Jesus Asked “Why?” And We Can Too

The question is a human question. It’s what we ask when we face suffering. When we watch our loved ones get sick. When a marriage falls apart. Why?

Perhaps we ask the question because we sense that if we could only know more—the logic, the explanation, the ultimate payoff for this current suffering—then we might be able to endure our circumstances better, with grace, maybe even joy. 

When I climb a mountain with my husband, I know how high the mountain is that we climb. The burning in our lungs and legs, the mental tax of the long ascent is mediated with hope and assurance of our path, with the confidence that the top will be beautiful, that we know the way, and that our bodies will take us there safely. I know the why for the suffering on the way to the top, and it carries me through. 

This week, I found comfort in remembering that Jesus asked why, too. On the cross, his final words were, my God, my God, why have you forsaken me? (Matt 27:46). Jesus asked why. He knew the bigger answer to his question, just like we do. He knew that through his death and resurrection he would bring many sons to glory (Heb 12:2). He knew that he suffered for the joy set before him in setting all humanity free from the power and penalty of sin and death (Col 2:15). He knew that His Father would not forsake Him forever. And yet, he still asked. 

As Christians, we know the biblical answer to our question. We know that suffering produces perseverance, perseverance produces character, and character produces hope (Rom 5:3-4), that suffering will make us steadfast and firm in our faith (1 Pet 5:10), that our sufferings today are but a light and momentary affliction compared with the glory that will come (1 Cor 4:17), that we can rejoice in suffering because we are participating in Christ (Col 1:24), that we are being perfected through our suffering (Heb 2:10). 

We know the bigger answer to why God allows us to suffer, that we live in a broken world in which suffering still exists. We know these things and yet we still ask because we know deep down that this is not the way it is supposed to be. 

Today, ask why? Bring your suffering to the Suffering Savior who asked the question long before you did. Bring it before him knowing that he didn’t receive an answer right away either. But bring it before him with the joy and confidence that his question was answered three days later when he rose from the dead. 

We can ask why today, knowing that God ultimately works all things for good for those who love him (Rom 8:28). We can ask knowing that Jesus suffers with his beloved and that the ashes of today will grow into the beauty of tomorrow. Ask why today knowing that when we weep we have a God who weeps beside us. Ask why, knowing that Jesus’ question was answered when he rose from the dead and, one day, when he sets all things right again, we won’t ever have to ask why again.

The Choice We Make In Exile

In Jeremiah, the Israelites are taken into exile by Babylon. As the people grapple with what has just happened—being torn from their homes, the land given to them by God, their traditions and way of life—false prophets rise up to speak the words that they all long to hear: the exile will be short, the Lord will return them quickly to Jerusalem, their nightmare will surely come to an end quickly. 

But Jeremiah hears a different word from the Lord, that Israel should plant gardens in Babylon, they should marry, build homes, and seek the good of their new city (29:4-14). The Lord tells Israel they will not return to Jerusalem any time soon; it’s time to get comfortable and find a way to make a new life in a new land.

Eugene Peterson is hands down my favorite author. I’ve been rereading Run With the Horses recently, a book on the life of Jeremiah, and Peterson says this, 

“Exile (being where we don’t want to be with people we don’t want to be with) forces a decision: Will I focus my attention on what is wrong with the world and feel sorry for myself? Or will I focus my energies on how I can live at my best in this place I find myself? 

All of us are given moments, days, months, years of exile. What will we do with them? Wish we were someplace else? Complain? Escape into fantasies? Drug ourselves into oblivion? Or build and plant and marry and seek the shalom of the place we inhabit and the people we are with? Exile reveals what really matters and frees us to pursue what really matters, which is to seek the Lord with all our hearts” (150, 154).

Where do you find yourself in exile today? Perhaps it’s at home raising little children, wishing you were starting the career you have put on hold. Maybe it’s in a job that feels oppressive, exhausting, and unfulfilling. Is it your marriage? Filled with tension, unspoken words, or disappointment? Exile is part of human life. And as Peterson challenges us, we are the ones who decide how we will live in our exile. 

Several years ago when I was suffering from the weight of trauma in a particular season, I was driving in my car down a familiar road, weary, exhausted from a rather sleepless night, and wondering, when is this going to end, change, feel different? The Lord met me in that moment of exile and reminded me that His joy supersedes our experience. I had to decide how I was going to move through what would be a very long season. I could curl up in exile just hoping it would pass, or I could learn how to plant a garden in Babylon.

As Peterson said, this is the choice we make in exile. Nothing happens outside of our Good Father’s hand and the exiles he allows us to endure can be the place of life springing forth from death, of new relationships forged in fire, of a home built from scratch. The Lord allows us to experience exile so that he can meet us in it. Today, lift your head to the one who allows us to be refined by fire so that we may burn with passion for our Savior.

