The Oldest Lie and the Master Surgeon

Someone asked me yesterday if our house had sold and it occurred to me I didn't give an update. We closed on May 23rd. I've already written about some of the things we've learned through the process, but I think one of the things we've learned the most is what I tweeted the day of the closing: "Papers signed. We are 100k poorer, but rich in faith & belief. God always gives exactly what we need. If we don't have it, we don't need it. I knew someday I would look back at this year and see His sovereignty at work, but I'm grateful that day is today and not years from now."

A few months ago, looking ahead at the monetary loss before us, I could only imagine the disappointment in my heart growing into a root of bitterness toward the Lord. I knew it would take a long, long time to pull out, its strings going in endless directions, stealing my faith in their journey outward. I am no stranger to disappointments, to unmet expectations, and to losing what I hoped to gain. I have been down this path before and I know the way out.

I drove to New York on Tuesday for a quick respite in the hills and valleys of home and used the driving time to catch up with numerous friends on the phone. We all have had hopes dashed and disappointments furrowed deep within us and it reminded me nobody gets through unscathed. We are all the recipients of Adam's sin, all billions and billions of us. To believe we alone are the only ones who get it, who have experienced this kind of acute pain, who feel alone in a world full of people who get everything they want is the enemy's oldest lie. He told himself it first and then fell, and has been telling everyone else it since. "If you can't beat 'em, make 'em join you," is his mantra. If you have ever felt alone—if you feel alone today—then you have been on the listening end of the enemy's bullhorn.

To arrive at the day of closing, not a penny richer and many hundreds of thousands of pennies poorer, with a deeper trust in our Father and a greater hope of glory was not at all what I expected, and yet it was what He gave. He didn't have to and yet He did. And this is what I have learned more deeply than ever: He gives us what we need, only what we need, and if we don't have it, we don't need it. And, if we do have it, we need it.

This is a difficult thing to believe, and more complex than a few hundred words can tackle (What about world hunger? Poverty? Health? Aren't there so many unmet needs in the world?). We can logic our way through anything, but at the end of it all, if all it does is steal our praise from the God of the universe, I question our definition of the word need.

A pastor from my church in Texas always said, "Expectations are resentments waiting to happen," and it stuck to me like a burr—annoying and unrelenting. I knew it was true and had seen its evidence in my life a thousand times over, but I didn't like it. The world is all about creating expectations and heightening them, after all. Making lists, goals, setting our sights on something, having vision for your life, and all that.

But what happens when nothing goes your way?

I know the concept of God wounding us so He can heal us is a controversial one, but it is one I take much comfort in. I tore my meniscus many years ago and my knee pains me still. It swells up at inopportune times and I keep meaning to get it fixed, but hate the thought of physical therapy. Here is what I know though, someday a doctor will slice open my skin and dig his scalpel in. He will do what seems contrary to all evolutionary logic and he will wound so my knee can heal properly. God does this too.

He does it with our dashed expectations, felt rejections, deep disappointments. He wounds so He can reveal the source of the pain, the brokenness, and the infection. And then He heals.

Zack Eswine, in his book Sensing Jesus (now The Imperfect Pastor), says, "We cannot expect to fix what Jesus has left unfixed." We cannot expect to heal what Jesus has left unhealed. And we cannot expect anything on our timeline. He is the master surgeon, the master healer, not us.

It was a gift to sign those papers last week. I don't know if I've ever felt such relief signing my name seventy times over. But the greater gift is one God is still slicing me open and digging inside me to find. It's the gift of His painful healing, the slow, deliberate, agonizing work of taking my eyes off what the world offers and putting them onto Him alone. The gift of showing me He is all I need.

And when Jesus heard it, he said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” Mark 2:17

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Something Rotten in the Local Church

Screen Shot 2016-04-20 at 3.13.29 PM In the midst of conflict within the local church the first thing we need to understand is that we are never promised a clean, unspotted, unblemished church (Ephesians 5:27). The bible repeatedly makes the case that the local church on earth will be broken and blemished until Christ presents us clean and spotless.

Therefore, when we encounter brokenness in the local church our response is not to run the other direction, complain, or grow angry at the institution. If we are Christians, then we believe the bible, and the bible says we are imperfect. The crux for the Christian is how we respond, then, to the imperfect church family of which we are a part.

