When We are Fallow and Infertile

Screen Shot 2016-12-23 at 10.28.47 AM 'Tis the season for all the top ten lists. I thought of doing one but decided against, for various reasons. Writing, for me, has taken a different turn in this season and I've had to mourn the loss with tears, stalwart determination, and sometimes crippled fingers and thoughts. Last week I confessed in tears to Nate that one of the hardest parts of life this year has been how quickly the world turns and how my work has faded from sight, and how forgotten I've felt as time and people progress and we feel stuck. It was a good talk, a humbling one and a needed confession of my own sin. This week I've just tried to remember, remember, remember all that God has done in this fallow season.

Fallow is an agricultural term meaning, simply, to let a field alone for a period of time in order to restore its fertility. As I look over 2016, and the lingering parts of 2015, it's very easy for me to see all the death and none of the fertility. What have we borne? Nothing, even if you look closely, which I have been trying to do. And there is something inside of me—and probably inside of you—that wants to rush to cover over that sad statement with so many reminders of "All The Good Things!" But, just as those fields need times of fallow, of non-productiveness, of not bearing, and seeming to all the world and the field too, of having lost their ability to bear, God is still doing something in that neglected dirt. The platitudes we want to console or coddle with actually make what isn't happening less beautiful. If I look closely enough I can see God's beautiful sovereign hand in all of the seeming nothing. This may not make sense to you, it barely does to me in my cognitive moments, but in my poetic moments, those mysterious ah-has creep into my heart unawares and surprise me with comfort, joy, hope, and peace.

I take great comfort right now in not being able to know the mind of God, even if I try. For all my attempts to garner an explanation for what He has done and is doing with our lives, or to wrangle a glimpse of next year, or bribe my way into what I want or less of what I don't want, I'm humbled that the only show of hands is His promise of Love. He gives the presence of Jesus, as a baby, in a humble birth, and permission to pray "Our Father" even when He is off in Heaven and we are still here on dirt-encrusted earth, and the gift of His Spirit, comforting, helping, teaching, always quietly and sometimes imperceptibly.

God is doing something in the fallow field, so small, so magnificent, so intricate, and so miraculous, that it would astound me to know the details and so, instead, it just seems to me a dark, hardened, untended, infertile, and frozen acre of dirt. Planting will come, and someday, again, fruit, and then harvesting, but fallowing is just as important for the process as seed sowing and sun shining, it simply isn't as pretty in the meantime.

Thank you, Father, for leaving us fallow sometimes, but never leaving us, ever, any of the time. 

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.

When the Dark Night Seems to Have No End

Screen Shot 2016-10-17 at 9.44.59 AMI've been wondering, these past few weeks, when did it become a sin to be sad? We have become little band-aid applicants, carrying them with us everywhere in the form of advice, counsel, scoldings, and, for those unwilling to soil our hands, corridor whispers. We are faster than an ambulance in our rush to clean the scene, sweep away the proof, and move on to bigger and better and happier things. Does anyone think, I think to myself, how silly it is to do such a mediocre job when what is needed is surgery only God can perform? Two verses, but mostly the same, have played on repeat for me in this year of sadness (Is it okay if I say that out loud? I have nothing to prove, nothing to preach, and nothing to lose.). They are from the book of Jeremiah (that great Lamenter for whom we seem to have little use in happy, clappy modern Christianity):

From prophet to priest, everyone deals falsely. They have healed the wound of my people lightly, saying, ‘Peace, peace,’ when there is no peace. (Jer. 6:13-14 & Jer. 8:11)

It is against our nature, I think, to apply pressure to a wound, everything in us wants to be soft with another's and softer with our own, to handle with care or kid gloves or not handle at all. But the greater temptation is to cover a wound lightly and call it healed: out of sight, out of mind.