Eat the book

A few years ago a friend of mine who is not a Christian criticized Christians for not embodying their faith. Their faith was mostly about knowing a set of rules, but they didn’t seem very joyful or alive. While this critique was harsh, it also felt true. It is all to easy for Christians to know things about God without ever digesting that knowledge, getting the teaching of Christ into our bellies where it might course through our bodies and make us different. When we settle for training our minds and neglect bringing our whole bodies into alignment with the knowledge we profess, we find ourselves living an undernourished faith. But this is not the way it is supposed to be.

In Revelation 10, John listens to an angel in heaven read about the mysteries of God from a scroll. His voice is like a lion’s roar, thundering across the land. Intuitively, John moves to write down what he hears, but the angel forbids him from writing down the words and rather invites him to eat the scroll. Though Revelation may seem to be full of bizarre snippets such as this, Revelation is all about worship. Here, John is being instructed about what true worship is—it is not simply knowledge, writing down information so our minds might absorb it, worship is about our bodies. 

In response to this passage, Eugene Peterson says, Why, that [writing the words down] would be like taking the wind or breath out of the words and flattening them soundless on paper…It’s as if the heavenly voice said, “No, I want those words out there, creating sound waves, entering ears, entering lives. I want those words preached, sung, taught, prayed—lived. Get this book into your gut; get the words of this book moving through your bloodstream; chew on these words and swallow them so they can be turned into muscle and gristle and bone.” And John did it; he ate the book.

Most of us are in danger of living a life flattened on soundless paper. Christians can fall into a way of life that exists primarily in the mind, the place of knowing and thinking, but fail to fully digest our knowledge. This has always been a religious person’s problem; Jesus criticized the relgious people of his day for this very thing because knowing and believing something that does not produce congruent actions is called hypocrisy. Those pharisees knew the law and the traditions, but their religion was like a fine table set at a party at which no one feasted; they were missing the point of all that knowledge. Their concepts never nourished their heart; they hadn’t eaten the book. And unfortunately, this is the modern churches’ problem too. We are an undernourished people, hungry for intimacy with Christ and settling for knowledge of him. We need to be people who eat the book. 

An undernourished people

And he said to me, “Son of man, eat what is before you, eat this scroll; then go and speak to the people of Israel.” So I opened my mouth, and he gave me the scroll to eat. Then he said to me, “Son of man, eat this scroll I am giving you and fill your stomach with it.” So I ate it, and it tasted as sweet as honey in my mouth. He then said to me: “Son of man, go now to the people of Israel and speak my words to them. -Ezekiel 3:1-5

The prophet Ezekiel receives his call from God to be a prophet to Israel, but rather than filling Ezekiel’s mind with perfect theology or knowledge of God’s law, God goes for his gut. He wants to fill Ezekiel, get his word inside his body, coursing through his bloodstream and sustaining his muscles for the task ahead of him. 

His task to is prophesy to Israel, God’s own people. These people knew God. They had the law to instruct them and their story of God freeing them from Egypt so that they might dwell in his presence and worship him. And yet, Israel had not gotten the law into their hearts, they had not come to hunger for the ways of God. Later God and Ezekiel would have a conversation about Israel in which God calls them dry bones, dead and wasted away. The question of the conversation is can they come alive again? Is God able to raise them back to life, to put muscle on their bones, give them breath and empower them to walk in the ways of God?  

The same question goes for us. When our faith is predominately an intellectual faith or a faith situated in our minds, we are on the path to becoming dry bones, bodies that are unnourished and wasting away. It is not because our minds are unimportant—- on the contrary, they are critical to our faith and we are commanded to used them (Mt 22:37)— but a faith that is only about knowledge will always trend towards hypocrisy. We must put what we know into action, we must be people who don’t just read the book but eat it. We need to hunger for more than knowledge about Jesus, we must hunger for him—his presence, love, and peace in our lives. And fortunately, this is exactly what God wants for us. 

The nourishment we need

Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. – John 6:53, 55 

Though Ezekiel and John were invited to eat the written word of God, we are invited to something much stranger—to eat the flesh and drink the blood of Christ. It is no coincidence that Jesus chooses food to be the way his people remember him and participate in his covenant. He knows that humans trend towards anemic lives that lack the fullness we were made for. So he chooses food. 

My sister is a naturopathic doctor who says that food is the fastest way to teach people to connect with their bodies. When we eat wholesome, nourishing foods, our bodies are fueled and empowered to do what they are made to do. Food changes us from the inside out, repairing our cells, giving us energy, and teaching us to hunger after the right things. Just as the word of God nourished Ezekiel to fulfill his calling as a prophet to Israel, to speak against their ways and call them to repentance, Jesus, the incarnated word of God, offers himself as our spiritual nourishment so that we might live sacrificial lives and fulfill our calling as Christians to follow him. God is not interested in only teaching our minds, he is first and foremost interested in getting into our hearts and guts. As we feast on Jesus, the true word of God, he softens our hearts, strengthens our limbs for his work, and empowers our bodies to move through the world like he did. 