As humans we can be tempted to respond in a few different ways to conflict within the local church. Philippians 4:1-9 has a clear pathway for how Christians walk through conflict.

"I entreat Euodia and I entreat Syntyche to agree in the Lord. Yes, I ask you also, true companion, help these women, who have labored side by side with me in the gospel together with Clement and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life.

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you."

1. We can be tempted to speculate: Philippians 4 begins with Paul naming two individuals in the church at Philippi who were disagreeing in the Lord. We are not told what the nature of their conflict was. We are not told who brought it first to anyone's attention. We are told very little, in fact, of the details of the situation. Paul thought it important to not name the specifics of the situation. God ordained that godly men would lead the church as elders and that the body would submit to them as under-shepherds knowing they know specifics of things we might never know. This is a good and safe place for the Christian.

In verse 7 Paul says, "And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus." Paul is saying there's a peace that passes all kinds of speculation. It's a peace the world cannot give. It's a peace that even knowledge cannot give. No matter how hard we grasp for the details of a situation, they cannot give the peace that only God can give. When we are tempted to speculate here, let's entrust our questions to God and ask for a peace that passes the limited answers we're given.

2. We can be tempted to judge: Paul begins this chapter with the conflict, but he quickly follows it up with the truth that these women have "labored side by side with [him] in the gospel together with Clement and the rest of the fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life." What we know is there are some faithful women who have encountered the brokenness of life on earth as humans. But it doesn't change the fact that these women labored hard alongside the other early Christians.

When the temptation comes to judge, remember the faithfulness that Paul commends. Is there any perfect leader or Christian? No. But commend the faithfulness of all. Flee from the temptation to judge the process, people, or church. Commend faithfulness.

3. We can be tempted to be divisive: Paul says in verse 4, "Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God." Paul is saying in the midst of this time be reasonable, don't be anxious, make your requests known to God. Do it with thanksgiving. Exercise gratefulness for what the Lord has done and is doing. Fight anxiety with the truth of the word. Be so full of the Holy Spirit in this time that it is "known to everyone."

Instead of being divisive, trying to cause division, discord, creating "teams," or pitting people against one another, rejoice in the Lord always. And again, because it's so important, rejoice. Fight the temptation to cause division in God's church.

4. We can be tempted to gossip or listen to gossip: Paul says in verses 8, "Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things." Paul is saying in response to this situation where there are unknowns, conflict, and a lack of understanding, do this instead. Think about the things that are true, just, pure, lovely, commendable, etc..

Paul isn't saying to trick ourselves into being and feeling great. He is saying, though, to lift our eyes up to what is eternally and foundationally true, God Himself, the most true, most commendable, most lovely of everything. Do not be tempted to sit in a pit of gossip with other speculators, panning for the nuggets of curiosity. Climb out of that pit, trust those he's put in place to lead your local church, and flee from gossip.

Maybe you're in the middle of conflict right now. Or maybe you're not in the middle of it, but your ears are juicy for the details of it. I hope and pray this passage encourages and challenges you as it has for me. Let's all aspire to live quieter lives, trusting God to build His church wholly.

Four Things the Toddler Knows About Marriage

Screen Shot 2016-04-11 at 10.20.44 AM In a world of comparisons, ten months of marriage has nothing on 34 years of singleness, so consider me a toddler in the ways of I Dos. I know very little, but here are four things I do know and I thought I'd share them with you today:

1. Marriage is not more sanctifying than Singleness

Don't believe it for a second if you're single, and don't convince yourself of it for a minute if you're married. It's a lie that one is more sanctifying than the other. If you got married in your early twenties, you grew up into an adult with your person. You were most sanctified during marriage—but not necessarily because of it. Correlation is not causation. This little lesson should be preached by more married people because it leaves most single people in the church feeling less than and not enough until they're married. It's poison. Stop saying it.

God is sanctifying me in marriage differently than He sanctified me in my singleness, the same as He sanctified me in my thirties differently than He sanctified me in my twenties. It's the beauty of growth in the gospel and in life. He's always doing something and always making everything new.

2. Marriage doesn't make you more financially secure; God is the primary breadwinner

I came into marriage never having had a savings account that topped a few thousand. Nate came into marriage with a fat down-payment for our house in Denver and a hefty savings account. We thought between the two of us (me the penny pincher and him the miser), we'd be set.