I don't know when exactly the gauging came, but this morning I read my husband's text in the still dark morning and send my own back. Our prayers are staccato sorts: Help. Pray. Please. Love. Sorry. Forgive. Forgiven. Love. Love. Love. Marriage is beautiful, but sin crouches at our door waiting to pounce and we must rule over it, even with staccato prayers in still dark mornings (Gen.4:6-8). But how did we get here? How did the wound grow from small and tolerable paper cuts to tears on the way home from church and pulsing guilt for the seeming missteps of our year? We both believe in a sovereign God, don't we? Why then would we falter for one second even, in our belief that He directs our every step—even if it feels like we've fallen into a ravine and there is a cliff above us and a rushing river below us—death no matter where we look.

Maybe this isn't you. Maybe you're one of those happy, clappy Christians who has never fallen into a ravine or had to scale a cliff or navigate roaring waters. I don't envy you, although I suppose I should. My pastor used to say, "Suffering is coming for us all. If you haven't experienced it yet, it's coming for you." And I used to believe it had come for me and I had gotten through it okay. I was wrong, and there's probably more ahead. The truth is I don't understand the happy, clappy Christians. I really don't. I don't understand those who would heal a wound lightly (though I've been guilty of it a time or seven), thinking it would be enough to have paid attention for a second and then washed my hands of it, having done my part smartly enough.

There are so many things this year I can't even begin to tell you but they all mount one big awful offense: God cannot be trusted. I'm horrified to say those words at all, and especially horrified that the offense hurts me worse than it hurts Him. It also isn't true, and I know this with every fiber of my being. But the arrows carrying their deceitful message come flying still. Who here hasn't felt the flaming arrows of untruth come battering down on their weary souls? If you say you have not and will not, I beg you to read the accounts of Paul again and then talk to me. What I cannot figure out, though, is how stalwart he stayed through it all.

What I am saying is the same as what Hemingway once said, "This world breaks everyone," and also "And afterward we are strong at the broken places." But to pretend the brokenness and the broken places don't happen or don't hurt or need to be fixed speedily or need some form of happy, clappy Christian healing with immediacy, is to lie, not only to the wounded, but to yourself most of all.

It is no sin to be sad. I have believed that theologically for a long time and it is being tested in the crucible of truth now. Can one be sad and still trust God? Can one mourn and still know God is good? Can one weep and still know morning is coming? Can one grope blindly in the long night without one single doubt that God stands there, somewhere and certain, in the sea of darkness?

I have thought those things might be possible and now I know they are. My sadness is not a sin, but I will not call "Peace, Peace" until the heavy hand of healing is applied all the way through.

. . .

Maybe you are sad today too, maybe the dark night of the soul has lasted far longer and been far darker than you thought, or maybe you know someone for whom that dark night is their reality. Nate and I watched a film this week where the lunacy of the main character was not portrayed as such from his perspective. To him, his friends were not imaginary, they were as real as he was. We remarked, at the stunning conclusion, how it helped us to have empathy for our friends walking through forms of depression, lunacy, and irrationality in a way we might not have had before. Their pain is as real to them as our pain is to us. I do not need to feel their pain precisely to understand its reality. I pray for this for us all.

Everyone you meet today is carrying some hidden weight, and the temptation to make your own greater in comparison, or to overlook theirs for laziness or fear, will be great. I beg you today: Do not heal a wound lightly, your own or someone else's. Do not cry, "Peace! Peace!" simply because you want their sunny disposition returned. Sit across from them and ask what hurts and don't offer counsel or advice or bandaids, ask only for the Savior to be near, because His word says He is and He is the only One who can heal all the way through to the other side.

The Lord is near to the brokenhearted     and saves the crushed in spirit. (Ps. 34:18)

It's Kind of a Long Story

In the words of Vonnegut, “Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia.” And so it was, my story has got pneumonia. There’s no doctor for this and no cure or medicine. It’s not writer’s block, it’s the opposite. It’s not fear of saying something, it’s fear of saying everything. Others think of writers as prophets of sorts. Don’t ask me what writers think of themselves. The way blogs go these days it seems we all think we’re on a reality show or talk show or the stage and we are the star. Someone’s salvation is always resting on the crux of how well a writer can write it, and what we need someone to tell us is maybe it’s just the working out of our own salvation in the crux. I have never understood people who had books “just burning” inside them to be written or who have always known they would be a writer or who have messages they know only they can tell. I have always been on the other side of the spectrum, tapping the mic endlessly asking, “Is this thing on?” if only to say to the naysayers and bystanders and passersby that there is nothing to see here, carry on.