How to eat the book

Prioritize intimacy with Christ over knowledge about him. It is much easier to learn things about God than to get to know him. We need to know him, and knowing God comes from spending time in his presence, listening to him, and loving him for who he is rather than what he can do for us. He is more than worthy of our time, let’s give it to him.

Don’t be a hypocrite. Be hearers and doers of the word (Jas 1:22-25). Ask yourself where and why you aren’t taking God’s word seriously. Repent and ask the Spirit to make you hungry. Jesus says, Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness (Mt 6). Make this your prayer: that you would hunger after the ways of God, not your ways, not the ways that are comfortable, but the ways of God. 

Remember that our God wants to nourish us. In Christ, the incarnated word, God has revealed himself to us and given us the same spirit that gave breath and put sinew and muscle back on those dry bones. He is able and he wants to nourish us. Let’s ask him to do so.

From Great to Good

What’s so great about being great? 

A few decades ago, Jim Collins wrote the book From Good to Great, a pathway for businesses and leaders to move from average to great. While Collins wrote to business owners, the phrase embodies the sentiments of our culture; why settle for good when you can be great?

While the pursuit of greatness is no new thing—history books are literally filled with stories depicting it, not to mention the Bible (Tower of Babel, anyone?)—what does seem new is the going out of style of goodness.

Karen Swallow Prior, a professor and writer teaches the classical virtues. Something she notes is how certain virtues have become very unpopular—prudence, temperance, and chastity, once prized and valued, are a waste of time in our modern culture.

But Prior also argues that for any virtue to be truly virtuous, it must be held in balance like a counterweight with the other virtues. For example, you cannot be truly just without also being temperate (restrained, using moderation, and self-controlled). Without temperance, justice would turn into tyranny.

Jesus teaches us the counterweight to greatness in Mark 9 when the disciples ask him who among them is the greatest. In response, he says, “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all” (Mk 9:35).

In the economy of God, greatness is not wrong to pursue—Jesus doesn’t rebuke the disciples for being interested in greatness—but it is only achieved through goodness. Greatness grows from goodness. To be great, you must consider yourself the least important person in the room; spend your time serving others; humble yourself, not thinking less of yourself, but thinking of yourself less often, as CS Lewis says.

When you look at the church, it is all too easy to see disciples of Jesus missing this completely. Megachurches and celebrity pastors chase greatness, but when we see them disintegrate into spiritual abuse, affairs, and greed, it is clear they were not good. Not pursuing good, not making more of others than of themselves, not as interested in growing the Kingdom of God as their own kingdom.

Though Jesus tells the disciples to humble themselves and value goodness over greatness, we also see Jesus doing exactly that, offering a template of what true greatness looks like. This is why Pauls says, “Though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Phil 2:8-11).

The great one, God himself, chooses to serve, not lord his greatness over others, not consider himself more self-important than everyone else. No, the great one humbles himself unto the point of death, calls himself the Good Shepherd, and does good to those who persecuted him. This is greatness, and He calls us to the same greatness, achieved on the pathway of goodness.

To hunger for greatness is not wrong; we worship and are made in the image of a Great God. But the greatness we are made for is not the warped, greedy, broken greatness of our world, it is a greatness that comes by way of goodness, wielded with love, ever seeking to serve, and born of the Holy Spirit.

A king is not saved by his greatness (Ps 33:16), but we were created in Christ Jesus to do good works (Eph 2:10). May this be our greatest endeavor.

Forget “Forgive and Forget” Part 2: God isn’t forgetful

Forgive and forget sounds like a holy action. Forgive the person who wronged you and forget about it; that’s the best solution to being wronged. But more than that, many Christians believe we should forgive and forget because they think it is biblical; that forgiving and forgetting sin is something our God does and therefore should be emulated. 

This idea likely comes from a handful of Bible verses that describe God as not remembering or “forgetting” our sins. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more (Jer 31:34) or I am he who blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and I will not remember your sins (Is 43:23). Though these verses suggest that God chooses to forget our sin, he actually chooses to not remember them, a subtle but important distinction. When God forgives sin and remembers it no more, he is putting it behind him in the act of forgiveness, but he has not forgotten. 

God is omniscient, so for Him to forget our sins would make him no longer all-knowing. We know from 2 Cor 5:10 that on the day of judgment each person will give account for their sins—God will recount all of our deeds, good and bad, and judge them justly. God is not a forgetful god in the way that I forget to water my plants, rather God chooses to not remember our sins by putting them behind him and no longer holding them against us by forgiving us.

