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Suffering Sharpens Sight

Suffering and grief make our brains feel fuzzy and forgetful. They make us fatigued and sleepy, body, mind, and soul. But they sharpen our sight, if not in the moment, in the longterm.

I remember reading a book written by a Vietnam veteran who wrote honestly not only about the horrors he saw in Vietnam, but also about his experiences of color and beauty in Vietnam. It wasn’t that the colors changed or were brighter there; it was more that living on the thin edge between life and death made him see more clearly both the beauty and brokenness of earth.

Corrie ten Boom, while living in the nightmare that was a concentration camp, talks about moments of being utterly stunned by the beauty of a bird or a small flower or blade of grass.

Suffering trains our eyes not only to see sharply but also to see through. Suffering cuts through the gauze of this earth and removes its shiny veneer. It exposes much of the laughter of earth as hollow and many of its pleasures as transitory.

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In her poem “Thy Friend and thy Father’s Friend forget not.” Christina Rossetti poetically captures the sight that suffering offers.

Friends, I commend to you the narrow way;
Not because I, please God, will walk therein,
But rather for the Love Feast of that day,
The exceeding prize which whoso will may win.
Earth is half spent and rotting at the core,
Here hollow death’s heads mock us with a grin,
Here heartiest laughter leaves us tired and sore.
Men heap up pleasures and enlarge desire,
Outlive desire, and famished evermore
Consume themselves within the undying fire.
Yet not for this God made us: not for this
Christ sought us far and near to draw us nigher,
Sought and found and paid our penalties.
If one could answer, ‘Nay’ to God’s command,
Who shall say ‘Nay’ when Christ pleads all He is
For us, and holds us with a wounded Hand?”

Suffering can help us to see earth as “half spent and rotten to the core.” Suffering can aid in focusing our longing and hope on the lasting land of the New Heavens and the New Earth. Pain unsettles us and points our hearts back to lasting promises, so that we can say with Peter, “But according to his promise, we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells” (2 Peter 3:13).

In our suffering, we have the opportunity to see the Suffering Savior as he is. In our suffering, we have the invitation to be held by the Wounded Healer.

For the believer in Christ, suffering is punctuated and purposeful. It will come to an end in the presence of Christ. There, we will see him as he is and all things as they should be (1 John 3:2).

May our suffering, be it minute or monumental, commend to us the narrow way which leads us to the broadest places of His presence.

The Need for Frontiers

Since moving out West, I have found myself fascinated by literature about the frontier. What made people leave the comforts of acred land nestled with shade trees and by an abundance of water risk everything to move to a draught-stricken, untamed, and often uncomfortable land? Was it truly just a lust for land and stars and space? At what point does the risk overrun the reward of such wanderlust?

I am not the first to question these things. Much wiser and more eloquent writers have spent their lives dug into these questions which seem to grow in the parched soil of the West, Wallace Stegner, John Steinbeck, and Seamus Heaney being among my favorites.

Raising three boys, I am watching the hunger for frontiers in my own home. Whenever our stringent schedules allow, we find ourselves longing for some new hike to explore or middling mountain to conquer. When we first moved here ten years ago, I remember reading a plaque at one of our favorite regional parks about mountain lions needing thousands of acres to satisfy their innate need to roam. I watched as my then-young pack of boys ran every which way, needing their own vast territories. It seems mountain lions, little men, and their mothers still need such space.

Whenever we steal away from San Diego to find new frontiers, we enjoy ourselves, but we never leave satisfied. Even on the car ride home, fresh off of a hike (smelling less-than-fresh), we are planning our next adventure. We may not be homesteaders in Conestoga wagons, but I think the same spirit drives us both, separated as we are by centuries and technologies.

Frustrated Frontiers

If some humans are hard-wired for frontiers, all humans share in the frustration that comes when the sought-out frontier cannot carry the weights we have placed upon them. The disillusionment and insidious distilling of disappointment we feel even when we have seen and experienced natural beauty evidences that we are made for more than this life.

