Shame on Me: Embracing Accusation

homemade soupI like to think of myself as flexible, in spirit and person. I am naturally judgmental of myself and not of others, and prone to dissecting my inadequacies with a double edged sword, painfully and precisely. Some call this naval gazing or introspection. I am learning it can be a tool of the enemy to split the Gospel into sections, applying some to me, all to others, and none to the parts I stumble over naming. Last night we ate soup and homemade bread and in the middle of dinner pulled up a Shane and Shane song on YouTube. We don't usually keep electronics at the dinner table and by usually I mean we never do, but we were talking about shame and the enemy's ploy. I had sent this quote from Pilgrim's Progress to Nate earlier in the day and we were talking about some shame I have been carrying around like a child carries worthless treasures in his pocket: sticks, stones, names that really do hurt you.

“Shame tells me what men are, but it tells me nothing of what God or the Word of God is," said Faithful. 

It seems to me we're all carrying shame in some fashion. (Shame is different from guilt, although we often confuse the two—guilt is a true reminder of what you have done, shame is a cloudy reminder of what others or you perceive you have done—but neither are too far gone from the expansive cloak of the gospel.) Few of us will take the time to tell the difference between shame and guilt, and even fewer will raise our hands and say, "That's me. I am stumbling under the crippling weight of shame." It is so shameful, see, to confess shame. For the guilty it is easy to point to a specific instance in which the sin was committed, to say, indeed, I have done the thing. But shame? Shame slinks and crowds and cordons and points and laughs and we all feel like blind men groping in the pitch for something to feel guilty about because the shame is too much to bear without a certain wrongdoing to make right.

We can repent for what we did wrong, but it seems impossible to repent for the compulsory constant feeling that we've done something wrong. This is shame. Guilt sends you to prison. Shame keeps you out of it but makes the whole world a prison. You cannot go anywhere or see anything without a pulsing reminder that something isn't right. This is shame.

Years ago my pastor said when the enemy comes and tells him he's a failure, he's wrong, he's terrible, he's a loser, he tells the enemy back that he is right. He is all those things, and more. This is why the gospel is such beautiful news, he said, because all the things the enemy says about him are true—even worse (lust is as adultery, hatred is as murder!), but Jesus. Sweet Jesus.

Somewhere along this year I've had my head down so far I could only see the strewn failures behind me, there is nothing I can do to make any of this year make sense or be made right. I feel shame about marriage, my body, my fear of violence, our loss of financial security, our home, church, all of it. There is not anything in life unscathed from shame these days. If you note something beautiful about any of it, the thing quickest to my lips and heart is how I have failed at all of it. And this won't make sense to almost anyone, but it makes sense to the enemy and he has taken every foothold he can in the process. And you have places just like that in your life today too.

Last night, that quote from Pilgrim's Progress, the song from Shane and Shane, my best friend reminding me that whatever accusations come my way are true, but not as true as the gospel which covers them all—these things are raising my head, slowly, surely, reminding me of truth. If this weighty shame is not telling me something about God or the Word of God, then it is not of Him, it cannot be.

This morning I read in Colossians and circle all the times the word "all" appears and it is many. The first chapter is full of them, they're everywhere. I am reminded that there is no part of my heart or soul that is not covered completely by the gospel of Christ, whether a true failure or a percieved one, His grace is enough. It is all and enough.

The Attributes of God

There are eighteen attributes of God posted on the walls of the Kids Village rooms at The Village Church. Learning those attributes, committing them to memory, and pulling them out whenever I have doubted the character of God throughout the past six years has been one of the most life-changing disciplines of my life. After I posted this photo, several people asked for the full list or a link to the posters. A few of the guys in the Comm department told me they'll think about getting something up in the next year, but until then, I asked for permission to reprint the complete list. It was written by Anne Lincoln Holibaugh, the director of Kids Village for years and one who worked hard to create a well-oiled machine in that area. She's brilliant. If you know her, tell her (and all the Kids Village/Little Village people) thank you today.