Out of his deep love for us, God chooses to no longer hold our sins against us because he loves us and chooses to forgive us. So forgiveness, rather than being about forgetting something painful, is much more about deciding to no longer hold an action against someone or allow their sin to inform how you treat them today

Forgiving does not mean that we forget what happened—quite the opposite, it means that we remember it and choose to forgive and release the perpetrator from their debt in spite of it. Forgiveness offers an offender freedom from their debt, no longer bringing up their sin when we are having a bad day or hurling their actions in their face when they annoy us. This kind of action invokes a movement of love towards the one who hurt us in the same way that 1 Corinthians 13 reminds us that love keeps no record of wrongs; love does not use past sins as weapons against another. Like our loving Father, we are invited to put sins behind us, out of view, no longer holding them against a wrongdoer. 

By remembering our sins no more, God models the pathway to restoration and reunion. He restores us into right relationship with him—our sin no longer stands between us creating hostility or the need for atonement—and he reunites us to himself.

Furthermore, when we choose to forgive, remember no more, and restore relationship, we also have the opportunity to allow that process of forgiveness to become a victory in our relationship with the other; forgiveness and restoration become crowning jewels in relationships, proof that the gospel is at work in our lives. Forgiveness can act as a trail marker indicating how far a relationship has come since that wound rather than being seen as an awkward situation to put aside. Forgiveness should be our treasure, our reward, our crown because it shouts of the supernatural and countercultural work of Christ. When we forgive, we choose the way of Christ and we can celebrate the costly yet beautiful decision for grace that shines in our hearts and the one we have forgiven.

Forgiveness is not simply looking aside. It is choosing to move forward even while the memory is fresh. And in Christ, by His Spirit, we have the resources to forgive and not pretend that an injury didn’t happen. Through the powerful working of His Spirit, we are able to forgive, as Christ has forgiven us.

Forget “forgive and forget” – Part 1

Recently, a friend of mine called in tears saying her boyfriend had confessed to cheating on her. They had been beginning to discuss marriage after dating for a few years, and she was heart-broken. 

But equally upsetting was the internal struggle with what felt like a religious requirement: she is a Christian, so the Christian thing to do is to forgive him. 

Though forgiveness might be necessary eventually, she felt the pressure to forgive him immediately because he was honest, he was repentant, he said he wouldn’t do it again, and he still wanted to be with her. 

If he repents, I have to forgive him, right?” It felt like a forgone conclusion. It felt like something she had to do. It felt like a transaction that had to take place if she was truly a godly and loving woman. But she was angry, hurt, and her trust in him had been shattered. What does it look like to navigate this kind of situation with godliness and grace, while also being honest about the pain and broken trust that his actions had caused?

At some point, you’ve probably been advised to forgive and forget. There are a lot of idioms that leak into Christian culture but aren’t actually biblical; forgive and forget is one phrase. There is a shade of truth to it, and likely good intentions, but when it comes to forgiveness, it attempts to reduce a robust and transformative process into a transaction.

Christian counselor Dan Allender says, “Forgiveness is all too often seen as merely an exercise in releasing bad feelings and ignoring past harm, pretending all is well…True forgiveness…is a powerful agent in a process that can transform both the forgiver and the forgiven.” 

As Allender points out, we often diminish the work of forgiveness to be about how we feel, but true forgiveness bears all the marks of resurrection hope and power. Christian forgiveness is not about a feeling, it’s about participating in the Triune God who forgives sinners and restores them into right relationship with himself. Christian forgiveness is a scandalous thing, showing grace to the enemy, wiping full slates clean, and demonstrating in action the power of the gospel—that Christ died so that sinners like us could be saved. When we forgive someone else, we show them the power of the gospel in the most tangible way we can.


On one hand, forgiveness might seem straightforward—you just choose to forgive and move forward. But this simplistic understanding of forgiveness condenses a full orchestra of actions and processing into a single line of music.

Real forgiveness requires truth-telling and honesty, rediscovering the humanity of the person who hurt you, navigating reconciliation, reunion, restoration, and repentance. No, forgiveness is no easy task, but we must each learn its rhythms and overtures—not just to protect ourselves from bitterness and resentment, but to follow after Jesus, our forgiving King. 

True forgiveness is nothing short of the power of God at work among us. So when we have a small view of forgiveness and how to do it, we miss the power of God at work in our lives when he forgives us, we miss the power of God at work in the person who hurt us, we miss an opportunity to make much of Christ and his good, good news.

There is so much more to forgiveness than forgive and forget; it’s time we recover a more robust—and biblical—understanding of what forgiveness is and how we do it.