In his short story The Red Pony, John Steinbeck explores the theme of the disappointment that comes when we reach the limits of our frontiers. The grandfather in the story is stuck in his memories of his frontier days, though they have long past. He continues to tell the same stories, much to the chagrin of his family.

“It wasn’t Indians that were important, nor adventures, nor even getting out here…It was westering and westering… When we saw the mountains at last, we cried- all of us. But it wasn’t getting here that mattered- it was movement and westering.”

After years of telling the same stories, Grandfather finally admits the frustration on the end of frontiers, whether physical or metaphysical.

“Then we came down to the sea, and it was done…There’s no place to go. There’s the ocean to stop you. There’s a line of old men along the shore hating the ocean because it stopped them.”

Our boys have wanderlust to visit the national parks. They get it honest from their momma who gets it honest from her parents. But even the most amazing natural wonders will stop them like the ocean stopped grandfather. Even in the modern world where frontiers barely exist, we continue our westering. We simply place the frontier line as a certain level of lifestyle or a far-off benchmark of achievement. If we can’t go west anymore, we instead seek to go up- up the ladder of success, following the way of more. More money, more possessions, more adventure, more travel, more influence, more fame.

Yet, all of those frontiers have oceans that will stop us dead in our tracks.

The Father’s Frontier

The reality is that we were made for the inexhaustible and the eternal. Eternity has been stamped in our feeble hearts (Ecclesiastes 3:11). We were made to live in the context of an unlimited God whose wonders never cease. In the words of C.S. Lewis, we are wired to keep going “further up and in further in!”

Our hunger for beauty will always outpace the beauty of this broken world. Our need for newness will always be frustrated in our sin-aged world. The shiny of a new home or a new season of life or a new toy will always become scratched. This is a severe mercy that pushes us into the Father’s frontier.

The only ocean we will encounter on that frontier is the never-ceasing ocean of His love. If, rather than seeking to move “westward,” whatever that means for you, we commit to moving deeper into His love and the knowledge of Him, we will never be ultimately disappointed (Romans 5:1-5).

Hymn-writer Frederick Faber perfectly captures this reality in “The Eternal Spirit.”

“Ocean, wide-flowing ocean,
Thou, of uncreated love;
I tremble as within my soul,
I feel Thy waters move.
Thou art a sea without a shore;
Awful, immense, Thou art;
A sea which can contract itself
Within my narrow heart.”

If other frontiers are leaving you frustrated, come join the march of the saints towards the Father’s frontier. Such a pilgrimage will last for an eternity!

Competing Justices

In the name of seeking justice, injustice is birthed from competing justices. These are no mere philosophical musings, as this statement only describes the bitter battlefields of the past few years.

We are not the first to live in a pluralistic society where different concepts of justice are warring to establish their vision of fairness and rightness in the world. After all, Jesus himself was born into a time rife with pluralism in the Roman Empire. He was born into the Jewish people, who themselves were divided about how to respond to Roman occupation and Roman rule. Some sought to keep the peace and assimilate, others wanted to fight power with power, others sought to focus on living holy lives (and even within this group, various subgroups fought about what constituted living a holy life).

It is what C.S. Lewis called chronological snobbery to think our current battlefield singular and unique in the human experience. I am not belittling the bewilderment and frustration of our particular cultural moment. We are living in mind-boggling, soul-shaking, foundation-exposing times. However, this current ideological battlefield is only a new front of a very ancient war (Ephesians 6:12).

As those made in the image of God, every human has some remnant of a justice sentiment. We want fairness and fight when what we define as fairness is violated. But what happens when we have different concepts of fairness or even those with the same end-goal conceive of vastly different routes to take towards such an ideal?

I need not tell you what happens. You are living in what happens.

One must either hide and hang out only within those who agree with your sense of justice (huddle, hide, and hope for better times) or fight with those who differ, whether with missiles or malicious words (fiercely fight for military or political might).

In his book The Everlasting Man, G.K Chesterton argues that God wisely stepped into time exactly when he did. The wave of the world had crested; humanity and a merely human concept of justice had reached its crest in the Roman Empire. Man had done the best he could. And failed. Miserably. Our best attempts at establishing justice only proved our inability and created more injustice.