Here are the attributes in list form. Below, if you click on the image, there's a high resolution image I put together that you can print out and put on your fridge or frame or wherever it would be helpful for you to visualize the bigness of God on a regular basis. I really mean it when I say committing these characteristics of God to memory has been one of the most life-changing disciplines for me. They're easy to remember, they remind me I am not God, and they speak to nearly every lie I am tempted to believe about Him.

God is:

Wise: He knows what is best Generous: He gives what is best Loving: He does what is best Good: He is what is best Unchanging: He never changes Creator: He made everything Provider: He meets the needs of His children Holy: He is completely perfect Just: He is right to punish sin Glorious: He shows his glory and greatness Sovereign: He has the right, will, and power to do as He pleases Compassionate: He sees, cares, and acts when His children are in need Merciful: He does not give what His children deserve Attentive: He hears and responds to His children Worthy: He deserves all glory Deliverer: He saves His children from wrath Refuge: He provides places of safety for His children Almighty: Nothing is too hard for God

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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.

Another Evil on Another Street in America

In the middle of the coverage from San Bernardino yesterday I got a text from my husband: "SWAT just showed up two doors down!"

A few minutes later: "Shots fired!"

Expected during that moment if we lived in San Bernardino perhaps, but we live in Denver. In a nice little up and coming neighborhood in the northwest part of the city. If you mention our neighborhood to those who've been here all their life, they recall stories of being warned to stay away from The Highland because of its high crime rates. In the past five years, though, crime is at an all-time low, housing prices keep rising, and it's becoming one of the coveted neighborhoods in Denver.

Police surrounded our block yesterday until late into the night. At the end of it all, there was a dead fugitive and a wounded SWAT officer. When we knew it was safe, hours into the ordeal, my husband brought a mug of coffee and a bottled drink out to the policeman standing in the middle of the street outside our house. He'd been brandishing a rifle while diverting traffic and answering questions for hours. We should have offered him a bathroom break too, but I doubt he would have taken it.

. . .

The first real conversation I ever had with my husband was about pacificsm, a few days later he shared his testimony (a story wrought with theological fervor and marital failure) with a group of our friends, and the next day he and I got coffee and talked more about the pacifist way. He wasn't my first friend who had walked through these questions, but he was the first person I'd met in Texas who had. It wasn't love at first sight for either of us, but it was curiosity for sure. You know the rest of the story.

Scattered throughout our home, in pieces so varied and complex I don't know what we'd do if it ever came to it, are the components to a firearm. I spend most of my time trying to forget it's in our home and when I remember I remind myself 1. It would take thirty minutes to gather all the pieces. 2. I don't know how to put them together. 3. I don't know the first thing about shooting a gun. And 4. I can't imagine ever pointing a gun at someone.

But it doesn't change the fact that the gun is present, in our home.

. . .

A few weeks ago my car was vandalized. I thought it was the work of hoodlums in the neighborhood south of us, and maybe it was, but the more we thought about it and asked others about it, it became clear: vandalizing was not their sole purpose, car thievery was. The only conclusion we've come to is they saw it was a stick shift or they got caught in the middle. Either way, we're grateful to still have a car. Locked safely now (or so we think) in our garage.

Does all this matter? And how?

. . .

This morning Nate and I talked about a trip he's taking in a few weeks and how, in all my life, I've never been afraid to be alone before. But here, in these days, in this place, I fear. The other day a salesman knocked on our door and I had to self-talk the entire time that he wasn't going to push open the cracked door, rape me, and pillage our home. Fear is present, where it never has been before.

Things weren't like this 25 years ago, I told Nate this morning. He told me studies were done once on soldiers from WWII: something around 50% of soldiers purposely didn't aim guns at their enemies because the taking of a human life was not something they could do.

. . .

I stayed up late praying last night. I wanted to pray for the soul of the man who was killed but my beliefs tell me it's too late for that, and a repentant man doesn't do the atrocities he did. I pray for the SWAT officer instead, not the one who was wounded, but the one who killed the fugitive. What a heavy weight to bear it must be to have taken the life of a man—however worthless you can convince yourself that life was.

. . .

The ink is barely dry on the page of the Colorado Springs shooting a few days ago, the media is alight with San Bernardino, and in a playground in New Orleans a young man shot at 17 individuals last week. The world is too much with us, the poet said, and I think he was speaking of evil, evil, everywhere.

