Provider, Please Provide

It’s been a long few days.

In the midst of a long staff retreat, one where we shared bits and pieces of who we are with one another, opening the deep caverns of our hearts, a tragic and unsurprising thing broke loose in Charlottesville, Virginia.

I am tired, in more ways than one. My body is tired from truly, enjoying time with my peers and co-workers for four straight days, as well as my heart from empathy overload. However, to a degree, a comparison game must be played.

I face a few things, yes, because I am female, but I will still never ever face the degree of persecution that my brothers and sisters who are people of color, different than my white heritage, will ever face. I have said too many ignorant things, forgetting first and foremost that the commandment behind loving the Lord my God with all of my heart is to love my neighbor as myself, even if they don’t look or act exactly as I am or do. I prayed even today, that the Lord would hack this death off of me, the racism in my own heart that I do not see. I can not even imagine how tired my brothers and sisters of color find themselves to be.

Like a few weeks ago, I have done some more digging into what I will teach at my home church this Fall, through the book of Ruth. I have sat now in Ruth 1 for quite some time, parsing the Hebrew, checking the patterns, mining the gold. Two things in specific have challenged my prayers, challenged my view of our Lord, shown in the heart of a widow in Ancient Israel.

The first is that Naomi laments, and she doesn’t hold back. I had taken some time to write about this a while back on my first time around with Ruth. I will never tire that our Father in Heaven hears these cries, allowing us to seemingly shake our fists at Him as He knows we don’t see the full picture. Our laments don’t further our distance from God; they instead bridge a gap in that there is still an acknowledgment of Who we know Him to be. Come through, Father.

The second is exactly that acknowledgment piece, the piece that calls upon God to be Who we know Him to be. Naomi calls upon God when she laments, and she uses a very specific title of God.

She said to them, “Do not call me Naomi; call me Mara, for the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me. I went away full, and the LORD has brought me back empty. Why call me Naomi, when the LORD has testified against me and the Almighty has brought calamity upon me?”
— Ruth 1:20-21

She calls the Lord here the Almighty, in Hebrew, Shaddai. Although in many situations throughout the text where Shaddai is found, He comes like a mighty warrior, I was struck by another meaning that this word could be translated as: provider.

Without getting into the nitty gritty of the word, I find it beautiful that Naomi calls on the provider to restore, calling upon the provider that she knows her Lord, Yahweh, to be. Even though I may find it beautiful, this call of faith in Who she worships, Naomi makes it clear that she is empty, she is found wanting, she is tired. Her life around her is destroyed, her livelihood, her everything taken from her. She invokes this name of the Lord, provider, to do what He said He would do in the midst of her circumstances saying the exact opposite.

I can’t wrap everything up in this beautiful looking bow, and most of that is because everything in our world is totally broken and riddled with sin. I am tired, and even though I cannot speak for my brothers and sisters of color from their exact experience, from simply my relationships with them they have expressed that they are much more tired and empty than I am. Our Scriptures unravel and show us how to lament in these days, these days full of brokenness and heinous evil, showing us that we can call upon our God to be who He says He is. Provider, please provide. Judge, please judge, bring mercy and justice swiftly in the face of it looking the opposite.

I cannot help but look to the rest of the book of Ruth, the context, to start to hope once more. As Naomi calls upon God to be who He is, to come through on behalf of her lack, a book where God is barely mentioned moves through a woman named Ruth. God’s loving kindness is shown in and through a woman who lays down her livelihood and her future for another whose life is seemingly over, a foretaste of our future hope in Christ Jesus who lays His life down for us, cruciform.

But Ruth said, “Do not urge me to leave you or to return from following you. For where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there will I be buried. May the LORD do so to me and more also if anything but death parts me from you.”
— Ruth 1:16-17

Our call today is to die as well, and as we lament along with our brothers and sisters, we who have privilege are called to lay that down as followers of Christ, just as the Son of God laid His down. We not only have a call to emulate Naomi and Ruth, but to be like Christ, because of the great love with which He loved us.