Any and every solution build from man for man will fail. Man and man-made systems cannot fix the problem that man created when man rejected God as the center and hub of all things, visible and invisible.

Christ refused to be drawn into the battle lines that had been drawn by men. He continually pointed to the battle lines that we drew when we stepped outside the ancient boundary given by God for our good. But he did far more than point to them. He stepped into the injustice and bore the weight of eternal injustice.

Competing Justices

We clamor for the perfect king:
We campaign only to arraign
We endlessly elect leaders
Who promise but don’t attain.

We demand only to depose,
Measure by a shifting scale.
One group builds a system
That another works to derail.


One of a limited vantage point
Points the finger at another.
Justice competes with justice.
Arming brother against brother.

Man-made justice keeps failing;
Every attempt earns the verdict.
The evidence is irrefutable:
We cry for a rule who is perfect.

Yet we have always had Him.
The King of thorn and scar.
His substantive Word stands.
His justice is better by far.

I don’t have neat answers for how to live in this strange time. I haven’t studied political science. I am wrestling deeply with how to live out God’s commands to do justice and love mercy since they are so close to his heart (James 1:27).But I do know this much. God is the just judge (Psalm 45:6-7). He sets the parameters (Isaiah 44:24-25). He is preeminent (Colossians 1:15-20). He has priority (Matthew 6:33). He himself is our peace (Ephesians 2:14).

This Just Judge submitted to unjust authorities to bear injustices we committed. We must learn our justice from the only Just One.

Irrigated Souls

Our satisfaction does not have to depend on our situation or location. Our soul’s refreshment does not follow the rule of real estate, “Location! Location! Location!” The locus of our refreshment does not depend on our proximity to an external water source, but on God’s proximity to us.

If we find ourselves on a dry lot in a draught-ridden desert, our hope need not wither with heat and exposure. Consistently through the mouthpieces of the prophets, God reminds His people that He is a master irrigator. Threaded through Isaiah 42, 43, and 44 are promises of irrigation in the desert.

When the poor and needy seek water, and there is none, and their tongue is parched with thirst, I the Lord will answer them; I the God of Israel will not forsake them. I will open rivers on the bare heights, and fountains in the midst of the valleys. I will make the wilderness a pool of water, and the dry land springs of water…that they may see and know, may consider and understand together, that the hand of the Lord has done this, the Holy One of Israel has created it (Isaiah 42: 17-19 & 20).

Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert. The wild beasts will honor me, the jackals and the ostriches, for I give water in the wilderness, rivers in the desert, to give drink to my chosen people; the people whom I formed for myself that they might declare my praise (Isaiah 43:19-21).

But now hear, O Jacob, my servant; Israel, whom I have chosen! Thus says the Lord who made you, who formed you from the womb and will help you; Fear not, O Jacob, my servant, Jeshurun, whom I have chosen. For I will pour water on the thirsty land, and streams on the dry ground; I will pour my Spirit upon your offspring and my blessing on your descendants (Isaiah 44:1-3).

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To a people whose lips were parched and who trod incredibly parched places, these promises themselves must have been like drips of refreshing water. However, we, on the other side of the cross, are the recipients of such flowing promises.

We have been given the indwelling Holy Spirit, “a spring of water welling up to eternal life” (John 4:14). We have a built-in irrigation system until the day when we finally sit by the river of life in the restored city garden of the New Heavens and the New Earth.

However, I forget. You forget. We live like those deserted in desert places. We pine after different circumstances or seasons. We envy those with water-front or water-filled external lots. We pout as only a parched people can.

But we have springs of living water. We have Him who created the waters and all they contain. We are siblings of the One who said boldly, “If anyone thirst, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water’.” (John 7:37-38).

Our souls are better irrigated than Augusta National golf course. We don’t need a new lot. We need a fresh look at the hidden springs we have been given.

Under the Sun

This morning at church, we read through the entire book of Ecclesiastes. If you are looking for a booster shot to bolster humanity, I would not recommend it. Although, as an antidote for the prosperity gospel, it has great effectiveness.