The refrain from O, Holy Night repeats in my head again:

His law is love and his gospel is peace.

For most these days, the law feels ignored and his gospel divides. There is not one of us who can say we feel safe but for the grace of God. And even with the grace of God, hundreds of thousands find themselves fleeing persecution and no one is safe from the bullet of a madman bent on destruction.

Where is the love and peace we were promised?

. . .

I have no end to this piece, no pretty packaged completion.Tomorrow or next week more news of another shooting will rise and we will fight for gun reform or offer our thoughts and prayers, but none of it is enough. None of it is.

His law is love and his gospel is peace.

The law of this land will never bring it and peace rallies will never exhibit it. Soldiers will still miss shots on purpose. Good men will sacrifice their lives in the face of certain danger—but even a hero's death still stings. Nothing in this world will bring the peace we need. Nothing in this world.

His law is love.

And His gospel is peace.

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Eschatological Breakfasts

It occurs to me that I should not tell you the husband has taken to cooking breakfast in the morning. When we first married his plat signature was eggs, “scrambled” in the pan on high heat, and occasionally rice, boiled to mush. Now he handles cast iron cooking like a champ, flipping the over easy eggs over nice and easy, and sizzling sweet potatoes to the perfect combination of crispy on the outside and soft on the inside. He always puts some sort of seasonal fruit on the side. And he always makes coffee first thing. It occurs to me I should not tell you this because I’ll come off sounding like one of those pastors who talks about their “smokin’ hot wives” and infuriates bloggers everywhere: This is my husband, who makes perfectly runny eggs and does it with a smile. In the dearth of authenticity for the generation whose god is authenticity, a model from New Zealand edited all the captions on her instagrams. It’s all over the news this week, as if it is news that the perfect poses took a hundred attempts and her body didn’t come with sacrifices. We all know, underneath the exterior, the presentation, the cropping, and the editing, real life is being lived. We’re doing our best to pretend it’s not, but we all know it is.

This is what the writer meant when he said “Eternity is written on the hearts of men,” and what Jesus intended when he said, “Go into all the world and teach the good news.” We have all been imprinted with life and death and their looming realities, and we all have to hear someone tell us “Yes, that’s true,” or we won’t believe. News isn’t really news, it’s just information, or confirmation, if you will: It really is this bad or this good.

So my husband is making breakfast and it’s a simple thing really, but I heard my pastor say once, “The good will keep getting better, and the bad will keep getting worse.” He was talking about the end of time and the beginning of the kingdom and I loved those words because they are truth and they say two things to me:

The good will keep getting better: All the sanctification worked in our hearts produces fruit of everlasting goodness. It is tainted with sin, yes, but gloriously and increasingly reflecting the God whom we image. That my husband cooks a better breakfast than he did five months ago is not only evidence of a growth in skill, it is an evidence of his desire to serve and love his wife. He is being progressively sanctified, growing in love for his Father and so too in love for his wife. Making breakfast is simply evidence that eternity is written on his heart (and perhaps his belly too). I hesitate to tell you he makes our breakfast because there are a hundred thousand of you for whom that is not true. But where is it true in your life? Where has the good become better as you or someone you know reflects the image of God? That is reason for worship! Not the thing itself, but the God who made it happen.

The bad will keep getting worse: As Christ sanctifies us and grows us in Him, we will see more and more clearly the depth of our own sin. Nate makes us breakfast, but it is sandwiched by conversations daily on the brokenness of our hearts and in the hearts of those we love. In the still dark morning hours, I pray for him and he prays for me, that we would know Christ because we are increasingly aware of our inability to be Christ and to fail Him and those we love. The badness outside our home only looks worse than the badness inside our home—but it’s not really worse. Where is that true in your life? Where do the perfect poses and pithy phrases fall short and you feel the bad getting worse? Praise God He did not make us automatons, robots of code and conduct. Praise God the bad gets worse so we can know he is shaking and stirring and sifting all the dross from the gold. That there is hardship in your world is proof God is still at work. Praise Him for not forgetting you, for writing eternity on your heart and for evidencing it by the longing you have for goodness and beauty.

And now I must go, my breakfast is getting cold.

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