Thank you for staying, readers and friends. You didn’t have to and I’ll understand if you leave. I might leave if this was the story I came to hear. Or I might not. I have been prone to unpredictable behavior of late. This is what I do want to say to you though, if you have the patience and the benevolence to hear it.

This is how it happened, from the almost beginning: Nate and I met in the foyer of our church, it was a non-event except that I liked his beard and he was still not dating girls. A few weeks later a church in Denver asked me to consider working with them. I hemmed and hawed and talked with pastors and elders and friends and traveled there three months later to figure things out. Then I came home and made the decision in a conference room upstairs in my church with a few pastors and elders and friends.

I also told them then that the night before Nate Wilbert had asked me out. Who knew what would happen? Not us.

The decision to go to Denver was made, though, and when Nate and I knew we would be getting married, the decision to go to Denver was back on the table for a hot minute, and by minute, I mean second. “Do you wanna?” “Yeah, I wanna.” “Okay, let’s.” There was a bit more to it, but that was the general decision making process. We hardly knew one another but we knew we were going to get married and that everything in our lives was going to be One Great Adventure because we were doing it together and everything looks shinier when you’re in love.

Denver or bust. Except we didn’t really expect the bust. Everyone says it, but no one actually expects it.

Then the bust: a newly acquired house, a new job with more challenges than we could have envisioned going in, a few miscarriages, shootings, job loss, and so much more. You know the wrap. What you don’t know, maybe, is that we’d been encouraged to step back from leadership as much as possible in our first year of marriage. We were going from living in the middle of ministry in our respective homes to our primary ministry being one another. He didn’t know how to do that well in his first marriage and I sure didn’t know how to do it at all. So envision with me this: two people who don’t know how to swim, deep sea diving into a wreckage where they have to surface with precious artifacts without damaging them. This was our first year.

You know most of the story—but not all of it, please don’t ever assume you know all of someone’s story unless you’ve sat across from them with tea or coffee or your beverage of choice and watched them cry ugly tears or say angry words while you just sat there and were a presence beside them. This is bonus talk right here, not the point of this post at all. I just want to remind all of us that we fall under the shiny spell of interconnectivity more often than not, commentating on lives based on photos and 140 characters. As if the sum of a life can be measured in a snapshot or 140 letters.

Am I rambling, I probably am, but if there’s something I’ve learned a lot this year it’s how easy it is to assume really bad things or really good things in the lives of people as we voyeuristically and unthinkingly scan the artifacts they share. Social media isn’t a lie, friends, as some would have you believe, but it is just the tip of many, many things. So, maybe I should rephrase, you don’t know most of the story, in fact, you know very, very little of it. The mountain of things you don’t know about our lives this past year could not be moved by the pile of things you do know.

Moving on.

So, bust it was. We didn’t intend on leaving Denver, or the church. It’s not the church’s fault we were newly married and had disobeyed good counsel and had jumped in with both feet and were in over our heads. We had every intention of staying, of Nate finding a job there, and of learning to swim. But, God, in His strange sovereignty (and I don’t say that sarcastically, I truly mean it was strange), did not provide a job there.

When Nate first broached the subject of looking out of state, and in fact the mid-Atlantic region, my first response was, “Well, if we’re looking out of state, why not Texas?” For reasons I didn’t know at the time, though, his response was an emphatic no. And because my dear husband had uprooted his life to move for my job in Denver, I agreed to the mid-Atlantic region if a job awaited him there. He went to high-school in DC and had fond memories of the place, but I confess, I was envisioning something more along the lines of bucolic pastures and Shenandoah valleys. I am nothing if not idealistic.