About midway through the book, I looked over at my teenage son who was taking notes with a look of confusion. He literally wrote, “Solomon keeps saying everything is vanity under the sun.”

I looked over at him and whispered, “Under the sun, yes. But, that’s the whole point. The book is meant to lead us above the sun, beyond the sun, outside of humanity’s constant attempt to create meaning for itself.”

As James so wisely realized in his words to the early church, wisdom had to come down from above (James 3:13-18). When we had thoroughly malled God’s good purposes for humanity, we needed the God-man to step onto the course He created for the earth.

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Under the Sun

Under the sun on our collared run,
All’s been tested, tried, and done.
Looking for novelty, finding none.
With each rotation tedium is spun.

Here, both rags and riches ravage,
And evil dwells in sage and savage.
Emptiness follows caviar and cabbage.
Vanity is an often verified addage.

Even the wisest of men is confounded,
Pessimists proven, optimists astounded.
Favor is fleeting while folly is founded.
By meaninglessness we are hounded.

Oh, my friend, but beyond the sun –
Past the path earth was taught to run –
Stands He who its orbit has spun,
Speaks the meaning-dripping One.

Seeing our toiling under the sun,
He to His sin-sick people did run
To be stuck in a web he hadn’t spun
Until the Savior cried, “It is done!

Death itself He did repugn,
For three days later, life won.
Meaning now in us does run
For all our days under the sun.

I am so thankful our self-revealing God did not leave us with our own wisdom-folly to discover meaning under the sun. I am thankful for the lifter of our eyes and the One whose light will outshine our dying sun. In Him we trade vanity for victory and hopelessness for living hope!

Weighted Love

Love carries weight, both literally and metaphorically. Just ask the momma carrying a toddler who is tired in addition to his or her bike to the car from the park. Or ask the father of a child who is differently abled as he loads a wheelchair into the van.  Ask the parents of a soldier whose child is deployed in Afghanistan the weight of their heart lately. Contrary to the cultural view of love as flitting feeling or whimsy, love is weighty.

But, if love carries weight, it also bestows weight. Love deposits substance and significance. I’ve watched it happen. A student otherwise overlooked and underperforming receives a teacher who sees and speaks potential over her. Daily deposits of love and care slowly compound into a more settled confidence. An adult with autism finds an employer who believes in his abilities and gives him the dignity of significant responsibilities. A counselor gives a client who has a history of abuse the weight of agency.

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The Weight of His Love

In Isaiah 43, God says something astounding about his people:

Because you are precious in my eyes, and honored, and I love you, I give men in return for you, peoples in exchange for your life (Isaiah 43:4).

What an undeserved laundry list of words: precious, honored, loved. At first, these words may sound like the flippant words describing love in our culture. However, the context of these verses within the book of Isaiah help us to understand the weight of God’s love. Repeatedly throughout the book of Isaiah God uses court language regarding his people: he calls them to come before him in an attempt to defend themselves, he indicts them of their crimes, both obvious and hidden, he provides overwhelming evidence of their idolatry. On the backdrop of this grim reality, verses like the aforementioned one shine brightly with the incredible reality of God’s love.

Convicted, defenseless children though we are, God declares us precious in his eyes. The Hebrew word yaqar can mean to be esteemed or appraised highly, but it comes from a Hebrew root which means to be heavy. God, who sees us with eyes of piercing honesty, appraises us as valuable and precious. This value does come from within us; it is placed in us because of his love. His love gives us weight and significance in his eyes.

The Hebrew word kabad translated honor above, literally means to be heavy, weighty, or burdensome. Often it is used to describe the honor and weight due to God himself, but here, God uses to describe us! The word choice here literally stopped me in my tracks. We are honored, not because of our merit, but because He has honed in on us with his love. We have weight with him, not because of any substance of our own, but because he has filled our lives with blessing of knowing him. 

We are precious (weighty) and honored (weighty) because we are loved. The order is significant. If the order were reversed, we might get the false impression that because we are important and carry weight, we are loved by God. However, this verse and the thrust of the entirety of the Scriptures assure us that we are loved, and because we are loved, we are appraised as weighty to the God of all wonders!