Within this year of marriage, we've sold a house in Dallas, moved cross-country twice, started two new careers, went through six months of unemployment, and now have a mortgage in Denver and rent in DC—two of the most expensive cities to live in. Any carpet of financial security we had coming into marriage has been ripped out from below our feet. We are less financially secure than either of us have ever been in our lives. We are being whiplashed with bills, costs, and drains from every direction.

I know our story isn't everyman's, but it sure does debunk the lie that "Marriage makes you more financially secure." The reality is having roommates (while that may not be what you desire for the long-term of your life) is a very cost-effective way to live. Those shared bills might feel like a noose around your neck, but they're half or a quarter of what they'll be when it's just one paycheck coming in.

We didn't plan on one paycheck this year. We planned to live in Nate's salary and squirrel mine away. Instead we lost Nate's quickly, and lived on mine and our savings account. It wasn't sustainable. We can beat ourselves up a thousand different ways on this (We shouldn't have left Dallas, we shouldn't have bought a house in Denver, we shouldn't have banked on him being able to work remotely long-term, we should have researched job options for him in Denver better, etc.), but the reality is, we did what we thought was right and good and honorable and faithful—and all of our plans failed.

I'm learning the only thing I can ever find my security in is God—which is the same lesson I've been learning for 35 years. My plans have never worked—never! It was foolish to think that would change just because I got married. God has always required sacrifice of me, always asked for obedience, never given me too much of any good thing. I don't believe it's His character to withhold any good thing, but I do believe it's His character to give us exactly what we need of it and more is never guaranteed. Marriage and money included.

3. This one might be TMI, but here goes: the world tells us to get whatever we can from sex, but the truth is sex is only good if you give what you can—and the more you're willing to give, the better it is.

That might be confusing, so let me flesh it out (Also, I'm having a very hard time writing this section because suddenly every word is an innuendo of some sorts.):

There was an angst in my singleness that had much to do with wanting a partner, wanting to shoulder the burdens of life with someone, wanting someone to love me, etc. But there was also a very real angst of sexual desire in me. I wanted to be held and loved and pursued. I didn't need it to end in sex, but it culminated many times in sexual desire being fanned in my life. I don't think that's a bad thing. God created sex, sex is good, desiring sex is good, and getting married is good. Burning with passion is actually a good motivation (among other things) for getting married. But sex was what I thought would somehow satisfy some longings of my flesh. I wanted my desires to be met physically.

Sex within marriage is good but its goodness is almost never about my desires being met. My husband is a good and caring man, faithful, kind, gentle. He is tender with me and loves me deeply. But neither of us can satisfy desires that are too deep for words and too complicated for human hands. The best we can do is to come to bed ready to serve one another.

What I have learned about sex is that instead of it being the culmination of all the things of the day, sex is actually a very gritty, raw, messy foundation in our lives.

Instead of being the pinnacle, the point, the top of the triangle (thinking I do all the big, heavy lifting throughout life for the tiny slice of joy at the top), it is actually the base of it. Sex is the biggest part. Not because it happens the most, but because when there are a thousands things throughout the day demanding my attention, and most of them are serving my husband in some way (laundry, dishes, food prep, errands, phone calls, bills, etc.), the foundation we have within sex to serve one another makes the day to day monotony a joy.

The climax of sex is not a romp under the covers, it's asking him every morning how I can help make his day better. It's putting a healthy nutritious meal in his lunch bag. It's running to Home Depot to get a special sauce for the weed-eater. It's folding the ratty t-shirts from races he ran in high-school.

The foundation of learning to serve within my singleness translated directly to how I learn to serve within marriage. Serving my husband in sex is easy—even if there's no physical return in it for me, because whether in bed, the kitchen, or Home Depot, serving is the posture of the Christian—married and single.

4. I am not my own anymore; marriage is shared sanctification

This has probably been the hardest adjustment for me to make within marriage. It's not just about schedule, finances, decisions, etc. Those things are challenging for sure. I'm used to planning my own day, caring for my own finances, and making whatever decisions seemed best to me. I can't do that anymore. Every piece of me affects a person I love. It's a joy, but it's not as easy as it sounds.