There were interviews all over the mid-Atlantic region, but the one job I didn’t want him to get was the one job—out of myriads of interviews and applications—he was offered. In the heart of D.C. Across the street from the Smithsonian, in view of the Capitol, and every stately monument along the way.

I remembered driving through D.C. years ago. It was Thanksgiving weekend. I was traveling to a friend’s wedding in the Carolinas. It took me nearly four hours to get around the beltway. I swore to myself, probably drawing blood with my fingernails into my palms, that I would never live in a place like this. I was made for hills and mountains and crickets and fireflies. I know there are some who love and feel called to D.C. and these people I commend, but give me the country air and people and problems there. I would never live in D.C.

I remembered saying the same thing to the Lord right before I moved to Texas, though, and see how I was wrong? So I didn’t say any of that to my dear husband. As much as I couldn’t see myself or our family, or him, thriving in the area, I wanted him to feel wanted and approved of and needed by someone, anyone. And they were offering him a job. So I kept my mouth shut and I said, “Babe, I know you want to work and I want you to work, so wherever that is, I will follow you.”

And I did. And we’re here. And his commute is three hours a day. And this week they told him they’re most likely moving his team to another building in the District—one that will add 30 minutes to his commute, making it an even four hours of traveling a day. Whenever we mention that to people around here (because the cost of living pushes people outside the city), they nod and say things like, “Yup, well, that’s just how it is here.” Or “Well, sometimes you have to make sacrifices.” I want to across from those people and say, “You don't have to. What you’re saying is ‘I’m choosing to sacrifice community on the altar of my commute and job.’”

But we’re not.

Here is why I told you all that above, in case you’re wondering. I’m telling you because in the first move to Denver we moved for my job and he did not talk to me about some reasons he had for wanting to leave Dallas. The second move to D.C., we moved for his job, and I did not talk to him about some reasons I had for not wanting to move here. We both sinned against one another in that process and I have all sorts of excuses for why: we didn’t know one another well, we were just figuring this out, we loved the other one and wanted them to flourish, our proclivities and personalities are to stuff things instead of expose them, and we gave into our flesh in these ways. There is so much more to say, but that’s the bottom line. We sinned, a bit unknowingly and naively, but still sinned.

I’ve said before that marriage isn’t hard, not like the drama queens say with their hands across their perspiring brow, “Marriage is the hardest thing you’ll ever do.” Marriage isn’t hard like that. It’s got hard things for sure, but what’s hard about marriage is you’ve put two sinners together until death them do part. And for us, we left the safety net of community and friends, and like frogs in slowly boiling water, our sin was eating us alive, we just didn’t know it.

Until now.

Even though the cost of living is high here and he is gone twelve hours of our day and we’re struggling to feel at home here, and now know we’re not going to be at home here, we’ve also had space and time to sit under the weight of our sins of omission toward one another. Maybe this doesn’t seem like a huge deal, “So you withheld your true feelings, big deal, harder things are coming for you.” Except withholding those feelings and fears and hopes meant we moved across the country twice, lost a church community twice, lost $100,000 and our home, lost a lot more than just the benefit of having your feelings known. So, all I’m saying is there was a big price for those small secrets.

Everyone knows that seeing a counselor means everything is going to be fixed though, so that’s what we’ve been doing. Kidding. We told our counselor first thing, “We don’t expect you to be our savior,” and he’s made good on that expectation. But it has been helpful, in the way that peeling an onion is good before cutting it up. You peel back the layers and then you cry a lot. It’s like paying money every other week to peel a single onion together. I highly recommend it.

He’s asked good questions and pressed pretty hard on some things and not very hard at all on other things, but in the process it’s getting revealed that Nate and I need to learn to emote and talk and that it’s okay to say, “I don’t like _____, and that’s okay.” And also it’s okay to grieve what we’ve lost this year. And also it’s okay to not be super Christians. And it’s okay to withhold information from blog readers and even friends, but not from one another. And it’s okay to say, “Denver wasn’t a mistake. D.C. wasn’t a mistake. But also moving again doesn’t mean we’re running away.”