The Cost of His Love

Inspired by the Spirit, the prophet Isaiah spoke with the language of redemption and ransom. The weight of God’s love for his people would lead him to redeem and ransom them at great cost.

In Psalm 49, the psalmist writes about the weight of a ransom saying, “Truly no man can ransom another, or give to God the price of his life, for the ransom of their life is costly and can never suffice” (Psalm 49:7-8). No merely human sacrifice would carry enough weight to ransom humanity. God himself would have to do it. Inspired by the Spirit, Isaiah would prophesy about a coming Messiah, a suffering servant, who would redeem his people with a costly love. Now, we, indwelled by the Spirit, carry the weight of such a love.

His sacrificial love has bestowed unthinkable weight upon us. As such, we are invited to love others in a way that bestows honor and dignity upon them. In a world of conditional, flippant love, such costly loves provides gravity and grace.

The Need for Spiritual Specialists

A rock hound who could speak for hours on variations of gems. A car enthusiast who knows the intricate details of a particular make and model. A botanist who knows the subtle differences among species of the same genus. An historian who has spent his or her life in a concentrated study on a condensed time period or people group.

Whenever I speak to a specialists of any kind, I always walk away with wonder: wonder that God wired someone to find such a nuanced, committed interest to one particular cause or subject or trade.

Whether its a particular genus of plants, a condensed part of history, or a car type, I am blown away that someone could expend so much energy and focus so much attention on what seems, in the grand scheme of things, such a narrow subject.

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Specialists sometimes come across as eccentric, as few can understand such a sustained passion towards such a singular subject. True specialists sometimes struggle to understand how others could live uninterested and unmoved by the subject of study which has so captured their imagination and affection.

As Tom Nichols expertly explains in his book The Death of Expertise: The Campaign Against Established Knowledge and Why It Matters, expertise is a dying art. As I am generally a generalist myself, I will leave the expertise on expertise to him; however, it struck me this morning that all believers are called to at least one object of expertise.

The Call for Spiritual Specialists

Everyone who has been saved by the good news of the gospel and captured by His irresistible grace is invited to become an expert on Christ. The lyrics to the song “One Pure and Holy Passion” perfectly capture this call.

“Give me one pure and holy passion
Give me one magnificent obsession
Give me one glorious ambition for my life
To know and follow hard after You.

To know and follow hard after You
To grow as your disciple in the truth
The world is empty, pale, and poor
Compared to knowing You, my Lord,
Lead me on and I will run after You
Lead me on and I will run after You.”

The Apostle Paul was a renaissance man before the term existed. He seemed to excel in all that he did, as he so clearly shares in his letter to the Philippians (Philippians 3:3-11) and in his defense before Agrippa (Acts 26:1-11). However, after his encounter on the road to Damascus, he became a specialist in Christ. From an outsider’s opinion, Paul’s life suddenly looked obsessive and off-kilter. His focus narrowed dramatically to the One who narrowed Himself from the expanses of eternity to a human body on our account.

Whereas he used to be celebrated in many Jewish circles, he began to be judged as myopic. As he told the church in Corinth, if the resurrection were not true, he would be of all men most to be pitied (1 Corinthians 15:12-19).

The Hazards of Specialization

While we are not uniquely called as an Apostle in the same manner as Paul, all who trust in and believe upon Christ are called to see Him and the gospel as supremely worthy of study, wonder, and worship. As J.I. Packer wrote in Knowing God, “The more complex the object, the more complex is the knowing of it.”

Our Christ is supremely complex and marvelously multi-faceted. For all eternity, we will explore Him and expand in our knowledge and worship of Him. We will never come to the edge of understanding him or the precipice of knowing His purposes.

As with all specialists, we will likely be labeled imbalanced and obsessive. We will be written off as narrow-minded in a culture that prides itself on being broad-minded. People will likely roll their eyes in a there-they-go-again attitude when we speak of our central love for Christ. People may tire of hearing about our love for Christ, but we ought never tire of worshipping and studying Him.