What is more difficult, though, is the shared burden of sanctification. This relates to point one because I think often times what married people mean when they say "Marriage is the most sanctifying thing," is that saying I Do to all your mess means more mess in my life. In singleness whenever I walked through challenging things it was almost always easy to see where God was sanctifying me and to make small adjustments in my life to submit to Him in those areas. In marriage, though, it's two people walking through the same challenges together. God doesn't waste anything, but sometimes the bulk of the lesson is meant for me and sometimes it's meant for Nate. How can you tell?

Therein lies the challenge. As we've walked through this past season of financial difficulty it has revealed areas in our lives of idolatry, fear, pride, and more. And it has primarily affected Nate. Most of the idols being toppled are his in that area. On the other hand, we've just walked through a season where I've encountered some fearful things, the shootings, the miscarriages, failed plans, my car being vandalized, Nate's job loss. Never in my life have I been a fearful person and at every turn these days, I'm afraid of something. God is teaching me He is the only one who is trustworthy and He is faithful.

God is teaching both of us things in paramount ways, but they are different things, and the struggle in being one flesh is entering into that sanctification process with the other. It feels like our feet are cemented to the floor and we can barely encourage ourselves, how do we begin to encourage one another?

This is what I've been learning: I am not my own anymore. In the past, I was the primary preacher to my soul. I was my best encourager. I was the one who pulled myself up by my bootstraps. But I'm not anymore, I feel paralyzed in the encouragement of my own soul. But I am not paralyzed in the encouragement of Nate's soul. This is the gift of walking through the mud together: I know the words that lift up his eyes to the hills, and he knows the words for me. It's beautiful and painful, precious and hard. We are not our own anymore.

. . .

This is long, I know, but I'm hoping it helps some other newlyweds along the way and some singles who might be believing lies about themselves or their married friends.

At Least You're Married or Single

Marrieds love to tell singles going through transitions and hard times, "At least you're not tied down! At least you're free to be flexible! At least you can make your own schedule, etc." Singles love to tell marrieds going through transitions and hard times, "At least you have each other! At least you're married! At least you don't have to do it alone!" The truth is that painful circumstances in our own lives can bring offensive, short-sighted, and dismissive platitudes to real struggles in the lives of other people. Freedoms that exist within singleness come with a cost and the partnership that comes within marriage can mean a similar cost.

In singleness, the freedom of scheduling means more time spent walking through dark and difficult things with many different people. It can feel incredibly isolating to walk through hard things in other people's lives and then come home alone to a lonely home and an empty bed. That freedom you envy in your single friend's life comes with a cost.

In marriage, the partnership of a spouse means you can't go home at the end of the coffee date, you can't schedule your life in compartments of ministry time and personal time. It's all ministry time, making dinner, raising children, making money, even having sex, it's all ministry—and sometimes it's incredibly difficult ministry. That partnership you envy in your married friend's life comes with a cost.

In singleness, the freedom of flexibility means sometimes there is a very strong lack of stability. There isn't a family needing to be provided for, so it can feel like your job is expendable to your employers, it can feel like you're the only one paying all the bills, and it can feel like life is just one lease to another. The situation in your marriage might be the same, but "Until death us do part" gives one form of stability many singles desire and do not have. That flexibility you envy in your single friend's life can mean an isolating instability for them.

In marriage, the partnership of fidelity also means there is a strong temptation to hope in that stability instead of in God. There's a constant wrestle within marriage to console yourself with the belief that "at least we have one another," when in truth that is a ploy from the enemy. We have God. The same as when we were single. The gift of a spouse can become a gift we begin to worship, to find comfort in, and trust in, instead of the Giver. God alone is faithful. That partnership you envy in your married friend's life can mean a constant and strong temptation toward idolatry.

Marriage and singleness are both sanctifying, neither one is more or less. If you ask me where I was more sanctified, marriage or singleness, I would tell you the sanctification doesn't even compare because it is precisely and exactly the same.

In singleness I struggled with idolatry, selfishness, fear, pride, self-sufficiency, and so much more. In marriage I struggle with all of them still, not more, not less, the same. God, in His goodness, shows me that He is the same whether I am single or married by showing me that I am the same too. The only difference in these sanctifying agents is that for 34 years singleness was the best way to prove, distill, and refine me, and now marriage is God's best way to prove, distill, and refine me.