It’s uncomfortable to die, to give up our lives, but it is where true life is found. Until we all are free, we all must come and die.

Death to My Boast

“If at the end of your degree, you don’t get a job, but you get more of Christ, will that be enough?”

I was forced to see a spiritual director three times my second year of my seminary journey, very much against my want or will. I also had to put some stock into it, paying some of our cold hard dollars that as newlyweds, we were strapped for. This meant that although I wasn’t buying it (but had to buy it), I was going to spend this time talking this poor woman’s ear off.

This of course led into someone who is trained to be discerning to be discerning about one of my biggest fears.

The question left me dumbfounded, struck, simply because I knew with all of my heart that I wanted the answer to that question to be a cheerful and glad “yes,” but it was most certainly a “no.” How could Christ call me to something like this and not have my future in mind?

And yet, it showed in me such a deficit. Not only was I hearing the question, “Do you love me?” I was hearing the question, “Do you trust me?” The answer revealed itself in a hearty “no” once more, not trusting Him with this thing that had so quickly become my prized possession, my idol, my identity.

Fast forward to a year and a half later and now, I am rejoicing that I get to look at the finish line in front of me, my last semester. I thought in this time period that I could firmly tell you that I had dealt with this thorn, walked through this desert, giving my Lord my abundant yes. However, in the midst of looking ahead to what is next, I have lost sight of what is here and now, fixated upon the question of if God will come through in the way I want him to four long months from now. The death has not been pruned from me yet.

This weekend, my pastor said something in the midst of his sermon on being led as a captive in Christ’s triumphal entry (2 Corinthians 2:14-16), that struck me once more.

You know what you boast in by how you defend yourself when things go badly.
— Martin Luther

As I have had to deal with the hardships that come with working with other sinful people, myself included, I have refused to see the goodness that comes from Christ’s pierced hands. Instead, I have found myself wandering to humans, asking for acceptance and approval as they look at my works and judge whether or not they are worthy of me staying or going. Instead, I have used my works these past three years in seminary as a way to qualify myself, rather than covering my face and pointing to His glory.

This sounds severe, but whenever we move a simple degree away from sola gratia, grace alone, in even our own lives, a serious temptation in the work of ministry, this is what we have done: glory robbing, idol coddling, autonomy.

What has my boast been in? This future degree, and the hope of something that could give me status other than the ever-looked-down-upon “student.” My boast has not been in His work done for me, and the work that I can see He is doing now.

In order for me to find life again, to find joy in surrender, to find peace amidst such unknown, I must know with certainty that my life is not my own. I must remember who God says He is, and that those words are true and trustworthy. I must know that this dream, this hope, this life of mine, needs to be put to death in order for true life to make its way through the muck and the mire.

So like I did for two straight weeks with a group of sweaty people on either side, I recite the Shema, and pray to God it takes root and changes this heart of stone into one beating and full of His beautiful light.

Hear, O Israel.
The Lord is our God.
The Lord alone.
Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your might,
and love your neighbor who is like yourself.

My only boast is Christ alone. Who is like the Lord our God?

Stakes

Taking a trip overseas to the churches in Asia Minor, looking around at the bare bones leftovers of what used to be large, booming cities and small rooms where the first house churches might have been, is a fantastic privilege. It’s one that can leave you with one of those mountain-top feelings, the stick thrown in the fire at your favorite Christian camp on the last day, making huge promises after hearing such phenomenal preaching day in and day out. Some of us know those feelings after leaving some conferences, or even some Sunday morning services.

While there, we opened up many passages while in the very cities they were written to, skipping over probably the less interesting introductions of the letters to get to those utterly juicy parts, those parts where we find those commands that we know we can obviously get right to work on, those glorious imperatives. Those imperatives leave you fired up as you walk into the humble beauty of what is the small room that believers met in during the first century and you compare it to the pride of your life. You are ripe and ready for change.

The problem with these moments are what they are wrapped in, not inherently bad things, but fallible things. The problem about rushing to the “4 Steps to Have an Impactful Christian Walk,” is that none of those steps required reading and believing the indicatives found in the context that power the imperatives.