He is worthy of our wonder. He is infinitely complex. To know Him is to have life and life abundant.

“And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (John 17:3).

Career Hazards for Creatives

Some careers come with obvious vocational hazards. Construction workers wear hard hats for a reason. Roofers proceed with great caution. First responders know the life-and-death dangers they brave. The vocational hazards for believers who are creatives are less overt, but very much as real.

Creatives image God the Creator as they seek to make art, music, literature, architecture, or a plethora of other forms of art; however, it is all too easy to make an idol of what they have made. They are prone to self-importance in success and feelings of despair or uselessness in lulls or failure. God delights in his people expressing the creativity he hard-wired into them; however, artists can easily slip into craving validation from others.

Two phrases help me fight the inherent, yet insidious career hazards of creating content for God’s glory. Our work is both significant and insignificant, and our work is both dignified and derivative.

Significant yet Insignificant

The process of creating art, from its imagination stages to its inception, echoes the very nature of God. Whether their art stays at home or hangs on a gallery wall, Christians who practice creative arts honor God. Whether a few or a few thousand read the poem or the prose work, the very act of arranging letters into words into images and stories pleases God because it reflects his very nature. Interior designers who create spaces for beauty and connection are chips off the old block of the Creator who filled this earth with nooks and crannies, gardens and gaping canyons.

As such, creative work in and of itself is significant. Glory and beauty matter to God. If you are not convinced read God’s instructions to Moses for the tabernacle in Exodus chapters 25-30. God even set aside and filled artists with the Spirit of God for this ornate undertaking.

The Lord said to Moses, “See, I have called by name Bezalel the son or Uri, son of Hur, of the trible of Judah, and I have filled him with the Spirit of God, with ability and intelligence, with knowledge and all craftsmanship, to devise artistic designs, to work in gold, silver, and bronze, in cutting stones for setting, and in carving wood, to work in every craft” (Exodus 31:1-5).

Similarly, God’s Spirit inspired the poetry and music that know as the psalms. His son was a craftsman who delighted to make beautiful things out of wood. God cares not just about artists, but also about art, because he himself is the artist par excellence. He made living mobiles out of stars that we know as constellations. He created such biodiversity that there are over 350,000 known species of beetles. That is a lot of creativity in one species of beetle, y’all.

Doing creative work is obviously significant. However, sometimes artists can take their work too seriously. I know I can. Every poem I write is significant to me, because of the intimacy through imaging I experience. But it is wrong to expect every poem I write to be significant to everyone who reads it. Self-importance is a ditch artists and creatives frequent.

This can be seen in a phrase from Isaiah 41, where God is juxtaposing God the Creator with those who create idols (and I mean the actual, physical ones).,

The craftsman strengthens the goldsmith, and he who smooths with the hammer him who strikes the anvil, saying of the soldering, “It is good”; and they strengthen it with nails so that it cannot be moved (Isaiah 41:7).

Here we see God calling out the artists who stood in collusion with one another, propping up each other’s self-importance. The “it is good” has echoes of Genesis 1 where God said over his nascent creation, “It is good” daily.

When we do creative work as Christians, we are often tempted to have people stand back and say, “It is good” in a way that puffs us up. However, true art should cause people to step back and say of God, “He is good.”

If we are falling into the ditch of self-importance, Acts 17:24-25 can instruct our hearts.

The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all men life and breath and everything (Acts 17:24-25).

Our work is significant, yet insignificant. This reality frees us to work heartily for the Lord’s glory without the weights of self-aggrandizement and self-significance.

Dignified yet Derivative

Similarly, our work is dignified yet derivative. Artists tend to pride themselves on individuality and uniqueness. But none of us have every truly had an original thought. Only God, in the deepest sense of the term, makes things that are original. All thought, all beauty, all order, and all color literally originate from him who made everything out of nothing.

Creating art, whether photographic, digital, word-centric or image-centric, is a dignified work. Yet all art, even the most amazing art in the world, is derivative. For God alone gives life and breath and skilled hands and creative minds who make masterpieces.