Friends when we are tempted to start a sentence to anyone walking through a different and hard season with the words "At least..." remember the God we serve only and ever gives the best in every season. He is not doing the least of anything in your life.

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Please Keep This Between Us

Please don't tell anyone else this, but I wanted to process something with you. If you could just keep it between you and me? I assume you know I wouldn't want it to get around, I want to make sure people really understand my side of things and that can only happen if I communicate about it directly. You understand right? I just tried to emotionally manipulate you. Did you fall for it?

There's a chair in the corner of my office at the church were I work. It's a shade of gold I can't quite name and its fabric is velour of sorts. Every week someone cries on that chair. Not a week has gone by that someone has not cried on that chair. Sometimes I'm the one crying on it. Often the person sitting there asks me to just keep this conversation between them and me, and every single time I have to say, "I'm sorry, I can't promise that."

There are some who are contractually obligated to keep secrets—lawyers, counselors, mobsters—but within the local church, "Just between you and me," is bedfellows with its sister, Gossip. They seem at odds, but they are actually two sides of the same coin.

Gossip wants to control the narrative by embellishing it, the other wants to control the narrative by being the only one to talk about it. Gossip wants to make the story interesting, the other wants to make the story one-sided. Neither reflect the words and meditations of a heart pleasing to God.

Friends, sometimes we show discretion in what we share to protect someone's heart, but if our aim is to craft a narrative or limit the narrative to our side only, we're lying, and God calls lying is a sin.

Here are three truths when we're tempted to hide within the narrative we've crafted:

1. God owns and knows the whole truth and we cannot hide from him.

Whenever I've been tempted to tell someone to keep something between us, I have to ask myself the question: "Whose narrative are you trying to present?" Sometimes there are a lot of moving pieces and we're not ready to make announcements public yet. But most of the time when I've used those words, I was trying to control the order in which people heard something, or I was trying to make sure my perspective was valued as sort of a secret treasure I entrusted to someone to hold.

The problem is, though, these things are too heavy for mere humans to hold. We weren't made to hold the weight of secrets. One of the first things humanity did was try to hide from God—but we can't hide from God! Whatever things we're doing to protect ourselves are as laughable as standing behind fig leaves in front of the Almighty Creator of those fig leaves. Controlling a story, crafting the perfect narrative, and trying to make people see things from our perspective are empty efforts.

God sees you, He knows your heart, He knows what you're protecting, and He knows why. Walk in truth and wholeness with your brothers and sisters, and Him. He can handle the whole mess of it all.

2. God orchestrates a better story than we can tell or keep from telling.

Without exception, every single time someone has said to me, "Please don't tell anyone this," the unveiling of their fears or concerns has been part of the working toward healing, redemption, and reconciliation in the body. So many of us are blindly walking around ignorant of our issues, complacent in our efforts, or unaware of problems. We need the iron sharpening of one another in the body of Christ. Here's why: the end of our story (which is really the beginning) is a better one than we can imagine in our moment of pain.

When we're blinded by the presence of pain, uncertainty, or misunderstanding, we can't imagine a good ending to the story. We just need to vent, to process, to express ourselves. But God is writing a better story and He's orchestrating all the smallest players to be a part of it.

If you must talk about something, talk about it with the intention of holistic healing, and talk first and only with the people involved in a godly solution—not with those jumping on a party bus heading straight for Division Canyon.

3. God has put His children in a body with different perspectives, different histories, and different gifts.

When we ask someone to keep something "just between us," we're asking them to stand on a desert island with us. We're asking them to alienate themselves from their covering and their counsel and join in solidarity with us away from something else. Friends, this is a sin. God always comes forward to us. He always initiates. He always invites in. He moves toward us in reconciliation—and his design for us is to do the same.

God puts us in the body of Christ to express those aspects of Himself to one another. He puts His cards on the table, all of them. There is nothing hidden with Him and in Him we live and move and have our being. He is the whole story—and He puts us along side one another in community to work out the expressions of Him on earth.

Don't live in a factionalistic society. We have an enemy, and our brothers and sisters in Christ aren't him.

. . .

My parents always used to say to my brothers and me, "There are three sides to every story, yours, his, and the truth," and the adage still stands. Your perspective is valid, but it is not the whole story. Trust God with the whole story, yours, theirs, and all of ours.

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