Jesus the Gardener

I grew up in a small house with a very large backyard, much of which was a meticulously planned and cultivated garden tended by my dad. The garden was such a fixture of my life that I didn’t realize most people didn’t grow up picking raspberries, throwing fallen apples at the big cottonwood tree, harvesting cherries before the birds got to them, and making carrot cake with fresh carrots for my mom’s birthday. 

When we were looking to buy a home a little over a year ago, I told our friend and realtor that I wanted room for a garden—maybe chickens—to which he replied, “you’ve been watching that woman, haven’t you?” 

While I knew immediately which woman he was referring to, Joanna Gaines wasn’t my inspiration for gardening. I had watched my dad daily participate in the life of our land, the growing of foods, delighting in flowers in bloom, and anticipating the ripening of his prized tomatoes. But even more than that, the desire to cultivate and slowly grow beautiful and new things is what it means to participate in the Kingdom of God. 

The first place we see Jesus after his resurrection is in a garden. When Mary goes to Jesus’ tomb in John 20:14-15, she turns “around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know it was Jesus…supposing him to be the gardener.” 

I always flew past this line in anticipation of his revelation to her and her response to realizing her Lord was alive. I always assumed that she thought he was the gardener because who else would be wandering the area at that time? But perhaps this mistaken identity was no mistake at all. Jesus was the gardener; Jesus is the gardener. 

Gardening is a metaphor used throughout the Scripture to illustrate how God interacts with His creation. In Isaiah 5, the gardener destroys the vineyard representing Israel because of their disobedience, but promises that out of the ruins a new shoot will bud, a new life of communion and union with God will grow and will never cease (Is 11). 

Jesus describes himself as the vine and us the branches who are dependent upon him for all of life. He also promises to prune the branches that are not bearing fruit, ensuring that each plant in his garden will reach maturity, flourish, and bear the fruit they are intended to bear (Jn 15). 

Jesus even refers to his coming death in terms of gardening when he says, “Unless a seed falls into the ground and dies it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” (John 12:24)

But even more than a metaphor God uses to describe human relationship and development in Him, the story of God begins with the garden, the place that God chose to make for his people and dwell in their midst, and ends with new creation—a restoration of all things, the Edenic glory and beauty and wonder that we were made for perfectly restored. Our heritage was a garden, but it’s our future too. This is why GK Chesterton says,

“On the third day the friends of Christ coming at day-break to the place found the grave empty and the stone rolled away. In varying ways they realized the new wonder; the world had died in the night. What they were looking at was the first day of a new creation, with a new heaven and a new earth; and in a semblance of a gardener God walked again in the garden, not in the cool of the evening, but in the dawn.”

Jesus, our Master Gardener, is doing a new thing. He is recreating the torn down vineyard of Isaiah 6; he is rooting and establishing new life so that it might grow and flourish; he is pruning and tending and delighting in new growth. But he also invites us into his work—to take up his work, to garden alongside of Him as those who also cultivate the Kingdom of God. 

As you pluck ripe tomatoes and grate zucchinis for bread, remember that you are participating in a much larger work. We are laboring with the Great Gardener, tending to the coming Kingdom of God, and delighting in the beauty of God’s creation as we patiently wait for the fullness of all creation to be restored (Rom 8).

The Spiritual Summer Vacation

The semester winds down, celebrations, endings, farewells, and fatigue sweep us into the early summer days. June always felt like a surprise. The summer had arrived. But the flash flood of the semester left me cleaned out, leaves and branches in my hair, and trying to reorient myself to where I had landed. 

June always felt like a surprise. Surprise! The turning of a season. Surprise! You are another year older. Surprise! You have neglected your spiritual life. Surprise! You don’t actually know how to slow down. 

I worked in college ministry for almost 6 years, and the first few summers were unbelievably challenging. I found myself showing up for our annual staff conference feeling apathetic, undisciplined, and certainly unprepared to lead younger women in their faith. But it turned out that I was rarely the only one. Colleagues struggled too, but students also rarely came back to campus exclaiming about their summer filled with rich community, deepened love of the Word or fuller joy in Christ. No, summers were a desolate place through which students, and I, staggered.

As my second summer approached, I found myself dreading the downtime, the lack of rigorous structure, and the relational solitude, but also knowing I couldn’t continue at the sprinter’s pace of the semester. A classic catch-22. I needed rest. I needed solitude. I needed to take a spiritual inventory. But I was afraid of what and who I would find apart from my identity-giving tasks of preparing Bible studies and having discipleship meetings. The cycle of weeknights out teaching on campus, mornings in the office, and ongoing emotional care was taxing. And yet it gave me tangible meaning. Who was I when I wasn’t doing those things? And for my students, who were they when their google calendars were empty, they moved home to mom and dad and felt their student rhythm screech to a halt. Though I said it regularly to them, we were not so different. 