These two realities free me from the career hazards of creative work. They free me to work under the smile of the Father, whether in feast or famine. There is much significant, yet insignificant work to be done by artists who know that both themselves and their work are dignified derivatives.

My Best Adventure: A Note to My Husband on our Fifteenth Year

I’ve always thought of myself as adventurous, and I pride myself on a nearly insatiable desire to learn. While those things are still true, they have taken on different forms than I thought they would. I haven’t traveled to see the Seven Wonders of the World. I have not earned a master’s degree, let alone a PhD.

However, as I sat down this morning to reflect on my fifteenth wedding anniversary, the Lord reminded me that life with you is my best adventure and you are one of the most fascinating subjects for me to learn. I decided this morning that watching a soul be stretched and shaped and sculpted in marriage might just be the Eighth Wonder of the World.

When we got married, I thought I knew you. While I did know enough to know I was not making a poor decision, I did not know what I did not know. You did not know that much of yourself yet. A decade behind you in life experience, I most definitely did not know myself. But I am so glad for that. By God’s sweet providential grace, we have been instruments to shape each other and uncover the glory selves He has been slowly revealing.

We have had ample time to learn each other’s shadow selves. And there is plenty more of those dark places to plumb. However, the light and the freedom of the gospel makes such spelunking less scary. We are growing to be more gentle and patient with what we find there. We are growing to be less surprised because we are loved by One who not only excavated those depths but was executed to free us from them.

On special occasions, when you ask me what I would like to do, I struggle to answer. In those moments, I realize that what I really want is what I already have daily. A cup of coffee and a walk with you. A chance to process the lives of our children, be they spiritual or physical. A house project that keeps us side by side and attached to Home Depot like a ball and chain. These are some of my favorite adventures.

Any dreams of grandiosity are happily settling into a deep love for the simple life we have. I love our quirky house. I love listening to your sermon prep (most of the time). I love watching your heart grow and change as God simultaneously softens and steels you.

I love that I know the face you make before you tear up talking to the people you are shepherding. I love that you are okay with me burning every dessert I attempt to make. I love that you free me to not have to be an excellent baker or hostess. I love that you know my special kind of holiday anxiety and know when perfectionism is controlling me rather than the love of Christ.

I love seeing your heart soften for people. You have always been a strong leader, but I am watching him make you a soft leader, and it leads me to worship God. It leads me to hope that He can transform my own adamantine heart into one that looks like him.

I always knew I wanted to follow you. But now, fifteen years into following you, I realize that I have been following Christ-in-you. I see you struggle to keep pace with Him. I see you letting Him define and redefine success. I see you fail and fall into Him, running home to the Father’s arms more and more quickly.

I’ve always loved your voice, except when you are singing Prince songs in a high key. But I have grown to deeply appreciate your silence when wronged or misunderstood or written off.

And all of this, as sappy as it sounds, is true. It is only true because the One who embodies Truth enables it to be so.

W.H. Auden wrote a poem about Herman Melville in his old age. While I am not saying you are old, the tenor of the poem reminds me of the adventure that it is aging with you. The young Herman Melville wrote Moby Dick, a tale of revenge and effort and straining and striving. But the old Herman Melville sounds like the masterpiece to me.

“Herman Melville” by W. H. Auden

Towards the end he sailed into an extraordinary mildness,
And anchored in his home and reached his wife
And rode within the harbour of her hand,
And went across each morning to an office
As though his occupation were another island.

Goodness existed: this was the new knowledge.
His terror had to blow itself quite out
To let him see it; but the gale had blown him
Past the Cape Horn of sensible success
Which cries: “This rock is Eden. Shipwreck here…”

I like this little rock we are settling into. I like it because the Rock of Ages drew it up as our portion and our lot to tend.

I love you.

Don’t Confuse Influence and Obedience

God is for influence. He gives it. He allows it. Think of Esther and her influence which was leveraged to save God’s people from imminent genocide. Think of Nebuchadnezzar and the way God humbled him and how God transformed his influence for the kingdom. Think of William Wilberforce and Mother Teresa. 