When we talk about “not walking as the gentiles do” in Ephesians 4, we cannot forget that it comes from having read the first three chapters before it, words that have changed me forever because I can not boast in anything when it comes to how God has plucked me out of the muck and mire. When we talk about “putting on and putting off” in Colossians 3, we cannot forget that it comes after the two chapters before it, glorifying the name of the Lord Jesus Christ who forgives all of our sins and has reconciled us to Him. In both of these letters, and in most of what is written in these Scriptures, we have of course the call to obey, but not without him calling us to Himself first. We live our lives not as those who are dead and are trying to wake ourselves, but as those who have been given the greatest gift of a new life, resurrection.

My reminder for all of us today and everyday is this: do not forget who you are before you rush to the works of your hands. More importantly, do not forget who Christ is before you rush to show how you can, like the Greeks, master the art of living “Christianly.”

Trying to muster up every ounce of energy in order to make a stake in the ground will fail you unless you recognize that you are only able to put it there because Jesus had nails in His hands.

We live out of our Savior’s life.
— Fleming Rutledge

It is finished.

Broad Places

My husband and I love to explore, to adventure, to pick up and go. The many opportunities we have had to travel have been beautiful gifts from the Lord, where thinking about the many stresses that typically go with wandering have not been an issue. We also have made it this fun treat, a little tradition, that we pick out one specific thing from wherever new we have been to bring back as decor in our home, so when we look around, we get little glimpses and memories from those times away.

It was our last day in Greece. I had been AWOL when it comes to everything on social media, which was a refreshing burst of freedom. James and I were really struggling to figure out what to purchase next for our home, finding ourselves caught between really awkward statues and really expensive and nonsensical items. On a whim, we found a small tourist store right across from our hotel where we parted with a small cream vase, matching our home and adding that element of nostalgia we love.

We got back to our hotel, and I connected to the wi-fi just for a few quick minutes before dinnertime. I did my usual scrolling session through twitter, and it was as if my throat was about to close up. After being so long unplugged, I found myself totally overwhelmed by the amount of information, and the gratuitous amount of opinions that we find ourselves banking our lives on. One of those topics was homemaking, especially the very trendy minimalistic lifestyle.

As I tumbled down the steady stream of attempting to perfect my life through the gathering up of knowledge, this opinion on what it means to decorate a home meant to stop collecting things that have no practical use. Of course, upon seeing how much it works for them, I immediately wanted to throw out the vase we had just bought in joy and excitement over remembering our sweet time here in Greece.

It was that night, tossing, turning, and beaten up by jet-lag, I found myself hearing words I heard years before from a professor and friend of mine. I remember asking for his wisdom between two good choices, needing to know which one was more holy.

What he did then was not make a decision for me, or show me a gamut of articles that taught me what scientifically will give me more happiness, but he pointed me to the Psalms.

He brought me out into a broad place; he rescued me, because he delighted in me.
— Psalm 18:19

So again I heard the Psalm, torn between whether or not I had to be the same exact person as this one I look up to. The comfort of God’s words were sweet salve to my conflicted heart. Freedom lies in knowing where you are at. What I have because of Christ’s blood shed for me is grace upon grace, a new identity; a God that looks not at the decor of the home or the glittering instagram account in order for a song to be sung over me. I do not live on the terrifying ledge of a balance beam, hoping with every step that it is not a misstep to fall off, but in a broad place where I can trip and He is there to lift my head.

This great grace of a place where my feet can run and dance doesn’t mean that I become thoughtless, going crazy with the lot of vases to scatter all over the house and office. It means that everything has thought, meaning, and purpose. As the gospel applies to even the things we don’t think it would, it colors every single minute detail of our days, in different yet similar ways within our body. There feels a tension, living in the grey, as I read of many sisters who would see the vase as totally unnecessary, and yet, many friends who see such glory and happiness in the curated clutter around them. Yet, there is a joy that through the cacophony of women’s blogs, we can always find that there is a steady gospel of Jesus Christ that reigns over all of it, and will remain forever even though the trends of hygge will change tomorrow.

