished pearl and, in some ways, He is ours. He is already come and not yet.

Maybe none of this makes sense to you, and in some ways, I'm okay if it doesn't. This is my unfinished treasure, covered over with mud, stuffed full of meaning for me but junk to you. We are all standing behind dark and dim glasses, waiting to see face to face our dearest Treasure, and I never want to pretend my pearls are more polished than yours until that day.


Endure Patiently

I can't even tell you how it happened that we sat there and cried hot wet tears, barely looking one another in the eyes. I take much of the blame, though my heart ached with hurt and couldn't find healing. Don't let the sun go down on your anger?

Well, what about when it's not anger you're bedding down for the night? What about when it's joy mixed with mourning so deep you don't know what else to do but be silent? Be silent for fear that your muddled mess of joy and mourning will be trumped by the latter and seen as such. So I kept silent.

A friend tells me a few weeks ago that I present my life as perfect and I want to tell her to read a decade's archives of presentations. This? This place on the web? This is my sanctification in process on view for the world, and if that's perfect, well, I suppose I've arrived a thousand times over.

Once I heard a story of an old man on his death-bed. He was asked if he found himself sinning less as he grew older.

"Sin less?" He asked. "I was never more aware of my sin than I was a moment ago."

"Well, then, do you find it easier to repent?"

"No, son," he said. "I just find the gap between me and the Lord ever closing as I turn."

It was Annie Dillard who said, "Where, then, is the gap through which eternity streams?" and I think that gap is here, and here, and this moment, and this one. Eternity streams through these small moments, adding up to one final jubilee, one long trumpet call, when our angers and hurts and fears and sins are bedded forever, never to wake up, not ever.

Do I find myself sinning less the nearer I draw to that final day?

No. I find I know my sin more, and every moment more aware than the last. But do I find it's easier to find God, to know His nearness, and to trust the days to him? Yes. I do.

It doesn't make the hurt less, but this earthly Christian life is not for the avoiding of hurt, but the enduring of it.

...we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance... Romans 5:3