In the Sermon on The Mount, Jesus himself used the image of the idiocy of lighting a lantern and putting a bushel over it. He told his people to let their light so shine before men that they would see their good works and glorify their father in heaven (Matt. 5:15-16). 

Yet, Christ also knew the insidious danger of influence. He spoke harsh words to the religious leaders who were far more concerned with their influence than their obedience.  I have far more Pharisee in me than I care to admit.

The Pharisee in me loves to sit in a high seat and longs for the places of honor and titles of importance (Matthew 23:2 and 6–7). Yet the Spirit is slowly, steadily shaping me into one who clings to the feet of Jesus, washing his feet with my tears of repentance and dependence (see Luke 7:36–50).

The Pharisee in me wants to be seen and celebrated by human eyes as I do good works or walk in obedience (Matthew 23:5). However, the Spirit is slowly, steadily shaping me into one who is more comfortable with the prayer closet more than the crowds (see Matthew 6:16–18). The Pharisee in me wants to be called teacher, instructor, or mother (Matthew 23:7–12). Nonetheless, the Spirit continually puts in the place of a pupil and child. Jesus called the Pharisees blind guides, but the Spirit would make us seeing servants (Matthew 23:16).

Jesus repeatedly reminded his disciples of the One who searched hearts and prodded them toward purity of heart and motivation. When they were floored and ecstatic about the influence and power they had over demons, he ushered them towards greater joy that their names were written in the book of life (Luke 10:20). 

Obviously influence itself is not a bad thing. But in a culture obsessed with the star-studded and celebrity, we are liable to conflate influence and obedience.

Large-scale influence, for most people, doesn’t last very long. Thus, the coining of the term “five minutes of fame.” Even famous professional athletes have their prime. Eventually, they must learn to adjust to being a role player or someone coming off the bench. I always respect players and pastors who can make this transition with humility and grace. It exposes what has motivated their playing all along. Do they love and respect the game or the fame?

God has given us each a sphere of influence, but that sphere will shrink and enlarge in turns throughout the course of a lifetime. As such, it seems that we would do well to focus on obedience to God and let him determine the size of our spheres. 

Obedience is for a lifetime. Influence is for a season. 

I fear in myself and around me an insatiable hunger for a widening sphere of influence, not for the sake of obedience and the lords glory, but for self-aggrandizement and a feast for the flesh. 

For every widely-scene Christian writer, artist, or teacher, there are scores of people living out extraordinarily ordinary faithfulness in their largely-unseen spheres. I fear that many of them feel less-than in the kingdom. I long that they would know and believe that their long obedience in the same direction deeply honors the Father. 

As always, the Father is far more concerned with the internals than the externals. He is the searcher of hearts and the knower of hearts (Acts 15). This means that He is most concerned with our prayerful obedience. Sometimes that will look like a lull on social media to have our motivations refined. Sometimes that will look like bravely and vulnerably sharing something on a larger platform. He seems to be more concerned that whatever we do, we do it in a manner that exudes humble, faithful obedience. 

Searching Questions:

  1. Do people whom I see regularly know about what I am about to post? Have I shared it with a neighbor, a friend, a disciple?
  2. Is there someone in my non-media life with whom the Lord might have me share these thoughts?
  3. Am I content to obey the Lord doing this, even if no one else ever knows? 
  4. Are there small acts of faithfulness I am neglecting in my hungering after a larger sphere? 
  5. Am I pointing those in my sphere of influence to myself or to the Savior?
  6. Will I gracefully receive the shrinking of my sphere if and when that happens? 
  7. How can I use the platform of influence I have been given in this season to champion the faithfulness of others? To show multiple paths of faithfulness rather than merely the large and loud? 

Whether your platform is the size of a pallet or Radio City Music Hall, the Lord intends you to walk in a faithful obedience that points to the Father in Heaven. 

May the words of our mouths and the mediations of our hearts (and the stewarding of our spheres of influence) be acceptable in your sight, oh Lord, our Rock and our Redeemer (Psalm 19:14).