It wasn’t until the third summer that I got serious about figuring out why I dragged through the off-season. Sure, there were the obvious snares of my identity being too closely-knit to my work, the challenge of actually slowing the train down (objects in motion tend to say in motion, after all), and struggling to know how to practically use my time with so little structure. But those were only the lid to the box. As I started to pray, think, and ask the Lord about why this should be so tough, He answered by helping me see unhealthy habits that land me with my annual June surprise. 

Solitude

Calvin famously began his Institutes with, “Nearly all wisdom we possess, that is to say, true and sound wisdom, consists of two parts: the knowledge of God and of ourselves.” Though this might sound like a welcome dive into self-discovery or the spiritual validation that our Enneagram number really is critical information, Calvin is suggesting that to know God, we must know the depravity and desperate state of our fallen nature. We need to know our sinfulness to know God’s righteousness. But the fast pace of the academic calendar invited me to ignore stillness and solitude thinking I could slow down later. It is all too easy to be too busy to come face to face with the reality of our sinfulness. 

Solitude is a faithful friend. It is something Christians must pursue regularly, not just when it is forced on them by a season change. Solitude forced me to watch myself wrestle with sinful patterns that had become so ingrained in my daily rhythm that I stopped questioning them. It was, and is, uncomfortable. It was painful to see myself. And yet, as Calvin reminds us, it is essential for our salvation to see our ugliness so we might see the splendor of Christ, and the staggering gift of grace. The author of Hebrews exhorts us, “to lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith,” Heb 12:1-2. But how can we run the race God has set for us when we are too busy running our own course? We must be people who actively slow down (stop even) to fix our eyes on Jesus who both created and will complete our faith. When we are still enough to catch a glimpse of the splendor of Christ and our need for him, we find the hope and desire to strip off the extra weight that clings to us. 

Postponing emotional pain 

Each semester brought emotional bumps. From bearing burdens with another sister to being wounded by them myself, knowing and being known will inevitably cause some pain. When I am hurt or upset or sad, I know I have a tendency to postpone my emotions simply because I have other stuff to do; another meeting to attend, another lesson to prepare– I am the queen of compartmentalizing. But this is not wise. Ignoring emotional pain does not make it go away. It buries it and makes it more difficult to dig up and understand when you finally return to it. It is easy to pretend to be ok, it is hard to allow yourself to feel grief, betrayal, loneliness, or anger. 

Rather than letting a few months worth of emotional processing surprise you, commit to creating space to be honest with how you feel, to bring your hurts to the Lord, and to pursue reconciliation quickly. As 2 Corinthians 5 reminds us, God reconciled himself to us so that we would take up the ministry of reconciliation. When we ignore emotional pain, we deny ourselves and our community the gift and practice of reconciliation and choose to harbor anger, resentment, and bitterness. We create a home for disunity. And it will eventually catch up with us. Summers were hard because I found myself trying to unravel a bundle of emotions that seemed indecipherable. I needed to unlearn the habit of compartmentalizing my emotions, and pursue a faith that was presently embodied–a faith that didn’t deny the necessity of communication, honesty, forgiveness, and reconciliation. If we are in Christ, we have infinite hope for reconciliation, but we must choose to show up for it. 

Connection 

A few years ago a friend of mine said to me at a coffee date that she really wanted to be my friend–wanted to see me more, talk about difficult things, deepen our love for one another. Maybe that sounds like a strange proposition–friendship in our culture is often nothing more than surface-level shared interest, but friendship should (and can) be so much more. Our relationship did grow. It flourished actually. In the busyness of life I knew she was someone I could call on, be honest with, and who would show up for me. I think about that conversation a lot. Her intentionality in wanting to pursue friendship with me made me want to be a better friend, made me want to check in with her, follow up on how a hard week had been, pray for her—all trappings of genuine Christian friendship. 

One of the most disorienting realities of the summertime was the dramatic fall-off in social and relational connection. Despite what student’s often thought, being in their lives was an incredible blessing to me, not just to them. Hearing about challenges small and large, being in scripture together, talking about theological doubts, laughing about how far they had come–all the makings of friendship wrapped up in a mentoring relationship. What I realized over summer was how much I preached the gospel and the word of God to myself simply by reminding others of who Jesus was. Encouraging them encouraged me. I got to live in the story of the Bible day in and day out. I might be feeling discouraged in my own faith, but I found that caring for others, be interested in their lives, and pointing them to God inevitably deepened my own faith. 

I have heard the phrase “out of sight, out of mind” when it comes to friendship. But when you enter a few months of being away from your primary community, that is a time to be intentional, tell them you want to know them over the summer, hear how they are doing and deepen your spiritual friendship even in a season of being apart. Talk to a friend, ask them to pray, ask how they are growing in their faith, ask how they are struggling. Let the word of Christ dwell in your friendships richly. 