A few months ago if you told me I would write a post about the freedom of the gospel in buying a vase, I would have probably been upset at how low I thought I had stooped. God is a gracious God in bringing us low, and for that, I thank Him.


Just recently, this article by Laura Turner came out that spoke volumes about the anxiety I feel on a regular basis on twitter. I hope it serves you as it did for me.

My Confessions

We were in Rome, and our day was full of perusing the many Catholic churches in the area, churches full of both beauty and history. Many of these churches sparked debate between us in our tour group, whether or not the beauty of portraying the saints in such an artistic way invoked worship of God, or worship of fallible people. What is honoring, and what is beauty? How does one live in the tension, the many areas of grey?

One of our stops was at the Scala Sancta. Here is where church tradition believes that Jesus himself walked on these steps, leading up to the praetorium of Pontius Pilate in Jerusalem as he went to his trial, and shortly after, was crucified. Now, people come and kneel on each of these steps, making their way up slowly, praying on the way for those souls in purgatory to be released to Heaven.

The wonderful thing about those steps for those who call themselves “protestants” is that this is where Martin Luther had the beginnings of his breakthrough. As he prayed up those steps on his knees, he continued to hear the words of Romans that he had memorized in his head. He reached the top and remembered these words:

Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.
— Romans 5:1

This was also a day I was in some sort of mood. James and I walked around the beautiful city of Rome, clocking ten solid miles as we explored. I had absolutely no reason to feel the way I was feeling, and yet I felt so off. As soon as I felt back to normal, the guilt set in like yet another dark cloud. We were in Rome, and I was the one that had to have a bad attitude and ruin all the fun. I began my normal pattern of atonement as follows:

Apologize every thirty seconds. Sulk. Ask if there is anything I can do. Apologize some more. Maybe cry.

James is a fantastic man, and so while I’m throwing this glorious pity party, he responds the way he had all day long — with great grace. He didn’t need me to fix anything or make it up to him; he loves me because he loves me.

Let me be quite honest with you. I still sulked and apologized until I had felt as if I had made it right, payed for it, made it better. We were even, in my mind. All of it settled between us.

That night at dinner, our debates with our fellow tourists and learners turned into another conversation. A handful of our friends had grown up as Catholics. The back and forth was about the act of confession to a priest, if it was a helpful practice or an unhelpful one.

I chimed in, adding in my point about how confessing my sin aloud to the person I have sinned against is actually a beautiful gift, helping both myself to see rightly and the one I have hurt to see my want to repent, with both of us able to acknowledge aloud the goodness of forgiveness as we have been forgiven first. We agreed together, and then it was taken a step further. James said, “but when you are confessing out loud to a priest, then you get this list of things to do to pay for it, doesn’t that put the power to atone for what is wrong in your hands?”

The conversation went on, but all I could think about was how I had almost done something similar earlier in that very same day with James, and how often I do that in my everyday life. Not only does me wanting to make sure everything is “squared up” a refusal of the grace that I am offered, but it means that I get to be in control. So often, I am found sinning and as the blood of Jesus Christ is offered for me freely, I put my hand up and say, “no, I’ve got this.” It’s as if I am shouting at Christ, saying, “don’t worry, I’ll make your death worth it by making this behavior better on my own.”

What is remarkable about our ability to want to pay our way, earn our stay in good keeping, is that even Martin Luther did a similar thing. Though some Lutherans would disagree with me, one of my issues with Luther is the demand for a particular ordo salutis, needing to be baptized in order to be saved.

How quick we are to forget the grace we have been given. How prideful we are that we refuse to receive that grace upon grace.

For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.
— Romans 5:6-11

Remember who you truly are, simul justus et peccator, simultaneously just and sinner. Remember what you have been saved from, and that you are still in need of being saved from yourself every single day. Remember the awe of His gospel, His great grace flowing freely, and keep re-remembering. This gospel is big enough to cover our forgetfulness. This gospel is big enough to cover even our pride.