It’s been cathartic to be able to step back, a year into marriage, and talk about, well, what do we actually want our lives to look like, what do we want our family to look like, when we can start the adoption process, how we want to raise our kids, what sort of church do we want to be married to and serve in, what do we value in church leadership, what do we value in a city, in a town, in the country, how little can we live on instead of how much. All of those questions are things that maybe should be talked about before marriage (though I think the pressure to have all questions answered before marriage is one of the ways the enemy keeps people living in sin instead of covenant), but they are certainly things that should be talked about within marriage and without fear.

We’ve been doing that en masse. It’s been a veritable share-fest around our house these days. We’re making lists and unmaking them. We’re talking through cities and ruling them out. We’re aiming toward relationship building instead of job getting. We’re concentrating our search on churches and not employment. A job is important, even necessary before we move, but our primary posture right now is: where is God calling us to love one another, to raise a family, to invest into a church and city and people, to grow old in our marriage together?

So, because seven is the number of perfection, we’re making it The Seven Moves of 2015-16.

And we think we know where that place is.

It’s a place that holds a dear spot in my heart and a place that’s only a few hours from his family and a few more from mine. It’s a place I spent many happy years and many more happy holidays. In the past few years it has been like a vortex for some of my closest friends, pulling them back to various neighborhoods and churches. It’s the place I wept to leave and always feel at home coming back to. At the end of the month we’re traveling there together for a few days, to see if God might be drawing us there too.

We’re holding it loosely, but we’re talking about it instead of just pretending it doesn’t exist. And for the first time in a long time, we’re feeling excited and expectant and hopeful. Not a day goes by that he doesn’t say to me, “I’m really looking forward to our visit there.” And each time he does, I remember again what it means to be drawn closer to another person in a strange way. I can’t explain it. I know it’s good. And hard. And not impossible. Not easy. But good.

One of the things we failed to do in Denver was to prioritize relationship over normal mechanisms for getting a job. Partially Nate just didn’t have any connections there aside from other church staff. We were only there a few months when he lost his contract. We didn’t know where to turn or to go. He turned to sharpening up his resume, online searches, Linkedin connections. In Dallas he would have had a job in weeks. We knew this because he’d never been without a job and never had to look for one. But in this new place he didn’t have relational capital built up and he confesses now his pride got in the way of working on it.

In this season, we have been deeply convicted that God is more than capable of being our provision in every way, including by giving Nate a job. We have prayed more as a couple and found joy in restraint in the past few weeks, by not trying to manhandle this situation, but by being patient and faithful. We’re reaching out to friends in the area, we’re passing his resume on, and we’re scheduling meetings for him when we’re down there in a few weeks, but we’re not going to put getting a job before building relationship and building on relationships we already have there. In the ministry world that’s the norm, but in the business world, in Nate’s world? That is abnormal and especially abnormal when we don’t live in the city we’re looking to be in. But we’re trusting God is bigger and better than norms and we’re just asking for clarity in all things.

This is nearly 3000 words and kudos if you’ve made it this far. I wrote this mostly for me, but for you too, if it helps you to pray for us or for you to understand you. That’s why I write at all, honestly. It’s not to be understood by you in some needy way. None of us need to be understood by anyone and no amount of postulating or explaining will accomplish it anyway. I’ve learned that. But I write because it’s humbling for me and maybe it helps one or two of you understand yourself too. I’d be happy with that.

Will you pray friends? For us and our marriage? We have no idea whether we'll be moving or not, but we're learning to communicate, to dream, to talk, to be honest, and all of that is good wherever we live. But also pray for you, that you would learn to take your hands off your wounds, to stop self-protecting in your marriages and friendships, to be vulnerable with your fears and concerns. Not to the whole world, like Vonnegut says, but to one, just one.

Chattanooga or bust.

chattanooga

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.