Remember who you are and hold fast

Author Paul Tripp coined the phrase “functional atheist” to describe Christians who find themselves living as if God doesn’t exist when something trivial happens. Especially when I am moving quickly and my schedule is full, minor frustrations can turn into day-ruiners. But why? When I am living a “my kingdom come, and my will be done” lifestyle, my identity is primarily defined by either what I do or how I feel, and not by who God says I am. This is dangerous turf. When the busyness stops, I feel down and unproductive, suddenly I am wondering if God even loves me. If He did, why would he let me feel this way? Another dangerous step. When my identity is driven by my performance and emotions, I naturally start to relate to God based on how I feel or perform. 

I need to remember who I am and hold fast to the truth. I love the refrain in Hebrews— let us hold fast to the profession of our faith, for he who promised is faithful (10:23). If you are a Christian, your identity is in Christ. You are who He says you are. You are a chosen person, a saint, forgiven, loved, made holy. I once heard a sermon on just the word benediction. It means “a good word.” God speaks a good word over you. But, as I heard almost weekly in college ministry, I don’t feel it. I don’t feel like I am loved or forgiven. What then? We need to actively choose to live in the story of the gospel rather than one that is about me. We might know God loves us, but we need to whisper it to our hearts, we need to massage the love of Christ into our uncertain chests. We need to decenter the story off of us, recenter it on Christ, and choose to agree with what our God says about us. 

Unchanging God, Endlessly New Love

“These are the good old days” reads a banner in our home. In the midst of chasing toddlers and cooking dinners and cramming in work, the makings of a full life are passing by. Though these days are hectic and often exhausting, I find it unsettling to know that I might look back on these years as some of my favorite. The sobering reality is that time is passing by and nothing is permanent. 

I see it most clearly in my kids—I long for certain things to endure, the morning snuggling and the storytelling. I hunger for permanence and so want to cling to something that won’t be a day older tomorrow. And yet I am ever drawn to the new—new experiences, new stages, new opportunities. Each day I am rocked back and forth between my desires for the eternal and an appetite for newness, and often I find neither to be satisfied.

CS Lewis famously said, “If I find in myself desires which nothing in this world can satisfy, the only logical explanation is that I was made for another world.” The tough reality is that our desires for permanence and newness will never be fully satisfied in our experience on earth. We live as those who are fading day by day, slowly wearing out until death in spite of the small encounters with newness along the way. But God didn’t just give us unmet desires to frustrate us, He made us for both permanence and newness so that he might make himself known to us through them. For the creator God is both eternal and permanent and also ever new, bringing new life and wonder day by day. 

An unchanging God

Permanence is foundational to our God’s character. One of his attributes is his immutability, which means that he is unchanging. As Hebrews says, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” (13:8). The Psalmist says, They will perish, but you will remain; they will all wear out like a garment. You will change them like a robe, and they will pass away. Like a worn-out garment, everything on earth will pass away, but God alone will remain, unfaded, unchanged, forever existing in eternal perfection. 

But God also made us to know and enjoy his eternal permanence. Before the fall, humanity was made to participate with God in perfect, eternal, unchanging relationship with the dawning of each new day. Our desire for permanence, therefore, reveals what our lives should have been like—ever resting in the perfect reliability of our God with no threat or fading of life while also experiencing the glory of God in new ways each day as we walked in his midst. My sorrow over things lost and years passed by and my hope for a taste of something new are not merely the evidence of a fickle heart, they are the phantom pains of what we have lost to sin and a reminder of the promise of eternal life.

Our unchanging experience of God 

As one who longs for permanence, delights in newness, and yet is daily disappointed by what grows worn and dies, so much of my experience is weariness. It is exhausting to so frequently say goodbye as something ends while holding onto the hope of something new bringing a fresh wave of joy. This place of in between—knowing what we were made for and not fully experiencing it—is wearisome. Fortunately, God’s love for us and our experience of His love does not ride the same emotional rollercoaster. CS Lewis put it concisely when he said, “Though our feelings come and go, God’s love for us does not.”

But while God’s love for us is does not change, our experience of His love does. God’s love is not some assembly line robot, presenting the ones He loves with the same experience of his love every time. God is a craftsman, and His love reflects this part of his nature. He gives attention to each piece of wood, takes it, forms it, loves it into wholeness each day. Sometimes the tradition I am a part of can underplay the deep importance of religious experience. It is not wrong for us to hunger for a new experience of God’s love in the same way that a wife desires for her husband to show her love again today, in a way that befits their needs and lives today. God’s love meets us afresh—in the pain and joy and messes we are living in—and changes us as we experience it. God is the same every day, his love for us is permanent, but it is also endlessly new.

The newness that satisfies

Behold, I am making all things new (Rev 21:5). This is not just a verse describing the new heavens and the new earth, it is also what God is doing today through His people, the Church. Today, we get to participate in the unfailing newness of the Triune God. He is making all things new today. And he begins with us. 

From the Father we have the promise, “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness” (Lam 3:22-23). There will never be a sunrise that isn’t colored by the Father’s unwavering love for us and his promise to extend new mercy to us as we go to work, raise children, fight with our spouse, sin, struggle, and fail. His mercy will always be new to us.

In Christ, we are raised to walk in “newness of life” with Him as he conquers the grave—our life in Christ is marked by new life (Rom ….). And the Spirit does an ongoing renewing work of our minds, our souls, our spirits, and our bodies. So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day (2 Cor 4:16). In our all-encompassing triune God, we are met with the permanence and the newness that our hearts were made for. In our unchanging and never-ending God, we are given what we need to endure change with grace, hope towards the next provision of his love, and rest knowing that He is with us every step of the way.

The Joy of Limitations

This week my whole family fell like dominoes to a stomach bug, one tapping another in a week-long chain of misery. I was the last to go down which meant that I was scrambling between holding three-year olds while they threw up, changing and washing sheets and pajamas, attempting to feed those with an appetite, and trying to hammer out a few pieces of work in the midst of it all. 

I love to think of myself as a “do it all” person. I can work from home with no childcare during a pandemic! I can find time to exercise and read and write! I can definitely attend a new women’s Bible study! I can, I can, I can! I can do it all! But the humbling truth is that I can’t. I cannot do it all; and that’s actually a good thing.

God made humans as limited beings. Where he is transcendent and unending and all-knowing and without beginning or end—limitless—we are not. As embodied people, our flesh literally enrobes us in limits. We cannot be two places at once, we can’t stay up all day and all night, we cannot go without food or water—we inhabit this fleshy thing with all sorts of requirements and needs. And because we have limits, we must daily choose how to use our energy, where to put our time, what to focus our attention on. 

GK Chesterton says, “Every act of will is an act of self-limitation. To desire action is to desire limitation. In that sense every act is an act of self-sacrifice. When you choose anything, you reject everything else.” The decisions we make—our acts of will—are actually acts of self-limitation, a choice that says, I value this very much and am choosing to pour my resources into it. But by choosing one thing, we are inherently not choosing something else. 

But Chesterton goes beyond merely saying that we make these self-limiting decisions every day to say that when we desire to do anything, we are desiring limitation. We actually want to be limited, to not do everything and do the one thing that we want or need to. And this reality of choosing to do one thing becomes an act of self-sacrifice, choosing to deny yourself of all other things for the one thing you do choose. When I chose to marry my husband Andrew, I chose to deny every other man on the planet. That is an act of self-limitation, and that limitation is actually something to desire, something good

Even as I write this, my modern sentiments scream, this is why multi-tasking is so great! We can do more than one thing! Or if I’m just smart enough and have enough hacks, I can do much more in less time, perhaps doubling the number of things I can choose. But the reality remains, that no matter how many wonderful things we do cram into a day or week or year, we will never be able to do it all. Each “yes” means a million “no’s.”

Though God wove human limitations into the fabric of creation before the fall and we know that our limits are good, when God took on human flesh and became a limited person, He showed us how to navigate the temptation to do everything. As one scholar put it, Jesus led a wildly unsuccessful and inefficient healing and teaching ministry. He chose to hang out with a handful of average men, never leveraging to get in more—more healings, miracles, sermons, declarations of divinity. Jesus, as a limited man, walked the same pathways of limitations that we do. Choosing to heal one person meant not being available to millions of others. Choosing to teach one sermon meant not teaching the infinite others he had. Choosing to travel to Jerusalem and its surrounding cities meant not traveling across the world to share the good news of the Kingdom of God. 

God became limited. God said “no” to things. God entered into our realm of action and self-sacrifice to show us that it is good! It is good to have limits. And He became like us to show us how to be faithful in our limits. He was faithful to the people who needed his time, to the people he was called to and the people he chose, enjoying the reality that His ministry would be spent with guys like Peter and John, giving them His full attention. He was faithful in His limits; he said “yes” to things and, therefore, said “no,” trusting that He didn’t need to heal every person on earth for the Father to accomplish the purposes He had for Him. And because Jesus did, we can too. 

This week I experienced my limits, I couldn’t do it all. I was forced in a unique way to grapple with the fact that my multitasking might seem effective, but in reality is a guise—I am limited. And those limits are for my good, for my enjoyment and benefit, that I might faithfully say “yes” to the things I need to and want to while I trust in my limitless God to tend to the things I cannot.